Beep, beep, beep goes my alarm. As usual doing its daily duty to interrupt my dreams and remind me of my own daily tasks that can’t wait after nine in the morning. But today I needed to wake early, very early. Too early for work, school, or Christmas, although I was just as excited for the occasion. Today was special, for it was the day to make a difference to my life and many others. At 6 o’clock in the morning in the summer of 2014, I left for my immersion trip to Belize in Central America.
The concept of me traveling to another country has been a fond fantasy of mine. Whether it was for business or pleasure, I wanted to see the world in its true colors. On TV, we often hear the best features of a far-off place to attract tourists, and we hear the worst of another to fester panic for a news broadcast. I wanted to go to these places and see these places in their true light. I want to see the world through an unfiltered lens.
I have made attempts to follow this desire many times in the past. My first was in college and I applied to the school’s Study Abroad Program. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough money to take me through that route. After college I tried again through the Peace Corps. With a social work degree and a sizable volunteer background, I thought I was a shoe-in to travel AND inflict some good in the world. Alas, it was not to be. The national level recruiters thought that I didn’t have the social competence to handle changing circumstance on the job, and so that bridge fell through along with a good portion of my hopes for the future.
Out of desperation, I entertained the idea of joining the Navy. I had no illusion of being the next American super soldier, but given the vocation of the men and women who are on board these ships, they would surely need a psychologist for professional counseling on board while traveling from one port to another. I went to their recruitment office to ask if they had room for a social worker. Only to found out that it didn’t matter. The Navy hiring policy prevented anyone with autism to join under any circumstances. As you might imagine, I was understandably sore to be denied due to something that wasn’t my fault. And so I was stuck in Kentucky and forced to continue working at a job that exercises none of my talents and satisfies none of my desires.
During an average day at work, I was in the middle of my usual routine when a thought hit me, “Hand in Hand Ministries does mission trips right?” With that one question, more sprang up. What is involved in these trips? How much does it cost? What skills are needed? What good can I accomplish? Soon questions became curiosity. Curiosity became ambition. And ambition became a plan.
At once, I shot Hand in Hand Ministries an e-mail asking them about their mission-trip programs.
Ever since my Eagle Project during high school, I have been a frequent volunteer for Hand in Hand Ministries (HHM). Their needs were often domestic, such as unloading a truck of incoming donations, loading outgoing donations to needy communities, and preparing HHM’s newsletter. However, HHM’s yearly hallmark of accomplishments is in their immersion trips to Appalachia, Nicaragua, and Belize. Every year HHM would gather a group of volunteers to venture to these locations, spend several days with the local community, take some time to see the world as they do, and leave behind a change for the people there. Although I knew about of these programs, I was focusing my efforts in joining a Peace Corps-type program and never investigated what was involved in HHM’s overseas programs.
I looked over HHM immersion brochures and became attracted to their Building for Change program in Belize. The trip involved taking a group of about 13 volunteers to Belize City and building a 16-foot-by-16-foot house for a family in one week.
At first the idea sounded preposterous. A group of 13 with no home-building experience is going to build a house in just seven days? However, the manager of the program assured me that:
1) It is not only going to be the 13 of us. We will have additional help from other families and volunteers with homebuilding experience
2) HHM has built over 250 houses just like this all over Belize and has always managed to finish the job in three-to four-day span
3) A 16-by-16-foot house is about the size of a small garage. Plus, our task will not include installing electricity, running water, or outgoing plumbing.
With my doubts quelled I immediately made arrangements to follow this quest.
To make arrangements easier I booked my place on the trip months in advance giving me plenty of time to prepare. Getting the time off work was not a problem. After a year of box shunting, I was due for a trip anyways and was able to request a full week of vacation time off. The trip was expensive, too, but I have been saving my hard-earned money for just such occasion. Getting the supplies was no problem, either; HHM provided me a supply list and a schedule so I would know exactly what was supposed to happen and what I would need for that time. Naturally, my parents would be worried for my safety overseas, but they were proud to see me go out into the world and do some good like they had in their youth. With preparations set, I was ready to go and fulfill my ambitions at last.