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.

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