I was once told that college is where you go to define yourself, to find yourself, and to begin fulfilling your dreams. However, I never imagined that it would take traveling thousands of miles away from my University to accomplish this list. Yet, on May 1st of this year, I found myself embracing the beginning of a life-altering experience that would deeply impact me in unforeseen ways.
As I, and my fellow FIU teammates, began tackling our projects, the impact of our efforts slowly materialized before us. Although we toiled over coats of paint and endless walls; soil, compost, and mulch; and layers of grass and weeds, our experience was deeply intertwined with the issue of HIV/AIDS. As we worked on our projects, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to encounter, interact with, and get to know dozens of individuals whose lives were affected by the virus. Personally, each exchanged was imbued with a newfound sense of understanding and hope. Post-trip, as I attempted to assimilate my experience, I realized that, together, these encounters amounted to a lesson far greater than any I have learned in a classroom.
What my service experience taught me was this: the virus, although stigmatized, does not define any of the individuals I met, who were infected; their lives and their persons were defined by them. I, also, learned that, although your actions may sometimes seem minor or insignificant in the grand scheme, their importance cannot be measured or dismissed in this manner. For example, as a group, we knew that our efforts would certainly not result in a cure for HIV/AIDS nor would we change the world, but our service with ICO, resulted in a positive impact for those who frequented the clinic. We hadn’t changed the world, but we’d made positive changes in the clinic that occupies countless hours in the lives and world’s of the patients and staff members of Blue Roof.
With these lessons, I returned home with an improved perspective and understanding; a perspective that changed me. During my trip with FIU aB and ICO, I realized that service is what I want to define my life for as long as I live, and that, as long as I continue to partake in projects such as those on my trip to Durban, I am already living my dreams.