What it Means to Lead a Fulfilling Life

On Thursday, our group diverged from the standard worksite day to spend time experiencing a unique lifestyle in Jamaica: The Rastafarian way of life. For the past week, we have been building an addition to the Higher Heights Academy, a school in Savanna La Mar for 2 to 5-year-olds. Each day at the worksite, we were digging the area for the foundation, hand mixing concrete, and adding a roof to an existing part of the school. We broke up our week at the worksite and drove out to the rural country. Our guide for the day, Fire, led us away from the busy city life and into his home in the mountains.

Fire tells us he has been living in the mountains for 36 years as he leads us down a road that quickly transitions to an overgrown, steep path. He is 59 years old and has large, calloused hands and deep smile wrinkles around his mouth. He is lean from his strictly vegetarian diet and moves surprisingly quick through the rough terrain. We stop halfway through the hike to a natural spring hidden by high grass. “From the earth” he says as we stoop down to fill our water bottles.

We arrive at his house at the top of a ridge in the mountain. It is a large house elevated above the volcanic rocks. There is a second floor that is held up only by small posts; everything used to build the house came from the jungle. There are no walls, so the breeze passes straight through, jingling the knickknacks he has hanging on the posts similar to the trees right next to us. The house is isolated in nature, but he is able to lead a good life, he tells us, because everything comes from the earth. He farms crops like tomatoes, plantains and yams and picks fruit like papaya and soursop. He describes the cities as too distracting, too confusing for his life. He came up to the mountain to meditate and enjoy the quietness. This life in the mountains, he says, makes him happier. As he is telling us his story, he smiles incessantly and adds in many “Yaa Man.” The rest of us can’t help but match his energy.

I figured that such a life in the mountains would be a simple and lonely life, but it is clear that Fire has a busy and socially vibrant life. He leads us to his bedroom, and we see stacks of books scattered around. Another Rastafarian in the area even came over to hang out with him while he gives us a tour. He mediates often, repairs his house, prepares meals, hosts guests, tends to his crops, and occasionally goes into the city for supplies and visits friends. He has enough guests that visit him to warrant an additional bed next to his. Fire leads a fulfilling life because he is connected. He is connected to the earth, and to the local villagers and fellow Rastafarians. He likes living out here because he knows everyone and there is an air of care for each other. 

As I reflect on the trip, I find myself thinking critically about what it means to lead a fulfilling life. For Fire, he finds ultimate fulfillment in the connectedness of his world. Fire and I lead completely different lives, but we were able to have joyous conversations and laugh about mutual topics. By spending the afternoon with Fire, certain aspects of what I find fulfilling were challenged. These exchanges of ideas about lifestyles are important to have to refine our ideas of ourselves.

After spending an hour or so at his house, Fire led us down the mountain. He fist bumped us and said goodbye by saying “Irie”: everything is balanced and well.

Alexander Torres, Lehigh ’21

A Life Without Technology

Thursday brought with it a realization that it is possible to lead a happy life without a phone, TV or other technology that we don’t even notice using on a daily basis. We met a Rastafarian man who moved out to the top of the mountain from the city when he was 23 years old and has survived in the self-made home for over 36 years. He knew the mountain like the back of his hand and was so happy with all that he has accomplished. This is all without the basic things in our society like iPhones or headphones. Seeing how happy the Rastafarian was with his lifestyle, it has motivated me to try to set down the phone more often and fully experience the world around.

Josh Anderson, Iowa State ’22

Finding the True Meaning of Service

Today, the students and teachers of Higher Heights Academy gathered together to throw a party for us in appreciation of our work throughout the week and to celebrate the third anniversary of DU’s partnership with them. I was amazed by the appreciation and respect that was shown toward us. We formed a true bond with the kids, and all of us came out of the experience with rejuvenated spirits and a renewed excitement for life. Seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces every time we showed up to the school energized us all to do our best work every day. 

By the end of the week, we learned how valuable service can be both to the community and the servers. We learned that service is not a form of “helping” or “fixing” because that implies that something is wrong with the community. Instead, service is an interaction that mutually benefits all parties. We could see that idea in action this week as the school had an equally large impact on us as we had on them. I grew to understand that service is not only a way to benefit a community in need, but also to develop immensely powerful character traits and a renewed passion for the things that matter most in life. All the best from GSI Jamaica January 2020!

