Archive | March, 2015

Inspiration, History, Independence, & The Message of One Charismatic Women

16 Mar

This is the third in a series of pieces on how volunteering in Anse la Raye, St. Lucia with Global Volunteers, working toward raising the IQ of a nation, fundamentally changed my husband Dan and me. The two weeks we spent on the island in this village made us reach well beyond where we thought we were capable of going and moved us so far outside our comfort zones that we had to change how we “saw” the world. P1170064 (2)

Each morning of my service program I walked through the gates of the Primary School in Anse la Raye. Each day the students were lined up on the concrete walk leading to their classrooms. Each morning I was greeted by the powerful voices of staff members delivering the messages of the day or honoring students.

In the middle of my first week, one that ended in St. Lucia’s Independence Day, I walked up as the third grade teacher, Ms. Aleen Edward, was delivering the morning messages.  Ms. Edward, by her presence, her posture and her attitude, commands respect like no one I have ever met. When she speaks, everyone in earshot feels compelled to absolutely pay attention.

In her powerful voice she delivered this question: “What does it mean to be independent?”  And then, after the most perfectly timed pause, “Independence does not mean doing your own thing. Independence means doing the right thing, your own way.”

She went on to deliver the most soul stirring summary of the importance of independence from slavery and outside rule.  And then, just when I thought I could not be more moved, Ms. Edward took my breath away.

“Do the right thing, the positive thing, the good thing in your own way.”

This hard driving, young woman went on with such passion. “Learn from those who are working hard to do the right thing. They learn, they study, they respect,” she said.

She took a deep breath and in a calm but firm voice continued, “Be independent thinkers and independent learners.”

Ms. Edward turned up the volume just a bit and repeated, “Independence is not doing your thing. Independence is doing the right thing your own way.”

Up another notch and, “Read it and say it confidently.”

The whole school – students, teachers, staff, and I – repeated after her:

Independence is not doing your own thing. Independence is doing the right thing your own way.

“Say it again,” she said.

Independence is not doing your own thing. Independence is doing the right thing your own way.

And then louder and louder and louder with each recital.

In the classroom Ms. Edward commands this same respect and moves many of her students to action. She is passionate about teaching and leading and I felt that every time she was near.

Yes, Ms. Edward expects a lot from her students and she drives them very hard but Ms. Edward gets results. I watched student want to perform to get her approval. I watched postures and degree of intensity change simply because Ms. Edward asked a question. That is an amazing and awe-inspiring quality and one that I don’t see, or at least don’t recognize, in my day-to-day life.

As I listened to Ms. Edward that morning, every inch of my body filled with goose bumps, I knew I wanted to write about her and share the story of the impact of one powerful, charismatic woman on this one day on this little school in Anse la Raye.

And I thought about my recurring theme:

One intention, one thought, one action, one moment, one person at a time is the only way to change the status quo.P1170083 (2)

Ms. Edward is moving the needle in a powerful direction. It may not be the right direction for every single child – nothing ever is – but she is a rare, motivating force who inspires those around her to aspire to maximize their personal potential. I remain in awe.

Again….

One intention, one thought, one action, one moment, one person at a time is the only way to change the status quo.

How Channeling a Wise & Passionate Woman Helped Me Serve the Purpose of the Day

9 Mar

This is the second in a series of pieces on how volunteering in Anse la Raye, St. Lucia with Global Volunteers, working toward raising the IQ of a nation, fundamentally changed my husband Dan and me. The two weeks we spent on the island in this village made us reach well beyond where we thought we were capable of going and moved us so far outside our comfort zones that we had to change how we “saw” the world. 

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I walked into Day 2 at the Anse la Raye Primary School with my intention—to take small steps toward mutual understanding and to spread the power of positive – clearly in focus. With each breath I repeated my hope to work toward a genuine connection that might help break the cycle for the man with the power to shape lives at this school, and leave him a bit more open to the possibilities of how volunteers can help. 20150224_091219

I did not know that Day 2 had plans for me – ones I simply did not have anything to say about.

Mid-morning, two young men and I were reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (an outstanding book to work on rhyming words while smiling). I felt them both stiffen as the principal walked in with a man and woman, both professionally dressed and looking official. They just stood there, watching, for a few minutes.

“This is the woman from Global Volunteers,” the principal told his guests. And then he turned to me. “Miss, please tell these people (he pointed at the man) from the Ministry of Education and (he pointed at the women) UNICEF about all of this,” as he swept his arm across the room.

Holy crap…two hours into my first full day and I was making a presentation about the entire Global Volunteers program and involvement in the Primary School? Deep breath, a second of focus, and I heard and felt myself start to “channel” Chemida, the St. Lucia program manager. Chemida not only loves what Global Volunteers is doing for her community in general but also what is happening in this specific school.P1170052

All those things that I knew I loved about the philosophy of the program – all those hopes and dreams and all that passion we heard and felt in orientation – poured out. They questioned me intensely about the effectiveness of short term volunteer efforts. I continued, without hesitation, to explain the foundational communication system set up by Chemida and the international staff that allowed me personally to learn about each child before I set foot in the school and how the learning curve was not that steep because the pieces are all in place to make every team transition as smooth as possible – at least as far as the students were concerned….

