“I wanted to help them take away amazing memories to cherish and to inspire them to use this experience in everything they did moving forward.”
In September 2014, I joined a large group of Manurewa High School students from New Zealand on a Humanitarian Aid Leadership Programme to Thailand and Laos. This trip was an opportunity for secondary school students as young as 15 to experience a world far different from the one they know.
Once upon a time, I too was a Manurewa High School student. To have this opportunity to be an adult leader meant I could not only have the honour in sharing this special trip but also help to ensure the students saw far deeper than what meets the eye. I wanted them to take away amazing memories to cherish and to inspire them to use this experience in everything they did moving forward.
I will never forget the moments before departure at Auckland Airport. The energy was amazing. Uncertain faces and nervous smiles surrounded me—you could almost taste the excitement and apprehension in the room. For many students, this would be their first time away from their parents. After some tearful farewells, we banded together and boarded our plane to Bangkok.
I was honoured to be called “Aunty” Mel within just a few days. It was so important to make sure I built a strong bond with the students who were the farthest they had ever been away from home! This was a huge step on a personal and cultural level, but it made this trip all the more rewarding for me.
Each well-planned visit meant we could experience the very most of our surroundings. Welcomed into a small village, we became “one of the family” by staying in community huts. We also participated in customary traditional ceremonies and stepped in the shoes of the dynamic culture—all of this giving us a much bigger appreciation for what luxuries we have in our own lives.
This fantastic journey lasting just over two weeks brought special moments I will treasure forever. The impact we had on one another was a big eye-opener. Most of us hope to find a purpose on this planet, and I always think mine, in part, is to inspire others to take an interest in foreign cultures.
I came home with a full heart and memories rich with meaning. The biggest lesson learned was never to take what we have for granted and always put yourself in situations that will help you keep that feeling alive! Experience all that life has to offer and fill your time on earth with fulfilling adventures. None of us get out alive, so why not create a life of love and adventure?
Author - Mel Jenkins
Mel Jenkins is a Kiwi mum of four, with an irrepressible sense of adventure. She teaches tourism at The International Travel College of New Zealand and runs her own lifestyle business, ‘Motivation Endurance Learning’ (or MEL for short!). You can follow her journey here.