stoking the fire

How volunteering can rejuvenate and amend your perspective.

“Your reality is as you perceive it to be. So, it is true, that by altering this perception we can alter our reality.” – William Constantine


In a world saturated with convenience and distraction, it’s easy to become bogged down with innovation, losing touch with genuine human interaction. It’s imperative to step back from your daily routine to recalibrate this perception. Take a vacation, visit family or friends, try something new. Most people will gravitate towards relaxing and addressing their individual needs, the goal being to recharge their batteries. Instead, how many consider recharging by volunteering their time to help others? My personal experience has shown me that through volunteering lies the power to truly rejuvenate and amend your perspective.

I am currently a third-year doctor of physical therapy student from Orlando, Florida. For the second year in a row, I have had the honor of joining a team of medical professionals from around the country to provide pro bono rehabilitative treatments to underserved communities along the coast of El Salvador. Using a combination of assistive devices, splints, medications, and bags full of other medical supplies, our team provided care to areas that, under normal circumstances, would not have easy access to medical care. 

Our trip began at the western end of El Salvador in a small community called Mizata. The prior year, I met an elderly woman in this community and I was determined to check up on her. One of the several reasons I decided to come back on this trip is due to the experience I had with this woman. Following a fall and resultant fracture, she was placed in a cast to wait for a surgical procedure, without any mobility devices and little instruction. It had been over a month when we arrived last year since she had left her bed in this small, maybe 8ft x 8ft room. She had not been outside in the light of day across this month and that was taking a toll on her physically and mentally. Her hope that she might bounce back was dwindling. With a wheelchair I had brought and a few guided interventions, I was able to get her up and outside. “I have been praying for this,” she said, “and here you are, my saving grace.” Nothing could prepare me for those words. A simple gesture produced the most profound response I could have imagined. This encounter I will cherish for the rest of my life. Needless to say, I was anxious to locate her and see how she was doing. 

Halfway through the day, we found a break and a gentleman that knew where she was. A 15-minute truck ride and 5-minute hike down into a ravine, we arrived to find her washing clothes. Her eyes lit up. A sight I will never forget. I don’t think she ever expected to see us again. After we caught up for a bit, we assessed how she had progressed over the last year since having the awaited surgery. Before we left, we provided her with new exercises and educated her and the two others living there on the importance of mobility in her recovery process. On our way back to the truck the same gentleman stopped to pick some fresh green mangoes and anonas as a gesture of gratitude for our care. It’s this and countless other personal interactions that make these trips so special. The respect and kindness shown here and to our whole group and how our efforts are received is so much different than what we see back in the U.S. It was and continues to be therapeutic to see and feel this kind of appreciation. A week full of these experiences, fully immersed in this great culture, will do wonders for your perspectives on life.

We spent the subsequent days in this beautiful country traveling east and west along the coast, reaching into as many Salvadoran communities as we had time for. From beachside in El Zonte, to an elevated lookout north of Sunzal, and an orphanage in K59, each day provided its own unique challenges. Regardless of what we faced, the satisfaction of helping and the experiences we gained with each day validated every endeavor. The genuine appreciation expressed by everyone in this country speaks volumes to their culture.

The therapeutic nature of this trip for clinicians is just as appealing as the “do good” element of the work itself. The lead for this trip, Dr. Todd Bourgeois, refers to the experience as a “stoke” trip, in the sense that we get stoked or excited to travel this beautiful country and experience an incredible culture, but also to the analogy of stoking a fire. Merriam-Webster defines “stoke” as “to poke or stir up”, or “to feed abundantly.” We all have an inner fire, burning and fueling our passions or career whatever that may be. Just as a fire can burn hot, it can also burn out, often requiring continuous “stoking” to build back up. This concept emerges across all aspects of life and is important in creating balance. 

These service/mission trips may not be the most ideal way for all to accomplish this much needed “stoking.” However, for the adventurous and those seeking perspective through giving, I could not recommend something more. Reach out. Get involved. Experience more of what this world has and gain an appreciation for the wonderful lives that we are fortunate to live. There is much to be learned from others who may not have our same blessings. Your perspective is your power. Fill your cup with these experiences. Stoke your fire!

 

To see more from Cody and his adventures, follow him on Instagram: @codyprizer

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