It was a cold and snowy Monday morning in December. We had assembly, and while all the regular announcements were made, one particular one caught my attention. Ms. Totten announced the community service trips that would take place this year. The second she mentioned the Poland and Belize trips, my blank stare became a focused smile.
That day, I began thinking about the two trips. Although Belize’s hot weather was appealing, I ultimately thought of the possibility of going on the Poland trip. After inquiring about the details and specifics, I had second thoughts. Though a community service trip devoted to serving terminally ill children and visiting some Holocaust sites did not exactly sound like a fun trip, the teachers (Mr. Hutton and Ms. Hart) explained how rewarding both the culture and service part of it could be and they encouraged me to ask some of my classmates if they would like to join me. Two other students (Nicholas Ramsubick and Jonah Walker Sherman) joined me, Ms. Hart, and Mr. Hutton, and we are so happy we decided to go on this trip.
Even though there were sad and almost extremely helpless feelings at times, it was also a rewarding and highly enjoyable experience.
Once the three of us (Jonah, Nick, and myself) arrived at Pearson International Airport and were met with the warm welcome from Ms. Hart and Mr. Hutton, we prepared ourselves for the long plane ride we were about to endure. Gary, the co-founder of the “Fundacja Dzieci” foundation, which helps fulfill the wishes of terminally ill kids in the form of presents and meeting other kids, introduced us to five other students coming from all corners of Canada. We were introduced to Ainsley, Dylan, Alexia, Lavenia, and Keaghan who we quickly befriended while waiting for the flight.
After a long nine hours on the plane watching movies (this was the toughest part of the trip), we landed in Warsaw, Poland’s capital. After briefly losing my passport, we made our way to the hotel, and after dinner, we went to bed to rest up.
The following day, we woke up bright and early to explore the “Invisible Museum,” where we discovered what it is like to live life being blind. Although scary, it was truly an incredible experience to see how grateful we should be for how healthy we are. We then visited the largest Polish memorial where we saw wonderful tombstones, almost beautiful you could say, and after that we went on a walk and stopped by a local restaurant to try homemade pirogues. After touring Warsaw for a day, we went back to the hotel ready to pack our things, knowing we would be on a six-hour train ride to Berlin, Germany the next day. It was quite tiring each day. On the other hand, we truly saw everything in the short amount of time we spent at each location. During the long train ride interrupted with mechanical problems with the train, we entertained ourselves and the teachers before arriving in Berlin at 1:30 A.M.
Tired and completely unresponsive at 8 A.M. the next day, we ventured out to see the Reichstag, which houses the German Parliament. The view from the top of the Parliament building was breathtaking, and we learned about the history of Berlin through an audio-guided tour. The group then took the streets of Berlin by storm, walking through a Holocaust Monument and the Museum of Terror (built beside the famous Berlin Wall) where we walked through an exhibition showcasing the horrific torture devices used during World War II in the concentration camps.
Later, we visited one of Germany’s most famous and largest chocolatiers where the group and teachers indulged in chocolates. We also had the treat of seeing chocolate sculptures hanging and sitting inside. After having a traditional German dinner with schnitzel and coleslaw, we proceeded to go back to the hotel to prepare for the long day of travelling that awaited us the next day.
We boarded the bus the following day to Krakow, Poland’s most touristic city. Upon arriving in Krakow, we settled into our hotel and then took a walking tour of the city. Unfortunately, it rained that night and we were frozen, but we got to see the largest square with many European souvenir shops. The cultural differences between European and North American cities are spectacular. Every building and square has a long history associated with it. In many ways, Europe is much more relaxed than North America. Life revolves much more around one’s well-being and enjoyment than work.
When we returned to our hotel, we wrapped presents for the children we would be visiting the following morning. Many children’s wishes consisted of laptops, tablets, sports posters, books and video games. Little did we know how their faces would light up when they ripped open their presents.
The following morning we split into two groups, one that would drive an eastern route back to Warsaw and a second group that would drive a western route back to Warsaw. Our group consisted only of the original three RSGC boys and Ms. Hart and Mr. Hutton. On the first day of visits, we visited a boy named Alan who was 11 years old and had a stage 4 neuroblastoma and was in remission after a series of chemotherapy treatments and steroid injections. We were all nervous about how the visit would go and in what state he would be. He had wished for a laptop and some video games. After ringing their doorbell, we were welcomed by his entire family, who served us a delicious assortment of treats. The highlight of the visit was having the opportunity to play with him his UFC Xbox game. The parents told us that he was more excited to get the chance to meet us and spend time with us and learn more about Canada.
The whole experience was very rewarding, and at every visit, we were greeted warmly by the family. The sense of helping someone else in need is extraordinarily gratifying, and you could see the children we visited were less fortunate than us. Most of the children lived in one- or two-room apartments, and their stories, although sad, were hopeful. There were two girls we visited who lived with their mom and two pets. They were diagnosed with cystic fibrosis a few years ago, and the life expectancy for cystic fibrosis is about 40 years with people who receive proper treatment. Since the family cannot afford proper treatment, their life expectancy will be drastically shorter. The group was also extremely saddened to hear that the father had committed suicide last year. It was really a memorable moment for the group on the trip, as you think about the mother who has lost her husband and will eventually lose both her daughters and will not have anyone besides their pets.
Overall this trip to Poland exceeded my expectations ten fold. I really encourage other students to take the risk and go on this trip, as it is just as rewarding and possibly more culturally interesting than some community service trips to more typical destinations.