Am I Making a Difference?

Mingling in hostels you tend to meet many adventurous spirits finding their way in the world. Among those I met a young girl with similar interests in the social work/humanitarian field in Chennai, India. She was nearing the end of her yearlong journey and as we talked we reminisced about the hardships and victories we found along the way. She told me of her 1st day working at an HIV positive orphanage in Bangalore where a child fell and cut herself. My new found friend's immediate reaction was to clean the wound, which she instinctively did, as everyone watched open mouthed, too afraid to say a word. After numerous blood tests she found out she had not contracted HIV, but it was a wake up call. She had forgotten she was in a different place, without the luxury of basic necessities. Finally we got to the point I asked  what she felt her biggest accomplishment was during this trip? She looked me straight in the eye's and said, "I feel like I have accomplished absolutely nothing, I have made no difference in this place." Here was a girl who had been devoting her life for the past year to HIV positive orphans, trafficked girls, and battered women yet she felt like she had accomplished nothing. I was floored and thought if she hasn't made a difference have I? I proceeded to make a list of how I felt when I was impacted by volunteers when I was younger, and what difference they made in my life today. As I thought, I realized we need to look at our small victories. Realize we can't change a country overnight, but we can provide a motherless child with love. We can let these children see what else there is in the world. We can give them the confidence to succeed. We can open their minds. Whether it be for 2 days or 2 years, that child is going to remember the love they felt from you. This is why we started Humanitarian Travel Tips doing medical screenings and vocational training. We can't change a country overnight, but by providing glasses to a child who can't see a chalk board we are changing their opportunities and their life forever.

Without glasses these children can't learn. They are put into the lowest classes of children deemed unfit for learning, given little to no teacher supervision, and leftover books (if there are any). With glasses they are able to move up in school, they won't fall through the cracks, they have the opportunities to reach their full potential. The girls who got the glasses go on to be educated women who as a whole have fewer children and take better care of those children. On the same token teaching women a vocation like sewing gives her the ability to provide for her family, send her children to school, and give the children the nutrition they need to concentrate during school. They raise educated children, thus changing a generation. Too often we underestimate the power of the good we are doing and we shouldn't. Every smile, every friendship, every amount of love you give to a person makes a difference to that person. I have been at orphanages long term and you don't realize how long after you leave those children still talk about you, or the pictures you give them they will hold onto forever. Don't underestimate the power of good in this world you can do. 

 

CHAMBREY WILLIS

@chambreyw

Chambrey is the founder of Humanitarian Travel Tips an organization that raises the standard of living to people in developing countries through health screenings and vocational training. We are excited to announce that we are now welcoming volunteers to join with us on these initiatives this summer. Chambrey is an avid yogi, got her undergrad in Finance and is working on a  guidebook outlining step by step how to best fundraise for your next big adventure. You can find her on facebook or follow her blog.

The Peace Corps in Rwanda, Part 2

A Peace Corps Christmas in Rwanda

A Peace Corps Christmas in Rwanda

In my last update, I talked a bit about the path that led me to the Peace Corps and the basics of the three-month training program that was my day-to-day life. For a while, most of that remained unchanged. After returning from visiting my final site outside Nyungwe National Park, I was back to the grind of daily Kinyarwanda lessons; classroom management sessions, and any other miscellaneous bit of training that the Peace Corps deemed necessary for its education volunteers.

I mentioned in my first post how the community-based training program, while undeniably effective when it comes to integration and language acquisition, can quickly leave you desperate for just a small taste of the familiar. As soon as we had the chance, we all embraced that ideal wholeheartedly with the help of surprise birthday parties, pumpkin carving for Halloween, a massive collaborative Thanksgiving dinner, and most recently coming back together for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

Admittedly, some of the days have felt long and drawn out, but it’s amazing how fast the weeks have flown by. As I write this, my training has finished and I have been officially sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. After three months of training as a group, we are now scattered around the country in the communities that we will be working in for the next two years. The whole transition is a somewhat bittersweet. While I’m experiencing a freedom that I haven’t had for what seems like an eternity, it also means separating myself from the people, both in my host family and training group, that I’ve grown close to over the past months. In addition, as an education volunteer, I was installed on site during the holiday break. This meant that for a while there was little for me to do but hang out in the school offices or walk around and introduce myself (a bit of a challenge since most of the people in the community assume, at first glance, that I’m the same volunteer that has been working here the past two years).

On top of the conflicts that come from simultaneous feelings of freedom, boredom, and missing friends, I’ve been finding that my site is in an unusual limbo of classic Peace Corps life and unexpected luxury. I can start my day with a bucket bath and hand washing a load of laundry, followed by browsing the web in my school’s modern offices. I can then head up a partially eroded hillside staircase past a couple troops of baboons and struggle to light a charcoal stove in order to cook dinner. I can lounge in my tile-floored house and watch a movie, only to be woken up in the middle of night to chase mice out of the room.

To be clear, none of these are meant as complaints; just the opposite. I was all set to be handling all these things and more, but my assignment here is most definitely not what I was expecting from the Peace Corps (in the best possible way). Just walking around the campus is an experience in itself, with forested hills stretching into the distance as far as the eye can see. 

I cannot wait to get started with my work here, although that still seems to be a long way off. While the semester for the rest of my colleagues started last week, I’m here to teach at a school for conservation and environmental management that has the students completing internships around the country for their first month. As a result, I’ve got a nice, long, and quite possibly cabin fever-inducing chunk of time off before I can begin teaching in February.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to stave off boredom by traveling for the holidays, visiting friends and getting to see a bit more of Rwanda in the process. The festivities made it a little more like home with the help of cheap Christmas decorations bought in the capital, a tiny plastic tree, and a can or two of white foam marketed as ‘fake snow’ (a surprisingly good substitute for a white Christmas, once you get past the lingering soap smell in the air). But now the holidays have come and gone and everyone is getting to work for the New Year, so it’s back to site for me. With any luck I’ll be able to find some projects to pass the time and supply me with some good stories moving forward.

READ SCOTT'S FIRST UPDATE ON THE PEACE CORPS IN RWANDA.

 

SCOTT JENKINS

Scott Jenkins grew up in Ridgewood, NJ and graduated from NYU in 2012 with a degree in Anthropology and Linguistics. His passion for travel, adventure, and helping others led him to apply to the Peace Corps in September of 2012. He was invited to teach in Rwanda, where he is currently serving for the next two years. 

Nothing is Impossible

Challenge your concept of impossible. Meet Joel Runyon, he did. Laid off from his part-time UPS job and fed up with living in his parents basement, Joel decided to "start living a life worth writing about." Last summer, Joel joined Pencils of Promise's program The Impossible Ones. He took on a challenge that previously seemed impossible, to run an Ultra Marathon, 50k in one day, and raise $25,000 to build a Pencils for Promise school. Joel will run this weekend in Chicago.