Contributed by Ashley Franklin
April 2, 2016

It’s a cliché saying – “the first step is the hardest part” – but it’s so true.

When I was 16 and in the 10th grade, in the fall of 2013, my mom asked if I would like to go to the town of Ishinomaki, Japan, and volunteer. The city had been devastated by the March 2011 tsunami and the people were in the process of rebuilding their city. I was so nervous because I had never done anything like it before. Despite my secret insecurities and personal doubts of my abilities (I’m just a kid, what use will I be?), I decided to go with my mom and a small group of about ten people up to Ishinomaki.

The drive up was about six hours in a rental van. I was both excited and nervous as I sat in the back seat, trying to pass the time by looking out the window or taking naps.

I had no idea what was to come.projects to change the world

Even with leaders who had been to the town before, we didn’t know exactly what we would be doing on this trip, which was only more nerve-wracking for me.

When we finally arrived, we went to the volunteer house where we would be getting our daily assignments (Ishinomaki Christian Center). The volunteers that ran the organization immediately put us to work clearing the foundation of a former house across the street. The lot was to become a parking lot, and we were there to knock out the remaining cement (literally, we had sledge hammers and everything).

We got dirty, wet, and sweaty, but we were doing what we went there to do – help others.

helping Ishinomaki

That’s me – wet and dirty.

The rest of the trip was full of weed-whacking old farmers’ fields, picking up trash, and stringing shells for fishermen. I was by no means an expert in any of the activities we completed, but I sure felt better after doing them!
It’s no overstatement when I say that this first trip changed my life forever. After I returned home, I had a burning desire to go back. I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the great experiences I’d had and how I’d love to relive the entire trip.

It moved me in a way I hadn’t felt before, and I realized it was something I wanted to keep doing for the rest of my life.

Luckily, since my first trip to Ishinomaki in 2013, I have been able to return to the amazing city three more times (total of four trips). Since then, the parking lot has been completed and we even parked our later rental vans there – in the very spot where I began my volunteer work.

Imagining what I would be like without these influential volunteer trips is impossible. It’s become such a big part of who I am and what I hope to do in the future; and it all began with that first step.

Now that I’m back in the United States and in college, it’s become SO HARD to fit this kind of volunteering into my life – and there’s no way my college budget will pay for a trip to Japan (or Sudan, or Syria, or…). Yet I still have this total drive to DO something. So guess what’s amazing?? NOW YOU CAN. Yep. Now there are projects you can do, from your dorm room, that will make a huge impact on this world of ours. Get this awesome free download of my three fave Aina projects (guess what??? One of them is to help those people in Ishinomaki!!), and DO something, right now, TODAY, to change the world.

projects to change the world

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