Friday, January 7, 2011

Eyes Opened

So please bear with me world as I have never been one to blog or know how to so I am going to simply reflect over this amazing experience.

This one trip has provided a multitude of different experiences I never could have imagined. There was no way that I could have ever guessed what was bound to happen when you coupled 20 fraternity and sorority college students with a war torn country in need of all the help it can get. From the beginning most could assume that this trip would definitely be a hit or complete miss when it came down to how successful a program can be. But I suppose we all should have known better when every participant had agreed to give their time of from school up in order to go to a country that is struggling in every way after an unimaginable civil war that almost seems to continue. Please forgive me for not being able to remember who it was that said it, but the message is what is important. “ There is nothing more powerfull than the will and strength found in a volunteer.” This could not have been proven more correct than in these short days we spent together volunteering our time, energy, health, blood, sweat, tears and from the end looking back, our hearts. Many of these people whom I have had the privilege of working along with, I also have the privilege of bonding and connecting through the work we did with eachother. But what I feel is more important than being able to come together with other motivated greeks is the impact that this small group of individuals can make in only five days of work. Yes there are those that would disagree, but those are the people who do not understand. In five days, the foundation was set for a family who is living under a piece of tin metal and surrounded by blankets and sheets, In those same five days, the foundation was also set for a future daycare that will see hundreds upon hundreds of children from one community and give them a safe haven from the cruel world constantly pressuring them to join the gang life here that misleads the countries youth. And lastly in these last days the children who do not have parents to look after them were given a temporary family of ‘gringos’ who they could not let go by the end of every single day. Soon these children will be continuing their education while looking for a better life and a family of eight will no longer live worrying about the eight month old daughter will die from the heat and unforgivable sun.

Yes the effect of a volunteer is truly unstoppable when put into action. But again, this was not what I could have imagined when I came. When I first applied for this program I was beyond excited because it all seemed to fit so perfectly. It was a volunteer project in Central America involving children and building structures the communities need. I am currently studying to become a high school spanish teacher who already has over ten years experience in various manual labor jobs. It screamed my name louder than the fireworks of New Years. I consider this all the biggest among blessings I have ever come across in my life and I noted it right away. For me, I was unable to express how great I felt because I was able to transfer all my skill sets to this one project from the manual labor to connecting the language barrier between the locals and the volunteers. It was extremely personal being able to communicate with locals and being able to truly understand the words of praise and thankfulness that they tried so hard to express. And I could not be more proud to help everyone just by doing what my family had raised me to do, understand two languages and work to my full potential. For a short time I had come up with a quote that I have always done my best to live by for a long time now. “Blessings are not the things that God gives us, but the things God gives us to share with others.” This project opened my eyes to see that I am not only willing to break my back for my family, but for complete strangers as well. I love my family and of this there is know doubt, but I have never had more satisfaction than I did this one week working to better the lives of people whom I will most likely never see again.

This actually leads me to my next point and a very important lesson I had already known, but finally also opened my eyes too. During the middle of this week I had to stay home with the sick group. I myself was not sick but for an overly active ambition I hurt my health and was forced to stay. After two days of extreme work in a new enviroment my body had run out of gas and this was further worsened by my lack of water. But because I wanted so much to keep helping I pushed through the early symptoms of dehydration to work a half day at the most difficult work site available. To give a small description, the task at the site was to deepen trenches that were filled with rocks, boulders and literally half concrete half clay soil all on the side of a large hill with absolutely no shade cover. I chose to continue to this site because I felt I could help out so much and advance the project because of my background. Unfortunately because I ignored what my body was telling me, within the first hour of climbing down the large hill to retrieve drinkable water for the family that we were helping I had developed a fever. With three hours left at the site I further ignored my body, refused to sit down and kept working in the unrellenting sun. To keep the story short, our time at the site was done and I had a full fever with the biggest headache ever. Fortunately as soon as we met up with the other group I did ask for medicine at the right time and my health slowly but steadily began to get better. But because I did not listen to my body the night before/morning of and chose to work, I was now set up to miss the next full day of work instead of just a half day. The moral of this story is that even the most ambitious motivated volunteers need to be smart and take care of their body because if you are not at your best health you will not be able to give your best help, or worse miss a whole day of it.

My final note for the night is to reflect to what my eyes were most opened to, and that was the development of myself. When I came I had a few assumptions of what I was going to be doing. The biggest of which I guessed I would be helping translate for those who did not know the language. Never could I possibly imagined that this one issue would be what helped me make my biggest personal break through. To give some background, even when I applied I infromed the selection group that I can be a good leader but am a better “second in command” you could say. I have always felt more comfortable letting others take the lead with things and focusing on being their best resource to help accomplish anything and everything. If need I would always be ready and able to step up and lead any group, but I always stepped back. This trip and being the most fluent spanish speaker forced me to step up in many different ways, yes mostly just translating a few sentences here and there. But soon those sentences were the instructions on what to do at each job sight, explaining to children what they are to do for activities and relaying information back and forth for drivers, leaders and project coordinators. Today however was where I made my breakthrough. I not only spent the whole day translating anything and everything for my fellow workers but also, a doctor, a nun, a dance group and a music group. Being able to do these things wasn’t where I grew. I grew when I finally accepted my success in what I do and stepped up to translate for the our group (and another group of tourists who were at the historical site we were fortunate enough to visit today). For me it was more than just converting the words others could not understand, it was becoming the leader of the group (even if by default). It is truly a feeling I cannot express in these few words but the short version of it all is that I have never felt more useful to so many people and it all built up from the second day at the orphanage to standing in front of groups of people being the one person who could help give meaning to what they were experiencing.

I really do wish this could have been written better but the fact is this experience is better told in person, but will always be best experienced. The other fact is that Tricia is waiting impatiently for my to stop typing so we can all go to bed and be up before 5am so we can catch our flights. (Luckily for me I usually have to be up by that time so I will be fine, but since I would like to come back to this opportunity next year I will let her go to bed because I need she helps pick who gets selected). And if you are still reading this thank you. You like those who I have experienced this opportunity made this opportunity the unique life changing experience that it was, because you are the ones that I will now work to reach out to in order to help better the world. Again my ambition shows, but if you think that is crazy, but wait and see what myself and this group of individuals accomplishes when we return. I will end this with a quote I will never forget.

“Not to know is bad. Not to want to know is worse. Not to hope is unthinkable. Not to care is unforgivable.” – Johnnettta P. Cole

Jesus Chavez is a Junior at Arizona State University and a member of Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity Inc.

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