Monday, October 5, 2015

My why.

With countries that vary so drastically with landscapes and customs, people and traditions, you would think that similarities would be hard to find. After traveling the world this summer and being amongst some of the most needy people in the world, I can tell you, without question, that the only thing that separates us are the circumstances we were born into. We are all born with a beating heart to love with, a brain to think and imagine with and the ability to help one another. These are the basics, and in countries like Nicaragua, Nepal, Cambodia, and Tanzania, it's where they start. It is not a realization they come to after living a life without purpose. What they are not all born with is money, opportunity, a family that wants them or a government that supports them, and somehow they find a way.

This year we had fourty-two student volunteers and 7 chaperones that travelled to four countries. These students and chaperones completed 635 hours of volunteer work within there own communities before ever travelling. They also completed an 8 month long program full of research assignments, character building, language learning, integrity strengthening, and learning how to support one another within their teams. They are held accountable for creating and putting into action their personal fundraising plans, and adhering to deadlines along the way. They all keep blogs of their experiences, which is where you get a unique insight into how much of an impact these experiences provide for this impressionable age group. This program is about so much more that traveling to a developing country. The character development begins form the moment our students are chosen and our standards are high. It is about developing strong, compassionate, global minded individuals. These students are the future leaders of our communities and we feel that they are not trusted with opportunities that match the drive, determination and heart that they possess.

In 2009 I had an experience that drastically changed the path I was on and revealed to me my purpose in life. I did not feel complete in my new community of Vail, Colorado. Having moved from my hometown of Orlando, Florida after a major break-up, I did not feel connected yet to my new home, or to myself. Terrified of the unknown, but determined, I decided to get ambitious and go on the county website to search for volunteer opportunities. I came across an opportunity to become a youth mentor. Within the next two days, I sat through a quick interview at Starbucks and a passed a background check. That very same day, I was standing in a middle school classroom full of students deemed "at-risk" by their teachers. They wouldn't talk to me, look at me, and my voice cracked when I spoke to them from a manual I had never laid eyes on before that moment. I felt scared, inadequate, like being the new kid at the first day of school, they looked right through me. I left that first day and cried on the way home. I had not had many experiences up until that moment where I had to put myself out there and try to fit in or be liked. Having grown up in the same town my whole life, I was "grandfathered" in to almost every situation and always had another person to introduce me to new situations. The safety net was gone, and it was in that vulnerability that I learned the value of pushing through fear and anxiety to everything waiting for me on the other side. So, I continued to show up every week, sitting in the parking lot before every session, planning my escape but never actually escaping. Heading in that classroom to face my fears about my own inadequacies while helping teenagers see past their own. It was in that classroom that I filled in the blanks of what was missing from my life. Giving what I had, even though I didn't fully know what that was at the time. A month went by and then it happened, her name was Adela, and she was 12. Her hair was always in face, hiding, shy, but strangely intimidating. I walked in the classroom and she said, "Hi Lisa-Marie!" I almost fainted, I have never been so shocked to hear my own name. I over-enthusiastically replied with something weird like "Good-day!" My nerves had taken over. Up until that moment I had felt invisible but trusted my instincts that what I was doing would one day matter to these kids. Looking back, if I hadn't felt invisible and intimidated the experience would never have been as impactful to me. These kids I was mentoring felt invisible everyday at school and every night at home. I needed to know what that was like to be able to mentor from that place. Throughout the rest of the semester I got to know them each on a level I never, ever could have anticipated. They trusted me, respected that I kept showing up each week, and once I got past the exterior, they accepted me for exactly who I was. I have never felt so free in my entire life. I was whole-heartedly invested in how these students turned out,  it was my responsibility. They were brilliant, capable, enthusiastic, and not trusted with much more than getting good grades and being nice to their siblings. This experience is why Children's Global Alliance exists today.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

“Om Mani Padme Hung, Om Mani Padme hung” the mantra that is observed on temples and prayer wheels throughout Nepal and carried through the streets by the chanting of this hauntingly beautiful mantra.  Originating from Tibbetan Buddhism, it’s meaning is complex and cannot be translated into a simple phrase or even a few sentences.  The basics of the mantra incorporate generosity, ethics, patience, compassion, perseverance, concentration and wisdom. It is said that all the teachings of Buddha are contained in this one mantra. The depths of this power and lack of words to explain it, are exactly how I would describe the people and cultural strength in Nepal. It is unlike anything I have ever experienced.

