This year we were able to continue work building a school, start making a dam to get clean water to a village, deliver Days for Girls kits to three remote villages, fix school desks for children, and deliver school supplies and teacher training to a school in need.
Through these trips I have learned so many things, I want to share some of them here with you:
1. Education and opportunity: On our first trip we met with a man from Guatemala City. He had an SUV and drove us up to a nearby volcano so we could hike it and roast marsh mallows over an active volcano. It was an amazing trip. On our way back, I asked him what made the difference between having a nice car, and living in poverty. He very quickly responded, "Education and Opportunities." It is often hard to see that distinction in developed countries but the more I have thought about this the more I see wisdom in his words. In most developed countries, each person has access to a public education. The quality of education and the opportunities and obstacles for each person can be vastly different, and often we don't appreciate the education and choices we have. For many of the people I worked with on these trips, being able to 'choose' what they wanted to be when they grew up was a choice with only one option. Those with an education, and training had three or four choices, and they felt lucky.
2. Wealth and happiness are not even in the same equation: Some people say that wealth does not equal happiness, but now I think those two elements are completely separate. Like the color of your shirt and what kind of desert you like. I've seen people with wealth be very happy, and very sad, I've seen people who are very poor be happy and sad. I've seen children have more fun playing with a stick or a rock than american children do with the latest device. Happiness is much more closely connected with expectations than it is to what we have. If we expect everything, nothing will ever satisfy us. If we expect nothing, any little thing can bring us joy.
3. The difference we make: Two years ago I hauled large crates of trees up a steep mountain trail with groups of youth, then we planted the trees for a reforestation project. Three of the five work days I spent planting trees. The wonderful young people I worked with were positive, hard-working and tough. The next year I was told that all the trees we planted died. Every single one. I wanted to make a change in the ecosystem in Guatemala. I wanted to provide wood for their fireplaces, and trees for their forests, but instead what I did didn't change the Guatemalan landscape one bit. But the service we gave changed the youth I worked with and it forever changed my heart. I often think of this when I don't see the results I expect from the work I am doing. Perhaps the difference I make is more for me and my progression and learning than anything else.