I can be a pretty rigid person. I sort of like things a certain way, and my brain has an annoying tendency of shutting down when it’s (dumb) “rules” are violated. Knowing this, I work extra hard at pushing myself to be flexible in difficult situations, even when it’s scary. Actually, especially when it’s scary, because the scare means that I’m growing and changing. And I have changed, from the nearly-paralyzed state of my rainbow-order-obsessed youth to someone who can tolerate an unfolded pile of laundry for days on end. Flexibility is a journey, though, and there’s always more flex to be had.

I write about this today because, as I sat down to do a little blogging about our meeting the other day, my thoughts just kept coming back to how non-linear these sorts of things are, and how embarking on an international service trip offers opportunities to get up close and personal with all different types of flexibility demonstrated by all different types of people in all different types of situations. Like . . .

Heather, with her wonderful schedule of meeting topics and how she so deftly switches the agenda to cover what we need to cover in any given moment. As we meandered about, talking about group pairings and points to cover in our training sessions in Ecuador, I sweated, wanting answers. I reminded myself of “the journey” and took comfort in Heather’s ease. If she was worried that we were off-track, she sure didn’t show it. I admire that immensely.

And our little team, flung hither and yon, patiently waiting as we worked out the technological solutions to our geographical challenges. Google Hangouts, iPads, laptops, AppleTV, AirPlay, phones, g-chat, texting, Google Drive, Evernote, they all came into play in the first 30 minutes of our meeting. And this amazing team — they’re up for trying anything, problem solving, and laughing while we do it.

The Carpe Diem folks, who gathered the videos of the Esparanza para todos students and staff that we had the great fortune to watch this week. It wasn’t in their original Ecuadorian game plan to visit our site, and it certainly wasn’t on their agenda to hang out, take videos, and send them back to us. And yet, they heard our request, saw a need, and changed their plans to help us out. Our team watched the videos with rapt attention, wanting to watch again, bursting out with observations and ideas and questions at the conclusion of each one. Was that a request? He just labeled in English and Spanish! Can we work on feeding? Ooooooh my, that little guy is busy! What’s their staffing ratio? I wonder if we could dampen sound in that room? We’re forever indebted to Carpe Diem, for it gave us our first glimpse at our Ecuadorian colleagues and students.

And, of course, the Esparanza para todos staff that we watched on the videos. They answered a few questions for us, which is how we learned that some are special education professionals in their own right, with many years of experience. They want to know more about ASD, Down’s Syndrome, and challenging behavior. What I find remarkable, though, is that they’re open to a group of foreigners coming into their workplace to share knowledge. That’s flexibility in the extreme. And a fair dose of courage and grace as well.

I watched the trees outside Heather’s apartment window during the meeting. A storm was coming in, and they seemed to bend almost in half, their lower branches skimming the sidewalk below. Flexibility is what trees do, isn’t it? They rely on their strong roots to hold firm in the soil while their small branches absorb the energy of the wind, bowing and flexing with each gust. What a lovely metaphor for this trip. Our roots — families, communities, professional knowledge, clinical practice — allowing us the flexibility to to stretch, to grow, and, yes, even be blown about a bit on this remarkable journey.


ecuadorThis post is part of our series documenting our forthcoming international service trip to Baños, Ecuador. You can read our other entries here, and be sure to check back often for future updates.