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Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
Like members of the church everywhere, LDS singles have a desire to serve, to make an impact and to live a purposeful life—ultimately, to make a difference for others. But without families of our own on which to focus that service desire, we can often get distracted or become self-focused. But that yearning for something more meaningful is still there. And it’s powerful.
In an effort to give life to that drive for something more, we thought “Why not combine a trip where you visit a great place, meet awesome people and actually serve people in need in sustainable, meaningful ways using our skills and talents?” In the past seven years, our volunteer-run, non-profit organization, Singular Humanitarian (www.singularhumanitarian.org) has brought together with more than 600 like-minded, LDS young and mid-single adults on 15 weeklong expeditions setting out to do just that.
We never could have imagined the lasting impact this growing number of singles has had working side-by-side with hardworking, grateful villagers in remote areas of Guatemala, Nepal, Kenya, Mexico, Bolivia and Peru. And we’re excited for this year’s expeditions to Ecuador on July 2-11 (registration spots are available but going fast www.singularhumanitarian.org) and to Nepal on November 18-27.
Working together with CHOICE Humanitarian (www.choicehumanitarian.org), our expeditioners have helped build schools, a hospital, health clinics, water lines and water pumps, bricks, kitchens, community centers, wood-burning stoves and biogas digesters. We have planted orchards and repaired and painted schools. We have trained and worked with 100s of rural teachers, healthworkers, midwives, dentists, small business owners and entrepreneurs.
But the cornerstone of these sustainable projects are the relationships. The expeditioners and villagers connected. The lives touched and changed.
Over the years, most find it almost impossible to express how we feel on these expeditions. When each of us gets home, we’re always asked, “How was Kenya? How was Nepal?”
The following are experiences from Singular Humanitarian expeditioners who answer this question. How they have discovered unexpected inspiration to guide their life’s direction. How they’ve found “something more” through this unique service adventure of a lifetime.
San Francisco Bay Area, CA, Nursing home administrator, Expeditions: Guatemala 2014 and 2015, Mexico 2015
When I prepared for my first humanitarian expedition with Singular Humanitarian in 2014, I looked forward to having fun and meeting likeminded people who wanted to serve. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I could contribute or make a difference. When our group arrived in Guatemala, friendships formed quickly. We came from a variety of different backgrounds and age ranges, but everyone seemed to unite in a spirit of adventure and acceptance. Separation from our regular everyday concerns and from technology really helped us tune in to each other, and to the people we were serving.
My team created teaching aids for schoolteachers in the remote Guatemalan mountain villages. There were scarce materials in the small schoolhouses, and the dedicated teachers were truly grateful. What I experienced next at the village medical clinic made an even greater impression. Every day villagers lined up, eager for a rare chance to receive care from medical professionals. I felt so humbled to see the pressing needs of villagers who suffered from pain and sickness, parents seeking care for their children, and mothers preparing for childbirth. Working in a clinic was completely foreign to me, but I enjoyed assisting with interpreting for our staff and the patients.
Serving with Singular Humanitarian satisfied my soul in ways unique from my day-to-day job. I had never thought I could be interested in working in healthcare, but that strong impression from Guatemala remained and led me to investigate and switch just a year later to a career in elder care.
Salem UT, Optician, Guatemala 2015
I’ve always wanted to travel but could never quite justify the time and cost to merely “see” a place. When the opportunity, to go to Guatemala on a humanitarian expedition with Singular Humanitarian, presented itself I simply said, “Yes!” I knew it would be worthwhile, I just didn’t realize what it would do to my heart.
One day, a teacher brought a young boy, Elmer, to me asking if there was anything I could do to help. With what I could see just looking at his eyes and the explanation from the teacher of the boy’s condition, my heart sank. I knew right then and that he would have permanent damage. The most I could suggest was to find him a pair of sunglasses so that his eyes didn’t hurt so much when he went out to play.
Several days later. One of the teachers called us quickly over to his classroom of 70+ students because they had a surprise for us. Oh how happy was my little heart when I heard them all sing, “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in both English and Spanish with their own flair added to the clapping part! I believe my heart did do a little clapping that day. Who knew you could feel so proud for the accomplishment of someone you recently met? I was elated!
Throughout my time there, I experienced the gamut of emotions: the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I was exposed to the reality of harsh living conditions and brutal effects – physically, mentally and emotionally – of poverty. I witnessed the greatest Christlike love among the people we were there to serve but in turn served us. I felt a unity in purpose with fellow expeditioners that suggested we could accomplish anything. And I witnessed joy and satisfaction in the simplicity of life. I am grateful for the blessing of my time in Guatemala.
