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What Kind of Footprint Will You Leave: Travel Perspectives

30 Apr

As I prepare to set off to Puerto Vallarta to the North American Travel Journalists’ Association Conference in a few days, I am reminded that travel is all about how we perceive the experience and how each of us sees our role in those moments we spend where ever we land.

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We do leave footprints where ever we go. Think about it. Our presence at any particular place at any particular moment in time, changes that place — just our presence leaves a mark. It really doesn’t matter whether we consciously set out to make a difference or not, like it or not, we do.

For me, this is the cool part. The tone of the change I make is, for the most part, in my control.

I believe there is a very fine line that separates expectations and entitlement and that can be summed up in how I view my role in the moment.

Do I see myself as a guest or a consumer? If I am willing to remove my own humanity from the situation, I will most certainly remove all human elements from the encounter. What a tremendous loss.

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My latest trip, a volunteer stint with Global Volunteers to work on St. Lucia for a couple weeks, altered my perception of what being immersed in a culture means for me.

It was a volunteer trip and I expected to contribute. At some point in the first few days I made a huge shift in my thinking – a mental pivot from giving to serving.  No sharing of my vast experience. No being the expert.  Just listening and trusting that I would know what to do.

I know that at the NATJA Conference my partner in crime, Lois, and I will learn so much, be treated like royalty, and we will see the cream of what the area has to offer in addition to meeting some pretty amazing travel journalists and magazine publishers. We will be learning about tourism and the role we play as writers in promoting the industry. We are dining at the best local spots, swimming with dolphins, being pampered at the spas, visiting the most amazing historic cultural sites (and YES there is rock art to explore) and so much more.

Yes, we are truly excited and grateful for the opportunity to experience all of this! Here is the thing and why I am so glad we are going…. We both understand the value of tourism to survival in many parts of the world. It provides jobs and self-sufficiency and hope on so many levels. Tourism is the backbone of many economies and supports generations of people both directly and indirectly.

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Communities are about its people and its culture. I am honored to promote people and to be an invited guest.

As I write about the experience and share with you along the way I know I will keep this in the front of my mind:

My actions, my posture, the tone of my voice, and the tenor of my interactions all combine to define the mark I leave on the world. I will leave a mark – what kind of mark is up to me. 

For the record, Lois and I find ways to find light and laughter in the most mundane or even trying situations so this sweet trip should be an absolute riot!

We will both be using #NATJAPV15 if you want to follow us the laughter trail on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. Maybe on Google + if we think of it :)!

All aboard!!!

 

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.

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From the Journal of St. Lucia Project Team 32: Daily Inspiration & Forming New Habits

26 Feb

It takes two weeks of repeated practice to establish a new habit.

Good thing because I absolutely love, and want to make a habit of, sharing a message of the day with those I am working with each and every day as we are doing each day to start our morning meeting for the St. Lucia Project.

We are taking turns sharing thoughts — some are quotes from others, some are our own thoughts, and some (those shared by the one who just can’t leave well enough alone…me) create a variation of the two.

Here are a few of our thoughts from this week and a few photos.

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MESSAGE OF THE DAY:  Barbara 

Challenges are what makes life interesting, and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.  Joshua J. Marine

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MESSAGE OF THE DAY: Dan 

Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for your uniqueness on this Earth, you would not be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in world come about. So be that one person!

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MESSAGE OF THE DAY: Ruth 

We spoke yesterday about not knowing what you can or might just love to do until you try. When you move beyond your comfort zone, you expand your horizons and your possibilities. 

I am the keeper of the Journal for Team 32 — it is my responsibility to make sure that everything gets typed in and turned in at the end of the trip. Last night as I was putting in the entries from earlier in day, I read through all the Message of the Day entries. Oh my how we have evolved and oh my how it shows in what we choose to share each day.

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From the Journal of St. Lucia Project Team 32: The Inspirational Rock Star

24 Feb

As part of our work on the St. Lucia Project with Global Volunteers we, as a team are keeping a journal. One member per day writes an inspirational message and a different person writes a longer journal entry recapping the previous day. Both are presented at our morning meeting. We have an incredibly small team — there are three of us and I guess the optimum size is 14.P1160797

I have been having a bit of difficulty putting how I feel about my days at the Primary School in Anse la Raye into words and sharing that all with you here. Processing the real life manifestations of a huge cultural differences and easing the cognitive dissonance caused by the gross inequities in the world are going a bit more slowly than I anticipated.  P1160829

My husband Dan has been an inspirational rock star. He is working with a group of young adults in the island’s equivalent of a last chance school. Each one faces serious academic challenges and, for the most part, are not equipped to go out into the world. Here is a piece of his journal entry for Thursday, recapping Wednesday, February 18.

