Alumni Karen Isaac had just retired from 30 years of teaching elementary school when she saw “the most amazing photos” of Global Volunteers in St. Lucia posted on Facebook by her friend Gila Cohen-Shaw. An enthusiastic Global Volunteers alumna, Gila had “crowdsourced” the funds for her service program and encouraged Karen to follow suit. What followed was Karen’s own service journeys to the Caribbean island, and her heart-centered commitment to return – time and again – with the support of her own friends and family members. Sharing Karen’s inspiration, they continued their support during the pandemic when programs were suspended and Karen had to remain stateside. In 2021, Karen and her “best friends on Earth,” raised $1,500 for Global Volunteers to support the children and mothers of Anse la Raye, St. Lucia. This interview with Digital Marketing Manager Millie Pinakoulaki explores Karen’s perspective on involving her social network in her commitment to service.
What has your personal connection to the people of Anse la Raye meant to you?
My purpose in volunteering is to do the work I’m asked to do. Of course, St. Lucia is a beautiful country and I’ve seen so many beautiful sites, but that’s the bonus, and not my primary motivation. My goals are different from when I travel for pleasure. On my Global Volunteers service program, I immediately fell in love with the children of Anse La Raye, St. Lucia and decided within two days of coming home in 2017 that I would be returning the following year. The children are beautiful, and resilient, and funny and fun. They bring out the brightest and best part of me. So loving this feeling that they elicit, makes volunteering for me a somewhat selfish act. I continued to serve each year up until the pandemic. And, I’ll be there again in 2023. My heart yearns to be back with Chem (Global Volunteers’ St Lucia Country Director), “my” beautiful children and my friends in St. Lucia. I dream of their education, health and safety. And while I shouldn’t be surprised at the enormous generosity of my friends and family in donating to my birthday Facebook fundraiser, I’m so proud and pleased!
You’ve raised funds for all of your service programs. How have your donors supported you?
Honestly, I felt unsure about fundraising for my first St. Lucia program in 2017. Would it appear cheap if I asked for support? I overcame that feeling, and invited people to learn more about what I would be doing and contribute if they felt drawn to the cause. Through the generosity of family and friends, I met my goal to finance the trip. I did the same for my 2018 service program, and my friends came through again! I felt awkward about fundraising again in 2019. Would it appear self-serving? I held off, having decided to fully fund that program myself, but in the months leading up to that program, I was shocked that so many family and friends asked when they could donate to my trip. I did the same in 2020. Now, for all my future service programs, I’ll invite them to “come along” with me that way. I realize that as I am committed to the children and community of Anse LaRaye, so too are my generous donors. Through me, my donors are fulfilling their need to serve a purpose greater than themselves. Here’s to fundraising!
What has been your role in the community’s service projects?
My primary service assignments have been at both the primary school grades 3-6 and the Infant School grades K-2, where I help them with reading, math and other subjects. I also work with the preschool children – babies and toddlers. I go where ever I’m assigned. This past year, walking through the village on the first day, one of the local children came up to me and said, “Miss, you said you would come back. And you did.” That was it. I just melted. So my commitment is solidified. It is a commitment to that child and all of the children and community members I meet. The message is: “You are important enough to me that I remember you, care about your well-being and I will return to partner with you in service to your community.” For me, volunteering in St. Lucia is an act of service. And in doing these acts, I live my best life.
What have you learned by returning to this one community year after year?
During the pandemic, I found myself having great concern about my friends in Anse La Raye and Marigot, the community where we are lodged. Working on the island for four consecutive years enabled me to feel more comfortable pursuing a greater degree of familiarity, conversations and friendships. It was hard to be away from them for two years (during the pandemic), and I can’t wait to return to see them all again. I look forward to everything about my upcoming service trip. My heart truly is in St. Lucia. I am my best self and feel happiest when I am there. You are 100% correct that my resolve to serve is stronger than ever!