William Drury, Cal Poly ’22

Check out our latest blog…

Check out our latest blog posts from our brothers on the GSI trip this week!


Simply Happy

Today was an incredible and eye-opening experience for me. We started the day at a local gift shop. Seeing how genuinely excited the owners were to have us there was incredible. Their hospitality was astonishing, and the amount of local, handcrafted souvenirs was great to see. Going to Zimbali (a mountain retreat) was an experience like no other. This retreat was a beautiful complex with nature all around you, with handcrafted pillars and a lot of unique art. We then hiked up the mountain and saw how the local Rastas live, and it reminded me that there are much more simpler things in life. They don’t need many material things or a lavish lifestyle to have a fulfilling life. I now see that it’s not all about the hustle and bustle, and you must take time to enjoy what truly makes you happy.  The views from atop the mountain were breathtaking, and my favorite part of the hike was drinking straight from a natural spring. The culture here in Jamaica amazes me, and it makes me want to go out and experience how the rest of the world lives. 

Kyle Bals, Missouri ’22

Stressless Living

Today, I got to experience part of the Rastafarian lifestyle. I didn’t have much exposure before, but after hiking up the mountain to see their home, it made me realize that being content with your lifestyle and finding happiness in life doesn’t depend on what you have. Living a lifestyle with less can make you feel less stressed because you don’t have many standards to compare to other than your own. This was exemplified in our trip to the Rastafarian’s simple home and lifestyle at the top of the mountain. This experience makes me have more appreciation for what I have and take for granted. It also makes me appreciate and respect other ways of living. 

Patrick Ervin, Maryland ’21

My Return Trip on GSI

I approached a return trip on GSI with no small amount of trepidation. Having turned 60 this year and having worked 35 years at a desk job, I’m not well suited to manual labor. But I am overwhelmed and surprised at the positive quality of my GSI experience the second time around.

We are adding a classroom and computer lab addition to the school. We are at Higher Heights Academy about 40 minutes outside of Negril. There is no way to describe the differences between the physical school structures in Jamaica compared to those we are used to in the U.S., but everyone at the school, from teachers and staff to the kids and parents, are extremely kind and complimentary. DU has had a presence at the school for a few years now, and I’d estimate it has quadrupled in size during that time.

The usual tools and conveniences we are used to in the States are missing. So, we dig a trench ourselves with pick axes and shovels. We cut rebar by hand. And we mix cement by hand. Make no mistake in a couple respects: it’s back-breaking work, and I deferred to undergrads one third my age, but I did my best. I am incredibly proud of the efforts of our undergraduate brothers. Their work ethic and involvement with the students at Higher Heights is inspiring. Some even brought old Matchbox cars and other items to share with the Higher Heights students. Their interactions have been priceless.

GSI is celebrating 10 years of service-based opportunities to DU undergrads. It is an award-winning program, one that is an incredible asset to the Fraternity. All of us can be proud of it in the abstract. But the opportunity to participate first hand is compelling. The firsthand experience of serving others is powerful. The impact of your efforts is immediately apparent.

The experience of participating in GSI is one I wish everyone had a chance to experience. To serve others is powerful in itself. To observe the caliber of our undergraduates is inspiring. It is an honor to work beside them and call them brothers.

Robert S. Lannin, Nebraska ’81

Surrounded by Purpose

During the middle days of a service trip, many participants may begin to feel complacent as days become increasingly repetitive and the novelty of fresh cultural experiences begins to wear. That is what I expected today—breakfast, for example, has been the same each day.

I was excited, then, to feel a general sense of positivity and—perhaps most surprisingly—an undercurrent of energy around our big breakfast table this morning. Upon exiting my sleeping quarters, I felt the refreshing Jamaican breeze rush through my hair. Although breakfast was the same as yesterday, it seems to taste better as the week goes on. Actually, that’s a perfect way to describe how my trip has felt so far. As the days pass, my experiences grow, and my knowledge and understanding of my surroundings improves, I begin to appreciate each small detail more and more. So this morning, I served myself the same bacon, eggs, hash browns, collard greens, and fruit that I did yesterday. But it tasted better.

When my roommates and I returned from breakfast, we were locked out of our room, causing us to be late for the bus to the worksite. Being late to the bus stinks because you have to sit in the middle chairs, which are significantly less comfortable than the chairs on either side of the bus. Still, I found my bus ride even more moving than in previous days.

