This past summer, I went on a Study Abroad Trip to Peru. This Study Abroad trip was for about 5 weeks, where 4 weeks of the trip consisted of not taking Spanish courses but also volunteering. This is what the University refers to as “Service Learning.” Through this unique program, one can receive credit for volunteering! I definitely suggest anyone who is interested to check it out, trust me, it’s a great experience and also serves a way to receive credit not just in a classroom.
One of the options for volunteering was to help out at an orphanage for children with disabilities. Many of the students on the trip had majors in which having this volunteer experience would be phenomenal for, whether it was psychology, social work, or urban renewal with a focus on the youth.
To be honest, I had no idea what the impact of volunteering would be. I remember the first day clearly, coming into the orphanage and sort of just “easing” into the flow of things. There was a short staff of nuns, and way more kids than I thought. The 7 students or so, including myself, were already overwhelmed on the first day.
As the days went on, and the 2-3 hours we would devote to volunteering, things started to drastically change. The nuns began to accept us a part of their family, always supporting us if we needed anything. They valued everything and anything we could do to help, no matter how big or small. This could range from feeding the children, to playing with them and putting a smile on their face.
As the trip progress, the 7 of us students began to work as a team. It isn’t until now, where I can reflect upon it, did I actually realize this. Every single day we would coordinate and delegate certain tasks so that we could work as efficiently as possible. Our first priority became the children and the nuns. We even became adaptable to the point where if one of us weren’t there, we could easily delegate the responsibilities to another team member. I am proud to see that our team really began to work together and get a lot done, and I find it ironic that none of us even saw it that way!
It was at that very moment, when we put ourselves second and the nuns and the children first, whether by staying extra hours, buying gifts to show them how much we care, or just keeping them company, did our method of thinking change from just simply volunteering to help out to making them our first priority. It was more important to see the nuns and the children happy that became our goal. It became our goal to lighten the load the nuns had, while also just having that dialogue and exchanging the experiences we’ve each had that really cement in my mind. Our team shared a purpose, and it only brought us closer and I can even say it added to our growth.
Volunteering at the orphanage will forever leave its mark in my heart and mind. The memory of our team walking out for the final time still sits clearly in my mind, and though it was a hard thing to do, I know it won’t be the last time I will see them, as well as serve others. I really learned the meaning of “Servant Leadership” and seeing a team of students work towards seeing those around us become our first priority. What I also realized is that serving others can come from volunteering and giving a helping hand, but also from the smallest things as sharing a smile, a laugh or a story.
“The only one among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve” — James C. Hunter
I guess I will end on the note that many of us have preconceived notions that the followers should be the ones serving the leader. But I have learned that to be a great leader, as well as finding a great sense of happiness and fulfillment in life as a human being will come from those who view their purpose as serving others, and seeing that the growth and benefit of their followers should be their first priority. I have no doubt in my mind that the trip would have been completely different if we had not had that opportunity. So with that being said, I invite all those who are reading this to take time our of their days to really serve those around them and gain that fulfillment in knowing those around you are benefiting from your actions.