It’s hard to believe that my experience on an Alternative Spring Break has come and gone. All of the training and reading narratives really prepared mentally for going on the trip. But they did not prepare me for the feeling I would get the moment I was faced with our first visit with a young man from Somalia, or the pit in my stomach on our last visit when a man described his journey to the United States, or the racing of my mind when I was trying to figure out what question to ask when these people said we could ask them anything. All of these emotions and feelings have led me to back to square one, why did I do this trip? To be honest, I started off agreeing to be a leader on this trip because I was studying abroad in Italy. When I got the email asking me to be a leader on this trip, I thought, of course why wouldn’t I want another excuse to travel. I knew nothing about refugee resettlement. I only knew about advocacy through the lens of Public Relations and I was headed on the path to work in a large Public Relations Firm.
Now I know that this trip has been so much more than an ” excuse to travel”. It has been an opportunity to learn and be an voice for others. This trip has been an eye opener to so much more than just what I have been studying in the classroom. Here is what I have taken away from this trip:
Be more vulnerable.
I have recently gone through my life with an armor, afraid that I am going to get hurt. As a result of this I have a hard time letting other in. After Monday night, I realized I was too guarded. Once I saw how emotional and empathetic my group was, I saw the wall I had built around myself. I once saw a quote ” vulnerability and love come from the same root. Decided how you want to show the world, one day at a time.” After this trip I have learned the more vulnerable you are, the more open you are to love. I have closed myself off to new love because I am afraid of getting hurt or disappointing others, which is not a good way to live.
On our first day we went on a hike in Sedona. While we were hiking I realized I was very pensive about my role as a leader on the trip. I was thinking about all of things I had learned in training and how I could convey that to this group. I just kept thinking, and thinking, and thinking and eventually I came up with nothing. I was worried that I would fail the group. I kept worrying about this until we went into our second house visit. When we were at the second house we played jump rope with these beautiful children, we played duck duck goose and all of the games you miss from your childhood. In that moment I felt the weight of my stress of being a leader lifted off my shoulders.
I stopped worrying about being a leader and started being me. I was singing in the car and joking with the girls on my trip about the planetarium. Everything became a lot easier.
On this trip I met the most inspiring human. The day was very slow and we had not really had any visits yet. When we walked in the door there was quiet undertone to the room. But when this man spoke he was so impeccable. He talked about his dream, he created an NGO that helps children the the Congo go to school. He is ” living his dream” by doing so because he is helping the student fulfill their dreams of being doctors and lawyers. He says when he was in a camp he lost his dream and was living for his next meal, not for tomorrow. He views his life in the camp as lesson. Listening to this man’s optimism has inspired me to be more mindful. When I am having a terrible day I need to have some perspective about what is going on in the world and remember it is not about me. This man also said that no condition is permanent. I will take this with me no matter where I go.
The coolest thing I experienced on this trip was honesty. When we were in a house with Catholic Charities our Volunteer Coordinator asked a refugee what they think about the new relations with Cuba. He was so honest in that moment he said that he did not believe that this would make a difference for his family or for his country because another president would come along and change this newly created relationship. When the Volunteer Coordinator disagreed with him, he did not budge on his ideals. He simply said that he still believes that this is just a temporary thing and he knows this because he has experienced it first hand. This honest was so invigorating to experience.
We met someone who had the cards stacked against them. She was in a camp in CAR, she does not speak English, she is sick with cancer, she lost her job, and she is the only person in her family bringing in an income. The look on her face when we walked in the door was stoic, but when she showed us the dresses she made I have never seen a bigger smile. She became so alive in that moment. That made all of the cards that were stacked against her vanish.
We also met a long time friend of Aaron’s Janny. He is so passionate about the work he does it attracts so many people to listen to him. I will never forget how excited Janny was to see us the day we came to his office. To hear how animated he was to talk about his homeland was unlike any other. He has this presence that makes you feel like you have never been so alive.
I have learned so much from just one week alone but what I have always known and I will continue to use in the upcoming journey of advocacy is to be aware and brave. Because advocacy without these two tools, is like looking at a picture of the sunset South Mountain and expecting the picture to do the view justice. You are missing the view completely