SO true, right?
~Volunteer (noun), ‘a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.’
Wild, sensitive, and headstrong surfer/volunteers giving back to the community.
“None of this is possible without everybody coming together. I mean, these people are a little crazy to commit to a week of their vacation time, to pay for their flight –they pay extra to come down here, and work mixing cement, carrying buckets of gravel, on this hot weather… And: THAT’S ‘vacation’. Crazy people are the ones making things happen!”
These words were eloquently expressed by an AMAZING human being. My new buddy, who I’m honored to have met a few months ago, Lissette.
Lissette Perez, from Southern California with Cuban-Salvadoran parents. She’s in her early 30’s, a shining example of what an empowered super woman combined with a wide-eyed sweet girl should look like.
She has been living and working in El Salvador for the past 6 years, where she co-owns and runs Azul Surf Club. A beautiful tropical comfy beachfront surf hotel in the tiny coastal town of El Cuco, El Salvador.
She has become a thriving business woman with eagle eye awareness. Fully equipped with both UC Berkeley and flawless street smarts under her belt. She grew up accomplishing her lifelong goal of volunteering overseas (and still is).
Hardheaded and untiring, always seeking for creative ways of living a socially-conscious existence. She has been described by her peers as both sweet and tough. Always carrying a bright smile on her face that reveals her instinctive wisdom, sensitivity, and clarity –plus a ‘stoked with life’ vibe!
Lissette says, ever since she can remember her family’s modus vivendi has been all about helping others. She has gained the virtue of intuitively recognizing what is lacking around her in the community. Then sets herself the intention of doing whatever is needed to fill in the gap and bring harmony and balance to the equation.
That’s how she created The Soul Project.
Working in collaboration with Surf for Life, they’ve built El Cuco’s first high school ever with the help of several surfer volunteers, and a couple of über-talented carpenters/surfers to come in and build new solid wood desks for the students. (Wooden surfboard builders, perhaps?)
Last year, Lissette found enough resources and volunteers to help build a communal bridge for the school children. They literally had to cross a river to get to school every day (which is waist high on rainy season).
Throughout the year she collects donations for school materials, meals, and other essential necessities for the kids. Handouts are sent to her from friends or strangers abroad and from guests that stay at the hotel who are stoked to get the chance to contribute. Most of the times she gathers the money from her own pocket, which she obtains from savings earned through Azul Surf Club.
Kids are, and have always been, Lissette’s number one priority.
Btw, I love this idea she came up with: a ‘Drive-by’ Santa for Christmas. Just picture how that one goes. (She wears the Santa suit!)
The next challenge she’s got up her sleeve: To build an outpatient clinic for the community.
She’s currently looking for volunteers for this project now. 😉 Interested, anyone? She says that if you gather together a group of seven of your buddies and want to come down to volunteer with The Soul Project, you can all stay for free at her hotel –hard to say no to that, trust me!
Do we want our surf trips to count MORE for something other than our own gratification?
Why don’t we discuss ways we IMPACT the community around us when we go on surf trips.
“Let’s not forget that everybody’s on vacation, OTHER than the locals. Let’s be conscious. If you’re gonna come in, make sure to leave a good footprint,” points out Lissette.
When we’re away on holidays, we usually focus on how WE are being treated (by hotel and restaurant staff, local surfers in the water, people on the streets.)
Let’s take a moment here to consider the other side of the coin, how are we treating THEM? The working class local community, whose jobs are, after all, mostly focused on serving us, the visitor.
What impressions are we leaving behind?
Let’s not forget these are amazing people who have lived all their lives on these newly-discovered coastal towns, we’ve chosen to travel to. Towns and villages which happen to have phenomenal waves right outside their backyards.
Local people who’ve been born and raised there, with big families and kids going to school. Who are just trying their best to lead their day-to-day lives as normally as they possibly can and as they’ve only known how to: very simply.
Humble men, women and kids who will only get ONE: first and only impression of us. So, let’s try and be conscious of the example we’re putting out there.
Do you remember what was it like growing up at home around other surfers?
You looked up to them. Wanted to imitate them. Not just on the water. You wanted to walk and talk like these coolest dudes ever.
Let’s be more responsible about how we act around local kids and teenagers. They look up to us, like big brothers (or sisters!). They seek our attention and approval, and it’s up to us to influence them well and teach them values.
So, “if you want to give them stuff (clothes you don’t use, surfboards, sneakers), that’s awesome, but please don’t give it ALL to the ‘cool surfer punk kids’ who hang out around you all day long! Also try and find the hardworking kids who go to school everyday and who help out their families at home,“ Lissette advises.
Respect the locals, especially on the waves.
The majority of local surfers are hard working people. Most likely they’ve had to work all day, and if they only have one hour to surf, let’s try and give them that nice spot while they’re out there surfing on their free time.
Be aware of what businesses you’re supporting.
Remember that ‘consciousness is created’. You have the power to choose how you’re spending your money.
“Ask the people at the hotels/hostels you’re planning on staying at, if they give back to the community. Choose to stay with someone who’s doing something worthwhile, socially and environmentally,” Lissette adds. “Set the example. That way you will help other hotels want to imitate the socially conscious ones and set the example too.”
It turns into a chain reaction.
It’s important to ‘get out there’.
If you have a week’s stay, it only takes a couple of hours tops; to go out, explore the area, and give back to the places and people you see fit.
Lissette shares some ideas, “Bring an old laptop down and give it to the local school. Take a bottle of aspirin and give it to the clinic. Bring with you clothes from back home that you don’t wear anymore, give it to the church.”
Definitely, doable stuff that makes a big difference.
All those little choices you take, make a huge impact to the community around you and your surf trip.
“If every single person picked one thing they were passionate about and if everybody committed just four hours a month, let’s say, one hour a week; if everybody could do that, the world would be exponentially a better place.”
Thank you, Lissette for sharing this knowledge with us and for being so awesome.
Like we say at Wave Tribe, “doing the right thing is always a good thing (and it feels good, too!)”
Let’s get out there and share the stoke!