I am on day 13 in Nepal with our student volunteer team Nicole, Kevin, AJ and Ava and our team leader Jen. We are on a trip that was never supposed to happen. Two earthquakes rocked Nepal within three weeks. Other programs cancelled, and the integrity of our program was questioned. Deciphering fact from fiction from our fear based media outlets was a challenge. After taking every precaution and communicating with those on the ground in Nepal, the choice to move forward with our trip was clear. I arrived the day before the group and confirmed immediately that our decision was the right one. Witnessing a tarmac filled with supplies from around the world, waiting to be taxed, was my first indication that our hands on approach was needed.  We did not encounter any other teams and there was endless work to be done. I was told that just seeing foreigners walking down the street was bringing smiles and hope to the people. Of course we weren’t satisfied with just showing up.

Throughout our two weeks in Nepal we have pushed ourselves to give everything we have. Asking ourselves, “have we done everything we can?” at the end of each day. During the day we teach at the Deeya Schree school to classrooms full of 150 anxious students. They have been out of school for a month because of the earthquakes and were so eager to get back into their routines. In developing countries the kids actually want to be in school, it is seen and treated as a privilege. The students we teach reside in the slums of Manahara Bhasti and are desperate for a chance to take a path different from their parents. They carry the weight of their entire families on their tiny shoulders. No working computers, no educational posters on the walls, nothing fancy at all and no complaints. We teach eight classes a day and have slowly earned the respect of the students and teachers, a very hard task. Most volunteers that come into the school can handle 1-2 classes a day because of the high energy of the overcrowded classrooms.  Our group arrived early and left late. Our students had also prepared lesson plans prior to arriving and had something prepared for each subject, every day.  Once they got the hang of it, I observed our student volunteers come alive with confidence and become the type of teachers that impact students forever.  This is only half of our job while in Nepal.  After school, at 4:00pm we begin our manual labor; This is not just any manual labor, it is personal. Taking down someone’s home, brick by brick while standing next to the person who has lived their entire life there, will rock you to your core. A widow, a father of three, a family of 11, we helped them all. I was shocked that we were the only foreign team helping with demolition. This demolition is critical to complete within two weeks, prior to the monsoon season. Trying to salvage their ground floors from further damage so they have somewhere to begin to build from, is paramount. Cockroaches crawling over our feet, dust and dirt in our eyes, blood and blisters, we pushed. When you find homework in the rubble, from the day before the earthquake, your task becomes a need and not a want. 

Throughout this trip I have not heard one complaint from our student volunteers. They are our most experienced group to date and have been with our program for four years. They don’t just have a special place in my heart, the have the penthouse, private suite with butler included. They have helped shaped this program into everything is has become. Turning my own personal need to contribute to this world into something I have to do, not a need or a want. I do this for them so that their hearts and souls are expanded into places they never knew existed.  So that they will continue down their own unique paths to uncover their true passions in life and help others along the way. 

I have seen someone take their first breath and watched someone take their last. The moments in between have been filled with great love and loss. Looking back at my experiences around the globe, I come back to one thing that keeps me afloat. I think mostly about the hearts, acceptance and kindness of the people in these places. Not the tourist attractions, shopping or souvenirs, but the people and the light of their beauty in the darkest of situations. I have witnessed the most extraordinary examples of loyalty, resilience, creativity and hope among those who have been cast aside as hopeless. Born without luxuries or any foreseeable opportunities, and still able to carve out their own unique space in all of the chaos and loss that surrounds their everyday lives. Thank you, Nepal.