Houston, TX, Event Director for Slide the City, Expeditions: Kenya 2014, Mexico 2015
During a quiet moment, I felt the prompting, “It’s all about service. You need to serve a mission.” As tears rolled down my face I pleaded with Heavenly Father… “Really? Is this really what you want me to do?”
The shocking revelation came while I was at church during the Mexico Singular Humanitarian expedition. For months I had prepared to serve the people of Mexico, but I wasn’t prepared for the prompting to serve a full-time mission. I am 28 with a career. I have a house full of furniture, a dog, a new car, etc. All I could think about was “Why in the world was this happening to me?”
During the last five years, I have had the opportunity to meet lots of new friends while participating in many service projects around the world. Each time touching and softening my heart in a different way. The expeditions have changed my life and have gotten me to a place where I could be open to this prompting.
As the expedition continued, I prayed to find comfort in the many changes that lie ahead. I may have had lots of questions, but the one thing I knew was that I loved to serve. A mission might be logistically different than a humanitarian trip but the principals are still the same… to serve and love our brothers and sisters.
Richland, WA, Student/BS Biology and Neuroscience at BYU-Idaho, Expedition: Guatemala 2014
Two summers ago, I had the awesome experience of going to the small village of Nueva Concepcion in Guatemala with Singular Humanitarian. To this day I still consider this experience as one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had. There are so many stories I could share including climbing waterfalls, exploring caves, and motorcycle rides with the villagers. But despite all the adventures we went on, the thing that stood out to me the most was the unity of this village.
One day we went to plant trees on a large hillside. It was part of the village’s effort to build up the forests, and this young man who couldn’t be older than 20 explained his goals for the particular project. What impressed me the most was to hear this teenager using the term “our people” in place of “me” or “I”. I thought this kid was so amazing; he presented himself more like an adult than I do! As I went through the next few days I began to notice how the whole village viewed themselves as one, as a “people.” They were not so concerned about their individual needs, but instead were more interested in the needs of the community as a whole. What made this particularly amazing was that this village did not just contain Guatemalans, but it also contained refugees from Mexico who had a completely different background and culture, but with whom they remained equally unified.
Everyday life in Nueva Concepcion was so happy and peaceful, and I believe that is because the people of this village had truly become united like a large family. I want to be more like that.
Huntington Beach, CA, Licensed clinical social worker, Expedition: Guatemala 2014
I had the life-changing opportunity to go on a Singular Humanitarian expedition to Guatemala less than two years ago. I left with the expectation that I would spend my time giving it my all as I worked and served among the natives, but nothing would prepare me for what I would be taking from this expedition or the change it would produce in me, personally. Of all the takeaways and life lessons, their example of joy in humility has forever changed my heart.
Upon arriving to the small village of Nueva Concepcion, we received a beautiful welcome. The town was gathered, eagerly awaiting our arrival. The children were dancing, most of them barefoot due to their humble conditions, but each beaming with the brightest smiles on their faces. They gifted us with flowers and handmade crafts, thanking us for work our group had yet to do. As I tried to take it all in, I couldn’t help but think of the town in Mexico where my parents were raised and where I came from, before we migrated to California when I was three years old.
One day, we were invited to a local middle school to help motivate the children to stay in school and continue their education. As the spokesperson and Spanish translator for our group, I shared my background, education, and the importance of being an example and giving back to your community. After learning that some of these cheerful kids walk almost three hours to and from school, I was given the example of perseverance and dedication from them.
This weeklong experience can have a life-changing effect on you. There is no quicker way to bond with people then through exchanging service and love. I have never been in such humble conditions, worked so hard, experienced so much pure joy, and felt so close to my Savior! While I may never understand the full impact of my efforts, I am 100 percent sure of the major impact this experience had on me!
Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, Guatemala 2015, Mexico 2015
People often say, “You fall in love when you least expect it!” As much as I resist admitting it, this statement could not be more true about my experience with Singular Humanitarian in 2015. Except, I didn’t fall in love with one person. I fell in love with the kids, the food, the language that I couldn’t speak or understand, the smiles, and the courage of the people of Guatemala.
My experience was enriched by the awesome group of LDS singles – teachers, lawyers, assistants, doctors, students, entrepreneurs, etc. all united together, following our Savior’s footsteps of service to our fellow men. These LDS singles are some of the greatest people I’ve had the privilege of knowing. There’s something about serving, sweating and sharing the “bucket shower” experiences together that forms a truly unique, deep, long lasting friendship.
The local Mayans have such limited access to modern convenience, health care, education, and opportunities we’re so used to. Yet, though they are poor in wealth, they are rich in life. They are happy, family oriented, charitable, willing to serve, and enthusiastic about life. The beautiful Q’eqchi’ people have reminded me that we are to live our lives to the fullest, take advantage of the opportunities around us, and be thankful everyday for all that God has given us. Even though we couldn’t fully communicate in the same language, we connected with each other through the universal human language – LOVE. They taught me the meaning of what Elder Holland has once said: “True love blooms when we care more about another person than we care about ourselves.”
