As most of you know, I just recently got back from Ireland. As many of you do not know, I went to do volunteer work, if you can call what I did volunteering. I personally see it more as a combination of herding cats and sobbing, but we’ll get to that. First, a little bit of backstory.
In the summer of 2009, I went through a leadership program called Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (affectionately referred to as HOBY), which is a weekend-long seminar targeted towards high school juniors that strives to bring out every ambassador’s natural leadership potential. In the summer of 2010, I came back as a junior staff volunteer, and it is now 2016 and I still haven’t left. I’ve climbed the ranks to Head of Junior Staff (which is about all the responsibility I want because I need constant attention so behind-the-scenes stuff just doesn’t mesh well with me), and I honestly love this organization. I love getting to help these kids realize they deserve great things, that they can change the world, that they matter. HOBY completely changed my life (both as an ambassador and as a volunteer) and has given me so many wonderful opportunities and blessings that I will one day list out word-for-word, but today, I’m just going to talk about one of them–the one that led me to Ireland.
HOBY got started after Hugh O’Brian, a very well-known actor, spent time volunteering with Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Albert Schweitzer was a humanitarian, theologian, organist, philosopher, and physician who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for opening a hospital in western Africa. After Hugh’s nine days with him were over, Albert Schweitzer asked, “What are you going to do with what you’ve learned?” Well, Hugh started HOBY, an organization present in all 50 states and 20 different countries, because he believed there was nothing more important than educating young people.
A couple months ago, during Oklahoma’s HOBY seminar, in fact, I got an email from one of HOBY’s Directors of National Program looking for volunteers over 21 to help out with a similar leadership program in Ireland. I filled out the application on a whim because the only thing I would have to pay for was my airfare, and I really didn’t think I’d get chosen. Still, even after sitting through what is now eight HOBY seminars, I don’t see myself as a leader. But that’s a story for another day.
I did get chosen, and I decided to come dangerously close to maxing out my credit card in order to be there. I figured that I deserved it, that this would be a nice little vacation before I started working again. So last week, I packed up a suitcase and prepared myself for my first ever solo plane journey, having no idea how life-changing my week with the Albert Schweitzer Leadership for Life Foundation would be.
ASLFL is a lot like HOBY, except it isn’t. What I mean is that it’s a leadership program full of HOBY volunteers that actually uses a lot of the HOBY curriculum. However, it’s targeted towards an international audience, and this year we had delegates from six different countries–UK, USA, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Palestine, and the Republic of Ireland. Because of this, there were multiple nights dedicated to teaching and showing off our cultures–a presentation night, Cultural Night where the delegates performed traditional dances and songs from their countries, a quiz night, and multiple chances to get up and speak about what life is like for them in their country.
We had so much fun in big group activities (and I legitimately sobbed the first time I saw every delegate join the Palestinians in their traditional dances), but my favorite part was getting my group alone in our group room and letting them learn from each other and learning from them myself.
This is group five, or Team L.I.F.T (Leaders Innovating for Tomorrow–brb sobbing again). We had a great time together. We learned a lot, laughed even more, had some very serious conversations, played pranks on everyone who fell asleep during group time, and cried when it was time to say goodbye. Every single one of them touched my heart with the amount of love and acceptance they poured out to each other and myself. I am so blessed to be able to cheer them on as they change the world.
I am passionate about so many things–the power of words and stories, education, equality, helping people, love, gentleness; I could sit here all day and list out the things that drive me and inspire me and give me reason to get out of bed every morning. I’ve got a little bit of Hugh O’Brian and Albert Schweitzer in me: I believe that educating our future leaders is terribly important, and I believe in helping people in any way that I can. In what can only be called pure serendipity, I ended up at ASLFL through HOBY, where I got to help, in any way I could, educate our future leaders. This is the cry of my heart: that one day, there will be peace. If I learned anything at all this week, it was that I was looking at the people who would turn that dream into a reality. One day, I will get to say, “I knew them when…”
Much like HOBY, I have a hard time putting words to the ASLFL experience, which is a new and different problem for me, the girl who puts words everywhere. I can only tell you of how hard I cried every time I remembered that these are children forced into circumstances they didn’t ask for. I can only tell you of how bright my joy was when I saw students from five other countries learning another culture’s traditions. I can only tell you of how wide my smile was every time a delegate got up to speak about how they found a family at ASLFL. I can only tell you of how loudly I laughed watching these kids bond over silly little games and cheers. I can only tell you of the music in my heart when we left our final event Saturday night having finally completed our service project, 1000 Paper Cranes for Peace. I can only tell you of the melancholy the overtook me when I realized I had to return home. I can only tell you of how I took the time to spread out all the gifts the delegates gave me and take a picture, because they were given out of love and there is nothing more beautiful than that.
I cannot find the right words to describe how much I adore and admire the students I met last week, how they broke my heart in all the right places so that the light could come in. I can’t find the words to tell you how proud I am to know them, how proud I am to be a stepping stone on their path of success. I can’t find the words to say that I’m more determined than ever to be a revolutionary, that I now want to change the world because they live in it and they deserve better. I can’t find the words, so instead I’ll say the four that have been running through my head for a week now.
I am forever changed.