January travel team selected

Last night at the EWB-OSU officer meeting we reviewed all of the applications for the trip to Honduras and selected the team that I will be leading in January!

In the last few weeks, many of these students helped at the filter build day at the lab, filled out part of the paperwork we have to submit to EWB-USA for trip approval, and volunteered with the fundraising and public relations committees.

I am meeting with the missionaries that we work with in Honduras soon to discuss the project ideas for our upcoming trip, and I cannot wait for the group to really get started preparing for our journey.

I miss my friends from Honduras so much, and I think often of the children I met last year. They are definitely the motivation that keeps me going through all of the crazy preparations.

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New year, new faces, new project

This week at the chapter meeting we broke off into groups, and I was more than pleased to have thirteen students in the Honduras group, especially because many of them are freshmen. I am so encouraged to see the underclassmen finding ways to get involved and give their time to help people they have never even met. 

Seeing how interested some of them were as I described the community we work with and our past trips was so encouraging, and I hope that I can share even more of my enthusiasm and passion for the people of Honduras with them during the time we work together. Things may get crazy since we have a lot to finish before January, but having seen the impact we make in Honduras makes it worth every single sacrifice.

We are going to spend the semester getting our paperwork in to EWB-USA for trip approval, creating effective ways to spread the word about the filter businesses, researching new potential projects near Seis de Mayo, and preparing for the trip in January.

See you in 4 months, Honduras!

Ready, set, go! Planning for the year

We had our first Engineers Without Borders officer team meeting this morning, and I am even more excited about the upcoming projects than I was before!

I will be heading up a trip to Honduras, helping the Community Action Chair start up more local projects and service opportunities, and doing some of the prep work for the Spring trip to Guatemala.

Our President had us write our vision statements for the semester which forced me to really sit down and think about why I do what I do and why I love what I love. The following are my goals as Project Lead for the semester, and I hope to carry on similar goals throughout the rest of the work I do in my lifetime.

~to lead two organized, productive overseas projects that help the communities in every way possible

~to work more closely with the Community Action Chair to get campus more involved with our local projects

~to be available to the underclassmen in EWB if they need help with anything

~to help other students develop their passions for engineering and service

The last one is so dear to my heart. The previous leaders of EWB-OSU helped me find a wonderful way to really use my gifts to serve God and others, and I pray that I can take what they taught me and help pass it along.

Our chapter meetings are Thursdays at 5:30 in Engineering North 108, and I sincerely encourage those at Oklahoma State that are interested to come by and see what we’re all about. It is going to be a great year with many opportunities to serve others and begin to put what we learn in class to use. I decided to come to a meeting my freshman year, and it has changed my career goals and given me so much more motivation in my classwork. I now know that everything I learn can be used to impact the lives of others, and that it worth all the time and effort in the world to me.

Los abuelitos

Today, I went to volunteer at a nursing home with some of the other students in my program. It was amazing to me to see the difference in the structure itself. At home, it depresses me to go to nursing homes because they are so dimly lit and plain, and the walls are permeated by the smell of disinfectants. Here, though, was a completely different experience. When we walked in, it was bright and colorful. There were live plants and plenty of fresh air. Is was all very clean, but it didn’t smell like chemicals. It was such a pure environment.

The people there seemed much happier even though they don’t get many visitors like the elderly people back home. One of the men is 77 years old, and he is growing a garden out back. Another man sews by hand everyday. He makes bags and bibs for babies. He told us it is the only thing he likes to do so he does it everyday. He said, “This is my machine” as he held up his hands with a big grin on his face. Another woman has baby dolls that she carries around like children, and she makes their clothes and names them. When we got there, she didn’t have a baby with her. Rodrigo asked her if her baby was sleeping and she told him that it was too cold for the baby to come out. When we started playing Bingo, she went and got her baby to show the group.

When we got to the room where they play bingo, the man that sews was feeding a woman resident. Someone asked if it was his wife and he said she was just a woman that needed help since her hands don’t work correctly anymore. When she finished eating, the game started. We were all seated at round tables with some of the residents, and we talked to them and helped them with their bingo cards since many of them are losing their hearing or eyesight. They were so excited that we had come to play with them. Their bingo prizes were various toiletries and supplies such as lotion and fingernail clippers. Their faces lit up with joy when they got a prize. Toward the end of the visit, my new friend let me hold her baby for a few minutes while she admired her two prizes. When you squeeze its stomach it sings “Jesus Loves Me,” and she really likes to listen to it. Then, she showed me her pretty green necklace (it was Mardi Gras beads with a crown on it.) She said she won it the last time she played bingo, and she was very proud of it.

