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
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.