It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, or "bubble", where everything is familiar. When I say comfort zone, I’m also including leisure travel at resorts in foreign countries. Resorts are familiar and cozy, they’re designed to have everything drawn out so that travelers do minimal work on their part to relax. Here’s an example: menus are in English, food is prepped in a way that easily recognizable back home, and there’s almost always an option to eat a cheeseburger if you so please.
What I and eight of my coworkers experienced was way outside of that comfort zone, and it was incredible. I would do it all again in a heartbeat, even if that means sleeping in a sleeping bag, drinking instant coffee, and eating beans with every meal. Yes, I would do it all again. My employer, IGS, and Grid Alternatives gave us the opportunity to install solar on an orphanage (La Hacienda) in Tijuana, Mexico. This was a project where we worked, slept, and ate at the orphanage for four days straight. The outcome of the project was to assist La Hacienda on their monthly electric costs, providing a savings that can be allocated to other needs for the orphanage. What I learned is this: never walk backwards, beans are a staple in Mexican cuisine, and experiences like this will change you.
We were told that we would come back home feeling different, maybe even a little changed. Those who told us that were right, I did feel different. We met people who were so gracious and kind, with personal stories that inspired us all and even brought us to tears. The kids at the orphanage were happy, with contagious smiles. It was refreshing to see kids and teenagers play with one another rather than being attached to a screen. Those kids taught me to put the phone down and be present in the moment. They also taught me to be warm, and not to shy away from intimacy (give plenty of hugs). The greatest part of all was leaving Mexico knowing we’re all more alike than we are different. So yes, the relationships we built had us returning feeling different in a good way, maybe even a little changed.
If you’re thinking about volunteering on a trip like this my biggest piece of advice is to come curious, and with an open mind and an open heart. You know when you take a picture of something breathtaking and realize the picture still doesn’t do it justice? You have to be there to understand the beauty of what you’re looking at. I could write a book about this experience and it still wouldn’t do it justice. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to go on this trip, and if you have a similar opportunity in front of you, take it and go. They say life happens outside your comfort zone, if you decide to do a service like this, I promise you’ll be glad you did.