Today’s visit was such a beautiful reminder that very little things can have great value, and the responsibility of caring for others falls on everyone whether it is your “job” or not. The people who are paid to work there have many responsibilities, and sometimes all it takes to make the day of the elderly is a little free time you choose to spend with them.

Hoy yo fui a un asilo de ancianos con un grupo de estudiantes de mi programa para ser voluntario. Estaba asombroso la diferencia en la estructura del asilo. En los EEUU, los asilos me deprime porque no hay mucho luz o colores, y las paredes son impregnados con el olor de los desinfectantes. Pero aquí yo encontré algo completamente diferente. Cuando entramos, estaba brillante y colorido. Había plantas reales y aire fresco. Todo estaba limpia, pero no olía como productos químicos. Era un espacio puro.

Las personas parecían más feliz aunque no tienen muchos visitantes como en los EEUU. Un hombre tiene 77 años, y está plantando semillas en el jardín. Otro hombre  cose sin una máquina todos los días. Él hace bolsitas y baberos. Nos dijo que la única actividad que le gusta es coser,  y por eso lo hace todos las días. “Esta es mi máquina,” dijo él mientras levantaban las manos con una sonrisa grande. Una mujer tiene muchas muñecas, y cuida de ellas como niñas. Hace su ropa y todas tienen nombres. Cuando llegamos, Rodrigo le preguntó si su muñeca estaba dormiendo. Ella dijo, “No, no puede salir del cuarto porque hace mucha fría.” Pero cuando Bingo empezó, ella trajo una muñeca que se llama Nina para mostrar al grupo.

Cuando llegemos al espacio en que juegan Bingo, el hombre que cose estaba ayudando una mujer a comer. Alguien le preguntó si ella es su esposa, y el dijo que ella solo es una mujer que necesita ayuda porque las manos no funcionan correctamente. Cuando ella terminó su almuerzo, el juego empezó. Estábamos sentados en mesas redondas con algunos de los residentes, y hablaban con ellos y se ayudaban con sus tarjetas porque algunas tienen problemas con su vista u oído. Estaban emocionantes que hubiéramos venido. Sus premios eran varios suministros como lociones y cortaúñas. Estaban llenos de alegría cuando ganaron. Después del juego, mi nueva amigo me pasó su “bebé” cuando estaba admirando sus dos premios. Su muñeca puede cantar “Jesus Loves Me,” y ella le gusta escucharla mucho. Ella también me mostró su collar verde (eran cuentas de Mardi Gras con una corona.) Ella lo ganó otra vez jugando bingo y estaba muy orgullosa. 

La visita hoy fue un hermoso recordatorio que cosas pequeñas pueden tener un impacto grande, y la responsibilidad de ayudar a los demás pertenece a todo el mundo si es su “trabajo” o no. Los trabajadores quienes son pagados a trabajar en los asilos tienen muchos quehaceres y responsibilidades, y usted puede alegrar a los abuelitos por pasando un poquitico de su tiempo libre con ellos.

The world is our university

I have been in Costa Rica for a little less than a week now. I am attending a university near the house where I live with my “Mama Tica.” I am learning a lot in my class on Latin American civilizations, but I am learning even more in my everyday interactions.

It amazes me some of the things I take for granted at home — like real crosswalks. I have to cross two busy streets to get to school, and you just have to look and run at the first one, which is a large curve across from the mall entrance. At the second, there is a “crosswalk,” but some drivers may or may not stop, even with people in the road. The first day my Mama Tica walked me to school, she said, “Puede cruzar la calle cuando el hombre verde está parpadeo… quizás.” (“You can cross the street when the green man is flashing… maybe.”) A few days later I was walking with a couple friends at night and two of us were nearly run over by a bus.

The lesson: If it is bigger than you and faster than you, you’d better get out of its way. It’s important to ask someone questions such as, “Does the pedestrian have the right of way here?”

I have also noticed that when some of my friends who don’t know very much Spanish try to speak as much Spanish as they can with the locals, they are treated as friends instead of strangers. Even though the conversation looks a little like playing charades, you can tell that the locals don’t mind.

