Couple Pays It Forward Through Annual Service in St. Lucia
Each February for the last three years, Darby Hansen and her husband, Paul Agosta, have volunteered in St. Lucia – where they first visited on vacation. At that time, the island tugged at their heart, and they were gratified to discover how Global Volunteers could enable them to return in meaningful service. Although the pandemic prevented them from volunteering again in February, 2021, their dedication to the people of Anse la Raye has not subsided. They say they eagerly await the time when they can return to island. Read on for journal excerpts from Paul and Darby’s three years in service in Anse la Raye.
2018: Beginning our Adventure in Service in St. Lucia
by Paul Agosta
Darby and I came to St. Lucia because of our experience last year while vacationing for the first time on this beautiful island. St. Lucia, the people, the island beauty, and its peaceful aura all tugged at our hearts. We chose Global Volunteers because of this organization’s philosophy for providing service while maintaining local control and integrity.
The past two weeks have been an amazing experience. It is difficult for me to reflect on a specific day or event so I have chosen to talk about the overall experience. Participating in the CARE (Centre for Adolescent Renewal and Education) program has been both an appropriate and ironic experience. My work in the States currently focuses on career technical education in Michigan. So working with high-school-aged students who are attempting to learn skills in electricity, joining, computer skills, and catering provided me with the opportunity to use knowledge and experiences that are relevant.
I have found the students to be typical teenagers, although a little more focused on getting a job than what I experienced in the States. The faculty is dedicated and caring while strict and demanding of the students. It took some time to realize that the margin for error for this program is small so the need for urgency is greater and, therefore, the need for tough love is critical.
I found the students to be very self-aware of their shortcomings as well as have an understanding of what they need to do in order to succeed. What has been most amazing over the past two days (different than the previous six) is that students whom teachers have not identified as needing our support have sought out assistance. My understanding was that, in the past, students at CARE were stigmatized as deficient in some way when they worked with Global Volunteers. That perception has been broken. Both my teaching partner, Linda, and I have been inundated with requests from all sorts of students. It is both gratifying and frustrating. The fact that these young people feel comfortable coming to me to discuss very personal matters is very positive. The fact that the problems are significant and pervasive is disheartening.
This experience has been everything I hoped it would be. At this stage of my life, I am looking for ways of giving back to a world that has given me and my family so much. Global Volunteers has provided an excellent avenue for “paying it forward”.
“This experience has been everything I hoped it would be. At this stage of my life, I am looking for ways of giving back to a world that has given me and my family so much. Global Volunteers has provided an excellent avenue for “paying it forward”.”– Paul Agosta, 3-time volunteer in St. Lucia
by Darby Hansen
I woke up with a cloud of sadness over me because today is my last day, Day 14, of service at the Infant School in Anse la Raye. I have been given the opportunity and challenge of tutoring five-year-old kindergarten students focused on letter sounds, three-letter sight words, math, and writing skills. This experience immediately took me be back to my young motherhood days of nursery rhymes, jingles, word games, and songs. I guess I failed to remember that the attention span of a five-year-old is about five minutes. This challenged me to provide a variety of experiences and activities to keep these little minds focused.
I did not anticipate the multitude of emotions I experienced, ranging from frustration, deep sadness, and exhaustion to contentment, excitement, and pure joy. Feeling 20 hands reaching out at once to give me hugs left me with great joy. Watching young minds struggle and then grasp what I am teaching gave me great satisfaction. These children were persistent in their efforts to absorb knowledge. Watching a child grapple with the word “cat” until he was able to put the sounds together to form a word warmed my heart.
I leave this island knowing that I have made a difference in the children of Anse la Raye. I will cherish the knowledge and the lasting friendships I have made with my fellow Global Volunteers.
2019: Continuing Connections
by Paul Agosta
Returning to St. Lucia has been truly a joyous experience for Darby and me! It is our third consecutive year on this beautiful island and the second year for service with Global Volunteers. To our surprise, the first face that greeted us upon arrival was Karen who we met during our service last year. It was a happy reunion. We all appreciated each other’s friendship, shared values, and insights. It was like we had never left!
