Travel, Volunteering

Making a Difference: Part 1

Making an impact on others lives and fundraising for certain organizations has become a large priority in my life the past few years. It’s transformed me in ways I couldn’t even imagine. It’s given me a purpose, it’s given me confidence, and it’s given me a way to combine several of my loves – travel, volunteering, new cultures, and food. I thought I would start out first by sharing a recent organization I’ve been involved with and then diving into other aspects of volunteering/traveling abroad. So I give you – Making a Difference: Part 1.

The past two years I’ve had the very fortunate opportunity to work with Make a Difference Now (MAD) – very appropriately named. First in Africa (May 2015) and again a couple of weeks ago in Chile (Feb 2016). I was introduced to this amazing organization through my work – they plan regular volunteer trips with certain foundations throughout the year AND they give us 5 days out of each year to dedicate ourselves to volunteering (yes I know I’m spoiled). I’m incredibly lucky and I couldn’t ask for a better company to work for!

Make a Difference Now really appealed to me because – no lie – it was in Africa and that’s been on my bucket list for a VERY long time. And then after researching more about the organization I found out they have a unique approach to helping children through education. They focus on providing private education to 22 children from primary school all the way through college. And these kids are amazing! You can read all about their stories here. They come from all different backgrounds, but the majority of them have lost one or more parents and are being raised by other family members. We were fortunate enough to meet 12 of the children at the nearby Royal Primary and Secondary School (the other children are spread across other schools). And let me tell you, in talking with these kids you would never guess the kinds of things they’ve been through. They are the most respectful, grateful, kind, and smart (so incredibly smart) kids I’ve ever met. For instance, my visit was shortly after the earthquake in Nepal, so we decided to help the kids write letters to the children there. They decorated these beautiful letters with such inspirations of hope and love. These are children that don’t have much and for them to have such a bright outlook on life and the ability to inspire others is incredible.
IMG_9526           Nepal Letters

Writing Letters to Nepal

Aside from writing letters at the school, we decorated and organized the newly built library, worked on an outbuilding for visiting teachers who proctored the children’s exams, gave career talks, and did crafts with some of the younger children.

Organizing the Library

Outside of the school, we visited the family of two brothers to learn more about them and where they’ve come from. This was a pivotal moment in the trip. These particular brothers lost both of their parents, one sister from hunger and their brother from AIDS. Their parents were buried just outside of their padlocked hut. I can’t imagine how hard it was for them to go back to this place and yet they took us there. Their aunts, uncles, grandmother, grandfather and other family members lived in surrounding huts and houses and gave us a very warm welcome. Seeing how this family lived and what little they had, the joy and thoughtfulness they exuded was amazing. They quickly offered us places to sit and huge bunches of bananas to take with us (which they had to cut down from the surrounding trees). Here is this family that doesn’t have much, yet wants to give US something. The amount of selflessness (and I know I keep using this word) was incredible!

Visiting Jonas and Innocent’s family
Jonas and Innocent’s parent’s grave.
mud hut
Jonas and Innocent’s parents home, which is now padlocked shut.
Other family members homes.
Getting bananas
Getting bananas down from the tree.

What I learned from this trip is how much we take for granted. We have homes with running water, electricity, and every necessity that we might need. We have the internet at our fingertips. They have rolling blackouts, the internet is EXPENSIVE, and it’s only available at the school. Using a computer or an iPad to them is a luxury and they are so eager to learn. It made me want to do more, help more. These children deserve the best education they can get and this organization is a huge blessing to them. To be provided not only with an education but clothing and food on a regular basis. We met one child who used to get one scoop of porridge a day. One scoop. Can you even imagine? Another child we met had an abusive grandmother that wouldn’t let him attend school and he eventually ran away from her after a particularly severe beating. He had to scrounge for food during the day and slept in a banana field at night. He was six years old when MAD took him in. Again…can you even imagine? I encourage you to read more of their stories here.


MAD kids
Some of the MAD kids on our last day after we’d handed out sunglasses 🙂

As part of this volunteer trip, we’d gathered several items for donations – clothes, shoes, books, outdoor toys, personal hygiene products, even the luggage we brought it in. After meeting the kids, I wanted to leave everything I’d brought with me. I ended up leaving additional clothing, a pair of brand new shoes, and anything I could live without for the rest of the trip. This is how much it affected me. I’d wished I’d brought more, but even then, in my mind, it wouldn’t have been enough. These kids left a lasting impression on me. After the trip was over I definitely wanted to continue to support MAD… next stop, Chile!

If this post has inspired you to make a difference – check out the MAD website to see how you too can get involved.


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