We have been especially fortunate recently to have welcomed several wonderful teams and volunteers to the mission. That is part of what I love about doing this job is meeting people from all over the world who have the desire to serve others. Everyone has a different story and background. I always think it’s so interesting to hear why people are here, what made them come, and how it has changed them.
There is a volunteer here currently named Amanda and she has impressed me beyond measure. Amanda is originally from Alabama, but now resides in New York. She went to undergrad at the Baptist College of Florida and has a B.A. in Christian Counseling. She then went on to Mercy College in NY to get her Masters degree in Mental Health Counseling. Amanda recently quit her job in NY where she specialized in family therapy and worked with victims of domestic violence, in order to take that experience abroad and do similar work in areas like Bajo Tejares. She has the desire to work with women and address issues like anger, self-esteem, depression, and parenting. Many people have noticed or commented that the vast majority of people who come to the mission to serve primarily want to work with children. After all, we do offer an ideal environment for volunteers and teams wanting to work with children. This summer, we are having a drastic increase in teams who want to take part in the nightly ministries and work with the different groups of people here. I know the other groups like men, women, and youth highly appreciate that attention. Outside of that, we can’t exactly control the fact that most people want to work with children. So to have a volunteer like Amanda who is unbelievably equipped and trained to work with a different group like the women, and have the exact desire to do so, is incredible. Not to mention, she is here for three months!
Amanda immediately introduced herself to the women’s group on her first Monday evening here. They were extremely receptive to her and what she had to say. She set up a schedule of group sessions and has a dozen women signed up and consistently coming to these sessions where she is covering a variety of topics. In addition to two group sessions a day for three days a week, she is doing a considerable amount of individual counseling sessions. I’m blown away by the time she is putting into this, I would guess it’s easily 30+ hours a week. She takes it very seriously and is visibly passionate about transforming the lives of the women in Bajo Tejares. The women seem eager to get help too. For far too long, I think this group has felt over-burdened, under-appreciated, and perhaps like they are fighting a losing battle. They feel stupid, ugly, like they’re not worth anything. In the first week of sessions, Amanda told me that five women revealed suicidal thoughts and tendencies to her. She has been helping them with the idea of ‘safety planning’ for when those thoughts come about to make them feel more empowered on how to handle them in what feels like a hopeless situation. I can’t express how amazing it is to have a volunteer here who is qualified to do this and would rather be doing absolutely nothing else in the world right now.
Amanda and I had the most interesting conversation on the work we’re both doing and the mindset we seem to share. One of the points that came up in our conversation was how huge it was to expose people to a world they have never seen or experienced. I wear many hats here, but one of them that is as important as the rest, one that people may not even recognize, is how much effort is put into exposing people’s minds to this community, this level of poverty, the change that is taking place, the change that needs to take place, the ways people can be a part of it and help, and so on. I give countless tours and talk to many people about this community and the mission’s work in this community. So often, people often comment that they just had no idea this was what life was like in a place like this. Very few Americans have seen third world slums, true slums. Maybe most of Bajo Tejares doesn’t look like the slums it once was, but it’s still remarkably eye opening. I took a group down to Larry’s Village last week to see the homes I call “wooden boxes.” We went into Karla’s house and you can literally walk from one end of the house to the other in four seconds. When I explained how many people lived in that little wooden box of a house, I am certain it came as a surprise to most. Karla, Andres, their three children, and Karla’s mother. Sometimes I think about life in the US and compare it directly to Karla’s life here. She has always meant a lot to me since she moved to Bajo Tejares four years ago and we met shortly thereafter. My kitchen is almost the size of her entire house. Three years ago, Andrew and I bought our “little” house and I remember longing for granite countertops, along with a million other improvements. What I would spend on granite countertops would easily feed their family for a year and likely cover most of their other expenses as well. They could save every penny earned in an entire year and not be able to afford to put granite countertops in my kitchen.
I use the example of granite countertops not to make anyone feel guilty that has them. It’s just one way for me to put it into perspective for myself. If you’re fortunate enough, there’s a switch that takes place in what you see and value in life after being exposed to such things though. Amanda mentioned in our conversation that she could very well make a lot of money in her profession but she could never be content in just that. She’d rather be ‘poor’ by US standards and be traveling the world doing things like this. It so reminded me of my own story. As many people who know me are already aware, I left a good job in investment banking. I had this pretty path in front of me that felt like a fast track up the corporate ladder. Walking away from that surprised a lot of people. But my perspective has changed in such a way that I could never go back to something that wouldn’t allow me the freedom to go out experience the world and do things like this. I’m not saying I won’t go back into the world of finance, but I won’t ever let it lock me into a path that I can’t get out of. I’m not going to let any job control me. Amanda was able to point something out to me that I had kind of thought about before but couldn’t put into words. We talked back and forth about what we’d both do when we left Costa Rica and what the plans were for the future. She said to me, do the job that’s going to let you live this kind of life because living life this way makes you happy. That really hit the nail on the head for me. The job I have in the future will probably never be the kind that defines me. I don’t fault anyone for being wealthy and successful. I just think that at one time, I was sure that I would be that person. Somewhere along the way, I stopped needing to be that person. Don’t get me wrong, we need people to be unbelievably successful and generous beyond belief to fund much of the change that will take place in this world. But we also need people to agree to go and do it and understand that they probably will never be among the rich. Part of the responsibility of those of us out in the mission field, staring down the problems of this world each and every day, is to expose the rest of the population to it. Amanda mentioned to me that it was difficult for her to be a part of some of the small changes and differences being made when you could see how much more has yet to be done. I can relate to that. But I also know that I can’t change it all. Maybe if everyone feels the needs as deeply as we do, sees it with their own eyes or even just through ours, we’ll be able to change the world together.