My first day back with the C.A.R.E. program was equally satisfying. Meeting each of the staff and getting a warm hug and welcome was both rewarding and reinforced my sense that what we are doing in Anse la Raye is appreciated. While the students are not the same ones that I worked with last year, the needs are the same. Again, it was like I had never left (except I am not yet exhausted!) I was able to connect with some of the students I had worked with last year. The most gratifying report was about one student… He had been a charming little con artist, underachieving with tons of potential. I learned that he had been elevated to a student leadership role since I last saw him. I am very proud of his accomplishment.
Darby’s reflected that working with one, two, and three-year-olds is a universal experience. Their joy, their laughter, their excitement, and their curiosity were no different than any experience she had in the States. We sang the same nursery rhymes (“Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”, “If You’re Happy and You Know it”, and “Itsy, Bity Spider”). Hands and faces had to be wiped, shoelaces had to be tied, cookie crumbs had to be swept off the floor. The love, the joy, and the hugs are universal.
The connection between service years is palpable for us. St. Lucia continues to tug at my heart and I will long for the time when I am able to return.
“The connection between service years is palpable for us. St. Lucia continues to tug at my heart and I will long for the time when I am able to return.”– Paul Agosta, three-time volunteer in St. Lucia
2020: Unstoppable Dedication to Service
by Paul Agosta
Returning to St. Lucia has been truly a joyous experience for Darby and me! It is our fourth consecutive year on this beautiful island and the third year for service with Global Volunteers. We have been impressed with the team assembled by the organization. There are many talented, obviously dedicated volunteers sharing common goals and aspirations for the people of Anse la Raye.
My first day back with the C.A.R.E. program was equally satisfying. Meeting each of the staff, getting a warm hug and welcome, was both rewarding and reinforced my sense that what we are doing in Anse la Raye is appreciated. This program provides a last chance opportunity for young people who have not succeeded in a traditional high school setting.
While the students are not the same ones that I worked with last year, the needs are the same. Again, it was like I had never left (except I am not yet exhausted!). I had a bittersweet moment when I asked about one of the students with whom I connected during my first tour, Wavel. Two years ago, he was a 5’ 6”, 15-year-old, rascal and charmer studying in the Catering program. I could see his personality and internal drive. He had a little side hustle where all of the other students were interrupting our instructional time, buying little candies his mom had purchased and he sold. It became part of our math education as his arithmetic skills were lacking. When I saw him last year, he had grown a head taller and he was one of the students who received recognition and additional responsibilities by the school administration. When I asked about him this year, I was told he had completed the program early and was working at one of the local hotels. I am really proud that I may have had some small impact on Wavel’s success.
I know the work we do is appreciated by the students, their teachers, and the community. My return trips have allowed me to see the progress and have a “pay it forward moment”.
by Darby Hansen
I felt the spirit of the island of St. Lucia upon arrival four years ago. And each year I am drawn back. It all began with a simple wave and a smile in a passing car. The children smile here. The children sing here. The children dance here. It is contagious and it makes me want to stay here forever.
Although I have only just begun to understand a small part of what drives the spirit of the St. Lucian people, it has had a profound effect on my life. The ability to show gratitude for the abundance that surrounds me and to appreciate the little things in life, has changed me forever.
So smile often, wave to the passing car, inquire about the goods at the market square, have a conversation with the man sitting on the wall, learn about the child sitting in front of you, share a delicious meal, jump into the sea, give to those in need, and help young people maneuver through life’s journey. You will not know their struggles unless you ask. The spirit of St. Lucia has elevated me to a higher rhythm of life both here and in my community back home.
Darby and Paul Eagerly Await Their Return to Service
This year was the first since 2018 they couldn’t serve in St. Lucia, so they’ve already committed to their return in February, 2022. Darby says, “We’ll go back to the island that we love, the community that welcomes us with open arms, and the young people who so appreciate our engagement and inspire us to find clarity and balance in our lives.”
Meanwhile, they hope Global Volunteers’ Fall 2021 Sicily service program will be finalized soon so they can join that team. Paul, with Italian ancestry from Trapani, Erice, Tetrazzini, and Monreale, Italy, says, “We have visited Italy and Sicily twice and now feel it’s important for us to give back to the community where we have roots.”
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