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If you give a mouse a cookie....

He just might change your life

This past week Peace Through Yoga Foundation’s founder, Sally Bassett, visited us at Girl’s for Success. Sally brought along with her 21 generous retreat attendees ready to practice yoga in the rain forest and contribute with an open heart to our girls empowerment program in rural Costa Rica.

These volunteers arrived with suitcases full of gifts, classroom supplies, and valentines to celebrate the 16 girls who attend afternoon English classes daily at El Yüe, International Center for Peace in Carbon, Costa Rica. These women and men arrived ready to give—asking nothing in return. Their generosity got me thinking about the popular children’s book, If you Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff. The young boy in the book much like many fantastic volunteers, often does things for the mouse without asking anything in return. The book brings to mind what economists call the “Samaritan’s dilemma. “ The dilemma investigates how withholding from those in need encourages others to help themselves or perpetuates poverty and separation? The book also calls into question if we gain anything by helping others—even when they don’t do anything for us? The book asks the reader to reflect on selflessness and its application to their daily lives.

When we give selflessly to others we are often left with a warm glow and the feeling of connection we cannot get in any other way. This can help establish a momentary feeling of elation or can be the beginning of a long-lasting relationship between two parties, which ultimately becomes reciprocal.

I know that my relationship with these young ladies goes beyond teacher-student, or volunteer-recipient into the realm of seva or selfless service to others. In Sikhism, seva refers to selfless service for altruistic purposes on behalf of, and for the betterment of a Community. This is where I feel we ALL connected last week, as a COMMUNITY. The connection was between; the girls in the center and their families, the retreat participants, our local translation volunteers, my boss, myself and my fiancé and many others behind the scenes. We came together in service of and with connection to one another—for the betterment of our global community. Together we celebrated a holiday, created jewelry and art, shared stories, practiced yoga, gave and received gifts of love and time, went on trips, painted the classroom, shared meals, took pictures—AND ultimately a warm and open exchange all week long! I know all parties involved feel as though they both gave and received generously, and perhaps, are still reeling from the high of such experience. To get back to the Samaritan’s dilemma, I feel as though withholding gifts of love and time ultimately serves to teach children to help themselves. However, I do feel we all need to do more than, “give a mouse a cookie.” If we want to create lasting change in our own lives and those of others we have to be willing to go beyond, “the cookie.” Meaning, if we want our service to be truly selfless, what we are giving is not simply a donation without the connection, it’s the wiliness to be present in the lives of others. The time spent to get “down and dirty” beyond a quick picture and a retreat back to the comfort of our own lives. The critical understanding is that if we are in the “give” position, ultimately we must remain open to the connection the offering creates. The blessings in the form of lessons that take place might supersede what was ever intended or expected. You just might find yourself part of a new community where, over time, the giving and receiving blend into the shared experience of your life with that of others. While volunteerism at home or abroad is seldom an easy or straightforward endeavor; getting into the thick of it with the right people and for the right reason just might change your life. It certainly has for me, and for all the new friends I made last week. And, when you are ready, we are here waiting in Costa Rica to gather you in and welcome you home.

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