Lost and Found: How One Student Discovered His Compass
September 13, 2011
by Travis Kumph '10
Sometimes, you have to get lost if you want to find yourself. That is perhaps the biggest lesson I learned in college -- one I want to share with other students and their families.
I got lost while visiting schools just south of Boston, but luckily ended up at Stonehill in Easton. Once there, however, I almost dropped out my freshman year - twice. That first year, I struggled with an aimlessness that prevented me from taking advantage of my education and everything else the college had to offer.
To my surprise, things changed when I found myself almost 4,000 miles south of Boston on the outskirts of Lima, Peru in an impoverished community called Canto Grande. That 2007 HOPE alternative spring break trip served as a call to action. Something clicked and instead of being half-hearted, I was engaged, like never before.
I worked at two locations (1) the Fe y Alegría (Faith and Hope) school that provides an affordable education to 2,000 local children and (2) Yancana Huasy, a rehabilitation center for children with developmental disabilities.
In Canto Grande, I encountered a world where poverty is the norm and where everything I took for granted back home in New Hampshire was either a precious commodity or unavailable. Their challenges notwithstanding, the people of Canto Grande taught me resilience and dignity.
For ten days, I was immersed in chores and responsibilities. Most of all, I had an opportunity to use my skills to help others. For the little I did, the thanks was overwhelming. Without a doubt, it was the most exhilarating and eye-opening experience of my young life.
No sooner had I arrived than it was time to head home. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that leaving a poor community like Canto Grande would be heartache. On the plane back, my mind raced with a swirl of emotions - the service bug had bitten me.
Before graduating in May 2010, I returned to Peru four times with HOPE and spent a summer interning at Yancana Huasy. With each trip, my Spanish improved. I learned more about Peruvian culture and the nature of poverty. I got to understand people better, not to mention my own poverty of the soul, which had been keeping me adrift.
Peru changed me. With a new focus, back on campus, I sought risks and responsibilities. I became a Residential Assistant my sophomore year and played rugby my junior year. And, senior year that was me participating in the annual Mr. Stonehill contest. I took a piano class for the hell of it. Against my mom's best wishes, I sky dived.
While attending college, I got lucky and found my passion early on thanks to an alternative spring break trip. Service may not be everyone's passion and that is fine, but the path to finding your passion is the same for all of us - we have to let go, take risks, and be unafraid.
Today, I work fulltime at a rehabilitation center running a residential program for autistic children. Every day, I'm reminded of my experiences in Peru and of my time at Yancana Huasy, which launched me on my path of life.
Looking ahead, I want to become more involved with social development and have connected with two other Stonehill alumni, Michael Cipoletti '99 and Anna DeSousa '97, and founded a non-profit known as Friends New England. Our focus is sustainable social development and we currently work in Nicaragua, Haiti, and are in the midst of expanding into Peru.
Letting go and taking risks is easier said than done, but there is no other way to discover life and define ourselves within its parameters So, as Mark Twain wrote: "Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
Travis Kumph, a 2010 graduate of Stonehill College, is writing a book on his volunteer experiences and those of other young people. It is slated for publication within the next year. The Jaffrey, New Hampshire resident is also working with a documentary film company that wants to profile/highlight the value of short-term student service/immersion trips using Kumph's experience and insight.
For more information, contact Communications and Media Relations at 508-565-1321.