"Om Mani Padmi Hung" 


Thursday, December 26, 2013

A year in review

Love for the world we live in, love for our children, love for equal opportunities, this organization is fueled by love. We survive solely on the generosity of our supporters. With all that we have been able to accomplish, fueled simply by love and generosity it parallels with the simplicity of life found in the developing countries we work in.

At our annual fundraiser this past March we 
were able to raise   $14,315 
in three hours. The success of those three hours allowed us this year to directly impact thousands of children, families and communities around the world. In Cambodia we built two homes, that house 30 children. Children who previously slept outside. It's extraordinary to see the impact that some wood, nails, concrete and tin can have over someone's life. I think it was more powerful for the children to see the time, care, blood, sweat and tears put into creating their new homes; That we cared and loved them enough to create something beautiful for them. We were able to buy beds, mattresses, sheets and pillows for every child. The day we delivered and set up the beds was surreal. When we left for the day, all I could think about when I laid down to sleep was that those 30 children were finally enjoying some basic comfort for the first time in their lives. 30 tiny heads laying on 30 pillows, comfortable, not worrying about dengue fever or malaria from mosquitoes. We hung pictures of them in their new homes and wrestled with tears as they realized that this was for them, because they deserved to have a safe, clean place to sleep. We were also able to fill their bellies with food, their library with books, and their medicine cabinet for a year.

Food & supplies for 125 families,
In Nicaragua, a portion of the $14,315 dollars made it possible to save lives by providing medication, doctor visits and food. We have lost two children since starting our program in Nicaragua. Marbely died at 9 years old from a heart attack caused by her grandfather running out of her $5 medication. Alejandro was mistakenly given an injection that stopped his heart, he waited 8 hours to see a
government provided "doctor" for a broken arm.  So this money has been critical to never losing another child. It has absolutely saved lives. The lives of Jose daniel, Franklin & Clara, Milagro and Jesus. All suffering from disabilities and parents that can't afford the extra care required to keep them alive.

Escuela Especial, Nicaragua

"Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family." 

In Tanzania it was extremely satisfying to be able to spend $3,200 to provide 150 students with knowledge through textbooks. Previously, only the teachers taught from one battered and torn book, that was passed around the class. As we unpacked the books, the children excitedly peeked in through the doorway and began jumping and smiling, still unsure if the books were really for them. Next year we want to help tackle the $1,200 that is needed to feed all of the children every month and eliminate some of the burden from Mary Sinantei, the single mother and angel among us that keeps the place running, with no help from the government; Fueled by passion through her own struggles.
This brings me to our students from Vail, North Carolina and Florida who travelled with us this year and witnessed the power of love and compassion first hand, like never before. They struggled, fought, and gave every ounce of their hearts and energy every day. To help people they perceived as being able to do absolutely nothing for them.  They do not return they same way they come into this experience. working in these countries expands your mind and the capacity at which you thought you could love something or someone beyond anything you ever thought was possible. Creating global minded, compassionate teenagers that will one day be running the world. They care more, love bigger and want for less.
Naserian, Tanzania

So your donations have been hard at work and directly impacted the lives of not only the children and communities in the orphanages and schools we work in but also in the lives of of children here at home.  Thank you. It amazes me that a three hour fundraiser at a bowling alley full of people that care, and our sole title sponsor and friend, Bob McCormick, allowed us to accomplish so much good around the world. This would not have been possible without your support. So, with my a heart overflowing with love and gratitude, THANK YOU. You have given far more than you may ever realize.

With great love and gratitude,


*Our annual event will be March 2nd, 2014 at Bol in Vail once again! Our goal at this event is to raise $20,000. We are taking 42 students on four trips next summer to Cambodia, Nica and Tanzania!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"Everything we want is on the other side of fear"

Fear, hope, desperation, a glimpse in my direction.

 in Nicaragua it's in their eyes.

An embrace so strong our hearts start beating together, where I can actually feel the weight of the burden they carry, begin to soften.

