Since returning from my Global Village trip to Guatemala with Habitat for Humanity in December, I’ve had it on my list to write up some lessons I took from this experience. Suddenly, it’s March and 2016 is briskly marching by.
Before another week can pass, here are some reflections from my experience.
1. We have to make time and room for what is most important.
Intentions are important. Intentions without action are hollow. For years, I’ve known that Habitat had Global Village trips and thought about going on one. But, I never took action. Thankfully for me, I had a friend in Kevin Fustos who gave me enough of a nudge to make this trip happen. This experience was just what I needed in my life at that time. I’m profoundly grateful to Kevin for getting me started.
It left me thinking about other big intentions I have that I’m not acting on. What is it for you? Is it a volunteer trip like this? Is it finally taking the step to find a job that is good for your heart and soul? Is it taking some time off to truly connect with your family? Is it booking that trip you’ve wanted to take forever?
Kevin gave me the gift of a nudge. I’m paying that nudge forward. Get going.
2. Humans are humans everywhere. What separates us most is access to opportunity.
On this trip, we had the chance to meet many native Guatemalans. On the whole, they were kind, friendly, welcoming people. They were gracious and open. And, many of them were living in poverty level conditions. I was struck by how much the people we met reminded me of people from back home. The children, in particular, had an impact on me. The kids I met there reminded me of my own. Curious, spunky, friendly, and energetic. The main thing that differentiated these kids from my own was that my children were born with a dramatic economic headstart. For the children of Guatemala, having access to clean water and a home that doesn’t make you sick is winning. Past that, it requires commitment and sacrifice to get any level of education. The hurdles and barriers these children face to have even a small slice of the opportunity my children have must feel insurmountable.
These children didn’t choose this circumstance, they were born into it.
This opportunity gap is stark. And it doesn’t exist only in other countries. It exists in our own communities as well. This is why I fell in love with Habitat for Humanity originally. Habitat creates access to opportunity–a pathway to a better life. It creates an opportunity to change your circumstances, not by giving a handout, but by offering a hand up. This is also why I have come to love No Kid Hungry. Creating access to opportunity for all children is something all of us can play a role in.
3. Happiness isn’t about stuff.
I know, it’s a cliche. But, many of the people we met seemed legitimately happy–at least at times. There was a clear joy that I witnessed in interacting with some of the locals. Despite living in conditions that would be considered deplorable by most who are reading this, they find happiness in what surrounds them. It was clear that relationships were incredibly important to them. There was a sense of community there that I don’t think is found in too many places in the U.S. anymore.
On day one of construction, my team accidentally cut a buried water line which was right next to the latrine we were building. This water line brought some water to a sink inside the house. As you might imagine, this created quite the stir in the community. As our construction leaders began working on a fix, the group of neighbors who gathered to watch was growing into a small crowd. Eventually, the pipe was fixed and construction of the latrine could commence. After this was done, our team leader was talking with the owners of the small home. As he was apologizing for the incident, she told him that she wasn’t worried about it. She knew that had we not been able to fix it right away, her neighbors would have helped her out. She was completely confident that her community would support her in whatever she needed. That’s community.
So, my final reflection is that relationships are the currency of happiness. Family, friends, community. If we spent as much time pursuing great relationships as we do pursuing more stuff, we would all be much happier. I am certain of that.
One final thought as I close. This trip was an intentional effort to get outside of my comfort zone. It seems the older I get, the harder it is to find opportunities to do so at this level. It was an amazing experience. I learned a lot and returned from the experience ready to do it again. I would encourage you to find the same kind of opportunity. You will be glad you did.