VAIL — You need a little perspective to know how good you have it.
Kids with the Children’s Global Alliance spend several days in some of the world’s most impoverished areas, working harder and loving more deeply than they thought possible.
“The things we did, and the things we saw will not only result in something great for the kids, but for us,” said 14-year-old Ava Maslan.
And that is how you acquire perspective, said Lisa-Marie Howell, the organization’s founder.
Children’s Global Alliance is a local nonprofit that gives volunteer experiences for kids ages 12 to 16. The kids go to some of the world’s poorest countries where they volunteer with poor and sometimes orphaned children. They get a close-up look at poverty at a time in their lives when they’re the most impressionable, Howell said.
Howell was a mentor at Berry Creek Middle School and saw how frustrating it can be for kids to find service projects, and Berry Creek kids are required to do a service project each semester.
“There are lots of opportunities available for adults, but not for kids 12 to16,” she said.
She had just come back from Cambodia working with orphans for five weeks, and came back inspired. She set up the nonprofit and away they went.
They started in 2009 by sending five kids to Cambodia.
“It was a test, and it worked,” Howell said.
Last year, they sent a few dozen kids to Cambodia and Nicaragua. This year, it’s Cambodia, Nicaragua and two trips to Tanzania.
More than 150 students apply and about 40 are chosen. They have to submit a fundraising plan and go through a battery of interviews. Then they do community service hours before they ever go.
“It’s not a check written by mom and dad. They have to raise their own money,” Howell said.
Tyra Kuller, 15 from Eagle, was on a Nicaragua trip. Everything is both wonderful and terrible, she said.
“I have sympathy for the children who need love, food, clothing or even a touch on the shoulder from someone who cares. Being positive is what it’s all about,” Tyra said.
Sometimes at night she thinks about how wonderful the world can be.
“Sure there is hunger, murder — the list could go on and on. But there is always someone out there who cares,” Tyra said.
Ava was in Cambodia for a week, but that was enough to change her outlook on life.
“In only a week, we created unbreakable bonds with strangers, and with each other,” she said.
‘It’s All Good’
Cutting grass with a knife will do that for you. She learned one of her tasks would be cutting grass and started looking around for the lawn mower.
“Then I learned it was without a mower, and thought, ‘It’s all good.’ Then I learned it was to the dirt and with a knife, and I thought ‘Oh,’” Ava said.
They got down on our hands and knees and began to cut the long grass right down to the root, clump by clump. With almost every other wad of grass, a new army of tiny fire ants would erupt from the ground, and they were ruthless, she said. When they were done, they looked back on a big square patch of ground where kids could play. She realized they’d created it one clump at a time.
“Every single day I think about those kids. Every single day I check the clock and automatically tell myself what time it is in Cambodia,” Ava said.
Change of perspective
Cambodia enabled Ben Maslan to look at his life with new eyes.
“I now realize everything I have taken for granted and how incredibly blessed I am,” Ben said. “The fact I was born in America, with two loving parents, and no disabilities is an incredible blessing that not many people have. I also realize how great I have it, back in Vail, and how lucky I am to have the life I do.”
Kevin Nichols, 13, says he learned three valuable things on his trip.
1. “I learned how lucky I am and how much I should value the caring Vail Valley that I live in.”
2. “I learned to value how much opportunity we have in this country. People in Nicaragua have the same potential as you and me, but they do not have the opportunity we have.”
3. “And most importantly I learned what kind of person I want to be in life.”
“I will never forget these kids or what they have taught me,” Kevin said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.