May 2010

Sad to say, but it’s time for the Experience to leave our wonderful friends at the YMCA in Cary, North Carolina. Not always easy to leave a group like the YMCA, especially when they treat you like family.

We had an excellent group of volunteers! Some of the students who served were having so much fun with us that they decided to serve with us until they had to leave for a school dance. I don’t believe the Experience has yet to have volunteers help while wearing their school dance outfits.

The mission statement of the YMCA is simple:

To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.

I could tell the YMCA was trying to tighten their family internationally as they focused on the African country of Ethiopia; they encouraged the visitors who came through the Experience to sponsor children from this area (there is a YMCA in Ethiopia who they are starting to work closely with.)

A big thank you to the wonderful team of the YMCA NC from your friends at World Vision!

Next stop: Santa Rosa, CA!

— Trooper

There is the rest of the country and then there is Texas.

Being from “the rest of the country” I really didn’t understand what that meant. Then I spent a week in Dallas, Texas with the World Vision Experience: AIDS.

First Baptist church of McKinney in McKinney, Texas, is a mission and community oriented church. In fact, they were hosting a Community Garage Give-away during the same weekend The World Vision Experience: AIDS was at their church. They collected and gave stuff away, in order to assist poor and underprivileged families in their community with donations of clothing, food and household items. Abroad, this church, sponsors several missionaries in Africa already and is starting outreaches in Dominican Republic and Mexico. Members from the church had recently visited, Tijuana, Mexico, and explored an Urban Development Project (UDP) and make some connections there. So, alongside the African children we usually provide for sponsorship we also had HopeChild sponsorship from these two countries.

My job, as the technical director, is to create an environment in which other people’s hearts are touched by the World Vision Experience: AIDS; but the Experience stopped truly affecting me a long time ago. Sure, the World Vision Experience: AIDS is powerful and beautiful. It certainly causes strong emotional responses in those who walk through it, but I had become numb to it. It is a case where quantity trumps quality. I had been overexposed and I had built walls to protect myself from the daily emotional onslaught.

Coming back to the Experience after four months away was both nerve-wracking and exciting. But after it was set up, I really didn’t feel any different. I fell into the same old routine: train volunteers, repair something, hand out headphones, clean up something, recharge batteries, restock the picture folder baskets, clean another thing and repeat. I repeated this routine for five days. Granted the fun was that was I repeating this routine with friends; being able to work with Nikki and Ange this week was incredible. Nikki and had toured together in 2008 and Ange and I had toured together in 2009. So, it became a fun reunion for us.

On the sixth day something changed. Granted the routine was the same: train, clean, find, stamp, recharge, and repair. And since I only sponsor kids in Africa, I wasn’t very interested or affected by the children from Mexico. But somewhere between recharge and repair, I had to restock the picture folder baskets and that is where I discovered Vanessa. Vanessa lives with her mother and has no siblings. Her mother works in a factory to make enough money for them to live. As I read her biography, I remembered another woman I had met in Tijuana when the tour staff visited the same UDP’s in 2008. This woman had recently joined an Micro Enterprise Development group and used her small loan to run a diaper stand, which provided for her and her three children. Prior to being introduced to World Vision’s Micro Enterprise Loan Program she had worked in a factory, 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. She told us that she never knew where her children would be at the end of the day, as they were passed from neighbor to neighbor. She never knew if they had something to eat that day.

Another thing struck me about Vanessa. She looks almost identical to me as a child with the same round cheeks and reddish brown stick straight unruly hair. I am also an only child and I spent a lot of time alone as an only child with two hard working parents. The wall that I had built around my heart tumbled. Because of my personal experience and our trip to Tijuana I knew that this little girl was probably alone, a lot, while her mom worked. I had seen what the houses and schools in Tijuana were like during that same trip And I couldn’t help imagining what life is like for Vanessa. I broke and the pain I felt, and still feel is as large as the state Texas. I could not put her back in the baskets to be shuffled around. This little girl’s struggle was now my own. It was personal and the World Vision Experience: AIDS suddenly had meaning again.

— Jen

There’s a place there called the YMCA

“It’s a wonderful day at the Durham YMCA!” This is the simple and encouraging message every guest is greeted with when they call the downtown Durham YMCA. Our experience in Durham this week was nothing short of this greeting. Everyone was so warm and inviting to us. It was a joy to see the incredible community that exists among members and staff at the Y. We were so blessed for World Vision and the Experience to be included in this community.

There were so many great stories from the Experience this week of sponsorship and life change but some of my favorite moments came from just being at the YMCA. So many of our new sponsors were coming to the Y for the daily work out and instead ended up stepping into Africa and sponsoring a child. We had kids who were wondering why they couldn’t play basketball (the Experience was set up in the gym) go through the Experience and instead, see what life is like for a kid just like them from Africa. We even had someone wonder through the Experience in an attempt to find the pool! Regardless of what brought them through, it was a blessing to see so many lives impacted by the Experience this week.

We are so thankful to the planning team and all of the members of the Durham YMCA! You’re community and positive spirits have encouraged us so much as The Experience Tour Staff. We can’t wait to journey a few miles south to spend time with your brothers and sisters at the Cary YMCA next week!