‘I forgot all my problems’

A news station in Algeria provides an example of what Bahdja Sehli saw at a hospital. 

When I was younger, I loved life. I thought that the world was a peaceful place. This world was where we could have fun, laugh and simply enjoy our lives. When I got older, I started to understand that I live in a world full of numerous trifling events filled with violence. I started to notice many poor people, homeless and sick, who needed help. I felt heartbroken when I saw them like that. I did not understand that they were suffering beyond a point that no one could imagine.

            Every time I saw one, I would give to charity, and I thought that was all that I could ever do to help them. I thought that all that they needed was money, but all I could give was dimes. I wasn't a person eager to do community service activities at that time. I didn't know much about the concept, and I just didn't try to engage in it.

            A few years later when it became the month of Ramadan, something different happened, and it changed my life. Ramadan is one month of the year where Muslim people fast from the dawn to sunset and pray dutifully.  During this period, Muslim families visit each other, spend time together and try to do almost anything that helps people, animals and the environment.

One of the nights, all the family gathered in the common room and watched the news on one of the Algerian channels. I was not interested in news so I didn't watch with them. I was sitting in a corner playing with my phone. On this news, they showed some bad events that were happening in the country that affected my cousins, so they decided to do something and had the idea of going to one of the lesser-privileged hospitals to visit the patients and give them syringes and water. My cousins needed someone to drive them there so they asked me. I agreed to just drive them there and come back. When we reached the hospital, they could not hold and carry all that they had brought, so I said, "I will help you carry this upstairs, and then I'll go."

             This was the first time I had visited the hospital. When I entered, I opened my eyes and mouth widely. I was totally shocked by what I saw. The hospital was in a very bad shape and the smell was awful. I was walking in some corridors that weren't as clean as they were supposed to be and I saw some injured people walking and looking for nurses. I didn't even know how they were standing. I walked toward another corridor where I heard the screams of pregnant women, who had to wait for their turn with the doctor. My skin trembled and I felt so scared. The hospital didn't seem as I expected before at all. I was so surprised.

            I went with them upstairs and for a moment I was curious to know what the rooms would look like. I decided to enter and talk to the patients, so I told my cousins that I would stay and help them until they finished. The first room I entered was small with a big window where you can see the newly born babies. They had puffy faces, wearing white and lying in small bassinets. They looked so cute and I kept looking and smiling at them. A nurse came and told me that some of them are orphans and they had no water or syringes. I took a glance at the window seeing these small babies and I felt that they were very weak. That moment was heartbreaking.

I went to the second room in another corridor which was so quiet. There was an old woman lying in bed. There was a small table next to her where she put her medicine, and an empty chair in the corner. Nothing else was in this room. I brought the chair next to her and we talked a little. She told me a lot about herself and then she said, "I feel so happy seeing you here, I was feeling so bored and lonely because no one came to visit me." In that moment, I felt so sad leaving her, but we had to complete our work before visiting hours ended. When I left, I kept thinking about her because being sick makes you feel weak. You need care and people around you, so what if you are an old disabled woman and no one is sitting by your side? I figured that needy patients can suffer both physically and mentally.

Then, I moved to another room where I found another woman. I gave her the bottle of water and she held it tightly as I gave her gold or diamonds. She seemed very content, and then she told me, "I want to thank you for this bottle because I had only few sips of water in two days and haven't eaten anything since the first." I could feel for her because before I fast I eat a lot of food, and even though I know that after the sun sets I will eat more. I still feel starved during the day, so I was just thinking about her. She didn't eat enough before, and she doesn't know when she will again.

            The nurse came and told us that we had to leave so the patients could sleep. I lifted our empty boxes and went downstairs. When we were about to leave I felt so tired. That day I lived many emotionally hard moments. I couldn't drive so I just sat in one of the chairs outside wondering if the patients can sleep in such hospital, suffering alone. 

            Moments later, I recovered my strength, and we went home. I couldn't sleep that night. The scenes that I saw were repeating in my head every single minute. The words that I heard were still ringing in my ears, and I had feelings that changed my whole perspective. It made a great impact on me.

            I forgot all my problems and I didn't think that I could call them problems anymore. When I saw where people spend their days, while they live their hardest moments, when I could know how much people can suffer physically, morally and face the most challenging difficulties in their lives; then I knew the real meaning of the word problems.

            I wasn't aware of how some people in my community can live such harsh lives while we live the good, easy life. I felt I should have watched the news, gotten educated about how some people live, cared more, asked about them and tried to help in anyway.

I learned that money is not the only way that you can lend a hand. Even smiles, words, visits or anything helps. You can never know how what you do will help the other person.

             This experience taught me a lot and shaped the person I am today. It changed me in so many ways. I became more aware about my society and became very interested in community service. At first I couldn't find an organization that has girls who worked for them, but I found an educational program about learning the English language that also had some activities related to leadership where they used to do community service activities.

I participated in it for a while, but those activities were focused only on visits to the hospital or the orphanage and I wanted to learn more about community service and come up with new ideas. I looked on the Internet about a program called UGRAD. I read a little about it and from early on I knew that it was a program I would be interested in.  The website said that UGRAD is a leadership program which would be in the United States. But I had no idea that it was an academic program too. I wrote and sent in all my essays and when it came to the section of filling in the questionnaire, I realized that UGRAD is a scholarship to study and learn in a prestigious university in the U.S. The idea that I wanted to help people enabled me to achieve one of the greatest scholarships I ever knew.  I knew then, that when you do something for others, you always get something in return.

            I traveled to the United States to learn more about community service, expand my knowledge in this field and learn many new ideas about how you can help people. I'm sure that my experience in America will assist me with helping and developing my community when I go back home.

            Now I don't see the world as a horrible place, since I know that there is something called community service. I'm sure that the world will get better if people help each other and work for the environment.


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