The lesson: Simple gestures to show that you respect someone’s culture and desire to learn from them are more important that having perfect grammar. The best way to become fluent is to realize that making mistakes is less embarrassing than not trying at all.

While I have been here, I eat almost every meal with my Mama Tica. She often tells me about the foods we are eating, where the ingredients come from, and how it is prepared. She also tells me about her favorite places to visit. I learn so many interesting things from spending time with her that I would have probably never learned by staying in an apartment and eating the food in the mall or in restaurants.

The lesson: If you want to really learn about a culture or a place, find someone to talk to and hang out with that has grown up there. No book or webpage can have a personal connection with you and really invest in you.

Many people say, “You learn something new everyday.” I now know that it is possible to learn something new ever hour if you leave your comfort zone and look in the right places. I cannot wait to discover what new and wonderful things I will learn in the next 5 weeks, and I pray that I never forget the life lessons I am learning during my time here.

Costa Rica countdown

I can’t believe I leave for Costa Rica in just 22 days! I got my program schedule a few days ago, and I am even more excited now. It will be strange to not spend the whole summer with my sister for the first time since I was 2, but I know that this will be a great experience.

The biggest downside to the trip being so close is that I have to pack soon, which in my opinion is the worst part of most trips. Maybe it would be easier if I could pack a few people I will miss in my suitcase. I think that might irritate the airline, though.

I also can’t wait to find out who my host family will be! Just a couple more weeks 🙂 

Dream BIG

When I was in Honduras over Spring Break, I spent a lot of my time speaking with the children at a few public schools. The schools looked very different than the schools I am used to, and the atmosphere was definitely not the same. As soon as we passed through the gate to the first school, I had no idea what to expect from our presentations on the importance of drinking filtered water and general sanitation tips. What could we possible use to relate to these kids that have grown up in a world so different from ours?

While my group members were presenting their sections I was racking my brain to find a way to really make the information in the presentation important to the kids. If they don’t see why not having germs is really that big of a deal, we might as well not talk about it. Then, I decided to ask what they want to be when they grow up. I had no idea what kind of answers to expect.

I was a little surprised when they began to answer me. We heard “maestra” (teacher), “abogado” (lawyer), “medico” (doctor), “enfermera” (nurse), “bombero” (firefighter), “marinero” (sailor), and even “presidente” (president) and “astronauta” (astronaut). I was so surprised because it sounded exactly like my classes in elementary school. They may have grown up in a rural neighborhood in the third world, but their dreams are just as big as any kid’s in suburbia.

After the kids told us what they want to be when they grow up, we each told them what we want to do when we are done with school. Yi wants to design cool buildings. Shawn wants to work with airplanes. Leslie wants to work with water purification and environmental engineering. I want to work for a company as a civil engineer for a few years and then someday move to Central or South America to work as an engineer/missionary.

Then, I told them that they had some great goals for their lives, and that with a lot of hard work they could do great things. But, if they are sick all the time, then they can’t come to school. If they don’t go to school, they can’t grow up to be a doctor or a lawyer or any of those other cool things. That is why it is so important to drink clean water. Drinking contaminated water is the main reason they get sick so often and can’t come to school, so drinking clean water is one thing they can do to start working toward their dreams.

When I said that, you could see it click with so many of the students. Many of the older kids knew all the “right” answers to our questions, but they didn’t actually put most of it into practice because they didn’t really get why it was important. You can’t see germs. Some of their water is clear but still as contaminated as the murky water (we took many water samples on our trip.) Until they actually connected the water with why they get sick, it all seemed pointless.

I know that some of them will never reach those lofty goals (there was at least one boy in every class that wanted to be president), but I hope and pray that even if they don’t do those things that they grow up healthier with more opportunities than they had before. After the trip I was thinking about my new goals in life, and they seemed so daunting and impossible. Then, I thought back to those eager children in the classrooms in Honduras. If they can be in the situations they are in with so few opportunities and so little support yet still have so much desire to reach their goals, I have no excuse to not give my all to reach mine. They will probably never know it, but those smiling faces have given me so much inspiration to dream even bigger and go even further. Don’t let yourself make excuses when your dreams seem too big; if children in the forest of Honduras can dream big, so can you.

Our first class

My precious friend

Yi with the boys