Photo courtesy: Jeannie Walla.
Campbell Hall School

Commentary: Privileged perceptions

Gaining appreciation and changing lives not only for those being served, but for those performing the service.

Our chaplain announces a trip in which 50 students will cross the border into Tijuana, Mexico to build a house. Whispers pass through the air like a swarm of bees as some were clearly uninterested. I turned to my friend and gave her a look, which translated as wanting to participate.

The trip coordinator came back the next week with the news that the trip was filled up and we were in the works to go. As months passed by, the trip was nearing and the anticipation was felt by everyone. It was sold to us as an opportunity to get community service hours, which is required by our school, but that was just the surface of what was to come.

According to, privilege is defined as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” Fortunately for my friends and I, being in this group has been all we know, growing up in large houses with unlimited toys and no perspective to what it all meant, inevitably secluded us to how the majority of world lives. Luxury is intertwined into every aspect of our lives especially as busy high school students and attendees of a prestigious private school.

The day was finally upon us.

Straight off the bus the increasing tightness of tool belts parallel the feelings of suspense as the day is starting. The desolate workspace lays lingering in anticipation of the long day ahead. The ground is composed of dirt as stray dogs consume the barren sidewalks. The hammering of nails begins as paint covers the slabs of wood which will soon make up a home for a family in need.

As the house began to stand on its own, the volunteers themselves stood on the soil of Tijuana and realized the incredible act they had performed. There weren’t Mercedes passing by on the streets or trendy sushi restaurants on every corner. For those in Tijuana, materialistic items are just what they sound like. Materials. Most of the locals can only afford the necessities and seem content with what they have, completely unaware of the lavish lifestyles we live just beyond the border.

We stood there in silence admiring this monumental task; not just the physical house itself but the feelings we were experiencing, our surroundings, and reflecting on our own lives. The people we worked with were far more than just a building crew and the family we helped, but our new friends and allies

As we stepped back onto the bus and walked up the same stairs we had gone down earlier that day, we were all changed people. We went there expecting to just build a house, but the impact it had on us changed our lives forever.

It was late at night as the bus pulled into the school parking lot. Our journey home was so very different from the one there, feelings of anticipation had been replaced by silent reflection, exhaustion, and accompanied by the occasional snore. A waiting caravans of Range Rovers, Mercedes, and BMW’s illuminated the side of the bus as we departed, hugging one another and saying our goodbyes.

As I climbed into my mom’s car I couldn’t help but think what a sheltered and privileged life I’ve had. I was grateful and knew from that point forward it would be my responsibility to do more, help more, and love more indefinitely.