“My message of the day yesterday was about never underestimating your ability to make someone else’s life better and not even knowing it, but how cool is it when you see something happen? A student came in and didn’t think I had anything to offer…. We chatted about day-to-day events and the topic of a job interview came up…. He’s never had one and could I help… and thus began our work.

Barb talked about a good day with lots of working and baby interaction. Ruth had a long day that ended with the knowledge that she did such a good job convincing the principal of her competence that he left her alone…all alone…oops maybe too good a job….”

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It all sounds so routine and everyday but hidden between the lines is the fact that Dan might have changed the course of a young man’s life that day. Absolutely staggering….P1160807

I know the humbling daily lessons will continue and the words will come in their own time.

One day, and in some cases, one life changing moment at a time.

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Changes, Cultural Adjustments, and Wardrobe Malfunctions

18 Feb

First, a couple puzzles from the photos I have taken so far on our volunteer trip to St. Lucia. I am not allowed to take photos in the village where we are working yet — it is essential that we not look like tourists but become part of the community as best we can. Starting on Thursday I will be able to snap a few photos so much more to come!

We have had to do some serious shifting and paying attention to the details has been critical. Before talking about those shifts, here are two Find the Difference so you can work on paying attention to the details.  Can you find the three differences in each of these?

Organizing and unpacking the supplies donated by so many generous people!

Organizing and unpacking the supplies donated by so many generous people!

ANSWER

Find three more differences in this one!

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The Catholic Church in Anse La Raye originally built in 1796 but rebuilt several times over the years.                  They are one of our hosts for this project.

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Now a peak into the first few days our #AdventureInService.

One of the first things stressed in all the material we received from Global Volunteers before leaving for our trip to work on the St. Lucia Project is be prepared to expect the unexpected.

We were ready to shift gears and pace. We were ready to roll with the punches as things came up and were fully prepared to be alert and to be ready to think on our feet.  We were even prepared to accept and work within a whole different set of cultural norms — even those that made us uncomfortable (and there are a few).

We were completely prepared to serve the local community — not teach or lead but do what needed to be done to best support.

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The foundation of Global Volunteers 12 Essential Services project. The idea is that if you take care food and health and support children psychosocially, you can raise the IQ of a nation….

What we did not expect, however, was to change assignments after we arrived in Anse La Raye — especially when that assignment changed required completely different clothes to be appropriate and respectful!

Two weeks before we left, our assignments came via email along with very specific, culturally appropriate clothing requirements. Dan was going to be working in the Primary School and I was assigned to the Earth Box project. There is a dress code for volunteers who work in the schools so we took great pains to prepare Dan’s clothing so he was dressed appropriately.

I was going to be digging in the dirt and working with local mothers setting up Earth Boxes so each could have a variety of fresh vegetables at their own homes and available to them at the Catholic church in a space where the grounds have more than a few square feet to spare. All I needed to worry about was that I had simple clothing, not too tight, and pants that covered my knees.

When we arrived, we found out that the supplies for Earth Boxes were not there…. No seedlings. Not enough peat moss…..  So I was reassigned to…the Primary School!

The amazing project leader helped me fix the wardrobe failure (that is a long story for another day) and we again shifted! We are now better prepared and are expected more unexpected things.

My comfort zone is expanding every day in so many unimaginable ways!!

Travel Teaches

29 Jul

Mark Twain on travel

Great Brains Don’t Just Happen: Dreaming of a World….

29 May

One of my favorite poets died yesterday. Woven in the flurry of memorial and tribute to truly creative and expressive people like Maya Angelou, is a story of life — one where a brain grows, develops, wires, re-wires, and adapts. Lurking beneath the surface we can find those factors that allowed this extraordinary brain to generate the work of this extraordinary person — a body of work that will outlast all of us.

I talk, a lot, about how to maximize well developed brains. Be active, be social, be engaged, and be purposeful and you continue the nourishing cycle that supports long-term brain functioning.

Here is what we don’t talk about enough…. What happens when a brain, from moment one, does not have the needed stimuli and nourishment to grow and develop? How many creators of spectacular written imagery like Maya Angelou or artistic visionaries like Judith Baca, creator of the Great Wall in LA or musicians who paint scenes with words and melody like Joni Mitchell never had the chance to develop because no one helped them nourish their brains?

That happens. A lot. All over the world. I started thinking about a conversation I had a couple months ago with Michele Gran from Global Volunteers.  Her organization is on the ground floor of a movement to change a condition.  The shift is this — create an environment where brains have the opportunity to reach potential and not  “by limiting factors that limit the growing mind.”  Here is that position – in a 100 second video.

