A special thanks to my leadership coaching client and guest blogger, Liza Larson, for sharing this incredible example of connection, innovation, and resilience!
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi
This quote is something that I have on a Post-it note hanging in my office—it’s a reminder about how important volunteering is in my life. For many years I was “too busy” to give back, and it led me down a path towards burnout and a sense of being lost.
Fortunately, about two years ago, I discovered a great organization, Rotary International, to help me get back into service. I was afraid at first about how I would manage the extra commitment, but just like anything else, I found the time. The club I joined is called Rotary eClub | WOKE, and the virtual nature of the club gives me the flexibility to be able to volunteer when traveling for business, when I just don’t want to leave the house, or when (like these last few months) we physically can’t.
There’s a massive body of research showing that volunteering helps people feel more socially connected, thus warding off loneliness and depression. For me, volunteering goes way beyond that. In May 2019, I made a two-year English language mentoring commitment to a woman entrepreneur and mother named Rosa who lives in rural central Costa Rica. Rosa and her daughter, Angie, work as local tour guides in a town called Turrialba, which was once a flourishing town and a direct stop on the train that ran between the capital, San Jose, and a southern Caribbean tourist town, Puerto Viejo. In the 1990s, a terrible earthquake destroyed Costa Rica’s rail system, and Turrialba residents lost much of their income. Residents like Rosa and her family have taken action with the help of Rotary International to rebuild the economic stability with an emerging, community-based ecotourism industry. As part of that process, she’s learned English and is continuing her studies to better serve and attract tourists to the area.
Every time I talk with Rosa (about once every other week for an hour), I garner a renewed sense of purpose, self-worth, and connection. You can imagine the stress and financial difficulty she and her family are enduring right now. This has led me to help her in other ways than just language. She’s become the president of RETUS Tours, which when translated stands for the Network of Women Entrepreneurs in Sustainable Tourism in Turrialba. Our conversations now include talking through organizational challenges, marketing efforts, and growth strategies. This May, Rotary International featured RETUS Tours and the women of Turrialba as their cover story for the Rotarian magazine. The minute I got my copy, I posted photos to the RETUS WhatsApp group, and the outpouring of gratitude was overwhelming. I was brought to tears thinking about how the efforts of so many Rotarians like me have been amplified in this particular area of need. Given the shutdown of the tourism industry, I know this will help give the 15 women of RETUS the much-deserved exposure they need to recoup the losses from these last few months. In fact, my family and I have booked a trip to Turrialba in October, when I can finally meet my friend and resilience role model, Rosa.