Three Westminster High School students found out quickly this summer about cultural differences within their own country, as well as some in Mexico.
Jason Cangelosi, Scott Riddle and Neal Page were part of a 10-student group of Central Maryland YMCA youths who traveled to El Paso, Texas, for four days last month. Each day, the group crossed the border to Juarez, Mexico, to the YMCA-Juarez Sports Center, where they swept up trash, painted over graffiti and made other improvements to the open-air facility.
"The purpose of the trip was twofold -- to provide a cultural learning experience and do a community service project," said Dave Stevenson, executive director of Carroll County Family YMCA.
The students and their adult chaperons worked each day until midafternoon in hot, dry weather, cleaning the center's basketball courts and other play areas. For the Westminster youths, it was their first trip to a country vastly different from their own.
The heat was so dry that the group had to take plenty of water to drink while working to keep from dehydrating. The high elevation, 4,500 feet, was another factor that kept them from working too long without rest and nourishment.
The students encountered a language barrier. Even in El Paso, 70 percent of the people speak Spanish, Stevenson said. But Jason and Neal spoke some Spanish, which helped.
"We picked out bits and pieces of what the people were saying," Neal, 14, said.
"It was hard to understand the people when they talked fast, but if they slowed down and repeated their words, then I could understand," Jason, 16, said.
While at the sports center, which had been abandoned for some time, area youths who saw the group working frequently helped. Trash, rocks and dirt were hauled from the concrete basketball courts; poles, posts and walls were painted.
"I got covered with paint -- we got into a paint fight," Scott, 16, said, laughing.
After their work was finished each day, the group returned to El Paso to relax and have fun. The youths went rock climbing and discovered more mosquitoes than they had ever seen at one time in one place.
Scott said that Jason "grew a third elbow from the bug bites." The mosquitoes were so bad they speckled the climbers.
"Some people didn't make it because of the bugs," Neal said. "The higher you went, the less the bugs bit you, but there were swarms of mosquitoes."
They group also played miniature golf, bumper cars and bumper boats and saw a musical of "Viva El Paso," which told the story of how the different cultures mixed -- Spanish, Mexican, American, Indian.
They also got a new experience in shopping.
"The Mexican market was amazing," Neal said. "You know how the price is set here, but over there you have to bargain for things. Like they'll want $20 for a poncho, you say, 'That's too expensive,' then you bargain down to maybe $15. That's what they want."
A shock for the Carroll youngsters was the poverty. Stevenson said the average annual income per household in Mexico is $350.
"It's a very Third World country, it's very poor," Stevenson said.
"I really enjoyed the experience," Scott said, "but I really wouldn't want to live there because of the poverty. I feel real good about what we did and I'm glad I had the opportunity."
Jason and Neal agreed. The trip was well-planned and a good experience, they said, a chance to see a different country and the people, as well as helping those in need.
"The kids worked hard," Stevenson said. "They were hand-picked because they were mature and responsible. Not once did I have to push them to get the work done."
Pub Date: 9/23/96