The Journey Begins
I drove to my local coffee shop, excited to meet a young woman I have heard so much about – Caroline Nelson. I walked in, ordered coffee, and searched among the crowded seats for her familiar face. There she was, waving at me with the brightest smile I had seen all day. I joined her and immediately knew we were going to be friends.
At only 18, Caroline had already seen parts of the world some people only dream about. But her travels weren’t for vacation or fun; her trips were to help other people. After graduating high school, Caroline joined a program that trains young people to volunteer all around the world.
Her journey began in Guatemala in July of 2017. She met all of the other volunteers and prepared for her training, all while being watched by the program’s leaders for her strengths and weaknesses.
“I needed to learn how to not live for only myself,” Caroline said. She thought back to what weaknesses her leaders might have seen. “I needed a lesson in materialism.”
Connecting With Others
After training, she was chosen to volunteer in a village in Uganda. Each place the trainees are matched is specifically chosen for their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to grow as a person and showcase the positive qualities they already have.
This village was community living and had no electricity, which was completely different from the lifestyle Caroline grew up with.
“In the beginning, I learned a lot about myself; I learned how to put others’ needs before my own.”
Caroline told me about the patience and understanding she gained going from always having a bedroom and bathroom to herself to sharing those things with five people.
“So, your whole life was changed; how did people help you transition?” I asked.
“The people of my village were willing to do anything to help people with whatever small thing they had to offer,” she said with a full heart. “They will give you their food, let you stay in their houses, not once complaining. Everyone is just so kind.”
Every morning Caroline would take a boat to the other side of the village to teach elementary school.
“This one time, it was pouring rain, but I still had to go teach,” she said. “We got across the river, and all of my students came running up to me to ring out my soaking wet clothes. It made it all worth it.”
She paused reminiscing over her times teaching. We sat in that coffee shop for hours; she told me funny, sad, happy, and heart-wrenching stories. Each story had a lesson, a purpose. Each one full of kindness, hope, and love. I looked around; we were the last ones in the shop.
Saying hi to Everyone
“After all this, what’s next?” I asked. My mind was racing with all the great things she could do next.
“My long-term goal is to start a school in an unreached area of the world,” Caroline told me.
With the lessons she has learned in her life, Caroline wants to share her knowledge with others.
“The people of that village taught me so much kindness and just how to be a good human,” she said. I could hear in her voice how bittersweet it was to look back. “I used to walk through Walmart and not even say hello to people I knew. But the people of Uganda said hello to everyone, whether they knew you or not, just because it’s the kind thing to do.”
Caroline explained how that simple word changed her life. The small gesture of just saying hello to the people on the streets can change the whole dynamic of a community, building it up stronger. A simple “hello” will change everyone to be more kind, more caring, and more together.
Caroline took that lesson home with her, and now I take that lesson with me. No act of kindness is too small or too big, and sometimes the biggest lessons in life are just as simple as saying hi to everyone.