Traveling for a cause: the impact of volunteer trips on students

22,000 children die each day due to poverty worldwide, according to Unicef, and 80% of the world population lives on less than $10 a day. Yet how can our society, thousands of miles away, help those in foreign countries?

Leah Salit, junior, and Caleb Engelmann, junior, are some of the students at our school that has taken action by putting their time into trying to remedy worldwide dilemmas by helping communities in different countries for the summer.

“I definitely have a different outlook, and this is kind of cliche, I know, but I definitely take things for granted. The people in Fiji are so happy, they are very very excited and grateful while having basically nothing. They really just don’t have a whole lot but they are just pleased with the smallest things. Coming back home and realizing how much I have and how much I complain has been put into perspective. I should be so extremely grateful for the life I have been born into.” Salit, who traveled to Fiji for the summer, said. “[It was so cool to see] the fact that after a week you could see a difference in what you did for the kids and I’m going to go back to the United States knowing that I changed a kid’s life where as I wouldn’t have has this opportunity otherwise.” Salit said.

Engelmann, who volunteered in Guatemala through his church, had similar eye-opening experiences that showed him hardships of others in different countries.

“We were working with partners from the church and we had a lot of time connecting with the locals and talking to them and it’s actually quite surprising because the Guatemalans know quite a bit of English. And what I know in Spanish I was able to communicate. It was really interesting to hear their stories of faith and struggle and hear what their life was compared to the US, you know pampered white life.” Engelmann said.

How Fiji changed her perspective:

On her first day of volunteering, an incident shaped Salit’s perspective going into the rest of the trip with the realization of the comfort she is “blessed with” in her day to day life.

“On my first day of education, the kids have a break time where they eat lunch and they are outside in the back of their school and we were back there with them and it was pretty much their recess. We asked the principal ‘can we play with them’ and they were like ‘yea sure just please don’t run around with them or play any games where you have to run’ and we were like ‘ok but is there any particular reason?’ and he was like ‘well basically we don’t want them to run because we simply don’t have enough water to give to all the school kids’. Being there on your first day and hearing that about kids hits you pretty hard and I remember the director from GLA (Global Leadership Adventures)  just started crying and everybody was like woah this is actually real. You would just never think of that problem when we are home. You’re playing with a bunch of third graders outside and you just don’t think ‘oh make sure you don’t run because there isn’t enough water afterwards’. After that, it was just a realization moment that what you’re doing here is making an impact and you’re making changes in a community that is so much less privileged than yours,” Salit said.

From a week to week perspective, Salit got to experience a different type of labor in order to help different aspects of the community.

“Each week we would do a different type of service. We would do agriculture, sustainability, and education. My first week was education. In one week, every morning you would wake up and have breakfast for an hour. Then you’d get ready, pack your backpack, and get on an hour boat ride to one of the villages depending on which service you were doing that week. You would do service from 8am to 3pm. Then you’d go back to our home base, which was a different part of the island, and we’d have tea. Then, you would have free time for an hour or two so you could go swimming or we’d play games, then dinner then we’d go to bed. The weekend we would do cultural activities. From week to week your service would change,” Salit said.

Global Leadership Adventures (GLA) is the organization that gave Salit the opportunity to volunteer in Fiji and learn more about the unexpected local problems faced by the citizens of Fiji.

“When most people think of Fiji they think of vacation spots, and the main island of Nandi is a lot more developed than you would think it would be. Like they have TVs, they have buses, they have everything we have, but then when you go out to the Eastern and Western Islands, which is where I was, the Yasawa islands, that’s where the native tribes live and their life is more of the life you would think of when you think third world country. So they lived in pretty much huts, but they did have power because they ran on solar power,” Salit said.

How Guatemala changed his perspective:

On his church’s yearly trip to Guatemala, Caleb Engelmann, junior, met individuals whose perseverance through tough times put into perspective how lucky he is to have his “US pampered white lifestyle”.

“My friend Pablo was working with the firefighters during the volcano and he was talking about pulling dead bodies out of a fire and how their most famous singer is actually in charge of funding the restoration after fire. So [Guatemala’s] government didn’t have enough money to actually do any repairs or anything so their top singer donated money to the process so he gave me some really interesting stories about his faith. He talked about pulling a dead baby from the ashes and I was like ‘jeez Pablo’ and he started crying and it was really crazy,” Engelmann said. “Pablo is just one of the nicest guys on that trip that I think stuck out to me. Despite all that he has been through, despite all the tragedies and overtime’s he has been through he still smiles and loves Jesus with his whole heart.”

Engelmann went into the trip with prior exposure to the hardships faced by third-world country, due to his adopted sister who grew up in a challenging environment.

“I have a sister who was born in the Philippines so I’ve always been passionate towards global serving and I thought this would be a great opportunity to do that. My church does global mission trips every year so there’s trips to El Salvador, Cambodia, basically any country that the church are partners with, so Guatemala was our yearly trip,” Engelmann said.

The impact of mission trips, in Engelmann’s perspective, helps deliver aid at a more personal level rather than just donating to the charity.

“We were not just giving money or impersonal, but actually going there and helping them side by side and empowering them in the way where they don’t have to rely on another person where they can be working themselves,” Engelmann said.

The Newbie:

Inspired by Salit’s trip, Maya Wiley, junior, signed up for a trip to Tanzania through the same program and is looking forward to the experiences to come.

“First of all, I am just excited about being in Africa, because it’s been my dream to go there since forever. I’ll be with kids every day and I just think it would be really awesome if I could just make a difference in their life. [The only thing I am nervous about is] maybe just the fact that I won’t know anyone, but I kind of like that because I’m so used to everything here and I just want a change so it just excites me that everything is new and different,” Wiley said.

Wiley has grown up hearing about the impact of volunteering in other countries due to her mother’s experience in the Peace Corps.

“My mom did the Peace corps when she was out of college and growing up I always wanted to do the Peace corps. I was kinda just so stuck in the routine being a high schooler and doing homework everyday that I just wanted something different. Then when Leah told me about her trip I was like there it is,” Wiley said. “I’ve always wanted to travel to help people anyways so the fact that I can do it sooner than expected is awesome.”