During my medical elective, I embarked on a project to build houses for one of Costa Rica’s poorest regions. Having suffered through a severe flood, this region had no running water or electricity and most houses were constructed using corrugated iron and mud floors. I met a 9 year old girl whose family home we were rebuilding. She knew no English and I, no Spanish. So, from the moment we met, she sought to teach me Spanish. As our friendship grew, she took me on a bicycle ride, one that changed my life.
As we were riding, she turned around with a smile of mischief, like she was going to show me something cool. She proceeded to take both her hands off the bike. I was impressed. Then she took both feet off the pedals and stood on the bicycle. I was very impressed, but also apprehensive about what might happen next. Indeed, she turned around and her expression said ‘aren’t you going to try?’ I hesitated but eventually took one hand off, then the next and I fell like a pack of cards. I will never forget her look of disbelief. She could not believe that someone from one of the richest countries in the world could not do something as simple as riding a bike with no hands!
That is the day I realised that we all have our own talents but in essence, we are all the same. I realised that the world is unfair and that my life has been rich through no merit of my own, and her talents were limited through no fault of her own. She was merely born into circumstances that were unable to foster her talents.
On my last day with her, I asked her in my Spanglish what she would like to do when she grows up. She replied – a teacher. I knew that she would be a brilliant teacher from the first day I met her. Then I realised that if I could help children like her fulfil their dreams, they would lift their own communities out of poverty.