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Stories from outreach trips!

All that really matters

 Guest Blogger, Mario Salvador (University of Windsor, SOS volunteer)

It’s a long road to get to the Outreach Trip.  And it’s almost always longer and different than what you expected.

Being a part of the leadership team for Windsor SOS for three years, I’ve walked the path twice.  It took us two years to raise money for classrooms in Peru and one year for a water project in Honduras, from which I’ve just recently returned.

After walking the path once, there’s something important that you learn.  If you notice it and understand it, it not only helps you to be a better leader but it can help you have a pleasant journey on a path that’s far from smooth.

Our path, like I’m sure that of many other chapters, began with new ideas, new enthusiasm and a bunch (almost 100) of excited volunteers.  These volunteers were all talented too, dynamic and driven.  You think to yourself, “Hell, we can pay for five projects…and all go free!”

But it’s not long until the challenges begin.  For us, it began with a math department who refused to speak to us, let alone cooperate with us.  Professors accused us of breaching contracts with the GA/TA Union, the president of which was nowhere to be found.  Once that was resolved, our faculty advisors threw down almost all of our new, apparently not so amazing, ideas.  Politics, it’s part of the game.

The challenges also come from within as your once strong army of volunteers become harder to coordinate once midterms begin.  Plenty of promises and commitment but little actual execution and often NO communication.  But that’s to be expected right?  People are bombarded with other priorities and commitments.  Being a student isn’t easy.

Second semester rolls around and you find a new way to lose volunteers: ask for money deposits.  Unfortunately, the responsibilities fall upon the few that remain.  It gets exhausting and you’re forced to abandon so much of your ambitious plans.

The trip isn’t always easy either.  Living conditions, activities, amount of money spent, they might end up being very different than what you thought when you left home.  Complaints are abound.  It’s never easy travelling in groups.

Mario_Caty

Mario with Caty

But despite all the hardships, at the end of the trip, you leave with the feeling that everything is perfect.  Well, close to it anyway.  But how?  It’s then you learn that all that matters is that special bond or that special moment you share with a little boy named, Jimmy, the little girl, Santeray, the older woman, Stella, the community leader, Elbin, or even the dirty dog, Oso.

SOS is special and the experience is unique. The long and difficult road of fundraising and organizing helps you to frame everything into perspective.  It’s an accomplishment certainly worth being proud of yourself for.

The earlier you learn this, the smoother the path becomes.  You can overcome any obstacle since anything that goes wrong won’t really matter anyway.  You can become a better leader if you learn how to get people focused on the joy you’ll bring to the community and the joy that you’ll actually get to experience yourself.

Because it’s incredible, that joy that comes from going into a community, looking into the eyes of somebody there and making a gesture that says, “You matter.”  Don’t we all really want to have that feeling?  Guess they’re not so different from us after all.

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