Mel’s trip of a lifetime part 2: How HALP 2014 changed mePosted on 03/11/2014 by Jess O'Connor
In her last blog, Mel wrote about the preparations leading up to her humanitarian trip to Thailand and Laos. Today, read all about how this special journey changed her life for the better.
It’s not unheard of for someone to change, but deep down I don’t think we leave behind who we truly are. I think we have life experiences and grow from them into the person we are today. I’m a busy person who cannot sit still, but within the first two days of being on the HALP trip I knew this journey was going to give me more life experience in two weeks than I’d had all year.
One of the most incredible aspects of the trip was seeing how it affected the 18 students from Manurewa High School. I witnessed 18 teenagers all forget about what social groups they were in, forget the age differences and educational differences, and simply bond as one unit creating one very big family.
New friendships and shared experiences
I just so happened to become Aunty Mel. Nothing like a couple of 9-hour bus trips on very hilly, steep and sometimes dangerous roads to help people bond. Sleep on these journeys became compulsory to try and fight the urge of motion sickness. During awake hours, we enjoyed random conversations about family, life, music, movies and of course food.
Everyone had the chance to bond and to relate to one another. This may have been helped by the lack of opportunities to use western technology. It created a healthy environment, where people really paid attention to each other. Soon even the students starting making sure everyone was safe. We were all assigned a number from one to 25, to take account for 18 students, 5 adult leaders and 2 guides. When we boarded the bus or were out experiencing something new, you could see some of the students doing the head count.
Sometimes the best things happen beyond your comfort zone
A personal highlight from the trip was seeing students attempt new things, to test their confidence and get the most out of everything. They jumped off tree branches into fresh water, went swimming under the waterfalls, hiked up hundreds of stairs to find a hidden temple, woke up at 5am to feed Buddhist monks, stayed with locals in a village after never meeting them before, made up games and entertained young children at the orphanage. They also went cave tubing, kayaking, tried authentic Laos cuisine, learnt how to barter and shared their emotions while learning about Laos’ problem with unexploded mines.
It was an emotionally confronting trip but you could see how much it was changing the lives of the teenagers – it was clear the memories would last forever.
Making memories, creating futures
As the trip came to a close and we all knew that there were only a few days until our first flight home, there was a mix of emotion within the group. Emotions were running high and would change throughout the day. A lot of people were excited to see their loved ones, while some would just look at photos they took of the children they had meet with sadness and hopelessness. Others would talk about the amazing travels they had decided to do once they leave school. Most of all, they would reflect on what’s next and what they wanted out of life. It warmed my heart to see them encourage each other’s ideas and dreams.
It became apparent that so many of the students want to further their education, and this made me grateful to be a teacher, to be in a position to influence and make a difference in someone’s life through knowledge, determination and inspiration. That is what I could bring to the table for this group of students; my mindset of going out there and getting your dreams. Don’t wait for it to come to you! Whatever you choose to do, be confident it is the right choice, because everything happens for a reason and it will all give you the experience to be the person you truly are.
I made so many friends along this journey. I thought I would be a big influence on these kids, but in fact they were a big influence on me. I believe the students and the experiences we went through helped me see how important my role as a teacher is, and how important it is to be the best influence on those around me, especially my own two wonderful children.
The trip doesn’t end here
Now the trick is to check and re-check my own journey in life. Anxiety struck on my way home. What do I do first? What should I start doing now? What does my future hold? How can I do my part in making things better? Well the truth is I knew these questions could wait because there were my loved ones waiting for me on the other side of the arrivals gate, and I was ready to just show them how much I love them, and that in fact my first most important role is being a mum. Parents are the first teachers after all!
As for the students, I know they will be asking the same questions and the truth is for them, they would have done the same. Show their own families how much they love them. The bigger questions can be answered in time, answered better with even more life experience. All they have to do now is live a grateful life and never give up on themselves, because I know from meeting all of them, they will do amazing things no matter what it is they choose to do.
I’m so truly thankful to be a graduate of Manurewa High School; they do amazing things for their students. Phil and Donella did such an incredible job of making sure the group got the utmost opportunities to experience so much in such a short space of time. Flawless organisation on their part with some of the amazing projects we visited and people we met. Best of all STRAY Asia took upon the challenge of catering to all of this, and created an extraordinary trip that has changed the students’ perspectives on life and given more experience in two weeks than one could possibly imagine.
Most important I would not have experienced this amazing life changing trip if it wasn’t for the International Travel College. They strive to be more than a company giving qualifications – they want to inspire people to achieve their dreams. I am proud to be part of that mission and because of this trip will continue my work with even more experience to share with my students and colleagues.