I have become hyper-aware of my surroundings. We pass a little bit of everything going to the worksite, and in many ways, Wednesday morning in Negril isn’t too different from Wednesday morning in my hometown. Children of all ages eagerly, anxiously commute to school. Workers emerge from their homes and look forward to what the day holds. A general sense of anticipation persists within the community, and the same was true on our bus full of twenty-something DUs from all over.

Arriving at the worksite, we knew the hard work that lay ahead—mixing concrete. However, I have found that the harder we work, the easier the day seems. Each participant forms stronger bonds from shared toil and physical stress. It is almost impossible to be in a bad mood at the worksite because of the kids! Their joy and positivity and openness have impressed me more each day. Often, I find myself reluctantly forcing myself to return to work because I have spent too much time playing.

The time at the worksite is definitely the highlight of the trip. However, today was somewhat of a blur. Throughout the day, I was consumed with my duties regardless of how mundane the task at hand may have been, whereas on day one, I found myself counting the minutes until we could return to the Whistling Bird. 

Today I was heavily reminded of a quote I see nearly every day in school: “Life is service—the one who progresses is the one who gives his fellow men a little more—a little better service” (E.M. Statler). I get way more out of whatever I’m doing when I understand the purpose/context/impact. None of those have to be huge in scope either. I’m beginning to truly understand service as a two-way road—I experience more personal growth as I invest more of myself into my work and produce at a higher level.

We ended the day with our usual walks on the beach, dinner, reflection and social time. I’m going to miss the worksite and kids tomorrow but am excited for our cultural excursion. The beauty of Jamaica, the friendliness of its people, and the Delta Upsilon program help cultivate a deep understanding of purpose in the participants on this trip. I’m beginning to see that, and tomorrow I’m excited to see everyone grow even more!

Werner Bradshaw, Cornell ’20

United by Service

Today we got to finally put in the concrete. After Tuesday, not feeling like we accomplished much, it felt really nice to see a large amount of progress even though yesterday had important progress made too. I really enjoyed our bucket line (moving rock and sand to use to make the concrete) at the end of the day since we got to work super efficiently and not get tired out as quickly. It made me realize how, even though we are all from different parts of America and Canada, we all have the same goal in mind. Because of this, we got to work better as a team even more than we did yesterday. Today, I felt like we really clicked and became a real team united by the same goal. 

Zach Bonus, Michigan Tech ’21

Happiness at Higher Heights Academy

Today, just like any other day here in Negril, we woke up early and took the bus to Higher Heights Academy. Here we continued to build the newest addition to the school building. With the trench for the foundation already being dug, we cut and tied rebar so that we could pour the foundation. While we were there, we had an opportunity to play with some of the kids at the school. Every time we show up to give them attention, they absolutely eat it up. I have never seen a group of children act so overjoyed to be at school. Something that really stuck out to me is the children’s burning desire for personal interaction. If you pick up one of the kids, 30 other kids will run to your side and beg you to pick them up too. They are just so easily entertained, but they are so obviously happy to be there. It gives me motivation to keep working to better Higher Heights Academy for them. 

Alex Freiberg, Iowa State ’22

Work Progress and Recess

Today, after we got to the school, we picked up right where we had left off. A big group of us started by digging the final touches to the trench. Another group spent the vast majority sawing the rebar and making sure it was securely connected to formed metals. After all of this was done, we started putting everything together. We will have just a few more beams to add when we get back to the school tomorrow. While the beams were being set, the whole group took part in an assembly line of passing sand and rocks to set a platform. This was my favorite part of the work we’ve done since we arrived here because it took every member that was there to finish the task. We did it rather quickly because we all knew our role. I left the worksite taking pictures to keep track of our progress. It amazed me how much work we’ve already done in helping to build up a foundation for the new classroom.

My favorite part of my day was the little break we took to play with the kids at their recess. It was humbling to see the happiness that every toy or piece of equipment brought them, even if it was not a ton of items. Another aspect of the day that stuck with me was the attitude of the kids all throughout the day. They are encouraged to express their love for Jesus. They sing and revolve their day around Our Lord. The staff and students attack every moment of the day with the same enthusiasm. It is an attitude that we should be having anywhere we go, and one that I will start incorporating into my daily life when I return from this mission trip.

