WARREN, Ohio (The Business Journal) – Students from the Warren and Youngstown chapters of Inspiring Minds took an “exposure trip” to El Salvador from May 28 to June 2, the first group to take an international trip with the organization.
While in El Salvador, students immersed into the culture by exploring the country, trying new foods, learning Spanish, visiting international universities and interacting with El Salvadorans.
“I think introducing young people to different cultures is so important,” says Deryck Toles, founder and CEO of Inspiring Minds. “We teach our kids to appreciate and embrace their heritage, but understanding other cultures is critical in creating well-rounded, empathetic adults.”
Toles says one of his favorite parts of any exposure experience is seeing students willing try new things for the first time. For some it was their first plane ride, first time outside the country, first time on an island, first time in the ocean, first time trying plantains and mangos, first time taking a week’s worth of cold showers, and first time seeing a volcano.
But the trip had a more profound effect on the students, beyond trying new things and embracing new experiences.
“It opened my eyes because I really noticed how people can come together and make something out of nothing,” says 12-year-old Nadia Simms, “and maybe more people can do that here and not take the things we have for granted.”
Adds 17-year-old and recent high school graduate, Danajah Colemaid, “First, we need to find the people who are suffering and offer them assistance, make them feel welcome, make them feel like they’re important, and there’s a reason they’re here.”
While in El Salvador, students got to interact with multiple women-led projects fighting for basic human rights such as clean water, food, education and quality of life. They heard their stories, witnessed their daily struggles and participated in some activities to better understand their way of life.
“I think after this trip I’m going to be less selfish and more giving,” observes 18 year-old and high school graduate, Richard Downing. “When I give I give a little, but when they give they give a lot, they gave us their last. It inspired me to be a better person.”
The organization partnered with International Partners in Mission, which has been conducting international immersion trips around the world for over 40 years.
A portion of the trip was funded by a grant from The Raymond John Wean Foundation and the rest of the funds were raised through donations and fundraisers.
Another major donor for the trip was Bill Siderewicz, president of Clean Energy Future LLC.
“When I heard about the incredible opportunity these students had, I knew I needed to be a part of making it happen,” says Siderewicz, “because these are the types of opportunities that change lives.”
The organization looks forward to taking more international trips and exposing more students to different cultures in the future.
Since 2006, IM has served more than 3,000 students, visited 70 cities in 15 states, toured over 80 colleges and explored more than 70 companies across the country.