For some reason, I have always gravitated towards the idea of helping others. When I was in middle school I volunteered at various summer camps and daycare centers. In high school and college I chose to work with the elderly at nursing homes; however, as an adult, I simply forgot to make time.
The hustle and bustle of life, work, family/friends and everything in between can often make our lives so chaotic that we forget. Annually, I start the New Year off with a resolution to give back to my community and to begin volunteering again. At the end of each year, although I felt accomplished in certain aspects of my life, the community involvement part seemed to always fall through the cracks.
2016 was a turning point for me. As someone who is a huge believer in creating a “vision or dream board,” I knew I wanted and desperately needed more to feel fulfilled in life. A huge component of my project was to embark on international travel and experience other cultures that would allow me the opportunity to give back in a meaningful way. God fulfilled the desires of my heart and immediately presented me with an opportunity to finally have the experience I was seeking.
I belong to an Employee Resource Group for minorities at my company (a network dedicated to women sales professionals). The Global Engagement committee decided to organize a last minute trip to Cartago, Costa Rica, with an international volunteer non-profit. Cartago is a small city outside of San Jose with areas very high in poverty and numerous social challenges. When I received the email for this opportunity I immediately wrote out a feasibility list to justify why I should not hesitate to sign up for this mission trip. I could not find one good reason to not attend. My list did not allow me to make any excuses, my company even offered employees 5 days of volunteerism PTO. I shook my head and thought “nope!” this time around, I am going and work will just have to wait!
Putting work on hold for just one week and making a decision to step outside of my comfort zone proved to be one of the most life-changing decisions I could have ever made. I was assigned to work with small children at a government assisted home day-care for single-mothers. The children I interacted with were so sweet, loving, and playful. One would assume the language barrier would be a huge challenge, but honestly, just smiling, playing games, and teaching the children English words was enough to fill their hearts. My final day of working at the day care, my teammate and I gave the daycare teacher (called a Tia in Spanish) a gift bag with supplies and goods. She began to cry and thanked us for doing so much for her children. At that point, I realized, yes the people of Cartago who we connected with were thankful, but I felt just as thankful and humbled for the experience to give.
My experience was enriched in learning, cultural immersion, and time shared through joy, love, and peace. Our cultural exposure was modest and authentic. In just a week, I adapted to eating rice and beans almost every day, taking cold showers, sleeping in a bunk bed, brushing my teeth with bottled water only, and communicating primarily in Spanish. After the initial culture shock, I felt a sense of calmness and peace that I have never experienced. In fact, studies have shown giving can actually help you find inner peace.
In a study by the United Health Group, 78 percent of people who volunteered over a 12-month period said they felt that their charitable activities lowered their stress. They were also more calm and peaceful than people who didn't participate in volunteer work.
I can truly attest to the correlation between giving back and feeling better physically, mentally, and emotionally. My personal mission for the trip was to impact the lives of the Costa Rican children I was assigned to; however, I benefited from the experience in more ways than I ever anticipated. For the first time in years, I completely “turned off” from auto-pilot. I did not stress about work, my personal life, or to-do list. I slept well every night and woke up revitalized. I lived in the moment and focused on the mission at hand and enjoyed every single moment of it.
My goal is to continue to test the theory of “giving back to receive my own inner peace and well-being.” This could inspire a mission trip yearly, dedicated to taking at least one week off for volunteerism and cultural immersion. I am pleased with this goal, mostly because I’ve experienced it and I believe in it. It is my personal mission to incorporate this theory into our affirmations at The Holistic Lioness through various partnerships with non-profits and minority travel affiliates such as One Young Traveler.
Keisha is a New Jersey native and earned her undergraduate degree in Business Administration from Florida A&M University. She is a medical device sales professional by day and aspiring social entrepreneur by night. Keisha is a firm believer and advocate for providing health and wellness resources for under-served ethnic communities. She is the CEO & Founder of The Holistic Lioness & Co.