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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. 

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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The Journey Begins: Dropping Assumptions

16 Feb

Assumptions are dangerous things. Not just because they can lead you in a wrong directions but they assume you know who someone is and what is about to happen.  They also keep you closed off from any new information buzzing around that otherwise might catch your attention.

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My husband and I are in St. Lucia to work with Global Volunteers on the St. Lucia Project – a two-year-old initiative to raise the IQ of a nation (see video below). This US based group is doing all of this the right way by providing the best supportive environment for brains to develop through proven essential services – all with and through the efforts of locally lead and managed organizations.

We arrived a day and half early so my initial impressions are those of a tourist.

The St. Lucia Project Manager, Chem, and her husband, decided to meet us early so we could bring the supplies that blogger friends from so many places sent for me to bring with. (See here for how, in large part thanks to Midlife at the Oasis.)

So, on our first day, we arranged to meet across the bay. The water taxi dropped us off at the dock of the restaurant – two heavy suitcases in tow. We were greeted by a pleasant young woman who was busy preparing the patio to open for business. She told us her boss, the guy with the keys, was not there yet so she could not get us anything. She was polite, professional, and, as we described it later, tolerant of our being there before they opened so she kept the conversation short and worked around us and our two overstuffed suitcases.

Chem and her husband arrived and greeted us warmly. We took the supplies to the storage room and talked for a bit. When it was time to go back, we walked back out on the patio and the young woman, now wearing an enormous smile, relaxed posture, and with a warm, energized tone in her voice apologized for not knowing we were with Global Volunteers. The change in posture and attitude was very striking because all that was added was who we were there to meet and the realization of what we were there to do. What a shift! She and we both opened up and started to have a real conversation. We changed from just another tourist couple to people.

To be fair, on that day, we totally looked like your classic white travelers from our tee-shirts and hiking shorts down to our flip-flops, on an island that, in many areas, is filled with tourist living in vacation mode, whatever that looks like for each. For some, not all, that carries an entitled attitude and the human beings on the other side of that attitude might very well be justified in steeling themselves from the sting of those encounters. So, I get it – completely.

It is encouraging, though, that when we went to meet Chem that day and deliver donated supplies we collected from so many for the programs we are excited to start serving, we flipped a switch and changed who we were in this one young woman’s eyes. That is the power of not just good intentions but good intentions backed by thoughtful actions – ones that change lives. Check out Global Volunteers’ mission and guiding principles. I am watching this work….

More to come and, as internet allows, you may follow our journey on Instagram and Twitter #AdventureInService and #StLuciaProject.

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