It is better to give than to receive, and National Life employee Kaitlyn Cota Lary has traveled the world living her cause.
When first looking for the opportunity to give back, Kaitlyn wanted to push herself out of her comfort zone. She succeeded in doing that by volunteering in Guatemala for a week when she was 19 years old.
Equipped with some basic Spanish and a willingness to help, Kaitlyn set off for Guatemala. She met up with other volunteers through a program lead by Cross Cultural Solutions. During her week abroad, Kaitlyn worked at an elementary school painting, cleaning and working with students in a community where most people lived on $1 a day.
Kaitlyn commented on her experience, “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, or your background. The power of a smile and a helping hand can mean the world to someone.”
Wanting to do it again, Kaitlyn set her sights on another service trip to Peru in 2017, just two years after recovering from a serious car accident where she was told she likely would never walk again.
Determined to make her second service trip, Kaitlyn carefully prepared, “Before I could feel comfortable going on the trip to Peru, I needed to make sure I could navigate the airport when I arrived in country. I called the airport to learn how they helped handicapped people travel. They can provide you with a wheelchair for the time you are in the airport. I also called the program director that lives in Peru to learn about the house and the city. I did all of this before I chose Peru as a final destination, so I could make sure it was the right fit.”
Kaitlyn was more nervous for her second trip, not knowing how well she would be able to get around. “Other countries don’t have the same ADA laws that the U.S. does. The actual volunteer aspect I was confident in. CCS (the company I volunteer with) is awesome about taking your personal experiences and abilities and placing you in the placement that fits you best.”
And this time, her fiancee Ryder—now husband—came along to volunteer as well.
Kaitlyn spoke fondly of one woman who, despite their communication challenges, she quickly connected with at the senior center in Peru where she volunteered. “There was a lady who was deaf and mute, but always greeted us with waves and kisses. She painted my nails pink. It was her favorite color and matched her outfit.”
At the senior center, Kaitlyn and other volunteers helped prepare meals, serve and clean up. She spent time playing games with seniors to help keep their minds active. And, she also did home visits to check on some seniors that needed additional support. Kaitlyn didn’t realize just how much of an impact these small gestures would make. “The locals love volunteers. They love learning about our lives and families. Looking at photos and taking them. The children love seeing their faces on the camera screen and the elders love having a memory to look back on.”
In both Guatemala and Peru, the local communities that Kaitlyn volunteered in had similar challenges, “Most of these communities live in poverty, so sometimes the only meals they get are at school or the senior center. Sometimes the only health checkups happen at these places.”
While in Peru, word of Kaitlyn’s car accident rehabilitation journey traveled in the community. She was told that there was a young man named Pedro-Pablo who was home-bound, due to an injury. Would she visit him? He lived in a remote village. Despite the fact that Kaitlyn needed to travel by jeep, foot and then on her own hands and knees to get to his home, she made it. During their visit she shared some words of encouragement, “We talked about challenges and worked on exercises that he could do to gain muscle and flexibility. The fact that I could help in this way made my whole trip.”
Like so many dedicated volunteers, Kaitlyn gives and expects nothing in return.
What started out as a way to push herself out of her comfort zone and help her think about her future, started a life-long commitment to give back. And working for National Life, an employer that provides paid volunteer time, helps Kaitlyn dedicate more of her time to a cause she is passionate about.
Kaitlyn’s next goal: volunteer in each country that Cross Cultural Solutions has home bases in—that’s four more.
So, what’s Kaitlyn’s advice to others looking to get out of their own comfort zones and volunteer abroad? “Go for it! You don’t need to speak the language, just the willingness to help and being there for support is all they need.”
Do you have a #FindYourCause story that you’d like to share? Tell us.