Written by guest blogger: Gina Carroll, Ph.D. candidate, University of Calgary, Comunidad Connect volunteer, Summer 2016
Like everyone, I have always struggled to find my place in the world. To find the one thing that defines me…the thing that separates me from the endless masses of people who seemingly meld together in a sea of accomplishments I never quite seem to master. As a 27-year-old Ph.D. student, still living in her parent’s basement, I never thought that I had much to offer to anyone, let alone the world. How could I? I have barely any money, and the majority of my time is spent sitting at a poorly lit desk desperately trying to finish assignments before 3am. Like a lot of people my age, I felt utterly lost in who I was as a person, and couldn’t overcome the feeling that I had missed the opportunity to blossom into the person I should have been by now. This all changed in the summer of 2016 when I was lucky enough to work as a biological anthropologist with Comunidad Connect, an NGO working to enrich the health and welfare of Nicaraguans.
As a biological anthropologist, my job is to use both the biological and behavioral aspects of humans, and their culture, to define and inform my research – in this case, why do so many young children in Nicaragua have iron deficiency, despite access to an assortment of iron-rich foods. The goal of my three-month trip to Los Robles, a small community in Northern Nicaragua, was to immerse myself within the community, and learn first-hand what factors might contribute to the epidemic of malnutrition within, and outside, of this small community. While I was fortunate enough to gain insight into what some of these factors might be, what I really learned from my neighbors in Los Robles was that it doesn’t take much to be a hero – to positively affect change in the world, and be someone worth having around. This revelation didn’t come crashing down on me, like a swell of wisdom sent forth from the divine, but rather, it occurred slowly and throughout the course of three months. While many incidents profoundly changed who I was as a person, and I hope who I will continue to develop into, one stands out the most.
During my first couple of weeks in Nicaragua, Jon Thompson, one of the co-founders of Comunidad Connect, took me and a number of others on a trip around Los Robles. It was during these meet-and-greets that I met Doña Wilma, a 60-something-year-old woman gracious enough to show us around her home. Near the end of the visit, I overheard her talking to Jon about her leg, which she indicated had been bothering her for quite some time. Somehow, I mustered enough courage to ask her to show me, and to explain what the issue was. Putting her trust in a stranger, she did just that. I realized then and there that, despite accessing medical treatment in the past, she was in serious need of some antifungals and basic care. Something, she indicated, she was unable to get. Having had some medical training, I volunteered to help clean and disinfect her leg, and offered to pick her up some first-aid essentials while in the city – a 40-minute bus ride, and roughly one full day’s pay away. In my world, I was doing the least I could possibly do for someone in need. To her, I was a godsend. Here was some stranger who, out of nowhere, decided to commit themselves to helping her for no real reason other than the fact that she needed it. Someone who would acknowledge her pain, and reiterate that she was worthy of the care that she hadn’t received up until that point. And this, above all else, helped me realize that changing the world doesn’t need to be some grand gesture. You don’t need to commit yourself to a single, heroic action that saves the lives of a million people and earns you the Nobel Peace Prize.
Changing the world, and the lives of the people within it is easy. All you have to do is take five minutes every day to do something nice for someone else. Acknowledge people, play with kids when they ask you to, lend someone a hand when they don’t. Just say hello. Everyone everywhere is fighting their own war, and sometimes all it takes is one kind word or gesture to help them win that day’s battle. This is the kind of thing that Comunidad Connect, and the people working for the organization, do every single day, whether they realize it or not. And this is something everyone else can do too. Whether you’re a Ph.D. student like me, a stay-at-home mom, or a CEO, we can all change the world by giving our time and/or resources to organizations like this one, or, if nothing else, by just remembering that sometimes half a bottle of Advil and a smile can change someone’s life. As Ralph Waldo Emerson so elegantly put it “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate…to have it make some difference that you have lived, and lived well.”