Journeys with the most impactRich Stigall
Written by Deborah J. Mann, GO Trip Goer
Journeys with the most impact often begin long before boarding planes and immersing oneself in a new environment. They begin in the heart and the minds of the traveler with a yearning for discovery, knowledge, and perhaps making a small difference. For the past five years, I’ve been managing leadership programs for undergraduate business majors in Cornell University’s Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. Each year, these teams of 15-30 students have engaged in a service learning project as a way to practice the art of leading themselves and others toward a common goal to “Make a Difference.” For the seven Dyson seniors who traveled to Haiti in October 2012, their journey really began with a quest for Discovery of Self, Knowledge of and Appreciation for Others, and a Dream to Do Something for Humanity.
During the previous school year, their team worked with Cornell Ph.D. student Barrett Keene to develop a database and host a fundraiser for his Go Walk America effort. Barrett is currently trekking by foot across America to bring awareness about the millions of orphaned and abandoned children around our globe. Not everyone on the team had a chance to really feel like they were making an impact, so we submitted a proposal to Proctor & Gamble’s Higher Education Grant and were awarded $10,000 toward paying for a GO Project Vision Trip for a subset of the team. But, as with any journey that is worth its weight, it wasn’t an easy road. It took months of work to convince the guardians of our students’ safety that we had anticipated and addressed all contingencies. We held multiple meetings in preparation and in planning activities for the orphans in Port au Prince. We dealt with disappointments and forged ahead. Tight on budget, we shopped and negotiated for flights, hotel stays, and ground transportation. We collaborated with the wonderful staff at GO Project who worked tirelessly to make our Vision Trip a reality! Does leadership get any better than that?
Once we landed, as we hit the chaos of Customs and the PAP airport, we were relieved to be greeted by Thom and our Trip Leader Stephanie. Throughout our stay they kept a constant vigil with our team to assure that we lived out our mission, reflected on every experience, and felt the essence of our potential impact on the children of Haiti. Since one of our students has already written a blog on their team experience, my real purpose here is to talk about my experience in facilitating these leadership students to engage, and the impact Haiti had on me personally.
When people ask me “How was your trip to Haiti,” I don’t quite know how to answer. I can’t find the words to describe it, and I cannot put a time-limit on the trip. It is still with me, I am still holding warm little bodies who have wrapped themselves around my own, I am listening to children pointing at things in an attempt to bridge our language gap, I am trying to grasp in my rural American perspective the lack of forested mountains and need for cinderblock walls. I am in the air-conditioned, American-style bus, protected by wonderful Haitian drivers and guards, jostling through the pitted streets of PAP, seeing devastation from the Earthquake, and a level of poverty that I never fully appreciated. I am sitting on the veranda of our Inn sweating despite the lovely breezes, with a full belly from the delicious food prepared by Haitian women…and thinking about children on the streets of PAP, scavenging for food scraps, drinking from polluted steams, having no one to care for them, to teach them, to hold them, and tell them how special they are. And then I’m in one of the Pastor’s orphan villages, seeing a Pastor’s broad smile, feeling their immense love and pride, and my own gratitude for what they are doing to help these beautiful children. I am walking into a graveled space, hot, hot sun beating down, surrounded by more cinderblock walls, metal gates, as I reach for the outstretched tiny hand of a child who has come to greet us and share for a brief afternoon their journey, their past, and their future. I cannot explain to anyone what the love of those children, the searching, the laughter, the need for attention…did I mention the unadulterated love for another human being…has done to me? I took this group of leaders to Haiti, but I never dreamed how their journey, the journey of the orphaned and abandoned children of Haiti, the Pastors, the congregations, the wonderful Mamas who look after 15-20 children, Volcy and the guards, the GO Project staff, and that which I cannot see, touch, or hear would continue to live in my heart, soul, and future.
I cannot share my story without a deep and abiding gratitude to the GO Project and its staff. GO Project understands what is needed and works with the local community so that they may sustain themselves while caring for their most precious resource, the children. I am in awe of their work and their mission. I flew back to my rural home in upstate New York, but I never left Haiti: a beautiful land, a beautiful people, and a reason to care.
Prior to their travel to Haiti, I asked my students to prepare a Statement of Purpose for their trip. The last sentence of their Statement gives the most insight into their/my hope for their journey. If all of our country’s leaders shared this purpose, what a difference it would make. I am confident these students fulfilled their Purpose:
The greatest value that will guide us is the belief that we will find the humanity
that links every person together, no matter their environment or life experiences.