16-year-old Waiakea Junior/Senior Kai Melendez found the greatest opportunity through Facebook. Yes, I said Facebook. Well, it was her mother finding it on her FB feed and presenting the opportunity to her about two years ago. Kai says that it was not something that she jumped to at first, she and her mother wanted to be sure that it was a legitimate and safe opportunity for youth. After extensive research, it turned out that it was indeed a long standing, well organized group and one that would help inspire Kai’s future and career path, while giving her an incredible experience that she will carry with her the rest of her life.
Wait, What's GLA?
The program she became a part of, or should we say became a part of her, is Global Leadership Adventures. It is an organization that was developed for youth and young adults that allows them to travel to international destinations with a specific purpose- to do good. Not just mediocre “good”, either. The GLA participants literally do good for the communities that are hosting them. Activities include building houses, assisting with obtaining clean water for families in the areas of service, and oceanic habitat restoration. On top of the community service scheduled and performed, participants also learn the culture, history, and environmental impacts of the place they are servicing.
The program balances immersive learning and profound community service with fun activities for the participants such as hiking, scuba diving/swimming and even checking out the native wildlife! Participants range in ages 14-19 and are from various places around the world. They partake in a 10-day trip with 20 hours of community services scheduled throughout the trip. According to the website, GLA highlights that the program is for intellectually curious and socially oriented teenagers interested in traveling abroad, learning about other cultures, and making a big difference.
Now Back to Amaaaaazing Kai!
So, this Dominican Republic trip wasn’t Kai’s first rodeo. Her first trip with GLA was to Guatemala (at 14 years old!!) and the second trip to Costa Rica was unfortunately cancelled due to Covid-19. Melendez gushed about the truly impactful time she had in the Dominican Republic. She proudly highlighted the community service that she and the group performed- building a house for a deaf and mute single mother of three. She said that they built the house on a ready-made frame, putting up bird wire and filling up bottles with concrete that they shoveled to install within the walls of the structure. The group learned about climate change, the in-depth history of the country and about the poverty the people endure because of DR being taken advantage of by developed countries. Melendez also highlighted the fun points of the trip which included swimming, scuba diving in the local lagoons and hiking Mount Bison. When asked what the weather was like there, she stated, “Yeah, it was really hot in the Dominican Republic!!”
“After experiencing cultures from other countries, it really opened my eyes to a future career.”
Melendez stated that she wants to obtain her BA and MA in Social Work and work with GLA as a mentor to travel the world with the upcoming youth groups. “After experiencing culture, not only from America, but in outside countries, it really opened up my eyes, seeing people living in poverty and hike 10 miles to get water. It gave me outlook as to what I want to do in the future. It makes me want to travel the world and help undeveloped countries become developed.” Melendez will be graduating early and is hoping to obtain her Associate’s degree and enter college as a sophomore. For college, she is thinking of attending school in Oregon or Washington, maybe even UK or Canada to broaden her horizons. Melendez is looking to follow in her mother’s footsteps, who is currently a social worker and her main inspiration, to major in Sociology.
GLA is currently out due to Covid for the rest of the year. But Melendez hopes to do the next trip to
either Ghana or Thailand with friends that attended the DR trip for 14 days. In closing, she stated, “I would recommend GLA to people who want to get out of their comfort zones. It gives you a lot of connections that you will definitely use for the future. I have nothing but good things to say about GLA, it was a great experience!”
Mahalo Kai for sharing your experience and being the change that you want to see in the world, we are so proud of you and your group!
If your child is interested in GLA and wants to know more about the programs that the organization has to offer, check out the website at http://www.experiencegla.com.