I've been back a few weeks now and I am ready to share my experiences, the good, the bad, and the scary! I needed some time to process and reflect. When they said we would be changed just as much as the people we went to serve, they were not kidding! This is going to be a post than usual, so settle in...
It is hard to put into words the experience of being a part of something so life changing for so many people. It was an honor just to be there and serve alongside so many amazing people from all over the world. John’s vision and heart are so big and real that is seems almost impossible to think of changing the world through developing leaders...until you see it unfolding before your eyes. And to be able to actually help move this vision forward was just humbling and a beautiful experience.
I know it sounds cliche, but the Transformation literally was in me this week! I saw it happening in the stories and gratitude of the people we were serving, but I also experienced it personally. My attitude has had a major adjustment in how I see the world, express gratitude and focus on positivity.
Seeing the Landfill Harmonic Orchestra broke my heart and made me extremely happy at the same time. It was the biggest lesson in gratitude for me. These kids literally live in a trash heap and have taken the garbage the world gives them and turn it into beautiful music! I cried for almost the entire hour that we had the pleasure of listening to them play. And when their teacher told us their stories and showed us how the instruments are made, out of paint cans, drain pipes and old spoons, it is something I will never forget. When they started playing "Imagine"...well, I just totally lost it. I took a video of it and I hope you're moved as much as I am by these amazing kids! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTi-rZ7GIR4
After listening to the kids play, John told us of the music school they are working on finishing and need an additional $50,000 to build it. He asked us in the room if we thought we could do that, which we said absolutely. Then he auctioned off a violin made out of trash to kick off the donations. It started at $1,000 and when it got up to $7K I thought I want to get this on video and see how much he gets for it. Well, I think he missed his calling as an auctioneer...it went for $15,000!!! You can watch a bit of that fun here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4y83GmZR6gU
For the work we were there to accomplish of facilitating and training on roundtables, I got to go to some pretty cool places. The first day was to the National University where John inspired the entire next generation to change their country. I was with him as he modeled being a roundtable participant and spoke to the new deans and encouraged them to be leaders and help change their University. Then he went on to speak to the students and honor them for standing up for what is right. See, last fall they went on strike against corruption at their school. They literally refused to attend classes until something changed and at one point even would not let the deans leave the building until they made some changes. It resulted in the president of the University going to prison and many deans getting fired!! Woohoo!! You can see a video I shot from the back of the room with the students raising their hands when John invited them to step up and lead their country! It was amazing to be in the room that day. I cried...again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvI_HPKXeH4
The second day I went to the Japanese/Paraguayan cultural center where we facilitated roundtables with city employees. And next I went to a tech company of software engineers who were very excited and the CEO and CFO are having the whole company go through the roundtables and the engineers want to share the values with friends and family too! They talked about how they want to help their employees grow as individuals personally and professionally. I was in love with that answer. All super exciting!! Each time I was able to use my Spanish more and more and also had some amazing translators to help us facilitate these trainings. Here are a few pics from those sessions.
BUT then I spent a day in prison. The women of the Buen Pastor prison rocked my world. See, each day we didn't know where we would be going. We knew we were going somewhere, with someone, to do something! Paul, our JMT president would say I need one coach, or ten coaches, we'd come forward, be matched with translators and get into a stranger's car and go to their place of business. This day my business BFF and I wanted to go somewhere together so we waited until one of the times he said I need two coaches and we stepped up. At this point it is around 7am and he says you'll be gone all day to this place instead of going to a few locations, we say fine with us! So it wasn't until we got into the car that we asked where we were going. And it wasn't until we got to the prison that we learned we would not be teaching the staff, but the inmates. I knew then it would be an adventure and so grateful we were together. At the end of the day she grabbed me in the biggest hug and said, there is no one I could have gone to prison with except you!
To say I reached a new level of awareness is an understatement. I heard heartbreaking stories of women who couldn’t name an example of a positive person in their life ever, women who couldn’t read or write, women who had never had anyone believe in them, pour into them or show them a different way of life. Women who had lost all hope for their future, but had a glimmer restored that day. It was clear that transformation was beginning in them. I felt it in their hugs and tears and excitement to share these values, even if they didn’t fully comprehend the process. Some didn’t even know what an attitude was! Melissa and I had to get creative in explaining even the simplest of concepts. Talk about taking a step back and breaking down the material even more...it was not easy to say the least from a facilitators standpoint, but it was my favorite experience of the trip. Even more than the glamorous parties and great fun we had. I have cried a few times since that day just thinking about the prison because of the weight of the situation. It is a day that is forever etched on my heart and mind.
These women have reminded me of my bigger why, my desire to help women all over the world to have more education, resources, rights and opportunities. I want to build up women leaders all over the world! The prison experience really showed me the value of what we do and how much it is needed. I couldn't help but wonder if some of these women had learned these values earlier in life, maybe they would be living a different story. And maybe they can share them with their daughters now and put them on a different path.
Here are some pics of us at the prison..top left was at the beginning of the day when my co-facilitator and I were made up and smiley, the top right was at the end of the day when we were exhausted on every level and sweated off all our makeup! We had been in 100 degrees and no AC, pouring rain, roaches and stray cats, no guard with us, locked in with murderers (luckily didn't know til after, and didn't treat them any different) and still managed to end the day with smiles on our faces. We were so thankful for our two translators, Luis and Ignacio, and Maria Lorenza, the inmate who was clearly in charge and could have made our lives miserable or encouraged women not to participate, but instead was the most helpful and kind and best participant and leader that day.
Now, it wasn't all work and dirty prisons...in the evenings we had some pretty fun experiences too, like being hosted at the US Embassy and having the red carpet, literally, rolled out for us there and at our going away dinner the last night at a golf club!
This is a fun video of our going away party and the traditional Paraguayan dancers giving us a performance. Check out the lady dancing with 10 bottles on top of her head!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pz7fbE2k-Cc&feature=youtu.be
We also were welcomed at the kick off lunch by the best guitar player in Paraguay and if you're into Spanish guitar, check out Rolando Chaparro on iTunes and Facebook. Here is a short clip of him playing for us: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gEVCtDFkNo
In the weeks following this trip, I have a newfound passion for the work that I do and the impact that it can have on people's lives. The gratitude that is pouring in from the people there who are now carrying this work forward is beautiful to witness. I even heard that the mayor fired 400 people for corruption before we even left the country! I wasn't in the room, but I heard that when John spoke at the Congress there was some squirming in the seats as he challenged them to be better leaders, to lead with integrity, stand up against corruption, and to be significant, not just hold a successful title.
The Instagram note from my sweet translator, Luis, is one of the kindest things anyone has every said to me and it was an honor to go to prison with him (pic below). Since then we have kept in touch and I feel I have another little brother for life! He is interested in joining the John Maxwell Team and is going back to the prison to follow up with the director and ask how the women are doing with continuing the roundtables. I just love him and his heart for people!! He definitely has the JMT DNA :)
I know this post is long and rambling, but I really wanted to share because this experience was one of the greatest things I have had the privilege to be a part of and it will not soon be forgotten. I plan on going to all of the other countries that invite us to help transform them, 22 Presidents so far have asked John to do the same for them. It will be my honor to volunteer again, spending my own money and time to travel across the world to add value to people. This is what it means to me to live a life of significance, not just success!!
With that I will close and wish you all a life of significance!