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A Life Changing Experience
June 25, 2013 - Samantha Downing
The past week I was gone from Marshall and in the Appalachian Mountains of Logan, West Virginia. First Lutheran Youth and I boarded the bus with 35 others on Saturday night and rode straight through the night. We did not arrive in Logan until 23 hours later. The bus ride was long to say the least, but once we got there it all turned out to be worth it. While in Logan, I learned what it is like for a kid to have absolutely nothing, and be happy. Our group separated into two separate ones. Half did work projects during the day while the other half worked with a day camp called Kid's Club. I was with Kid's Club Youth Works, the organization we went through for our mission trip, has been in the area for 14 years. What shocked me most, was how awful things still were for the people of the area. The first day was awful. The kids were terrible. No one would listen. Everything was disorganized. I'm pretty sure nearly everyone was ready to pack up and go home. Many of the kids attending have come for a majority of their life. We had about 30 people from our church and others working with 20-some kids; needless to say, we went in pretty confident that things would go smoothly. We couldn't have been more wrong. There was no respect. Everything we planned was turned into free time. It still baffles my mind that these kids would play basketball and four square in a gym that had no AC and outside if we let them. Lunch is provided, and unfortunately for many, this is the only meal the kids get. 20% of the people in the area are living below the poverty line and the next 20% are in great danger of dipping below that. Some kids came without shoes. Others, wore the same outfit every day. But the thing is that they were still content playing basketball. I found it amusing when they would get some of Marshall's Varsity players out in Lightning (what they call knockout). One girl that I met will be in my heart forever. Her name is Katie and she is only 4 years old. She arrived on Wednesday and was terrified of all the older kids. Immediately, she clung to me. All she wanted was hugs and cuddles. She made bracelet after bracelet with yarn we found in the craft room. But what really caught my attention was the cigarette burns on her legs. She wouldn't say what they were from. On Thursday, when she came again, she told me "I got hurt last night." But when I asked her what had happened, her cousins, who had come for the first time that day, butted in and gave me this story about falling on rocks. Little girls don't have circle burn marks on their legs from falling on rocks. We reported it, but the sad thing is that more than likely, that won't make a difference. We don't have contact information for any of the kids. Most of them walk and pick and choose the days they want to attend. Parents are rarely around for us to talk to. All we knew was her name is Katie, that isn't much to go off of. Overall, the experience changed everyone who came with in one way or another. Sometimes it takes stepping back to appreciate what we really have. The people of West Virginia will always be in my heart and in the hearts of the other youth who have been there.
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