I’ve found a source of inspiration for my business and it wasn’t where I thought it would be. It came in the form of two reality checks, so severe, they impacted me physically and emotionally.
Just a few weeks ago, I travelled to Udaipur, India with the Me To We organization. I went with my daughter, who requested a volunteer trip for her sixteenth birthday. I know, an unusually selfless request from a teenager, when most are pining for a big party or celebration. She grew up hearing stories of my volunteer trip building a family home in Nicaragua, with Bridges to Community ten years ago. She knew how much that trip filtered importance and ignited gratitude in my life. I was excited to find a similar construction volunteer trip, for her to experience with me.
We registered for the Bridges to Community trip in Jinotega, and fundraised for eight months, generating over $2,000 in donations. Six weeks before we were to depart on our adventure, inoculated with all the required immunizations, we were notified that the trip was cancelled. The civil unrest in Nicaragua had deemed our trip unsafe.
I didn’t want to lose the outreach momentum we had built together and began looking for a “plan b”. There were so many options to support and give to others abroad, it became a bit overwhelming to determine which organization to support. After much deliberation, I selected the Me To We Family Trip to India.
The Me To We family trip had everything we were looking for in our adventure and more! We would be completely immersed in the local culture, Indian food and work alongside local families on a sustainable development project.
Entrepreneur Inspiration Reality Check #1
I didn’t really know what to expect in India. Many people before we left, warned us of the intense heat, poverty, odours and sanitation issues. We packed our culturally suitable clothing, and worksite necessities, and travelled over 6,000 miles for 22 hours to Udaipur, India.
Once we arrived in Udaipur, our last leg of our journey was a 2-hour drive to Rajasthan. As soon as the car left the airport grounds, we had our first reality check. Village “stores” lined the dirt road streets, people were everywhere, and our driver constantly sounded his horn to avoid the littered cows, donkeys and motorcycles in his path. I was fascinated by the Indian businesses and their advertising. The shops infrastructure reminded me of shipping containers and storage lockers.
In our daily commute from our residence to the worksite, we would pass these stores and I would scan for as much detail as possible, hoping a donkey or cow crossing would slow our pace. It was always the same picture. Mostly men, seated on chairs or stoops in front of their stores, underneath a slew of hanging items for sale, waiting for customers. During the ten-day village commute, I rarely saw customers frequent the stores. I would however, see many women carrying bags of flour on their heads, walking on the side of the road. I was taken back at the extreme difference between my business and these stores. A marketer at heart, I was eager to learn all I could about this culture and country, I asked our guide many questions. How do the store owners go about starting their businesses? How do they open a business? How do they market their businesses?
After much discussion, I learned abruptly, that people in India don’t get the same choices we do in Canada. Their occupation is based on the country’s caste system rules. Basically, your birth dictates your future. In that wake up moment, I felt extremely fortunate for the ability to choose my future.
Entrepreneur Inspiration Reality Check #2
The second reality check came from our “day in the life” experience with women of a local community and how vastly different their work tasks were from mine. After a short drive in the countryside, we arrived at a “house” and were greeted with flower necklaces and a red paint marking between our brows for prosperity. The woman’s house had one room for 8 family members, a clay firepit/chimney and a large blanket lined the floor. The village woman spoke to us about her daily work and her children. We spent the morning experiencing her daily work tasks first hand. We were taught how to make chapatti, seated on the floor, rolling dough into a circular shape for her to bake, toast and brown on the firepit pan. We were helping her to make chapattis for her family’s dinner.
One of her larger work tasks was the water walk. We were given heavy ceramic pots and a cloth donut to place on our heads and headed on foot to the well, a kilometer away. Once we filled our pots from the hand cranked well, we carefully placed the 15 lb water container on our heads and began our trek uphill back to her home. It was hard. I couldn’t believe the village women do this work 10-20 times a day! Once we unloaded the pots, we were put to work on her other work tasks; feeding her goats and hand spackling her house with a mixture of mud and cow dung, for added insulation.
As we passed along the hand sanitizer to clean up from the Indian household work tasks, I stepped away from the group and took a moment to process the huge swell of gratitude I felt for my life, and my work.
I know as a marketer, perspective is everything. This incredible volunteer experience has given me a refreshed perspective on my work, my family and my country. I highly recommend planned short term distance from your business, and a new perspective experience to revitalize your passion and gratitude!