 In Cambodia it's in their touch.

An indescribable energy, a momentum and light you can feel.

In Tanzania it pours from their souls.

It's the common denominator that links the families and children in these countries together. It is the strength I have felt in an instant from a glance, a hug or someone reaching up to hold my hand. It's what drives me, every day, to share this experience with as many people as I can.

Anyone that has travelled with our group in the past has experienced these feelings and it is something that cannot easily be described. When you combine this feeling with all of the massive amounts of work we are able to accomplish in these countries and the beautiful landscapes and culture of each place, it plays out like a dream.

It has long been a personal dream of mine to be able to properly document our experiences, and feel like we are doing them justice. We have simply not had the resources to fulfill this dream. I found out last week that I am a finalist in a contest that GoPro is having to do just that! I would like to throw out into the universe that I would really like to win. Thank you.

To have the capability to document these experiences in a first person perspective so we could invite people into the experience and shed light into these parts of the world is an extraordinary opportunity.

As we make updates of photos and video available, they will then be shared through our website, allowing for a truly interactive global experience. Not only will we reach those that are in the greatest need of our support, but our story will also reach those in greatest need of awareness of our efforts. We have simply not been capable of bringing the efforts of those on the ground with the global community in real time. It is thrilling for me to think about the classrooms, families, and friends being able to experience this along with us and feel like they are there...without any jet lag!

My goal through this project is to to capture the wealth of love, color and beauty that exists in the most impoverished places on earth. To tell the stories of the indigenous people, and capture the beauty of tradition and custom that are weaved throughout their every day life. This project will open the eyes of the world to the fact that although our struggles are very different, ultimately we are all one.

Fingers crossed,


Friday, August 3, 2012

What is essential? When you take a moment to think about your own life and all that it entails, what is it that you actually, truly, need? Not simply to survive, but to thrive. When I am surrounded by the children at Escuela Especial and standing in front of their families inside of their homes, these questions command the attention of every thought in my head.  For me personally my most essential need, beyond the basics of food and shelter, is the need  to give and receive love. Most of these children do not even have the love of their own families, are fed less than their siblings, over-medicated and locked in dark rooms all day, because they are seen as a burden. Struggling through every second of their lives with no way to communicate except to squeeze your hand, laugh and smile. We often hear that you don't know how strong you are until your strength is tested and the human spirit is one of the most resilient forces in the world. After spending time with children who have special needs in a country that treats them as a curse, needless to say, I understand that resilience with a whole new level of respect.

A majority of the experience for our team in Nicaragua is visiting the homes of children who are too disabled to attend school and also visiting the homes of children who are disabled, being mistreated and have been reported to the Nicaraguan equivalent of social services.  You never know what you are walking into as you stand outside a "home" in the slums. The anticipation and fear of the unknown is a very unique and intimidating feeling. You will see children that are skin and bones with cerebral palsy whose spines and limbs have contorted into the shape of whatever chair they have been sitting in. You will see extremes between children whose parents actually perform their exercises daily, taught to them by a physical therapist, and children whose parents haven't done them for 12 years. You listen as their parents answer your questions about the medications the children are taking for seizures and then show you that they haven't been able to afford it for months. It is impossible to not feel what it must be like for them every day. As difficult as this is to see, there was never any hesitation with having students participate in a service project of this magnitude. It is important for them to not only share in the triumphs of the children in school but also gain awareness into the tragedies that await them at home.

Below are the links to the blogs of the students who are currently in Nicaragua. Their perspectives are priceless and it has been extraordinary to witness the growth and transformation happening daily within each of them.


