I was put in jail because I was an immigrant. I didn’t realize the place I was in was a jail because it seemed to have everything. I looked like a complete home. My cellmates asked me what I was doing there and I told them I was waiting for them to take me into jail. They all turned to each other just for a second in silence before saying, “This is JAIL girl, wake up!”
Thinking back to home in Ghana, I never studied at night because I had no electricity in the village where I was born. We drink from the same water that the cows also drank from. I was happy with this life because I had never had other options, no other version of life I knew. We made every piece of our food, fetched our water, breathed fresh air while we did it during all the seasons in the year. I moved to America and thought people wouldn’t see and value what they have. I discovered that most people use their time just to criticize those things. Maybe it’s just because they don’t realize that the water that they use to flash their toilet is cleaner than people like me used to drink in our countries. Everyone needs to learn to be happy about the life you have right now. It might seem difficult at the moment to be where you are and not where you want to be, but also remember there are billions of people who will never ever get even the simplest of luxuries let alone have what they need to live each day.
I was so appreciative the first time we had some left-over food at one of the shelters I was living at when I first came to the United States. Eating all that you can and having more than is needed is not an option for any of the children where I grew up. We cooked with less than half of what we needed to feed our family. We ate without meat. We shared one egg between five people. My siblings and I went to school without shoes on. We only had one textbook for our course that all of us shared. Our parents couldn’t afford a pencil for each of us so we broke one pencil into three so that each one of us could have a part.
It’s important to remind ourselves about the importance of thriving, thinking about that as thriving on what we already have. To be happy about every moment that we are living now. Many people take the things they have for granted, something others have to risk their lives to get. Many will do whatever it takes just to have the taste of a life where our basic needs are met and we can start working hard for anything more. Not just working each day to try to survive.
I started working at the age of seven just to save enough money to buy myself little extras like balloons, candy, and snacks on Christmas. I helped pull weeds out of people’s gardens and on their farms, I walked far to look for mangos and mushrooms to sell, but I couldn’t make $3 in a year. People call this child labor as I’ve learned this term now, but we called it a hard-working kid and a good kid.
I live today in America with no family or friends, in a totally opposite cultural experience than in my youth. I feel happy to tell anyone I get the opportunity to share with about my story. But when I see those that have so much and who aren’t grateful for all that they have it makes me think of the pain felt back home. That life is still living in me. I’m grateful for those I do have, who make me feel encouraged and supported. There is no world without caring for each other. After having enough food and clean water and a warm place, it is caring about another that means the most. It’s really one thing that never becomes an outdated version or not in fashion or just something to throw away because it’s worn. I thrive now here in the US not because of what things I have but because of those who are around me helping me through.
MENTEE is a virtual and global mentoring program for underserved populations from around the world. The amount of time you give and when is up to you! Find out more about our mission that helps amazing mentees like Vida and how to get involved at www.menteeglobal.org!