As with just about everything else, once the process has started, we all have choices and we all have a path we walk.  What Michele and I spoke about was changing that basic condition and providing the building blocks for choice to take hold and that conversation changed how I viewed my role in all of this.

We can’t all do this kind of life changing work but we can all  find a way help in some small way to ensure that the next Maya Angelou has the building blocks for the brain she needs to make every life she touches better.  Find how you can make your impact.

Serving Your Purpose Is Good For Your Brain

23 May

I am a bit of research geek… I know and completely own that fact.  In most cases I try to keep the “statistically significant” talk to a minimum but this is one of those incredibly cool instances where science meets happiness and the result just might be the best reason to talk about how “finding and living your purpose” can create a path to better thinking — in scientific terms!

Link in the Chain

The stronger the link, the more powerful the message

Did you know that leading a purposeful life could help head off cognitive decline and potentially reduce your risk of developing symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s Disease?

A study done as part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, examined how the positive aspects of life might keep dementia at bay – the goal was to actively look at “happiness, purposefulness in life, well-being and whether those kind of concepts are associated with a decreased risk of dementia,” in concrete, measureable terms.   Guess what researchers found?   People who reported that they lead a purposeful life (scored 4.2 or better out of 5 on the purpose-in-life measure) were about 2.4 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, compared with people who scored lower….

Carl tall trees

Grow strong roots, stand tall, and cover yourself with awesomeness :)!

 

Summary of findings in US News & World Report

If that is not a good enough reason, let’s look at what it means to live with a purpose from an every day brain health perspective.

  • When you do something meaningful to you, you feel good.  When you feel good your brain releases that nourishing trifecta of chemicals (dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline) among other happiness related chemical and electrical reactions.
  • When you feel accomplished — like you have really contributed to the greater good – notice that your respiration is more even and your stress levels (and therefore your biological stress reactions) reduce.
  • Finding your purpose is a learning and exploring process that requires actively using so many areas of your brain.  You are looking at how you want to live from an intellectual, emotional, and solution oriented perspective.   In order to do that, you must use every higher-level cognitive process and give those rational thoughts emotional value.

One last reason to live a purposeful life – something my mom taught me and that carries me through.  The balance of the world is very delicate and how we live our lives can change that balance.   Always give more than you take and whenever possible, leave each place you go and person you meet a little better for you being there.    It is the right thing to do for the right reasons at the only moment in time (NOW).

bailey rainbow

Spread your light everywhere you go.

For fellow research nerds, here are some more studies linking how we live our lives with how well our bodies age!

Positive Benefits of Positive Thoughts and Actions on Health From University of Wisconsin – Madison Institute on Aging:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1693417/pdf/15347530.pdf?pagewanted=all

On the Power of Positive Thinking From the Carnegie Melon University: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/20182190?uid=2&uid=4&sid=21103020689171

A little less geeky perspective from the Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/positive-thinking/SR00009

Serve Your Community and Serve Your Purpose

31 Mar

Be purposeful.

Finding and taking steps to serve your purpose can be an incredibly rewarding and life /brain changing experience.   Did you know that doing things that make you feel like you are serving a greater purpose can stimulate your brain and fire activity in novel ways?  Actually, researchers with the Rush Memory and Aging Project found that people who lived more purposeful lives were less likely to develop symptoms related to Alzheimer’s Disease.

How about some more brain enhancing reasons to “Be Purposeful”?

  • When you do something meaningful to you, you feel good.  When you feel good, your brain releases dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline.  That sets off both a chemical and an electrical series reactions that make you want to come back for more.
  • When you feel accomplished — like you have really contributed to the greater good – notice that your respiration is more even and your stress levels (and therefore your biological stress reactions) reduce.
  • Finding your purpose is a learning and exploring process that requires actively using so many areas of your brain.  You are looking at how you want to live from an intellectual, emotional, and solution oriented perspective.   In order to do that, you must use every higher-level cognitive process and give those rational thoughts emotional value.  Talk about keeping neural pathways open and active.

Think about how often historical great thinkers were also great givers,  philanthropists, and community builders.   Doing the right things for the right reasons is frequently inspired by others and we “do good” as a tribute to someone else.   Have someone that you admire in mind?   Look for a project close to home, find a way to serve your purpose, and do some good for someone else today as a thank you to the person who has your attention!

Find what drives you – those “things” that give you a reason to be – and work toward them. When you live more purposefully, you create tangible ways that to leave the world a better place than you found it.   One day, one action, one moment at a time.

 

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