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Eye-Opening Travel

The orphanage in Maneadero, Mexico
The orphanage in Maneadero, Mexico

Traveling to nearly 20 countries – around half of them through Rotary – has opened my eyes to a universal truth: People everywhere share the same fundamental human connections. We laugh, we play, we aspire, we worry about our kids, and we connect, no matter where we're from. This realization struck me most vividly during one unforgettable trip almost three decades ago with my 7-year old son Matt, to volunteer at a dental clinic at a Mexican orphanage.

This is the same type of dental clinic both Irvine and San Juan Capistrano Rotarians will be doing on the weekend of October 14th. Except that instead of just a couple of dental professionals, it's grown to a team of around 40 and includes vision checks and glasses provided by Dr. Fred Stellhorn of Manteca Rotary.

Never having traveled outside the United States, my son was initially scared, a stranger in a foreign land, unsure of the customs and not knowing the language. But as we often discover in travel, barriers break down quickly in the world of play. Within a few minutes, he was invited to a pick-up soccer game on a dusty field inside the orphanage walls. The initial hesitation gave way to laughter, running, and the universal language of children at play. It was pure joy, unbounded by nationality or circumstance, and it spoke to the core values of fellowship and global understanding.

From witnessing the joy of children playing with a simple ball in a dusty field to the warmth of families offering a meal to a stranger, I've come to understand that happiness doesn't need materialistic embellishments. These experiences are a testament to human empathy and shared connections. The real treasures in life are found in kindness and sincerity, things that never go out of style.

Children, whether in the bustling markets of Antigua, Guatemala, or the tranquil landscapes of Australia, laugh and play the same. Their joy, pure and unfiltered, transcends borders, material things, and language barriers. This universal connection resonates with Rotary's value of diversity and compassion, emphasizing that the world is a community to be embraced, not just a place to be visited.

Our participation in international projects not only promotes positive change but provides a unique opportunity to learn, grow, and connect with people from different cultures. It's a rich experience that goes beyond mere tourism, turning travel into a platform for personal growth, understanding, and making lasting contributions.

My adventures through Rotary have not only been a geographical exploration but a heartfelt journey into understanding our shared humanity. This self-perpetuating cycle of positive impact helps us see the world not as fragmented pieces but as a mosaic of cultures, emotions, and shared dreams that promotes peace and helps resolve conflicts.

Through experiences like my son's soccer game in a Mexican orphanage, we are reminded that at our core, we are all the same. We laugh, we play, we strive, and we connect. Here's to more adventures, more understanding, and to a world that recognizes its shared heartbeat.

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