During the summer after I finished 8th grade, I spent 16 days in Costa Rica as part of the Rustic Pathways Community Service program. Working with my fellow students to paint schools, build fish farms, and even create a road to a village of refugees from Nicaragua was an experience that led to my love of traveling for good.
I enjoyed this experience so much, I couldn’t wait to participate in another program. I quickly found another program – the Maleku Culture and Service Experience. My group stayed in the same region of Costa Rica with the Maleku, one of the two remaining indigenous peoples of Costa Rica. Here, I truly immersed myself in the language and traditions of the Maleku people.
For every meal we would trek up the hill to the kitchen. We met many of the kids in the community at a soccer game on the first day of our stay. This allowed us to become fast friends, and some would even come to eat meals with us. Aside from speaking Spanish, they also spoke their native language. It was interesting to see all types of people interacting in a language so different from any I had heard before. I spent so much time talking and playing with the people on the trip that I learned more Spanish here than I did in my three years of class at school.
Emerging from my shell
Costa Rica allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and open up with individuals from diverse backgrounds as I shared my experiences in exchange for theirs. I found myself becoming a more outgoing person who wasn’t shy to interact with those I did not know. In Costa Rica I found myself living a life with no judgment, and it was an awesome way to experience everything the country has to offer.
After returning from Costa Rica, I didn’t want to stop there. I had found a new way of life. Being able to travel and emerge myself into different cultures, communities and languages was what I wanted to do for my whole life. As I continued my exploration of other countries, I became more of an observer, not always being in the action but also realizing where I was in the world and how this experience was making a lasting impact on me.
In the summer of 2015, I traveled to Australia with Rustic Pathways. Each program I did had service components, along with some sight seeing and venturing to waterfalls, gorges, and canyons I had never heard of. One of my main focuses of the trip was working with the aboriginal communities in the Outback. I was also able to work with schools, animal rehabilitations centers, and those with disabilities. After my trip I wanted to do more throughout the year that would continue to have a positive impact on the world. I worked with the Rustic Pathways Foundation that fall and raised more than $4,000 for a floating school in Cambodia.
Helping others increased my compassion
This past summer I traveled to Tanzania with Rustic Pathways, where I spent a month working with the African Wildlife Conservation and Culture and Crater. African Wildlife worked with the Jane Goodall Institute to help plant trees in areas with a lot of deforestation. Our group was able to go to a school everyday and plant trees with the local Roots and Shoots group (a Jane Goodall Institute branch). I made amazing friends with the locals from the school and still remember the impact they had on my life.
After two weeks in western Tanzania, my next program was located four hours from Mt. Kilimanjaro. My group stayed in a school room in the village of M’ongola Juu… a place so small it isn’t searchable online. There we had many projects, our main one focused on building a house for a doctor. In Tanzania, the government will pay for a doctor or school teacher to go and work in a village, as long as the village provides them with housing.
Aside from building the house we made a mud house for a family (which took several days), and shucked corn for a woman—it would have taken her two weeks to do the work we did in four hours! Overall Tanzania was the most impacting trip I have been on, but I think that all my past experiences led up to that one being so great. If I wasn’t able to find myself back in Costa Rica at the age of fourteen, I wouldn’t have been able to reach out to those in Tanzania like I did.
Creating my own solutions to problems
During one day in Tanzania I was asked to go help carry water for the soil of the trees. I immediately headed down the valley with the other girls. That day I was able to understand the hardship of going to fetch water for you own livelihood. We had to do it multiple times to get enough, which the girls must do during classroom time on school days.
I came up with the idea to have walks that simulate what it’s like to carry a bucket of water in the lives of these people I met. After talking to others from the trip, we came up with some ideas and partnered up with Save the Rain, and organization who’s goal is to get clean drinking water through rain catching contraptions in every family in Tanzania. We are calling our event, which will take place on Earth Day, April 22nd 2017… Miles for Maji.
Maji means water in Swahili, and one of the most common phrases in Tanzania is “Maji ni uhia” – water is life. This is true in so many ways and now our goal is to show others that through the walks, eventually raising enough money to impact an entire village. These walks will be held in San Diego, Chicago, West Palm Beach and Boston. We’re also selling bracelets and other items in other locations across the US to support this effort. Our group is just starting work on the website (milesformaji.org), where people can learn more about our work and experience.
My experience with Rustic Pathways made me realize that my everyday life at home is not the only life I have to live. In this day and age, our lives are so tied to technology and social media, and students are forgetting what life truly has to offer. I realized that there are many opportunities available for students to explore other countries, how other people live, and these life-changing experiences are priceless. Through my experiences I have found that my life goal in this world is to help others in service, advocating, and involving others.
Images by Rustic Pathways
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- How the Gift of Travel Opened My Eyes and My Heart - November 30, 2016