Will Swanson, Kansas State ’22 

Meaningful Service

The day started with early wakeup for 7:15 breakfast. After breakfast and a brief return to our rooms, we departed to the worksite at 8.

The work today was more arduous than yesterday. To begin with, we were working with direct sunlight. I began by shoveling to even out the ground in the middle of the foundation. After, I spent a lot of time cutting rebar or holding for others to cut.

Toward the end of the day, we had to raise some of the ground, so we moved soil and gravel via a bucket line. At first, I was using a wheelbarrow and moving large loads, and later I participated in the line.

Right before lunch and also towards the end of the day, we got to play with the kids. They were excited to meet us and play with us. They wanted us to pick them up and help them seesaw and lots of other things. I talked with a child named Ajani, who showed me his homework and spelling test.

While the work was occasionally tough, it was rewarding. Hanging out with the kids was extremely valuable for me, since I got to spend time with the beneficiaries of our work. At the same time, I gained a lot of inspiration from their cheerful and energetic personalities. It gave me motivation to keep working.  

Through the method of service, I was able to make connections with kids I never would have made otherwise. Although we are building them a classroom, I also benefited from meeting them and seeing their energy.

Brendan Sullivan, Cornell ’22

The Vibrance of Global Citizenship

Today was our first day at the work site on the Higher Heights school property. The first thing that caught my eye was the vibrant colors of the school and amazing creativity you can see in the foundation of this establishment. They had a playground that was constructed with what is close to scrap material, but the way it looked and impacted the children was incredible.

That was the next thing that impressed me; the children’s spirits were awesome. We walked over as they were singing their morning songs and welcoming us as visitors—all with the biggest smiles on their faces as they seemed so stoked that we were there. And interacting with them only supported that first impression. The energy they brought me throughout the day helped me endure any hard work or obstacles our team faced on the site. It was so inspiring to experience the difference that past teams have made and—in time—the difference we can make on this community.

In closing, the preschool staff welcomed us as we unloaded the bus and talked about the development of their school through our organization’s service to them, which honestly blew me away the most. It is so awesome to just hear these stories about how only one person can create a ripple effect that transforms into something so much larger than themselves; and it is even better to experience this hands-on. This was our opening day, and not only did I enjoy being a part of this project, but I have become more excited about the remainder of the work to be done.

John Leone, Cal Poly ’20

Being Resourceful

Waking up on the third day, I felt very excited because on the schedule was going to the worksite for the first time. I have previous experience working construction, so I was looking forward to seeing the similarities and differences between what I’ve done and working in Jamaica. I went in expecting us to have a clear goal set for the day and distinct jobs for everyone but I was not sure what to expect in terms of the tools or methods we’d use to complete the job. That last part was by far the biggest surprise and eye opener for me. The reason for that was because midway through the day, I volunteered to help Paul, one of three day laborers helping us, with a special job bending metal rods. To do this, Paul had a handmade station with rusty nails and a metal pipe. I would wedge the piece of metal between the nails, then put the open end of the pipe over the rod and bend it into what looked like a large staple. Doing this job really showed me how resourceful the day laborers are because they could manipulate a simple tool to complete a complex task. This experience helped me look into my own life and gain an appreciation for what I have been given.

Lance Hoezee, Michigan Tech ’22

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

Being as this is my second GSI, I knew I’d have a different experience. I knew that I wouldn’t have an eye-opening moment as my colleagues will this week as I already had that moment last year. However, this trip has, so far, still taught me many new things. Coming this year, I wanted to focus on myself during the trip rather than focusing on how to bring what I learned back to the chapter; I’ve already bought what I learned to the chapter. I wanted to see if I could push myself further out of my comfort zone than ever before and see what I can accomplish. So far, I’ve been surprising myself more than I expected to. I’ve been trying new things this year, such as pickaxing and talking more to the children. I am also now more willing to start conversations with brothers that I don’t know compared to last year. Overall, the experience had been more rewarding and rich. I felt as though last time I missed out on a lot by not stepping out of my comfort zone. By finally stepping out, I feel as though I’ve already had better experiences and a greater time. I’m excited to see what the rest of the week brings and how much this group will accomplish by the end of the week.

Ian Jones, Michigan Tech ’19