by Nora Al-Ruwaished
“Love is not patronizing and charity isn’t about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same – with charity you give love, so don’t just give money but reach out your hand instead.” – Mother Theresa.
Every now and then in life, your heart screams so loudly that your brain cannot ignore what it asks of you. An inner voice you may not even know you had, becomes so loud that it drowns out the noise of other’s doubts, criticism, and disapproval. It shakes you from your sleep and consumes you while you are awake, seeming to guide you relentlessly in the direction it seeks. You begin to think you may be going crazy, and just when that happens, you come to the conclusion that this is the path you are meant to follow, risky or not. Try as you may, but it is usually impossible to understand what is driving this desire or dream, though some may call it destiny, fate or passion. At this time in life, there are two choices. Either you listen and take a chance, or silence it and become forever haunted by the worst question of all in life – “What if?”
The voice of humanity, the call to make a change, the desire to seek all that this world has to offer while sharing the gifts we have been blessed with, others that do not have anything at all – these are the building blocks of OXadventure. The Kuwaiti based non-profit organization, OXadventure, removes the youth from their comfort zones to complete charitable works abroad and experience adventures of a lifetime while gaining college credits or creating opportunities to meet new friends with a similar mindset.
The founders are a duo: an ex-engineer turned-travel-photographer and filmmaker who found his passion, and a travel writer with a degree in Mass Communications who always knew that she would find a way to follow her heart. It was one of those heart’s desires that could not and should not have been ignored, and though the battle was emotional and exhausting, the product was life changing, inspirational and rewarding. It was so for the founders, the participants, the followers and the beneficiaries of the cause.
This summer in Bangalore, India, the OXadventure vision and dream became a reality that shook humans of the world in different ways on entirely different continents. More importantly, it left a mark on the souls of those who were involved in the project – both beneficiaries and volunteers, and it changed the world and improved the lives for generations of children to come who may have never received better living conditions otherwise.
The OXIndia project consisted of a team of ten volunteers, two staff members from Gulf University of Science and Technology (GUST) and two staff members from OXadventure. While the project was the first of its kind for GUST, the feedback was just as positive from the organizers in GUST as the volunteers. “We wanted the students to step out of the classroom and gain some valuable life experience. This trip was a great opportunity for them to develop their teamwork skills, produce media materials, and gain confidence. Most importantly they were able to give back something to society by helping others,” commented Dr. Fahed Al-Summait who runs the Mass Communications and Media Department at GUST. “Our students and volunteers worked extremely hard in the short time they were in India and they came back with fresh perspectives on the world. They even continued to do charity work as soon as they returned to Kuwait and we hope that they will do even more in the future. They are certainly worthy ambassadors of our university, our country, and their generation,” said Dr. Summait.
The goal of the project was to complete the construction of an orphanage dormitory for at-risk children in an Eco-Residential school in rural Bangalore. After ten days of sweat, no air conditioning, Internet or hot showers and a diet full of white rice, the dormitory was complete and the hard work paid off. What the volunteers left behind was a shelter for years to come for children who in most cases do not have families or even a decent pair of shoes. Also, a library was built in collaboration with Q8 Books and a tree planting ceremony was commenced, along with purchasing a cow for the community. What they walked away with was “Not just eye-opening, it was life changing,” according to volunteer Ahmed Al-Refai.
Ahmed, a recent graduate, did not come for the three-credit internship, but for a different reason entirely. “I believe that we, as citizens of this world, don’t have to be part of a country, place or race to help others and share. I believe that as long as we have, then we must share; a little or a lot. Once we do that, I assure you, this world will be a better place,” said Ahmed. He has admitted to finding himself through his travels, especially OXindia, and has hopes to follow in the footsteps of the OXadventure founders and enter the world of humanitarian work himself.
To hear about poverty on an intellectual level and through media is entirely different than living the reality of an impoverished life. Not only does it open your eyes, it opens your heart to the reality that there are people smiling all around the world even though they may not have shoes or fresh drinking water. When you see it yourself, you cannot help but wonder what the secret is. Living in a society such as Kuwait, we often replace greed and desire for monetary value and tangible things instead of simplicity and appreciation, which leads to ultimate happiness. Once given a taste of happiness that giving can produce, it is difficult to comprehend how you ever sought it in any other way.
Nasser Al-Naama is one of the international volunteers from Qatar who did not want to fall for the all too familiar trap of going on a
selfish vacation. “This trip was very much about self-introspection and learning as much as it was about doing good – I wanted to see the lengths I would go to help others without expecting anything in return or stroking my own ego,” said Nasser. He believes that only when one is physically present then they can truly understand the gravity of poverty, and he was humbled by how, instead of seeing misery and anguish on their faces, he saw pure joy and contentment that is not attributed to material wealth.
Venturing out of one’s comfort zone can be terrifying, but Lujain Al-Hasawi took the risk. She admitted to being unsure she would be mentally or physically cut out for the trip, but she went anyways. “I went on an unexpected trip with complete strangers and I came back a different person with a new perspective on life. The things that keep a smile on my face now are not the tangible things but the joy of creating another person’s happiness – the smile on the kids’ faces, the kind-hearted locals, they all made me realize how much I have mistaken my own happiness,” said Lujain. Lujain speaks to all of us when she mentions mistaken happiness, and this enlightenment is one of the main goals of OXadventure projects.
Since I can remember, I have always heard the phrase, “Life isn’t fair.” To accept that without trying everything in your power to make it false is giving up on being a decent human being. There is so much to be done in the world, and I urge those who have the capability to do so, to get their hands dirty and do their part. If the roles were reversed, you would hope that those in your position had the heart to share something, even something as small as a smile. “Volunteerism is no longer an option but rather an ongoing process of eradicating the disproportionate ratio of wealth in the world,” said Nasser.
OXadventure will continue their journey with a new team to Rwanda (OXRwanda), in which the team will restore four homes for families who survived the tragic genocide in 1994. They will build a library in a primary school in a village in collaboration with Q8 Books, and they will deliver 22 laptops in which they collected and repaired to give to less-fortunate university students. Travel to give, my friends, and you will find the greatest adventure and joy this world has to offer.
Special thanks to Dr. Fahed Alsummait, Dr. Raghad Alkathmi and Dr. Osama Alhares from GUST University for making this happen so quickly and perfectly. Of course, we are eternally grateful to our annual partners, Ooredoo, who have made our projects and sustainability possible. You are all believers in the dreamers and OXindia proves that the dreamers are now doers. Finally, thank you Q8 Books, for the donation of the books and the shelves.
Oxadventure is accepting applications for OXNepal which will take place from October 2-12, 2014. It involves two days restoring a school and putting together a library, while the rest of the trip will be spent trekking and camping in the Himalayas and doing yoga each morning and evening. For details and prices visit www.oxadventure.com/oxnepal.
Images courtesy of Saud Al-Juwaiyan.