Monday, July 16, 2012

THAT JUST HAPPENED...these three words ring through my ears loudly when I stop to think about the last month and a half of my life. I am sitting here staring at a blank page as my restless mind once again tries to sort out where to begin. With so many things that happened, big and small, what words could I possibly fill this space with could bring to life to all of the intangible emotions that I have experienced over the last six weeks?  The entire experience is so personal that the thought of not doing it justice, is unlike anything else. I have returned from Cambodia and been back in Nicaragua for four days. Not a minute has passed that I haven't been thinking about how much I miss that place, the student volunteers and chaperones that I moved mountains with, and the energy of the children at the orphanage. We were able to make remarkable progress while falling hopelessly in love with the 50 children and staff who live there. I am completely overwhelmed with pride! 

We began our quest to drastically improve the living conditions, health and self-sustainability options at the orphanage by funding and facilitating running water for the first time ever. It took about a month to get together and was a moment that was bursting with so much joy and gratitude that it will be permanently etched in my brain. No more milk jug tied to a string that went down a well, 50 feet before you would hit water...success! We were then able to repair and extend the roof over the stage area where they all sleep, eat, study and play so they won't get soaked every time that is rains. We got full swing into manual labor mode and weeded, repaired, and cleared out the garbage and scrap piles that had taken over the chicken coop. We constructed a huge pig pen built from the ground up with bricks and mortar, a new roof, and imported a big pink pig named "Lola." There was a massive effort in cleaning the orphanage and 10 years worth of trash that was removed from the yard and replaced with a permanent clothesline. This had enough room to hang laundry for 50 people and created a solution for their clothes hanging on the fence and barbed wire all around the place. We dug rows and planted a crop of vegetables to nourish their bodies and provided fruits and veggies from the market to enhance their daily meals until the crops are ready to eat.  We cut the grass for days on our hands and knees with handheld machetes in 100 degree heat to clear all the areas for the projects. Then there was our daily uphill effort to promote hygiene, a life without a head full of lice and introduced the idea of using soap in the shower. We repaired and rebuilt a fence, all the way around the property that was sagging and broken from them previously having to hang all of their clothes on it. The fence also had gaping holes where people from the neighborhood had been throwing their garbage for years. We distributed clothing, shoes, books and medical supplies to seven different orphanages and made a lot of friends along the way. We also danced with them in the rain, painted their nails, made sure the little one's ate all their vegetables, read them stories, sung songs, washed their clothes and bandaged their cuts and bug bites. We made our mark. We were examples to people we had never met of the transformation that is possible with some hard work and a whole lot of love. We gave the student volunteers a priceless example of DOING....not just talking about it, throwing money at it, or wishing for it, but actually seeing what all of their effort, fund raising, and time was going towards and DOING IT. Every day was an opportunity to do better than the day before, to work harder, give more and to never stop until we had given all we had. In return, they gave us their most prized and sometimes only possession, their love.

This orphanage was different than any place we have ever worked. They weren't really sure what to think of us, they don't see a lot of volunteers, it is the same way in Nicaragua. We have to ease into all of the projects and earn the right to be there. The challenge of these types of places, intrigues me because when it all comes together and it is something you have to earn, it is that much sweeter. Change is never easy, the majority of people who live in the rural areas of Cambodia and Nicaragua still live the same way they did 100 years ago. This is their home and we are strangers, we had to work for the right to be in their home. I would equate it to making someone fall in love with you who has had there heart broken almost every day of their life, not easy. You know it's in there and that they are capable of it, but it gets harder for them to trust each time because of their past.  When they observe you doing manual labor for eight hours in extreme heat and rain, that is when they realize you aren't just stopping by to spoil the kids, on your tour around Cambodia, never to be seen again. They begin to learn your names and squeeze back when you force your hugs upon them, to the point they stick to you like glue.  I arrived a week before the first group of student volunteers to give these awkward hugs, finalize our plans, and confirm where we would be working. Things change in an instant in developing countries so the unexpected is the only thing you can absolutely count on.  After days of visits to 15 other projects with only glimpses of hope, I pulled up to the CPO orphanage in the middle of nowhere and knew it was where we belonged within 5 minutes.   Once the first group of students arrived we dove in, head first. The thrill of seeing these two polar opposite world's collide will always amaze me and make me completely giddy. I feel like I get a front row seat to the way life should always be, giving and loving with no expectation for anything in return. Teenagers from the U.S caring about so much more than they ever thought possible, and actually taking pride in their work when they see the gratitude of the people they are helping, it's beautiful. 

