I expected the three weeks I spent in Samoa this summer to change my life. What I didnt fully anticipate was the tremendous change I also saw in the lives of the 19 kids I led. The organization I joined, Humanitarian Experience for Youth (HEFY), calls the kids builders for reasons that became abundantly clear to me during our trip.
HEFY provides youth the opportunity to give hands on, meaningful service while building international bridges. As they learn to love other cultures, their understanding of and love for Jesus Christ grows simultaneously. For example, in Samoa we built a home for a 17-member family who had previously been crowded together in a small filthy shack. Their new home is a traditional Fale – a lodging with open sides and a sturdy roof to keep off the rain. Within the space of 17 days, we gave them the gift of pride in their surroundings and basic human dignity.
But our builders didnt just build a Fale this summer. They also built character, friendships, and their testimonies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I saw their hearts soften and light grow in the eyes of my youth as we gave all we had to the people of Samoa. As a trip leader for the expedition, it was amazing to see the change in my participants from the moment we began shoveling the foundation to the time when the family we grew to love moved in.
While building was our primary purpose, we also fell in love with Samoa through many other incredible experiences. Experiences like learning traditional Samoan dances, playing rugby with the locals, and making real lava lavas made every day magical. As if this wasnt enough, on the weekends we swam in the To Sua Trench and jumped into the Togitogiga Waterfalls. And on our own private island, we explored the breathtaking reefs and crystal clear waters of Samoa.
One of my builders described our experience perfectly:
“I feel extremely grateful that I was able to go on a HEFY expedition. This trip was exactly what I needed to prepare to serve my LDS mission. My testimony has grown immensely because of it. It was so much fun and the work was very hard, but rewarding. My awesome HEFY family along with the people of Samoa helped me grow. While the people of Samoa have little when it comes to material things, they are some of the happiest, friendliest, and grateful people I have ever met. I learned to be more grateful and appreciative for all I have been given. I know that serving others can truly bring real and lasting joy. This trip is something I will never forget. It was the best 18 days for my life.”
HEFY has become so popular that their trips now fill up within hours. However, they just announced that they are expanding in 2018 to provide 73% more spots. This means that this year, a lot more youth can have experiences like Caitlins. HEFY trips are led by Mormons but welcome our friends of all faiths. Plus, they are the most affordable humanitarian trips by far in this space – their trips even include the international airfare!
I could talk about HEFY for hours on end! Registration for the 2018 trips begins October 23 and fills up on a first come first serve basis, so make sure its on your calendar five weeks from now! You can check out all of their other expeditions on HEFY.org, or sign up for their newsletter to receive updates on registration and trip information. Feel free leave any questions in the comments below, or send me an email directly at [email protected]! You can also email HEFY directly at [email protected]