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West Akron mom, son voluntering at Mexican orphanage

6/5/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Ariel Hakim

West Akron resident Raquel Cecil-Harrison, at left, her mother, Barbara, and 10-year-old son, Kadin, will be traveling June 12 to volunteer at an orphanage in Mérida, Mexico, for two weeks. The three are shown on a trip to New York City last year.
Photo courtesy of Raquel Cecil-Harrison
FAIRLAWN HEIGHTS — Spending two weeks in Mexico this summer won’t be about vacationing in the sun and seeing the sights for Fairlawn Heights resident Raquel Cecil-Harrison, 37, her 10-year-old son, Kadin Harrison, and Cecil-Harrison’s mother, Barbara Cecil, 58, who lives in Denver.

Rather, the three plan to spend the majority of their time volunteering at an orphanage in Mérida, the capital of the Yucatán state on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast. They depart June 12 and will return to the U.S. June 29, in care of International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), a New Zealand-based volunteer travel company.

Kadin, who is a fourth-grader at Spring Garden Waldorf School in Copley, said though he has lots of ideas about what he wants to be when he grows up, he isn’t ready to choose yet. However, in the immediate future, he wants to be of service to the children he meets in Mexico, he said.

According to his mom, his role will be loosely defined as a rare child volunteer with IVHQ, but she said she expects him to engage the children at the orphanage, hopefully inspiring them and setting a good example. He plans to bring his favorite card — and possibly some other — games with him to play with the children at the orphanage, Cecil-Harrison said.

He also may help out at the orphanage by cleaning, he said. During the workdays, which will be from about 8 or 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Cecil-Harrison will tutor children in math and reading, while her mom will care for the youngest children at the orphanage.

Cecil-Harrison, who was born in Utah and has spent most of her life in Colorado, moved to Akron three years ago, when her husband’s job necessitated it, she said.

She has done extensive traveling, mostly in Third World countries, she said, and Kadin has been to Mexico before, but she hopes this trip will offer a kind of cultural experience her son has not yet had.

“Surprisingly, you might think you’re going into an environment that’s poverty, and its going to be all sad. ... It’s surprising how you find the human spirit will achieve joy and happiness in spite of the conditions they oftentimes are living in,” she said.

Traveling abroad for the first time extensively when she was 19 through Vietnam and India was life-changing for her, and she desires the same kind of experience for Kadin, she said.

“I want him to walk away humbled and go, ‘Wow, I’m a pretty lucky kid,’” she said, “and I want him to ask himself: Does he have something to give?”

A search for answers to that question for herself has directed much of her own experience, leading her to seek a degree in nursing, she said. She wanted to feel useful, she said. During her travels, she wished she had a skill set that would allow her to contribute more to help people in poverty, she said.

“Medicine was the only thing that made obvious sense to me,” she said.

That said, Cecil-Harrison, who works as an acute care nurse, said she still believes forming relationships in and of themselves is a worthy contribution, bearing the potential to bring about world peace “on a micro level,” she said.

“I do believe [Kadin] has something to offer,” she said. “I do feel like just the interaction in itself brings about world peace.”

Cecil-Harrison is bilingual — she minored in Spanish in college and lived in Mexico for a short time — and Kadin, who is part Mexican, speaks a fair amount of Spanish as well, she said.

Kadin said he is looking forward to learning the language better, but more than that, he’s excited to meet the children at the orphanage.

“I just hope to make the world a better place for them,” he said.

His mom said she’ll encourage Kadin while in Mexico to create a photo journal to help crystallize his experiences.

IVHQ sends volunteers to approximately 25 different countries, according to its website.

The expenses involved in traveling to another country to do volunteer work can be prohibitive, said Cecil-Harrison.

Many travel companies who send out volunteers charge exorbitant fees, she said, but after doing quite a bit of research, she found the IVHQ fees were reasonable. To make their trip to Mexico, the three will each pay about $250 a week, she said.

Another reason Cecil-Harrison likes the organization, she said, is they have a good track record of directing money back into the communities they serve. They partner with existing local programs rather than bring in outside programs, she added.

Participant fees will pay for registration, administrative fees, travel from the airport, orientation, lodging and meals. Cecil-Harrison and her family also will be responsible for visas, airfare, travel insurance, vaccinations, background checks and transportation to the airport at the conclusion of their assignment, according to IVHQ.

Cecil-Harrison said she’ll be paying for the trip in the months to come as she pays off her credit card bill. Even so, she and her family aren’t looking for help in paying for their own trip and ask that if anyone has the desire to contribute, they consider purchasing from a list of needs provided by IVHQ or donating directly to the organization.

For information on the agency’s needs and how to donate, email Raquel at raquelcecil@yahoo.com.

Cecil-Harrison, her mom and Kadin will fly to Cancún June 12, then take a four-hour bus ride to Mérida. While on assignment, they’ll stay at a hostel for volunteers, along with visitors from other parts of the world, Raquel said.

She said one of her hopes for their trip to Mexico is that it will be a positive example for others.

“I would hope this inspires people to realize it may seem daunting to bring about peace in the world, but on a micro level its really just as simple as opening up your life to another person,” she said.

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