Last week I moved back to America after a year of living and working abroad.
The last place I was when I left for this voyage was the Global Autism Project
office in NY, and as the universe would have it, the Brooklyn office was the first
place I stopped on my return to the States. This was not my plan a year ago.
My plan one year ago was probably the most thought-out plan I had ever
developed. And if you know me personally, you know that my attempt at creating
a plan is about as finite as Katy Perry’s hair color. Nevertheless, I had a plan. I
would sell my car, book a series of one-way flights through Global Autism
Project’s travel wizard we call Gayle, and begin a student teaching program in
Australia. Next step: move back to Georgia to teach high school Special Ed, and
travel with SkillCorps during my summer breaks forever and ever. It was a
seemingly solid plan.
But then I began the move, which started with my first SkillCorps trip to India.
Despite ten months of fundraising, t-shirt campaigning and general rooftop
shouting about the beautiful mission of Global Autism Project, I didn’t really grasp
the significance of the movement in which I had joined until I had two feet on the
ground in Chandigarh. I knew the foundation, I understood the goals and I could
speak to a room of inquisitive donors about why sustainability sets Global Autism
Project apart from other NGO’s. But it wasn’t until I was about eleven days into
our work at SOREM that I had a moment of overwhelming understanding. Our
team had hit the low point of the trip, we were back on the high, and were seeing
the ripples form from the pebble which we represented. And this was the moment
my plan began to change. I was no longer a volunteer, I was part of the
movement. I no longer wanted summer trips, I wanted every SkillCorps trip.
Over the next ten months, I traveled to Indonesia with SkillCorps, completed my
teaching certification program, and graciously accepted an invitation to join the
first SkillCorps Leadership Academy. And just like that, my plan inevitably
The first question we were asked at Leadership Academy was, “What brought the
magic?” I have seven possible answers scribbled in my notebook, but reading
them now, I know that my magic comes from simply being on site. We discussed
the draining aspect of our work in these countries, and how to refuel our passion
in the midst of chaos we may discover miles outside of our comfort zones. My
passion station is in the Early Intervention room at SOREM, and sitting crossed
leg on the colorful rugs in the center in Jakarta. The magic happens when I meet
therapists who have traveled two days on a train to learn about the Functions of
Behavior. Suddenly, my plan went from offering my skills once each year, to an
overwhelming need to be an active role in this movement.
My ever-evolving plan is now based around the schedule of SkillCorps trips, and
an anxious anticipation to return to my passion station. My new plan is to trade
my vacation hours for SkillCorps work and fill my evenings practicing broken
Bahasa. I’m not abandoning my desire to teach or work in Special Education, I
think I simply found my passion in various classrooms on multiple continents.
And I realized in New York, as I compared my role in the same office just one
year earlier to the leader I was training to become, that my plans weren’t ending,
they were transforming. I knew I would travel with Global Autism Project again,
but I am elated that my role will now be to lead our amazing volunteers, and
place a few stones in the foundation of this global change for children with
Cassie Harden is a SkillCorps member and recently began her training as a SkillCorps leader. She will be leading her first SkillCorps trip this summer.