Helping People Find Meaning

Jack GreenDecember 4, 2023Finding MeaningHelping Hands

Artwork by Sara Garcia Torija, age 15, Spain

What do you associate with the word “help”?

Many people associate this word solely with doing something nice for others. They’re not wrong; however, helping others very often means helping yourself, too. Helping others can lead to (among other things) finding new interests or talents and getting to know yourself better. I once helped somebody else while also receiving help, and this enabled us both to find deeper meaning in the values of education.

Every summer for the past three years, my brother and I have been going to a sleepaway camp called Camp Wawa Segowea. It is an outdoorsy camp in Massachusetts, surrounded by lots of wildlife. There are only about 80 campers, so everyone knows each other, and this contributes to a strong sense of community in the camp. This year, camp was even better than before, because we had the largest number of international counselors since 2010. One of these people was my cabin counselor, Dener.

Dener is a social entrepreneur (“a person who establishes an enterprise with the aim of solving social problems or effecting social change,” according to Oxford Languages) from Brazil. He came to the US to visit famous places and tourist attractions and to see what ideas he could take back to his hometown in Brazil. As a camp counselor, Dener was phenomenal. He was extremely kind, personable, and smart. He was always open to teaching me something, such as his past experiences playing soccer with the professional player Neymar. He also told me about his job in Brazil. As a social entrepreneur, Dener is deeply involved in trying to fix social issues. One issue Dener cares about is improving his hometown in any way he can.

Along with telling me about his life, he also taught me hands-on things like how to make a kite, and he was open to learning new things. He has been to many different countries and learned many different languages. I was able to teach him precise elements of the English language, such as different pronouns. In my cabin there was somebody who was transgender, and Dener, not quite understanding the concept of they/them pronouns, felt comfortable coming to me and asking me about it.

Dener was equally eager to help campers and participate in their games. One of these games, knockout, required shooting a basketball. Although Dener is a very athletic person, his areas of expertise lie in soccer and surfing. Dener, seeing that basketball was a sport I had some experience with, asked me to help him shoot more accurately. I taught him some tips about foot placement and the guide hand, and he improved quickly.

I was also able to teach him some more unconventional skills, including how to get a bird out of the cabin. When my family and I went on a vacation, a bird repeatedly found its way into our house, so I had some experience with using brooms to shepherd them out. All in all, no matter the subject or its importance, Dener’s eagerness to learn made it easy to teach him new skills, and he was as good a teacher as he was a student.

As we got to know each other, we became great friends. We found we had many things in common, such as skateboarding and a love of traveling. Dener would occasionally tell me about some of the different countries that he has been to. Along with common interests such as these, Dener and I told each other about the culture in our countries, even small things, including why wearing a Memphis Grizzlies cap with an L.A. Lakers jersey might seem strange and abnormal to some people. On the last day of camp, when I had to go home, Dener’s eyes were watering and I felt incredibly sad, too. He even gave me a kite he made with a message on it as a parting gift, and we exchanged phone numbers.

One important thing that friends do for one another is help each other out. We would always help each other if we could. One way he helped was to get me ice for my knees because of my Osgood-Schlatter disease. We were also able to help each other in deeper ways. Even in our everyday camp routines we helped each other find meaning in one of the most vital aspects of life: learning.

Of course we understood the benefits of learning to some degree. We both knew that education was extremely important to leading a prosperous life, and without it, one’s life can be extremely difficult. Although we understood this, what we didn’t understand was just how much one person can teach another, regardless of age or social status. Dener taught me so much about Brazil and how he grew up. I learned that despite his current success and experiences, Dener had grown up without a lot of money. When he talked about his neighborhood in Brazil, he would talk about how the houses were shared and everyone was pretty poor. Additionally, he wanted to create tourist attractions in his neighborhood to generate some more money for the community. Once, when I asked him about his life in Brazil and what sports he watched, he told me about how his home didn’t have a TV and was shared with another family.

I was surprised and interested by the differences in our lives. Although I understood that of course living in different countries would mean having different lifestyles, I was shocked that what would be considered so strange here might be the norm there. Even in small cheap apartments in the US, people still live by themselves and usually have TV’s, so I hadn’t given much thought to other lifestyles. This taught me the meaning and importance of asking people questions no matter their age or social status, even if you believe you already know the answer. I was also able to teach Dener this lesson when he asked me about New York City and other famous US cities. He was interested in learning about the best aspects of these cities so he could take them back to his hometown in Brazil. He would ask me about my favorite places, what made these cities tourist attractions, and why certain places were different from others. I believe he realized that despite my younger age, there was meaning in asking me questions and I could help him achieve his goals, even in little ways.

Although I haven’t seen Dener since camp, our friendship continues to impact me. I have learned so much from him, from things about his country to the meaning of learning. When someone is trying to teach me something, especially if it isn’t the most thought-provoking topic, I might have tuned out in the past. But now, I think of Dener and I realize that I may find information that is interesting or important, even if the lecture might seem a little boring. I would encourage everyone to look out for others everywhere, because the most meaningful relationships can be found in unexpected places. Everyone has something to teach and everyone has something that they can learn. Always remember, information can come from even the most unexpected sources, like a camp counselor.

Jack Green is a member of the New York City Editorial Board.