Guatemala was interesting, and I could tell you a number of stories from being there at 15 years old. But, what I learned while working there with Safe Passage was without a doubt the most influential lesson in my life.
I learned that having an altruistic personality is admirable, but often self-defeating. Having young aspirations to “save the world” now seems so young, innocent, and naive. The world does not need saving or even help, but compassion. And I learned this from one small human being from the slums of Guatemala City, his name is Walfaire.
Walfaire was one of the students in the kindergarten-aged class I was working with while in the city. Always smiling, laughing, and eager to help out his fellow classmates, you would never know the struggles that child dealt with on a daily basis by his demeanor. It was inspiring, but at night I struggled to sleep thinking about his whereabouts.
At five-years old he had no parental supervision, and showed up at the gates of the school everyday on his own to be fed, washed, and entertained. And everyday I helped him find new shoes (as it was common that his would be stolen from him) and clean clothes before starting our lessons. He would cry occasionally when he felt safe with me, but he never complained. It was heartbreaking to watch, but inspiring to see so much courage in such a small human being.
Heading to Guatemala I was excited to make a difference in hundreds of people’s lives in beginning my childish pursuit to “save the world.” In preparation for the trip I constantly evaluated my charitable impact off of the number of people I would be helping. I am lucky that at the age of fifteen I was able to see past that, and I am lucky to have met Walfaire.
He taught me that compassion and courage is stronger than charity. Your impact is not measured by the amount of people you “save,” but by the strength of the positive influence you have in a single person’s life. If you aspire for numbers you lose sight of the human connection necessary for positive charitable action, no matter how altruistic the intentions are.
Charity isn’t about helping a million people, it’s about wanting to help just one person. Until realizing this I did not appreciate the power of compassion in initiating change in the world, rather than forcing change. This was the most important revelation in shaping my philosophy as well as Bikefrog’s vision. Choosing the World Bicycle Relief as our first charitable project to support came out of their mission falling in line with our own. At Bikefrog we were ecstatic to find an organization with a philosophy to empower communities through the power of the bicycle. Each bicycle given away symbolizes improvement in economic development, healthcare, and education! From the single individual that rides a bike, or works as a mechanic for the World Bicycle Relief, to the communities benefitting from their fleets, every donation is based on the cost of a single bike designed to improve the life of it’s owner.
All altruistic people and groups aspire to positively influence the world, but it is important that we acknowledge change begins with each individual relationship we build, inspire, and propel into shaping our sustainable future! You never know just how significant even the smallest/ shortest relationship will have on the rest of your life.