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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

The Gift of Giving

High school was a pretty traumatic experience for me. I was a giving person, showering people with my love and affection. However, as multiple of my friends that I loved and cared for passed away, I grew more and more cold, frustrated with myself for not doing more. I let myself be at my most vulnerable and in return I was given loss and pain. It was tough for me to continue to bring myself to keep giving out my love, because it was an agonizing reminder of their passings.

Being in bolivia for almost four weeks now has been a pretty crazy experience to say the least. From trekking 20 plus miles on Toro Toro to living with a Bolivian family, I have learned a thing or two. I’ve learned Spanish (somewhat), how to cook, kill chickens and much more, but the most important thing I’ve learned or relearned is the gift of giving.

The first couple of days I started my homestay with a Bolivian family, I couldn’t believe that they could be so happy. With much much much less money than 99% of Americans, the family was richer in another way—happiness. I was really curious as to why this was.

Throughout the time I’ve lived with them, I’ve seen how they contrive their happiness and that’s through giving. Giving back to me, to their family, to their neighbors, to their community, my host family fostered a good habit of giving. It’s never about them. It’s about their family. It’s about their fellow Bolivians. It’s about the lost art of giving.

By fostering a community of giving, the youth in Bolivia grow up learning that it’s not about the individual; it’s about the team. This builds good character and good habits. When a person becomes too absorbed with him or herself, he or she loses sight of the beauty of life—giving. Giving expresses your love, affection and thanks. It is a healthy act that promotes cooperation and community and is also extremely contagious. After all, if everyone gives to each other, no one is left behind.

My host family has taken two orphans from the street, a brother and sister, and given them a new life. They go to school, help on the farm and eat meals with the family. They may not be blood, but they’re a part of the family. Two kids that would be fending for themselves, homeless and parentless, instead have a loving family that cares for them as their own.

When a rainstorm hit and houses flooded in Coachibamba, my host dad and other community members stopped their work and rushed to help out. No questions asked. They were working on the damaged and destroyed homes from the flood. They were working on clearing the overflow of water from the roads. They were working to assist the fellow community members. None of the flooding affected my homestay family; they live far from the damage and have no relatives there, but the father still went to give back to the community that raised him so well.

These are both big examples, but you can notice the sense of giving even in the smallest of interactions. When they serve us food, they will always serve me and the kids first. They will even make sure to always serve me a little extra, even if that means that it’s less food for them. When we go out, they hold the door open for me. Giving, no matter how big or small, is beneficial to both parties. Seeing the family give so selflessly has been the most amazing thing to watch.

Though Bolivia may not be the world power the US is, there are many lessons we can learn from them and vice versa. Bolivians may not be rich in wealth, but they are rich in happiness—in giving. The thing is, it’s not about giving just to give. It’s about the thought and reason behind giving. Giving without reason does nothing. Giving because you love, because you feel and because you care does everything.

As we carry on with our lives, let’s try to give more. If you receive more than you give, then give more. If you find it difficult to be vulnerable and give, then give more. If you’ve been hurt and devestated from giving liking me, then give more. It’s tough, and it’s difficult to learn or relearn for sure, but it is worth all the while.

We have the beautiful opportunity to make all the difference for an individual by giving. It may seem like a small thing to do to give a candy bar or give a hug to the person you see sitting alone, but it may mean the world to them. When we pass away, we’re not going to feel content by remembering the new iPhone X or the new pair of Jordan’s we’ve received as a present. We’re going to feel fulfilled remembering the joy you gave that old man when you held the door open for him and his family or the smile you put on your mother’s face when you did all the dishes and chores without her asking. No one has ever become poor from giving, because it is in giving that we receive.