By Maho Jordan

This was my first experience with Global Volunteers. Being of service as part of a team taught me the importance of connecting with other cultures through education, service and friendships, and small acts of kindness. It just differs so much from being the “regular tourist.” I was able to learn about the Portuguese culture through the variety of English conversational classes I taught. I was fortunate to be able to teach in the schools, in the prison, at the community center, and in a library. My students ranged in ages from kindergarteners to adults, all having one thing in common, they were willing and eager to learn, in order to further their education or career. They effectively invited me into their lives with warmth, friendship and kindness. My experience with Global Volunteers was very meaningful to me, and had a huge impact on the community we served!

– Journal excerpt by Maho

I experienced teaching locations from kindergarten to prison – in just ten days. Basically, I had a chance to witness the full spectrum of life, and this is what I learned: 

“The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is the way they become.”
-Wolfgang Von Goethe

How did we end up the way we did in this life?  Didn’t we all start out on a blank canvas, full of hope, curiosity and potential like those children in kindergarten? Why did some of them continue to flourish while others languish? What happened? Did they take the wrong turn? Why did they give up? As the children grew older, you notice the fine fault lines and silent tremors crisscrossing beneath every classroom that represented a microcosm of society, for instance:

>The girl who travels to London every year to practice her English;

>The father who tells his daughter, “Don’t bother, school is a waste of time for you anyway”;

>The parents who can afford to bring in a large chocolate cake and juice for the entire class so that they can celebrate their son’s birthday;

>Another family who can barely make ends meet;

>The boy who practices his musical instrument everyday so that he can join the orchestra and travel around the world someday;

>The girl from a broken home who acts out in class and is held back for another year;

>The construction worker who is learning English because he wants to find a better job to provide for his family after prison;

>The new young prisoner who is concerned about the welfare of his children.

The last ten days were mostly filled with heartwarming moments, and acts of kindness. But, in the prison, there were also some heartbreaking moments that will stay with me forever.  In some way, aren’t we all just one decision away from making the right or wrong choice in life? Fortunately, most of us here somehow made it in this world because someone actually did care about us along the way.  I hope the students in Beja know that I cared about them, even for a short period of time. It was, indeed, a privilege to serve the community of Beja with Global Volunteers, and in some small way, I hope I made a difference in their lives too.

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For more information on our service program in Beja, Portugal, click here!

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