By Joann Totah

 

As we embarked on our sunrise journey to Borbordour, our gentle and soft-

spoken guide greeted us. He had a warm presence to him, which was

pleasantly received at 4:30am. As we approached Borbordour in the mist

and dark, we heard birds chirping, roosters crowing and crickets making

themselves known.

 

Before we ascended the several flights of stone stairs, Fatah explained the

pilgrimage that just occurred at the last full moon, a few days prior. The

celebration, Vesak, otherwise known as “Buddha’s birthday,” is a

celebration of the life, death, and enlightenment of Buddha.  In this daylong

ceremony, the Buddhist monks come to meditate and repeat mantras as they

circuit the temple in a ritual called “Pradaksina.”  He noted that he has been

a tour guide for many years and he loved the feeling of being at Borbodour.

He made an interesting observation in which he said, “Whether it is a

Buddhist monk, or a tourist, when everyone leaves they are all happy and

they all come back as better people.”

 

Just as the monks go through this process to meditate at Bordodour and

return as better people, we as SkillCorp volunteers go through this journey

and we all come back happy and as better versions of ourselves.

 

As we individually and collectively went through the process of becoming a

SkillCorp volunteer, we went through the steps, not knowing what the end

result would be. For some, the planning process was months- from applying,

to interviewing, to fundraising. Once the time came to embark on this

journey, we established life long relationships with people who were once

strangers, we traveled as a group a total of 22,000 miles, nervously laughed

while getting out of our comfort zones, collaborated with our partners at Hi-

5, laid the foundation for a new treatment center in a country where autism is

not readily understood, and faced the emotional rollercoaster of saying

goodbye.  We went through this process as a group, but we came out as

better versions of ourselves.

 

We are better because we didn’t stop learning. We didn’t come here just to

teach our partners at Hi-5 how to conduct assessments, we came here to

learn for ourselves what work is like outside our comfort zones and without

the tremendous resources we have at our fingertips. We came here to learn

more about our own strengths and weaknesses. We learned to assess our

roles in a large group. Our low days only encouraged us to do better the next

day, to make sure when we left, we left our partners with the gift of

knowledge and confidence to continue to build a center of excellence using

evidenced based practices.

 

Whether we view ourselves as better people because we gained a point on

the emotional intelligence scale, or because we have a stronger clinical

understanding of assessments, or are we better simply because we learned to

be flexible in our method of teaching, it is a personal conclusion- however

there is no doubt, I believe we all left this journey as better versions of

ourselves from who we were a mere two and a half weeks ago when we

started at orientation in Brooklyn.

 

We are not just volunteers with the Global Autism Project; we are a family,

a family that works toward achieving the mission of the organization- a

world where people with autism have access to services that enable them to

reach their full potential.  We didn’t build a cathedral in two weeks. We

added one vital piece to the cathedral being built. We are a part of a

worldwide education revolution where we are fighting for education to be a

right for all, especially for children with autism.

 

Our amazing team leader inspired us with daily quotes that provoked

introspection. As a team, we actively worked towards making each day

count and achieve the goals we set forth. We will fly away with the skills

that we gained here that made us better versions of ourselves.

 

As we bid farewell to one another, may we all continue to grow and continue

to become better versions of ourselves, everyday.

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