News from Alumni House

The infinite ripple

Sherrie Page Najarian’94MSN is a psychiatric nurse, freelance writer, and mother of two. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, Richmond Magazine, and various Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She lives in Richmond, Virginia. 

I work hard as a nurse, and I understand the call of a relaxing holiday. But after vacations with nothing more to show than the fact that I could no longer button my pants, I wanted something more for myself and my family.

So when I received an e-mail about a Yale Service Tour to Monterrey, Mexico, I signed up my 14-year-old daughter, Alex, and myself. The trip centered on helping Alianza Real, a community of 40,000 people who were relocated from a flood zone to live in a barren, arid region. As AYA executive director Mark Dollhopf ’77 reported in the May/June News from Alumni House, the community needed healthcare, construction, business guidance, and exposure to the arts; Yalies representing an array of specialties arrived with family and friends, ready for action.

Shocked that the nearest medical clinic was 20 kilometers away, I looked forward to offering my nursing skills. How can a person walk three hours, febrile and vomiting, to get help -- much less with ill children in tow? Alex, whose ambition is to be a Broadway triple threat, was all about acting, singing, and dancing with eager participants.

I arrived in Alianza Real expecting poor conditions but was appalled at what passed for living. I'd seen slums in America, but this community was the definition of poverty. An hour from the city, the town sweltered in a desert. There were no paved roads or industry for jobs. By the end of the first day, I blew dirt from my nose. I knew the newborn I had held in the medical clinic breathed the same dusty air and will continue to as he grows.

Despite the dearth of resources, smiles and warm welcomes were in grand supply. Mothers proudly showed off beautiful children who ran around laughing, ready to play with the visitors. The Consejo, a social services organization, prepared our way. Tents were set up for medical clinics, healthcare education, tutoring, yoga, performing arts, and craft projects, and a small patch of land awaited a playground. Care is contagious; volunteers jumped right in.

I answered questions about birth control and assisted with labs in the medical tent. Alex joined the performing arts volunteers. I'd deliberated before letting her do her own thing. But the first time I checked on her, she was happily teaching American hip-hop to Mexican children, alongside a Yale student from Kenya and an alum from Singapore.

Aside from the Consejo Yale teamed with doctors and nurses from Tecnologico de Monterrey and used Prepa Tec high school students as interpreters. It was magical watching the positive effects of a large group effort. In five days, infections were treated, a playground was built, and entrepreneurs had business plans. It was priceless to watch my daughter's eyes open to possibilities even as she realized that there are situations a lot worse than being the only eighth grader without a cell phone. It took little time for her to see she is no better, smarter, or more talented than people without her material advantages. The kids she worked with caught on quickly, absorbed everything they could, and thirsted for more. Watching my child understand that her good grades and talents wouldn't exist if she hadn't been on the lucky end of life's resources was beyond meaningful.

I'd expected helping the people of Alianza Real to be the most significant part of the trip. Yet watching my daughter mature affected my heart even more. I never meant to receive more than I gave, but between a renewed appreciation for my blessings, bonding with Alex, making incredible new friends, and reconnecting to Yale, it definitely turned out that way.

Continued support is the only way to keep Alianza Real moving forward. I share my experience to pass the baton. Join the next service tour to Monterrey, and my group's five days of making a difference doubles; the enthusiasm that envelops your group when you return will encourage others and ten days will become fifteen, and on and on, an infinite ripple. The cumulative effect of service and partnership will make what we leave behind for others as precious and permanent as what we take away for ourselves -- the meaning and memory of which will outlast those of any vacation spent on a beach towel.

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