Water Bottles and Consumerism

17 Mar
Colleen Putzel with one of her new Ecuador friends.

Colleen Putzel with one of her new Ecuador friends.

            Editor’s Note: Part of my vision for this blog is to make a space for others to directly tell stories of their own community service experiences. This week and next, I’m featuring recollections from Assumption College students, two of whom have been kind enough to send pieces my way. We’re starting with Colleen Putzel, who reflects below on the re-entry after her Assumption SEND trip to Ecuador last December.

            Whenever I talk about Ecuador I instantly smile.  The week I spent in Arbolito profoundly changed my life. It is the one and only environment I have felt completely myself.  I felt filled while I was there.  I learned so much about global poverty, relationships and God.  I hoped this high would continue at home. I hoped I could share everything that I learned.  I came back thinking that I was going to change the world.

Then I came back.  The first thing was the cold. I forgot that I lived in New England and had just spent the week in beautiful 80 degree weather. I was wearing a small sweater as we got off the plane.  Luckily my friend Alex had a sweatshirt I could borrow.  He is over 6 feet and I barely reach 5’4’’ so needless to say I looked ridiculous walking through the airport.  Then there were the Americans.  No one looked at each other, people did not say ‘excuse me,’ and the food sucked.  And then the excess set in.  It seemed as though people were never satisfied.  Enough certainly was not enough, they needed MORE.  Always more.

The worst thing people said to me when I came back was “Wow, you must really appreciate everything you have after experiencing and witnessing poverty first hand.”  Sometimes I look around at all the stuff that I am surrounded by and I want to cry.  It does not make me thankful for everything I have, it makes me see how insignificant all of this stuff is.

Putzel (right bottom) and others pose for camera.

Putzel (right bottom) and others pose for camera.

I had a really hard time readjusting.  I could not find a place back home or at Assumption where I felt anything.  I was walking around with sadness; sadness about how people interact and how they treat the world.  Most of my group members were seniors and I was a sophomore.  I had two more years and they were moving on with their lives.  I felt like I was losing some of the only people that understood what I was going through.  All of the happiness and fulfillment of self that I felt in Ecuador had left me.  I felt like I had failed everyone I met in Ecuador because I could not come back and spread their story.

Meeting and befriending Kate Beigner saved me from becoming a shell of a person.  She ignited my spirit and showed me that social justice is not only a possibility but also a lifestyle.  I no longer felt isolated, I realized there are many others like me who are fighting for a better world.  It also helped me understand that I cannot change things over night.  So instead of feeling sad about what I cannot change, I have decided to change the things I have control over.  First and foremost that is myself.  I cut down consumerism an extensive amount.  I use a reusable water bottle (plastic water bottles are the bain of my existence).  I try to advocate for others through the Social Justice Committee at school and through social media.  Most importantly I try to live everyday with the realities of others in mind.

Sometimes I am overwhelmed with what is around me.  But I try to take things that I learned in Ecuador and apply them to my everyday life.  Ecuadorians are some of the most welcoming and genuine people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  They greet and say goodbye always with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.  They are not shy about showing their emotions and sharing their own story.  The people I met showed me how vital relationships are in life.  I try to apply that to my life here in the states where many relationships are downgraded to the screen on a phone or computer.  I work hard to look people in the eye and show them that I care about them.

Ecuador taught me that I do have gifts that I can exercise to bring about social change.  It taught me to be myself, to challenge social norms and to fight for what is truly right in the world.  Coming back is still hard.  Many things have changed for me yet I struggle every day in a world of plastic water bottles and consumerism.  My leader in Ecuador, Billy, said it best when he said that we are all scarred for life from our experiences.  But, it is scarred in the best way.  Knowing, however hard, is so much better than not knowing.  It is certainly harder, but my life feels more fulfilling.  Meeting people in Ecuador gave me incentive and I try to live every day in a fashion which would make them proud and honor all that they taught me.

The group enjoys a party.

The group enjoys a party.

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