For JJ Brewer-Schell, volunteering is more than a passion, it is a way to teach her daughter that she is a part of a world that extends far beyond her home in Ahwatukee. Brewer-Schell has been volunteering her time for more than seven years to go abroad and contribute what she can to often neglected areas of the world as part of several non-profit organizations’ missions. Her latest trip brought her to a portion of the world that until recently has been hidden away from Americans – Cuba.
Working with the spiritual non-profit Hope 4 Kids International (H4KI), based out of Phoenix, Brewer-Schell traveled to Cuba in October to help with an ambassador mission that is meant to maintain good ties with the community, in this case Havana, and set the foundation for a long-term partnership with several towns in Cuba.
“Cuba being a communist country you go with a specific idea of what you expect things to look like, and I certainly came with a definite perspective of what it should be like,” Brewer-Schell said. “My first impression was actually that things looked pretty nice compared to what I had seen elsewhere in Latin America, but when you got deeper into Cuba you began seeing that darker side of what being cut off from the rest of the world does.”
As part of the trip, H4KI found 50 children from the community to “sponsor,” connecting them with individuals and families in America that help put them through school and offering a much needed education for the poorer classes of Cuba.
These children, Brewer-Schell said, really hone in perspective, forcing volunteers to wonder what the cause of this poverty is. She had one particular experience from her first trip with the group four years ago to Uganda that helped make her acutely aware of the inequity between the developed and developing world.
“It was when I was on that trip when I found myself holding a young girl who was exactly my daughter’s age only she weighed about half of what my daughter did,” she said. “It was then that I knew that the only difference between the two was they were born on other sides of the world.”
It can be difficult to convince the local residents that they can fulfill all the promises they are making, having experienced promises from charities before that fell to the wayside. H4KI is different, said Brewer-Schell.
“They don’t go and raise expectations then leave them with no assets,” she said. “If they set up a well they set up a community that can maintain the well and will take care of it and continue operations long after they have left.”
Those ties have already been made by her, as she has chosen to be the sponsor for one of the children in Havana who she became close with.
“They are a real living person that we are able to make connections with,” Brewer-Schell said. “In Cuba I became the sponsor for a young girl, Daniela, and when I go back to help with further missions I will be able to see her again and know this is the person that is benefitting from my work.”
Being able to have long-lasting relationships is something she values greatly, in fact, next year she hopes to travel back to Uganda to dedicate a well she financed for a village there, a well she named after her father. Until then, she hopes that she can continue to instill the value of charity in her daughter every day, changing the viewpoint of those too isolated from the suffering of others.
“People often only want to give money when they expect some benefit, and I like to think that by giving my time and money I can feel that benefit almost immediately because we are all a part of one big world,” Brewer-Schell said. “I think if everyone thought more globally it would make a better world.”
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