Children's Global Alliance is about so much more than kids helping kids, it is also about kids helping themselves. The expectations begin when the students are chosen for the trip. I feel that every moment of every day is an opportunity for change and growth, even when you are 12-15 years old. This is why they are held to another standard and it doesn't ease up the entire trip. There are rewards and consequences and their behavior on the airplane ride over is just as important as their behavior in front of an audience of fifty kids at the orphanage. They are role models and must act accordingly. If they leave something behind, it is confiscated and they have to pay to get it back, with the proceeds going to our party on the last day at the orphanage. If they don't keep their hotel room clean, they miss out on trips to the market and scrub toilets at the orphanage instead. We show them how important it is to give 110%, even when nobody is watching...that is having integrity. Teaching them that the measure of being a good person is how you treat someone that can do absolutely nothing FOR you....not just in a foreign country, but every day, every person you come in contact with. To not fall into the trap of craving the attention that you get for volunteering, but falling in love with work you are doing and the children you are helping, even if nobody ever finds out that you were there. We even touch on properly fueling your body for all of the intense labor we are doing and how important good nutritional habits are for your mood and energy levels. To teach and enforce the rules of a whole different  level of integrity and respect, this is one of our major goals for our volunteers. As you can imagine, this is exhausting, but means enough (everything) to me and my chaperone's and we are constantly and consistently searching for ways to make them better people. We have them as a captive audience for two weeks in a foreign country, which is a rare honor, and we squeeze everything we can from it. You always hear that kids secretly crave boundaries, this also involves giving them the freedom to make decisions, think for themselves and not enable them to be anything except extraordinary. We promote thinking for themselves about  the next step, taking initiative and not waiting to be told what to do. I have a tremendous amount of respect for parents. To love, feed, educate, provide for your children and to teach them to be good people is a lifetime of work. This program enhances the work you have already done while also changing their perspective on the world. 

I received a letter this morning from a student who just returned from Cambodia. The tears rolled down my cheeks as she detailed beautifully exactly what this experience meant to her and how it has changed her life forever. I am not sure I have ever felt more at peace. The reward of seeing all that we accomplished at the orphanage along with all that the students accomplished personally, is more than I could ever ask for. I wholeheartedly believe that this program is a giant stepping stone to a more fulfilled life for these students and a rare opportunity for them to gain a perspective on life that most adults never even get to experience. It is also a much needed relief for children born in developing countries, that struggle through every day of their lives because of the circumstance they were born into. 

16 students and 5 chaperones all working together to make life better for those who need it most. I am so proud of you Anna, Jack, Creek, AJ, Gena, Haley, Nicole, Keavy, Schariar, Ava, Alex, Bret, Camryn, Mallory, Nikko, and Zoe for opening your hearts and minds to this experience. You each inspire me and it was an honor and privilege to work with you and witness you taking yourselves to the next level. The kids at the orphanage will never forget you and neither will I.  You each own a piece of my heart and I will be here for you, forever. To your parents, thank you for believing in this process and valuing this experience enough to trust us with your children. Thank you for your time and every ounce of love and support along the way.  To all of our friends and family that supported us along the way and continue to support us, your generosity is what fuels this program and none of it would be possible without you, thank you! To Jen, Jamie, Jana, Jenna and Johnny.... the greatest, most passionate team of volunteers I could have ever wished for. Thank you for each sharing your individual strengths with the team of students and for giving your hearts over to the children at the orphanage. I am so grateful for the time and energy you took away from your lives and families and put into making these trips so successful, I love you all so much.

Our next group of student volunteers arrives in Nicaragua  on July 27th, I am more than looking forward to this experience all over again! The need and emotion is so much greater here, but I am confident in the team we have assembled for the job. More blogs to come, thank you for your support!