Profile: Danielle Donkers

Making a difference

danielle_donkersCrafts with Thai children, eating pad thai for breakfast, snorkeling, and spending the time of my life with amazing girls.

These are a few of many memories that come to mind when I think of Thailand.

It has been over a year since I was a volunteer with Brescia’s Alternative Break Program, and the experience continues to impact my life every day in ways I never expected.

The program was a big commitment, involving a great deal of learning and preparation even before the trip. Through weekly meetings, bake sales, and special events, the members of the group were able to bond and become good friends. This positive group dynamic made us feel more comfortable about traveling so far away. Through group meetings, I also learned more about the country’s history, language, culture, and issues of social injustice than any other place I have visited. I became even more passionate and excited as the trip got closer.

Finally, after six months and several long flights, we arrived. Baan Home Hug Orphanage was our first location, and we were greeted with smiling faces and so much enthusiasm. Using no words of English, the mothers of the orphanage and children taught me strength, selfless living, and perseverance. Living in their home was a constant reminder that happiness does not exist in material possessions but in who we are, who we surround ourselves with, and how we choose to express love and kindness.

We spent two amazing weeks with the children playing games, doing crafts, and teaching swimming. After a heartfelt goodbye, we traveled to a beach for a very different volunteer experience. We cleaned up beaches and planted coral in the ocean and mangrove trees along the shore. We learned first-hand how the environment is affected by our lifestyles of consumption and waste.

As I returned home and continued living my normal life, I wondered if my time spent in Thailand actually made a difference. Did the people I meet remember my smile as much as I remember theirs? Did the coral and mangroves I planted help the environment? I came to realize that the biggest change was within me from this experience; and that today, what I continue to do with my knowledge is how I can still make a difference thousands of miles away from where it all began. When I tell my story, I hope others will learn something from my experience, or even be inspired to participate in something similar. I encourage you to take advantage of an opportunity like Alternative Break and all the other wonderful things Brescia has to offer.

Danielle Donkers is a third-year Family Studies student at Brescia