“Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
My mother served as a Public Health Nurse and when appropriate I would volunteer at her side. In addition to watching my mother in awe as she serviced her community, I was allowed to witness and experience a world beyond and different from my own. When I commenced my tertiary education, my voluntary service dwindled to nil and did not resurrect until graduation. Upon graduating a deep yearning swelled within me to volunteer internationally. This yearning was quickly thwarted by an employment opportunity in a lab.
Post-graduation and job offer acceptance, I continued my child and adolescent tradition of volunteering locally. I bounced between volunteering with Veterans, volunteering in a Veterinary Clinic and volunteering in a Sign Language group. Volunteering transforms you, if you let it. Between the blissful solitude of lab work, graduate school and adjuncting, a semester window opened up for me to erase a decade long goal off my wish list.
“All growth starts at the end of your comfort zone.” – Various
“Be the change you wish to see in the world” – Ghandi
Including the Isms of life, I had experienced a decade of holistic, growth, so I excitedly and facilely filled out the Olancho Aid Foundation (OAF) application to volunteer internationally.
After a few days I received an email asking me to verify my USA citizenship and for the first time I paused and wondered if volunteering in Honduras a fool’s errand due to double cultural chasms. I would be living in an American culture volunteer house and teaching in a Honduran culture school.
I had travelled on my own and internationally, so I was comfortable living in foreign countries. I had lived in Hilo, Hawaii and thoroughly enjoyed the cultural similarities and exchanges. I bowed, I took off my shoes, I loved Hawaii’s connection to ancestry and history. Aloha travelled from the earth I trod, into every fiber of my being. I was growing comfortably. It wasn’t until I deplaned in Tegucigalpa that sheer panic hit me, and I thought “Natalie, what the dickens are you doing?”
“Hope and Transformation.” – Olancho Aid Foundation Motto
Part and parcel of my foundation work as a Science Lab Coordinator is awaking daily at approximately 5 am to be ready for the school bus. I arrive at school and teach labs to well-meaning but spirited teenagers until my day ends at 3 pm. This has been my biggest cultural enrichment. Being from a background where silence in schools is golden and any deviance from the very strict discipline policy is not tolerated, some days teaching was impossible and exasperating. My thoughts: get up, do it again, have hope, be transformed, patience is a virtue.
Volunteering is not an eight-hour job and you may be exhausted from a long day’s work but have additional commitments. Volunteer activities may not play to your strengths and instead magnify your weaknesses. Visiting the Children’s Home opened my third, fourth and fifth eye. After a day of trying class room management and a personal need to recharge, I didn’t always have clean energy and high spirits to be fully present. Self-awareness, honesty and more transformation.
“Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” – Oprah Winfrey
“Stand in your truth, live your truth.” – Various
With one week left in Juticalpa, I can candidly tell you, there were many days I wanted to leave. Looking back, I was purposeful, I was frustrated, I was supported, I was tired and above all I was transformed by this experience. I met Carlos Najera, an amazing, tireless Director, with the humility and humanity of a Saint. I met the Water Project Coordinator with the kindest eyes and aura. I met Stephanie, who served selflessly and patiently and arranged marvelous volunteer trips. I met teachers that unconditionally loved their spirited students and supported fellow faculty. I met welcoming office employees that helped me, a luddite volunteer, with email access and delivered stipends. I met a Principal who gracefully and quietly buffered teacher (myself included) and parent interactions.
There were cultural barriers I couldn’t overcome on both fronts. I was tempted to be superficial and tell you about being Vegan in Honduras (the food here is delicious) but selected a different course. Be the change you would like to witness in this world. If everyone exorcised their demons, this world would change overnight. I can’t change the world, so I am going to change myself. I was not always mindful or positive; I was far from perfect. I was transformed, and this is my naked self, telling you my naked truth.