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The Day My World Changed

“I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something.”

 - Edward Everett Hale

Last June, I spent two incredible weeks in Roatan, Honduras. If you’ve heard of the small Caribbean island, it’s probably because of the beautiful reef that surrounds it. Supposedly, it’s the second largest in the world. And it is incredible. One day, in West Bay, while snorkeling further and further from shore, taking in the myriad of exotically colored fish and alien reef formations, I found myself face to face with infinity. Hovering there, where the reef dropped sharply off into the abyss and the entire ocean in front of me, I stared into the deepest blue I have ever seen. It was hypnotic and I found it difficult to pull myself away and swim back to shore.

But that isn’t what changed my world.

To understand what I’m about to express, it will probably help to know a few things. First, I’m not particularly well traveled (yet). I grew up in a small farm town in Ohio and have spent very little time outside of the midwest. So this was my first truly international trip. Second, at various points in my life, I’ve seriously considered joining the Peace Corps but it never worked out. Third, while the opening may have made it sound like a beach vacation, that’s not why I was on Roatan.

The reason I found myself on the island was because of a story I heard two years before in 2009 from my friend Jill. She told me about how her cousin, Scott Fried, had traveled to the island and how he was moved by the need he saw there. At the time she told me the story, she had just returned from a trip to the island with him (his second project). That year, Scott and a small group of volunteers traveled to Roatan and built a house for a family in need. The details of her story included endless hours of hard manual labor in 100+ degree heat, sickness, and a military coup. To which all I had to say was,”You have to let me know about the next trip – I’m so in!”

So when she told me that they were going back last year, I booked my flight and started saving my pennies. The trip was going to be centered around building another house, this time for a single mother and her six children. With the help of some of my amazingly generous friends and family, I was able assist the group in exceeding our fundraising goal for the materials and labor it would take to complete the project on the island.

Fast forward to June 19, where I met up with Scott, Jill, and her niece Jen in the Houston airport to catch a connection to Roatan. I was exhausted (I went to a friend’s wedding the night before in Cleveland and hadn’t slept) but excited, if unsure, about what lay ahead.

Over the next two weeks, the experiences that I took part in changed my life. Working for 9-10 hours each day along side the family and 9 other volunteers, I learned much about myself and cultures other than my own.

The people of La Colonia were warm and welcoming. Their community was mostly on the interior of a valley. It was an incredible sight (pictured above), the entire valley covered in houses ranging from nothing more than plywood and tarps to houses that would rival any here in the states in comfort and amenities. Our build site was on the road leading up to the valley. The existing structure was an old cistern, a concrete block structure with one tiny window and a rotting wooden door on one side. This is were the family was living, 7 people all in a tiny 12X7 room with a dirt floor.

I’ve never seen poverty like that in person. It’s one thing to see the pictures on the commercials on TV, but another entirely to behold it right in front of you. There was no electricity, no reliable access to running water, no toilet. One day, the woman running a local clinic come out and checked out each of the kids. Leslita, the youngest, was a sweet little girl no more than a year old. As it turns out, she was infected with worms. This particular parasite lives in the dog feces and is contracted by stepping in said droppings. So, she contracted these worms because her mother couldn’t afford shoes.

Prior to this trip, I lived in a world of (unbeknownst to me) extreme comfort and privilege. A world where I knew there was poverty and need, but only in the same way I knew that Antartica existed, because I was told it was so. That worldview was shattered – I now lived in a world where beautiful little children had worms because they couldn’t afford shoes.

By the time I left, we had renovated, painted, and added doors/shutters with locks on the building. We also dug and constructed a pit latrine for the family to use. We were able to give this one family safe, clean housing and a place to use the bathroom. But I feel as though I took away much more than I gave. I met other awesome people who were taking action to do what they could to help make the world a little better. I saw, firsthand, the need that exists and gained perspective on just how incredibly blessed my life is.

I firmly believe that each of us has the power to change the world for the better each and every day. And you don’t have to travel to a far off land to do it. The smallest gesture, like a friendly smile or kind word to a stranger on the street, has the power to affect that person in a positive way. Remember this as you go about your week, mired in the daily grind, this awesome power!

You can see a slideshow of the construction progression here: http://bit.ly/roatanbuild

  • I remember the pictures of this trip well. Not only was I amazingly proud of you and proud to know someone who would do that but I have truly never seen you happier. The pictures of you laughing and being loved on by some of the little ladies you were helping out made my heart smile. I will always admire you for the difference you made in that family’s way of life and hope to contribute in my own way to help make a difference like that as well. As always, your desire to make yourself and your world a better place inspires me!

  • Thanks Mrs!

    jeff

    February 5, 2012

  • I’m so glad you shared this amazing experience. I remember seeing the pictures before and thinking that it must have taken a lot of courage to take yourself so far out of your comfort zone. But you gained so much more from the experience that could never be rivaled by being comfortable.

    The Mr.

    January 29, 2012

  • Thanks Mr! I’m slowly realizing that I need to be more open to experiences and people. There’s a pretty cool world out there!

    jeff

    February 5, 2012

  • What an awesome experience! Good for the soul!

    Tracy

    January 29, 2012

  • Absolutely Tracy!

    jeff

    February 5, 2012

  • U are an inspiration buddy. Im glad i came across ur blog thru another amazing womans blog. U are doing so much good. Hats off to u.

    Manasa

    Manasa

    January 30, 2012

  • Thanks Manasa!

    jeff

    February 5, 2012

  • Wow, what a great story! I am in awe of you – I don’t know that I would ever be brave enough to go into a situation like that (military coup??). What a wonderful thing you did! I will definitely try to remember this in my daily dealings with people.

    Debbie

    January 30, 2012

  • Thanks Debbie! The coup was over by the time I went, so my friend Jill and the folks who went in 2009 were the really brave ones.

    jeff

    February 5, 2012

  • Trips like that are so rewarding and often lead to us finding out more about ourselves and receiving more non-material rewards than we give those we are helping. Thank you for blessing that family so mightily! I am enjoying your blog on recommendation from the Mrs.!

    Kimberly Cooper

    January 30, 2012

  • Thanks so much for coming by Kimberly!

    jeff

    February 5, 2012

  • THANK YOU for sharing this story.

    I haven’t yet had my opportunity to do as you’ve done, but I’m plotting… we hope to do this with our daughter in few years time. Africa is calling us. In the meantime, we do what we can on our back yard and, like you, I think that is we who are the richer for it… and it take so little. For anyone who isn’t aware, Habitat for Humanity is a great place to start!

    ramona

    January 30, 2012

  • I think it’s awesome that you’re planning a trip with your daughter! Such a great way to show her the impact she can make while exposing her to the world. And great tip on Habitat for Humanity, they do great work right here in the States!

    jeff

    February 5, 2012

  • I can see how that would change your life forever. What a wonderful thing you’ve done for that family.

    Holly

    January 30, 2012

  • Thanks Holly! I really hope to be able to go back this year and see how they’re doing.

    jeff

    February 5, 2012

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