As we pulled up to a village called Lukulu, Zambia, Africa, the sign read “The land of plenty.” All I could think was, “for their motto being ‘the land of plenty,’ they really don’t have much.” As my two week mission trip in this village started, I discovered how completely wrong I was.

I recently took my first international trip to a village in Africa with 14 strangers who would soon become family members to me. Last year, I applied for the mission trip through my city and I had no idea the impact it would have on me. For years, it had been something I always wanted to do, yet I never had the chance. Maybe I was afraid of how it might impact my comfortable life or maybe, I was just really great at making excuses and letting other things in my life take over.


Before I left for my mission trip, many people asked me why I was doing it or what I hoped to accomplish. All I could say was that I had no idea, but that I knew I needed to help and needed to change my own life. Our team worked for countless months to collect donations and put on fundraisers to help us raise money. We were able to bring more than 30 bags of donation items with us, along with donation money. And, we were able to help do multiple projects for the village. I had hoped our impact would be huge — and it was —, but what I didn’t expect was the impact it would have on me. I met some of the most amazing, selfless individuals there and multiple children who stole my heart.

In the middle of the trip, I was still unsure about why exactly I made the decision to go. I thought it would become clearer, just as we always hope things in our lives do.

In the end, it all became clear. It changed my whole perspective on my life and made me feel very lucky to always have running water, a great job, a home and many clothing choices.

But, what I learned surpasses being grateful for how lucky I am. Here is what they taught me and what I learned:

People love differently: There are different ways that people love in this world and it is important to understand the type of love each person gives. It is also important to understand how much love you should give others.

Become open-minded: Not everyone is like you. The trip taught me to be open to new experiences because I had no idea what it would be like. If you are open minded, your outlook for your own life will change as well.

Embrace life: Embrace other cultures, the people around you and the experiences — all of these things will help you to become a better person.

Strive for inner change: During this trip, I wanted to make a difference and help others but I learned that I needed to make inner changes as well. Every day, I now strive to do that for myself.

Value: Value what other people do for you and the pride they take dedicate to things they personally work toward. When I was able to see how people in Africa valued their skills and different things in life, I realized that even the smallest things in life should be valued.

Small gifts are also big gifts: Never underestimate what you can do for others — a small gesture goes a long way. From giving a girl a dress to holding children’s hands, as we walked in the village, to watching a few of our men teach boys how to mix concrete, all these seemingly small things came across as huge gifts.

Surround yourself with good: During my trip, I realized with whom I wanted to surround myself. The people I met would have done anything for me during my trip and I was able to realize who would do the same for me in my life and who wouldn’t.

Believe: When you are in doubt about something in your life, follow your heart to your personal values and standards. Your true values won’t lead you the wrong way because they exist to mold you into the person you want to be.

Become less selfish: Sometimes, even the most selfless people you know seem selfish once you meet people who give, even when they have nothing. I watched a little girl share her lunch, which was only a piece of bread, with others, not because she wanted an award, but because it was the right thing to do. I watched a lady give up her whole life to helping malnourished children, who would not have survived past six months without her program. What would you share? Could you share more?

This trip taught me so much about the impact I am able to make on the less fortunate. I now understand why the village of Lukulu, Zambia, Africa is called ‘the land of plenty.’