My mother often remarked that good things come in threes. That certainly seems to be the case when it comes to how I’ve interconnected three aha moments with how I envision travel that serves.
Aha Moment #1
It began with watching Lume Mufleh’s powerful TED Talk “Don’t feel sorry for refugees-Believe in them.” Lume’s grandmother, who fled Syria for Jordan as a young mother, was determined to help her grandchildren understand their family’s history. When Lume was 8 years old, her grandmother took her to visit a refugee camp, similar to the one Grandmother had lived in with her small children. Upon arrival, Grandmother told Lume to go play with the children. Lume shares how she did not want to play with children who seemed so different from her. But Grandmother insisted. Later, while leaving the camp, Lume told Grandmother how much fun she had playing with the kids. “Those poor kids,” said Lume. Grandmother’s response is one that continues to impact Lume’s actions today. “Don’t feel sorry for them – believe in them.”
Aha Moment #2
Believing in someone is at the heart of a relationship I embarked upon about a year ago. At that time, a coalition of leaders came together with the goal of a poverty-free life for everyone in the community where I live. Designed to empower people in poverty with skills, resources and personal connections, a mentorship program was one of the strategies suggested to work toward this goal. Interested in giving back, I volunteered to serve as a mentor.
Two months ago, I met my neighbor, the person I would mentor, for the first time. A single mother of 2 girls (ages 10 years and 3 months at the time), my neighbor is in her mid-thirties. She works full time as a caregiver and human resources assistant in an assisted living center located about 15 miles from home. Despite full time employment, she lives from paycheck to paycheck with no reserves for unexpected expenses.
The connection with my neighbor is teaching me so much.
When we met for the first time, my neighbor was upbeat about so many things. She loved her job, feeling valued and challenged. She owned a car, enabling her to work at the assisted living center as local public transportation was not available. A strong network of friends helped care for her kids. Her spiritual life was strong and provided a source of strength when things became uncertain. An outgoing individual, our conversation continued for more than an hour. I found myself wondering why someone felt she needed a mentor.
We met a week later, as planned. Things were no longer going so well. My neighbor felt the initiative she demonstrated at work was not being appreciated by her boss. Childcare was getting harder to arrange. Fall-out with a longtime friend struck a blow to her self-esteem. The refrigerator was nearly empty and diapers were running short. Within a week’s time, her world had become chaotic.
My neighbor has shared a variety of ups and downs with me since our first meeting. Because of her, poverty is no longer an abstract term to me. Rather, it’s something that impacts someone I’ve come to care about. Witnessing my neighbor’s approach to life, I often find myself in awe.
Here are a few of my takeaways.
The importance of being seen in a positive light
My neighbor was invited to participate in this program. Local social service representatives, familiar with her over time, felt she could benefit from a mentor’s support. The difference in tone between our first and second meeting reminds me that people want to be thought of in a positive light despite the challenges they face.
The importance of listening
A story unfolds over time. This is especially true when someone is sharing their life story. As a mentor, I’ve realized the importance of listening to someone without feeling the need to fix the problems they face. My role is to build a trusting relationship that supports someone taking charge of their own life.
Resilience and the importance of believing in someone
My neighbor has repeatedly shown me her resiliency. I am in awe of her ability to bounce back from both emotional and financial challenges. She strives to improve her life despite frequent setbacks. She is not asking me to solve her problems. Rather, she expresses gratitude in my belief in her ability to live her life.
Aha Moment #3
I recently came across a quote by Karen Blixen that connected things for me.
“We must leave our mark on life while we have it in our power.”
For several years, I’ve been exploring how to combine the wonder of travel with the desire to serve people in need. I envisioned a trip that serves rather than a service trip. But what did that exactly mean and why should people be interested in opportunity such as this?
Connecting My Three Aha Moments Provides the Answer
I believe that many of us desire to follow Karen Blixen’s direction and “leave our mark on life.” Most of us are already doing so within our families, social groups and communities. But what could we do if we thought outside of communities familiar or close to us? How could those of us who explore life through travel integrate the desire to leave our mark?
Mission or service trips have long offered travelers a way of doing so. But the focus for my vision has been different. Lume Mufleh’s grandmother has given me the words to articulate the mission of travel that serves. “Don’t feel sorry for them. Believe in them!” Our hearts break when we see people living on the edge. This is especially true when we travel beyond our own country. We want to help. How can we solve the problems that are in front of us? There must be something we can do to improve the lives of those we see.
There is! Lessons learned in my aha moments provide a starting place.
- Remember the importance of an individual’s dignity. Travel that serves means taking direction not giving direction. Challenges are shared only after trust is established.
- Listening serves as a building block for trust. Travel that serves means listening to an individual define their challenges. Once challenges are defined, solutions can be explored.
- Travel that serves means aligning with someone as they examine their challenges. It is discussing possible solutions rather than providing the answers. Travel that serves believes in people, it doesn’t feel sorry for them.
Travel that serves – what an incredible way to leave your mark on life!