What 16-year-old Daniel Martinez saw this summer will stick with him forever.
Soon to be a junior at Huntley High School, the Lake in the Hills teen went to a village in Fiji from June 11 to June 27 to build flush toilets for a family living in a house the size of his bedroom.
The parents and two boys, ages 3 and 1, were using basically a box with thin metal walls, a curtain and a hole in the ground. Martinez worked alongside other volunteers as part of a Humanitarian Experience for Youth, www.hefy.org, to give the family more.
"They were so grateful," Martinez said. "It's amazing what so little can do for people out there. ... Being out there, these people have hardly anything, and they're so happy to have nothing. To see how much I have ... it's life-changing. It really made me want to start to work for things."
Martinez was one of a group of 19 youth and three to four adult coaches who took humanitarian expeditions this summer through the non-profit organization.
Numerous organizations host similar outings to third world countries, while others provide community service opportunities to youth in the United States.
In the past decade, more summer camps are building in community service as part of their activities, adding trips to nursing homes, fundraising campaigns and other efforts.
Through Humanitarian Experience for Youth, families must pay about $2,000 to $3,000 cover the cost of the trips. Through fundraising efforts, they can cut down on those costs.
Martinez, the son of Vanessa and Fernando Martinez, is the latest in his family to take the trip, with both his older brother and sister going previous years.
Once there, teens do some brief sightseeing and bonding before embarking on projects in places such as Belize, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Tonga and the Dominican Republic.
In Fiji, Martinez worked alongside the father, a carpenter, and a couple of other volunteers to build the flush toilet.
They were given all the supplies and instructions and stayed in a small hotel, traveling to the home daily to work from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.
"It's just this little hut basically, about the size of a bedroom," he said of the family's home. "They have everything inside, two beds, a couch and right next to it, supplies and clothes. ...
"What I learned from it was to enjoy what I have, even the little things."By JAMI KUNZER - firstname.lastname@example.org