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Sense of gratitude fuels relief work


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POSTED: Thursday, November 26, 2009

(Editor's note: This was written by Tiare Cross, a 1995 Kalaheo High School graduate currently serving with Relief International in Indonesia.)

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Dear Mom,

I am sorry that I will not be home for Thanksgiving this year. I will miss our Kailua-style meal of grilled fish, sushi, Nonna's famous soup, and chocolate-haupia pie. I will miss our family kayak, beach picnic, or hike the day after Thanksgiving.

Although I won't be home, I am still incredibly thankful. This Thanksgiving, I'll spend in Padang, Indonesia, working with my colleagues at Relief International to find quick and sustainable ways to rebuild communities devastated by the September 2009 earthquake on West Sumatra. I am lucky to get to spend this holiday doing the work that I love, helping people affected by disasters.

I have you to thank for patiently supporting my decision to follow this unique path in life. It is not the most glamorous or high-paying job, but at the end of most days I know that I tried to make a difference, I tried to make people's lives a bit more bearable under the disastrous circumstances they are faced with.

Being thankful is an underestimation of how I feel when I try to comprehend how lucky I am to have been born in the United States. While our country certainly has its challenges, we have hospitals, doctors, dentists, trash collection, sewer systems and safe drinking water. Girls go to school freely and have great futures ahead of them, without worry of being forced into early marriage.

The places I have traveled to recently for work — Sudan, Yemen, and Indonesia — struggle to provide their citizens with even the most basic services. Violent conflict and war have forced families into camps — living out of tents and forced to subsist on hand-outs from aid agencies. In some of these countries, life expectancy is less than 60 years of age and girls have a greater chance of dying in childbirth than they do of completing school. I can think of hundreds of other reasons that I have seen first-hand for why I am thankful for my U.S. passport and the freedoms it guarantees me.

I am thankful for all of the dedicated Hawaii public school teachers that inspired me to think globally, despite their low pay and limited school budgets. At Kalaheo High School, Mrs. Fincke first sparked my interest in humanitarian work during an assignment on the 1994 Rwandan genocide. I have not yet been able to thank her because I also missed my last high school reunion because I was working in Sudan. I hope Hawaii's teachers can get back into the classroom full time soon — Hawaii's students need them and the world needs Hawaii's students.

Mom, I hope you forgive my absence and know that I will be living the spirit of Thanksgiving with many dedicated aid workers in Padang this year. I'll come home soon, I promise.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Love,

Your eldest daughter,

Tiare