Why, on Day 2 as I just started to figure out the hell I was doing, was it on me to carry this message and, more shockingly, how did I know exactly how to answer?

Again…

I made a promise to this program and to this village to observe and not interfere so I needed to shift, oh so quickly, and figure out what purpose my presence might best serve.

Again…

One intention, one thought, one action, one moment, one person at a time is the only way to change the status quo.

P1160948 (2)

How Living Outside Our Comfort Zone Changed Our Perspective & Opened Our Possibilities

2 Mar

This is the first in a series of pieces on how volunteering in Anse la Raye, St. Lucia with Global Volunteers, working toward raising the IQ of a nation, fundamentally changed my husband Dan and me. The two weeks we spent on the island in this village made us reach well beyond where we thought we were capable of going and moved us so far outside our comfort zones that we had to change how we “saw” the world.

Before we decided to serve on the St. Lucia Project, we agreed to live within the people of Anse la Raye’s cultural norms. We agreed to observe and not interfere. We agreed to not impose our values on the situation and respect the way of the life in the village.P1170045 (2)

I read that there was corporal punishment in the schools. With that fact and the solid knowledge that I have never been very patient with other people’s grade school aged children (so much so that I actually have a name for them – OPCs) in mind, I listed teaching in the Primary School (3rd through 6th grade) as my very last choice assignment.P1170023 (2)

That, however, is where I was most needed and where I was reassigned. So that is where I went.
All the literature from Global Volunteers stresses to “expect the unexpected”.

Unexpected event #1: I was prepared to spend the two weeks digging in the dirt on the Earth Box project and I packed clothes appropriate specifically for that job. There is a dress code in the schools and female volunteers must wear neat looking, professional, loose shirts with sleeves and pants/skirts that come below the knee. So…first thing Monday morning, to move beyond my wardrobe malfunction, the Country Manager took me with her on her trip to the town 20 km away to buy a few shirts suitable for the classroom.

We got back from town and I walked in my room, the one where students would come in and look to me to help them with reading and writing, at 12:30.P1160833 (2)

A young man about 10 years old came in the room as I arrived. He asked if he could be first. Before I could smile or say a word an imposing man with a short belt draped over his shoulder, walked in and snatched the child out of the room. I was stunned. It was so sudden.

From next door: “What are you doing Boy?” And then I heard the crack of the belt.…

That was my introduction to the principal and my cue that 1) this man was solidly in charge; 2) I was, in no uncertain terms, expected to follow his rules; and 3) if I did not someone, in this case a child asking what at the time felt like an innocent question, would pay the price.

Message sent and received. Loudly, clearly, and oh so chillingly. Could I really find the strength to swallow the words, all coated with a thick layer of bile, burning their way up my throat…?

Yes, I’d been told that they used the belt so, I guess that should not have been such a shock. I just did not expect that I would hear the snap as it made contact, feel the children hold their breath to brace themselves, and lose a bit of my soul with each crack.

I’ve been told it is better now. The government has regulated the length of the belt, narrowed significantly who can hand out/authorize punishment, and mercifully restricted contact to the hands (mostly the palms). Small steps and that is good.

I’d agreed to observe and not interfere. I’d agreed to not impose my values and respect the way of life in Anse la Raye. I’d agreed to go where I was needed and asked to serve. This moment was the symbol of the culture that I, like it or not, agreed to live within. I had agreed to do this and be here.P1160816 (2)

Right then I understood that I had to find a way to steel myself so I could figure out what I was supposed to do and how I could, as I knew I needed to do, leave this place better than I found it. My focus needed to remain on sharing a bit of joy with these students through positive interactions.

At the end of the day as I sat with Dan and we both processed the magnitude of the lifetime we had both experienced in one day, I decided to set an intention for the trip and a goal each day. My initial goal was to have a peaceful day with the principal and take a step toward my intention: making a real, mutually respectful connection with him.

I made a promise to this program and to this village to observe and not interfere so I needed to shift, oh so quickly, and figure out what purpose my presence might best serve.P1170068 (2)

To be completely fair, if someone else had written this and I was reading it as you are  now, I would most likely comment that I could not swallow those words and that I would never be able to establish a relationship with such a man. I might even go into a self-righteous speech about human rights and dignity. I might further deliver an impassioned monologue outlining how it is not possible to teach children about how to live peacefully with one another by beating them into submission. Yes, I bet I would…but

I made a promise to this program and to this village to observe and not interfere so I needed to shift, oh so quickly, and figure out what purpose my presence might best serve.P1160956 (2)

So I set that intention – to take small steps toward mutual understanding and to spread the power of positive – and I wrote it in stone. My hope was that working toward a genuine connection would help break the cycle for this man with the power to shape lives, and leave him a bit more open to the possibilities with each new volunteer. My deepest wish was that I could leave a good enough impression, one centered on the power of positive, that I might shift the momentum just a bit – maybe enough for the person to move the needle just a bit more.20150219_080446

One intention, one thought, one action, one moment, one person at a time is the only way to change the status quo.

We are exploring how to stretch our thinking, expand our world, and keep our brains firing through purposeful travel. 


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