I can’t express enough gratitude for my experience serving in Guatemala.
Sandy, Utah, BYU Student, Expedition: Guatemala 2015
I’ll never forget the moment I met a Mayan Q’eqchi girl named Anna. She was 14 and had beautiful long hair and dark skin and eyes. After we had spent some time together, she pointed at my smartwool socks that I bought for the trip and was concerned I didn’t have shoes on. She took off her broken, too-small, dirty flip flop and offered it to me. My heart broke. Here I was with 5 pairs of shoes upstairs, and this girl who owned maybe 1 pair of flip flops, was generous enough to give it to me. What a moment of humility for me. It made me realize how much more I need to be generous, like Anna. Her curiosity, humility, kindness, and love will stay forever in my heart.
The people are the thing that made it such a good expedition. We had many happy times together! I learned just as much, and was just as impacted by the expeditioners, as I was by the service and villagers. Singular Humanitarian expeditions attract such a quality group of LDS singles—I met some of the most incredible people I have ever met that became dear friends. From the late night conversations, devotionals, card games, self-reflection and natural beauty, I experienced so many magical moments in Guatamala.
It truly changed my life, for the better. You get to work hard and make a difference. You get to meet villagers and be humbled by their lifestyles, being completely immersed in their culture.
Los Angeles, CA, Music educator and entrepreneur, Expeditions: Guatemala 2015, Mexico 2015
We were already half way through the expedition working in the small mountain villages of Guatemala. I was physically and mentally exhausted long days of teaching workshops and trainings in the local community. It was a familiar feeling that brought a lot of satisfaction and gratitude into my heart. Our specific assignment was to organize educational workshops for teachers in the community to help them improve their teaching practice. We were also teaching workshops to the students to help them develop a better vision of their full potential and help them recognize their bright future as well.
Most of the teachers taught in one open classroom containing over 30 students and three or four grade levels in the same single space.
The school day had just ended and I was sitting in a room with a couple brothers who were teaching at neighboring schools within the village. They had both received college degrees and decided to come back to the mountains to help a people who they knew desperately needed education. They told us stories of female students, because it was very uncommon for girls to continue with their studies. Many walk over three hours each day just to come to school. They talked about the little pay that they took home and the sacrifice the community made to build the school we were sitting in. It was at this moment that I realized I was not just there to teach others about the advanced knowledge and skills that I had developed through many years of higher education, but to also be taught by people of my same profession who showed me a level of sacrifice and dedication that I had never before seen matched.
The entire experience reminded me of the impact that just one person can make within a child’s life as well as a community. It is our dedication to our profession that determines our successfulness. We all can strive a little bit harder to improve what we do and to serve a little more purely without expecting anything in return. I also realized the impact I could have in the future by helping bring awareness to education in these same sort of small villages. Even just helping provide physical buildings for them to congregate is a huge step for these children’s future. I hope one day to help find a way to build even more schools so that less students need to walk such great distances just to have a place to learn.
Palmer, AK, Expeditions: Nepal 2014, Kenya 2014
My experience with SHe changed my life. I expected to meet a few interesting people. In reality all the SHe participants were rock stars. I really enjoyed getting to know and having fun with the incredible people I met on the expedition. I expected that I would experience a new culture and have a pretty good time, but I had an amazing time. I danced with the villagers, ate Nepali food, saw their way of life, and experienced in a very real way, a way of life that is very different from my own. It changed my way of thinking to know that the world was much bigger than I had previously experienced, and there was a great deal of need for service within it. I was very impressed by the larger effort that SHe and CHOICE humanitarian were making, and it was awesome to be a part of their goal of eliminating extreme poverty in that village.
I worked on the labor crews, and I loved it. We worked hard right alongside the villagers. On my Africa expedition, our project was to dig a trench to connect the high school to the water main over 2 miles away. When we showed up there were hundreds of villagers, students and parents, who came to help with the effort. It was very humbling and edifying to work alongside these people to make their community a better place.
I found that the experience of an expedition brought out all of my best qualities. I was thrilled to be on an adventure, I loved meeting new people and working hard alongside them. I was impressed with the people around me and really loved getting to know them. The trip taught me how much in my life I have taken for granted. In addition, I was most blessed to meet a beautiful girl named Mariah Proctor while in Nepal. We had some great conversations in the village, stayed in touch after the expedition, and later dated and got married! My life was truly changed by both the experience of the expedition, and the impact of meeting my amazing wife there.