Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ribbons for Roatan

I went to Roatan in 2003 on a scuba diving vacation. It was a very exciting trip because I was traveling alone AND was scuba diving for the first time after becoming certified 11 years before. While in Roatan in 2003, I hired a taxi driver for half of a day and asked him to take me to an orphanage and then to places tourists normally don’t see. He took me to the Majken orphanage and he suggested that we stop on the way to pick up some candy for the kids. I gladly purchased lollipops to hand out to the kids. The children were thrilled and we played and talked (or I tried to communicate using my feeble Spanish skills) for a little over an hour. I found the children to be so warm and surprisingly happy. I am not exactly sure what I expected. When I left after my very brief visit, the children held a very special place in my heart. I have a framed photo of three of the children on a shelf on my stairway at home. I think of them often and they are a daily reminder of my experience in Roatan and to give back and make a difference, big or small. It had been a dream of mine to return to that orphanage and be able to make a slightly larger difference.
The opportunity to return to Roatan presented itself when I decided to change the destination of a course I run in a local high school. We have travelled to Belize in the past, but decided that Roatan was a good choice as well. The course is called Tropical Marine Field Study and curriculum-wise centers on learning about the coral reef and its inhabitants. The course is about so much more than coral reef ecology: it is about travelling to an exotic destination, learning to live with roommates, discovering and overcoming fears, experiencing a different culture, learning to not miss a spot on the back of your leg with sunscreen ?, and learning a life-long lesson on how amazing it feels to give to others and make a difference.
There were six of us in the group ( four wonderful students and a terrific colleague with her significant other). We decided to hold fundraisers to offset the cost of the trip and to donate to the children at the orphanage. Fifty percent of the funds that were raised went to the orphanage. We had five different fundraisers over the course of February, March, and a few weeks in April. The fundraisers included the following:
- Letters requesting sponsorship to local businesses and in return they would have free advertising space in our formal presentation evening program
- A bowl-a-thon which was not an ‘a-thon’ at all but an afternoon of 3 pathetic games for which we acquired sponsors
- Recycling of used ink cartridges and old cell phones through Funding Factory.com
- Free car washes where donations were appreciated
- Ribbons For Roatan, in which we made and sold turquoise colored ribbons to represent the orphanage and the spirit of donation. The color of the ribbons was chosen because of the beautiful ocean that surrounds Roatan.
After raising the funds, we decided to give both a check and gifts. We researched what the orphanage needed on the website and then had a ball selecting items to purchase. We filled three extra suitcases with gifts and toys. We felt that the children would experience the joy of new toys and games and have something tangible to be excited about. The check was important for possibly making a larger and longer lasting difference in their lives (for their education or health).
The experience at the orphanage was incredibly rewarding. The children’s eyes just danced with the new toys that were given to them (not all the toys were given at once, of course). We played with the kids and watched them play with the new toys. Among the new toys were matchbox cars. One of my students noted as one of the things she learned was that ‘every little boy in the world loves toy cars’.
It was easy to see that the children stole my students’ hearts and they too now have a special place in their heart for these children and the orphanage. It is hard to explain the lesson that my students learned on this day unless you yourself have experienced it too. They may not know the children of the Majken Childrens Home well, but they will always love them. As my students grow up and find their place in the world, I know that giving back and making a difference will be important to them. That is the most important lesson of all.
Thank you!
Jill Blasi


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