Turning Winds organizes international service trips abroad for clients twice a year. They are not tourist excursions but uplifting therapeutic experiences since the focus is on helping other people.
Traveling to foreign countries to be immersed in other cultures and help people less fortunate than ourselves affords new perspectives and the ability to learn that people all over the world are really not that different from you and me.
The second service trip in 2022 took Turning Winds clients and their chaperones to a remote village in Guatemala. “The primary purpose of the trips is to put together meaningful opportunities for the kids to get outside of themselves and give to other people,” explains chief operations officer Carl Baisden who organized and supervised the service trip to Central America.
This trip was particularly meaningful to most participants, says Baisden. “We picked a Mayan mountain village. Of all the service trips that I have done so far, this was by far the most impactful for me from a service standpoint. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that it was such a remote village.”
Turning Winds partnered with Global Brigades to organize the trip. “We told them we‘re looking for remote villages, we don’t want to be in cities, we want to be in places with authentic culture, with a real community,” remembers Baisden.
“When we got off the bus we were greeted by some 30 kids—mostly elementary school age—and surprisingly there were over 100 adults as well. When I talked to the principal he told me that they had never had visitors from outside the community before.”
Initially, there was a tangible cultural barrier. “The local kids were fascinated by us and some were a little intimidated—we were, after all, completely foreign to them. They had never seen anything like us in their lives.
The Turning Winds visitors knew they were facing a bit of a challenge bringing down the invisible wall between themselves and the locals. “We could feel the stares, the intensity. So we discussed strategies and you know what our kids came up with? They wanted to play games.”
The youngest villagers helped bridge the gap. “For small children, the language barrier is less significant because they speak a lot with their bodies and facial expressions,” says Baisden. “Kids are always a home run for us.”
They played “Duck, Duck, Goose” and “Red Light, Green Light” and after just a few hours, the wall between visitors and hosts started to melt away.
Service trips have two main elements: get a meaningful service experience and discover the world outside of the United States. “They got to experience a lot of Guatemalan culture,” says Baisden. “We were in people’s huts learning how to make pottery and we got to make coffee and chocolate from scratch. In addition to the service aspect they got that culture immersion that is so hard to come by.”
The service trip was designed to make the Turning Winds kids feel like they were Guatemalan for a few days. “Our kids were eating the food they eat, and experiencing the lives they are living. We believe the actual cultural immersion is super important for our teenage clients.”
This is perhaps the most powerful aspect of service work: the ability to expose Turning Winds clients to the life experience of people in foreign cultures. While the Turning Winds visitors may act as helpers, it is the people being helped who become the teachers of this crucial lesson.
In this case, both groups learned from each other. Baisden heard through translators that the visit also had an impact on the adults in the Mayan village. In that local culture, adults typically don’t play with their children but after watching the visitors—teens and adults— play with their children some of them began to look at their traditions in a different light.
“By that measure, it was the most powerful service trip I have ever done,” says Baisden. “In the end, we had a hard time leaving. We had kids crying. That bus ride back on the last day was very silent.”
“After our return to Montana, I challenged the kids to put together a presentation about the trip to share their experience with peers that weren’t able to go and relive some of those impactful moments in Central America.”
Turning Winds recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. It all began with the simple desire to help young lives see a new path. In two decades, the program has matured into a sophisticated program that blends the benefits of a wilderness program, a residential treatment center, and a boarding school.
Our mission is to rescue teens from crisis situations, renew their belief in their own potential, reunite them with their families, and put them on a sustainable path to success. Contact us online for more information, or call us at 800-845-1380. If your call isn’t answered personally, one of us will get back to you as soon as possible.