Big hearts: Bowen recalls epiphany
THURS. | 03-10-22 | FEATURES
For many teenagers, summer is filled with beach trips and pool parties, but for Rose junior Polina Bowen, her summer looked a little different.
Last summer, Bowen went to Tanzania, a country in East Africa, with her mom. In Tanzania, they were able to interact and work with women aged from sixteen to fifty-four, teaching them about women’s empowerment.
This trip was done through the International Volunteer HQ, which is a New Zealand based volunteer travel company.
Throughout the trip, Bowen and her mom taught the women a multitude of different topics.
“We taught them what they
Photo contributed by Polina Bowen
wanted to know about the Earth and how it works,” Bowen said. “We taught them about their bodies and that ‘no means no’.”
Bowen felt that she gained more than she gave because of how jarring the experience was. Many of the girls she met had children at a young age and Bowen noticed how much their life would change after having their child.
“They’re not allowed to have abortions so they would have babies, and then they weren’t allowed to go to school if they had a baby, so it was a real eye-opener,” Bowen said.
Bowen’s expectations going into the trip were quickly shattered once they arrived.
“I thought the community center would have been bigger and that it would be more organized, but it was really small and unorganized,” Bowen said. “But, because it was unorganized, we were able to teach them anything we wanted to really, and we got to teach them English.”
Because of the trip, Bowen has reevaluated some of the things that she used to take for granted. She thinks of the girls she met while buying new things because some of them are without basic necessities such as a clean water source.
“I sort of regret buying things because they can’t even put food on the table sometimes,” Bowen said. “We went and visited some of the girls' houses and it was just dirt; they couldn’t afford electricity.”
Bowen was shocked at the stark contrast between what she knew and the world she was now experiencing.
“It’s such a different world,” Bowen said.
Not only were these girls facing financial difficulties; each had their own personal stories that Bowen felt saddened by.
One of the girls Bowen met had a story that greatly affected her. The girl’s birthday was a day after her own and she had to drop out of school at the age of fourteen due to a traumatic experience. Bowen couldn’t believe that this girl, who was the same age as her, had experienced so much at such a young age, and she couldn’t help but compare the girl's life to her own. She was in disbelief at the stark differences.
“Hearing the stories at the beginning [had me] crying because they were just horrible, and I didn’t think anything like [that] could happen,” Bowen said. “You see them give so much love and then you remember they went through so much hardship and I just think ‘how?’.”
Despite the hardships these girls had experienced, Bowen was shocked by their constant positive demeanor.
“Each girl had a different, devastating story but after all of their experiences, they’re like a ball of joy and happiness and they made me want to be the same way,” Bowen said.
Bowen’s advice to anyone wanting to go on a similar trip is to bring a journal.
“I wrote in my journal every day and once in a while I love to go back and read it and reminisce on my experience,” Bowen said. “Also, Greenville isn’t the only place; you can do whatever you want if you put in the effort.”
Other than that, Bowen lives by the saying:
“Feel the fear; do it anyway.”