Where do I even start? This experience for me has been nothing short of life changing, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I always knew in my head what I wanted to get out of this journey but I always had my doubts about how special Blanco actually is. The first day we went into the scheme for a few hours to get a feel of what it was going to be like for the next 10 days, we pulled up to Aunt Abeils house and she welcomed us into her home to have a quick chat before she took us a short tour of some of the houses and streets in the scheme. As soon as we started walking the streets the kids came out, straight away I was taking back by what we had saw, young kids running about with no shoes on and dirty ripped clothes, but each and every one of them had a smile on their faces and so much attention to give to us. The reason I was taking back so much was because I thought we were there to give them the love and attention they need, yet straight away all they done was run up and show us their love by giving out hugs one after another and to just be in our company. These young kids have so little, most of them live in houses that can only be described as a shack or a hut, but to me they seemed to be the happiest people on earth. That first night in the debrief I admitted to the group that I had held back on my first day but I promised myself that it would be something I would never do again, and I didn’t. Over the next few days we had been introduced to the valley, that special place that people know so well. In the valley is where I built that special relationship with a young girl called Zany, she is such a young kid with so much love, care and affection to show to the world. A memorable moment which I will never forget, Zany had spilled juice on her or she had dirt on her and I would take baby wipes to clean her, but after I was done she would take the wipes of me and try and clean my hands and my face. All I could do in them situations is smile, I was smiling because I realised that no matter what you give to these kids they will give you just as much in return, whether it be water and food or just show them a little love.
Throughout this journey I have learned many things about myself and the team around me. I’ve kept a quote close to me throughout this journey and that quote is ‘he who risks showing true emotion, shall risk showing his true self’ this quote summarises me. The reason being because I am someone who throughout my life have struggled to deal with my emotions, and therefore put a mask on to shy away from them and be someone I’m not. I made the choice the Thursday night before we left to take that risk of showing my true emotion and it paid off because I learned throughout our debrief sessions and basic conversations that when I speak from the heart and show my emotion I’m someone who can make a bit of an impact on people, and that’s something I’m extremely proud of. What have I learned about this team? That they’re an extremely special bunch of people, who have not only went and made a massive impact on the people of Blanco and their lives, but have also made a massive impact on my life. The much love, support and affection everyone has shown each other has been special, whether it be in the emotional debrief sessions, standing in the townships or standing in a jail with around 60 prisoners trying to engage with them. Most importantly for me its them being supportive of everything I’ve opened up about and spoke about during our debriefs, the highlight of my trip will always be that debrief in room 27, something that I will never be able to put into words. One of them moments that you have to be there to understand. I really hope that we as a team don’t lose our connection after our journey, because I have built friendships that I will cherish forever, and also rebuilt a friendship with two of my best mates that is now stronger than ever. The impact that Blanco has had on me is just to be myself, because it’s too hard to wear the mask and try and be somebody you’re not. It was always on my mind that I was coming out here to make a difference in the young people’s lives. I knew that it would have an impact on me but not to this extent, never did I think I would walk away the real me, that’s the best way to describe it. I’m coming home without that mask on, I’m not trying to hide my emotions any longer, I’m going to embrace them, I know there will be hard days but that’s up to me to deal with them and not push them to the side any longer, and that’s something I’m most definitely going to do. What I’ll be bringing home most from this experience is that I now understand I can make an impact on people’s lives by the actions that I make and the words that I say. If I was able to do it here in Blanco, so why couldn’t I do it in Belfast? There’s nothing going to stop me from reaching my full potential when I get back home, I understand that there will be stumbling blocks along the way but I’ll get to where I want to eventually. As I said at the start of this blog this journey has been nothing short of life changing for me, and that really is something I truly mean.