Lessons in Gratitude, Community, and Transformation
Topics: NAESP Partner
NAESP has participated in the Lifetouch Memory Mission trips since 2011. Each year, approximately four members are selected to join other educators and Lifetouch employees from across North America on a week-long humanitarian trip.
This year, Lifetouch partnered with Guatemala-based Hug It Forward to help a local community build a “bottle school.” Hug It Forward builds these schools with typical foundations and framing, but instead of cinder blocks, they use “eco-bricks” to fill the walls. Eco-bricks are plastic bottles stuffed with inorganic trash. The schools are expected to last 100 years.
Agua Escondida is a K-6 school that has 640 students and 20 teachers. The community stuffed more than 10,000 bottles. Each eco-brick takes about 2 hours to prepare, so the community spent more than 20,000 hours preparing for the project.
A Transformational Experience
Dave Steckler, NAESP president and principal of Red Trail Elementary, Mandan, North Dakota, was one of the volunteers. “I’m a firm believer it’s our true nature to help others in need,” he said. “Nobody is an island, and as the saying goes, we can’t survive in the world alone. My trip was an inspirational experience that taught me to value what I have, as well as gave me an opportunity to give of myself. This experience filled my heart with happiness, understanding and gratitude!”
“Regardless of the material things we have, nothing means more than the love of culture and community we can build,” said Nicole Ey, 2022 NAESP National Distinguished Principal and principal of Ellenville Elementary in Ellenville, New York. “The sense of community is sometimes lost in our American lives, but I got to experience it while on the Memory Mission. I left Guatemala with the mindset to live in the present, listen more, and continue to lead with an open heart.”
Tom Payton, principal of Roanoke Avenue Elementary in Riverhead, New York, said, “I am principal of a school that is majority Guatemalan immigrants. The community hike was so powerful and transformational for me. It gave us a window into the families’ everyday lives and allowed me to connect more with my students back home after seeing and experiencing the place where many of them had come from.”
“You have to apply for the 2024 Lifetouch Memory Mission. The tagline for the mission is Build a School. Change Lives. I promise after the trip the life you change the most is your own,” Payton said.
To learn more and to apply for the 2024 Memory Mission, visit www.lifetouchmemorymission.com.