Was it Worth It?

Was it Worth It?

By Jean Rauschenbach

In the summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to go on a short-term mission trip to Mexico with my church.  The purpose of the trip was to continue building relationships with the churches in Juarez and in a small mountain village deep in central Mexico. 

We six Americans traveled with 14 local Mexicans from Juarez to San Juanito. The directors of an orphanage and youth from three churches in Juarez were to work together while presenting a one week Vacation Bible School (VBS).  Our main job in San Juanito was to help the Mexicans with the VBS.  There were 75 or so children of various ages from toddlers through elementary school.  We mostly helped with the age group classes, filled in for crowd control and played with the children during free times.

 Back in the 1980s, I went on several of these short-term mission trips.  In those days, my vision was better so I didn’t go as a full-fledged, cane-carrying blind person.  It was a relief, this time, to admit that I couldn’t see well, but that wasn’t going to deter me from stepping into the unknown.  This time it was a relief not to have to fake being able to see when I really could not.   

We worked on the VBS for the first week and did some sightseeing and church services the second week.  During that first week, I noticed the children would shy away from me.  Most of them had never seen a long white cane and didn’t know what it was for.  I am sure I caused not a little confusion because I was taking pictures and moving around freely.  Yet when someone came to speak to me, I couldn’t recognize his or her face.

Because I had been on trips like this before, I rather knew how it would be.  Before we left for Mexico, I met the people in several preliminary meetings.  Everyone seemed to relate with me well then.  But when we were away from our familiar surroundings, things changed.

Because of several things, I found it difficult to relate to some of the people in our group.  One was that I did not speak Spanish very well.  Two of the girls spoke enough to carry on simple conversations.  Another was that I, like three of the others, had not been with the Mexicans from Juarez before and therefore lacked a relationship with them.  Another was because all of them were all under 30 years old and I was…well, not.  The final and probably the biggest reason, was because of my blindness.  It took almost until the end of our time together to even begin to relate with the Mexican youth.  I am sure none of them had encountered blind people in any positive situations.  It didn’t help that one of the American girls played the role of the Alpha Female and decided I would not be one of the passengers who would travel with her in her car when we went on different day trips.  

During the second week, we spent a lot of time together.  We did a lot of hiking through rough terrain.  I was determined that I would not stay behind because it was hard walking.  Once the guys saw that I was going to climb rocks or go down steep hills, they came and supported me as I climbed some of these difficult trails.

In Mexico, women are supposed to be more demure and not do things men would do.  Leave it to me to break stereotypes.  One time, all the guys went swimming.  I wanted to go so badly, but none of the women was willing to get wet.  I decided to go for it, in spite of the fact that I was wearing jeans and it would take all afternoon for them to dry.  After I got in, a few of the rest decided it must be OK.

Another time, we went to a place where there was a lookout tower.  Again, only the guys climbed the rickety metal ladder up the 30 feet to the top.  After I reached at the top, a couple of the other girls decided it must be safe and followed me up.

During the entire time in Mexico, I never saw a single person with any disability. Through an interpreter, I asked the director of the orphanage if she had any children with any disability in her orphanage.  She seemed reluctant to look at me as she told me that these children go to “special” schools that treat them well.  I asked her if she knew of any blind children integrated into the regular Sunday school classes.  This line of questioning made her very uncomfortable and she was very happy to be interrupted by her daughter’s request for help.

One day we had a meeting where the directors of the orphanage told their stories.  After they finished, the director went around thanking each of the Americans for supporting the work and saying something about each of us.  When she came to me she started crying.  As was to be expected, she was amazed at my bravery to come to such a place while not being able to see well.  Of course, I should have expected to hear such a statement.  I guess I was glad she had anything nice to say at all.  I did my part in helping with the children and with the cooking, but she could only be amazed that I managed at all.

The beginning of a journey is taking the first step, and that is so with blind people in Mexico.  Everyday life for most Mexicans is very difficult.  In a society like this, it is truly the survival of the fittest.  People with disabilities are the least fit.  There is little or no training for people with disabilities so they are relegated to “special” places where they are out of the way.  Unless Mexico has a grass roots organization like the National Federation of the Blind advocating on behalf of the blind there, freedom for the blind will never come.  I am glad that I was there to show the Mexicans that with proper adjustment to blindness, both in attitude and skills, blind people could do the same things they do.

To anyone who wishes to travel to do short term mission trips, I would say, be prepared to feel a little left out.  I suppose I could have put up a fuss about the way I was being treated, but it was not my intention to be the center of attention.  I wanted to blend in and do my part, which I think I did.  Had the trip been a little longer than just two weeks, I think relationships would have developed better.  During the last couple of days, the Mexican girls began to feel more comfortable with me.  Knowing the potential was there, I felt much better about my effect on them.

Even though I wouldn’t say the trip was a smashing success personally, it still was worth it just for a blind person to leave a positive impression on the Mexican people.