It all started when I got an email at work saying that Westjet had partnered with an organization called LiveDifferent, and that they were sending 50 lucky Westjetters on an amazing journey called Hero Holiday. I have never heard of them before, but it sounded great! I wanted so badly to apply, but with two small kids, and with the first trip being held during Easter Vacation, it was just not the right time for me. Fast forward about four months, there was another email “We are going again!!“ I decided that I would apply this time, thinking that out of about 200 Westjetters that applied, I would never get picked, but at least I would know that I had tried. So, when I got the call from my manager saying that I got picked I was in shock – I was so incredibly happy, and yet terrified at the same time! What had I gotten myself into?
Before I left, I had an idea of the hard work I was in for, and knew that I would make some good friends while we got to spend 10 days in a beautiful country. I thought I would come back feeling refreshed and have a great story to tell. Wow, I could not have been more wrong about how I would feel. I came home with so many different emotions that I was not expecting when I left. I was so happy to be home, but also so sad at the same time. I was angry and frustrated at the many, many things that we take for granted here in Canada. I was homesick for my family and friends that I had just developed such an amazing bond with. I was exhausted, not just physically, but so completely emotionally and mentally exhausted. I remember having a conversation with my husband about a week after I got back where he said ‘I feel like not all of you came home.’ Up until that point, I couldn’t really put my finger on how I was feeling. I realized that so much of me didn’t come home, that a huge piece of my heart had stayed in Dominican, but it is also spread itself 50 different ways all across Canada, from Yellowknife to Newfoundland, with all the amazing new friends that I had made. I did not expect to make the incredible connections and wonderful friendships that I did. I have to say, I was a bit nervous heading into this trip with not even one person that I had met before. It was a gigantic step out of my comfort zone, but I soon came to realize that it didn’t matter. We were all there for the same reason, and we automatically had a connection with each other.
I was given so many amazing gifts on this trip, but one important one was the gift of sight. I am not talking about eyesight, but about opening up my eyes and seeing what is really happening in this world, and I can tell you that the conditions I saw so many amazing people living in was not okay. I saw run down shacks where rain comes through the roof, mothers cooking for a family of five on a little tin can with coals in it for a stove, kids walking around with no shoes on their precious little feet, walking through piles of garbage and streams of black water. These beautiful, strong, and happy people are living like this every single day, and doing it with grace and dignity, a great attitude, and a smile on their face.
In one of the debrief sessions for our team, we were asked if our definition of poverty had changed. I felt so bad for all the times I had whined about being so broke, saying I had no money, I couldn’t afford those awesome new boots, and feeling totally mad and jealous of everyone that could. I cannot tell you how much this question has changed my life. I keep those words with me always and I am so grateful for every single day that I have enough money to buy my family a jug of milk or a loaf of bread. I think on a much smaller scale now, and I thank God for all the small things that he provides us with. I may not have those new $300.00 boots from the super trendy store downtown, but my family does have a roof over their heads that keeps us dry. I have a front door that locks, I have a furnace that keeps us warm, I have food to put on the table, and I have a school to send my son to. I work for an amazing company that gives us the opportunity to experience something like this, and I have a new family in Aquas Negras that I have helped give a new start in life. That is all I need to help me sleep at night.
LiveDifferent has a saying that was repeated during the trip, “a changed heart can change the world.” I have been very surprised since I got home about how my changed heart is helping to change others. Friends that I never expected have asked how they can become a part of a Hero Holiday, others are asking how they can donate. I even had one friend ask me after I had given her a Christmas card telling her that a donation had been made in her honour to my family in Aquas Negras, how she could donate to them in honour of one of her friends! I can see it happening, I can see so many hearts changing and it is so awesome! My niece has been accepted to the LiveDifferent Academy for next year, and I am so excited for her. I now have the opportunity to give back to the people who helped me on my journey by helping her, and I know that by her having this opportunity, she will also get to help change the hearts of her friends, and it will never stop. I truly believe in the saying because I have seen it first hand.
I am honoured that I was able to be a small part in this life change for the five families we worked with for those 10 days, and I know that I will be back many, many times to help build more homes for deserving families. I look forward to bringing my husband and friends and family with me to share the experience with them. I am thankful to Westjet for giving us this opportunity, and I am also so very grateful to LiveDifferent for having a huge part in helping change so many people hearts.