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Cisco employee pays it forward in Honduras

- April 5, 2016 - 22 Comments

JodiSwanson(1)

We all face hardships in life, some more than others. There was a time in my life where I needed the help of those around me, and in return, paying that forward has become my passion. With Cisco’s recent announcement that they were giving every employee five days to give back to the global community, it struck an even deeper chord in me. Now, instead of using my own personal PTO to volunteer, Cisco was encouraging that passion in me and celebrating the giving spirit of its employees. I decided to put some of this time Cisco had given me towards my days in Honduras at an orphanage called La Finca.

LaFinca1

Before my colleague Karla St. Louis and I left, we stuffed bags with necessary supplies. And for those who could not join us in Honduras, like my former manager Angie Miller, Amazon Prime was making regular deliveries to my house and entire suitcases were generously being filled that way. As much as the 14 of us headed to Honduras took, we all knew La Finca still needed more: basic necessities that many of us may not even think about like shower curtains, to the more obvious – clothes and shoes.

There was a little boy whose feet were so tender because there was no sole on the bottom of his shoe, and he had been running around on just the foam. There is only cold water to shower with, and the older girls are all sharing one tube of lipstick. The week we were there, four more mothers approached the gate of La Finca wanting to drop off their children and had to be turned away.

With a staff of 13 throughout the orphanage, including their school – the man who runs it even grew up there – our group brought them all outfits too. We could simply not leave anyone out.

And in our time there, we got to see the sweet smiles of those who were handed shoes and outfits. The older girls got to experience what shopping must be like when they tried on their clothes. Members of our group made all the kids a lasagna dinner one evening, and after their fifth helping, the boys had to be cut off as they will all eat until they are sick.

Photography is another passion of mine, and so I also went to La Finca to take and give the children childhood photos of themselves. Every smile is a melancholy beauty. Every photo I took made me wonder if this child knew that they were amazing. That they can be anything they want to be.

LaFinca2

While I was there I photographed a young man named Samuel, who weighed 4lbs at 7 months old when he was dropped off. His mother said “If he lives – he lives, if he dies – bury him.” He’s now 22, and I watched as he heard that story for the first time, and saw the photo of that day.

As he processed his story, he said that Sunday was always the worst day of the week for him because it was family day. He would sit in a corner and sing to himself with no visitors.

We went back to that corner and as he sang I realized the song with the “my life will never be the same” lyrics, might be the most beautiful song I have ever heard. Tears fell from my eyes as I sat behind my camera and I snapped this photo.

JodiSwanson

Samuel is now in college, funded by the Honduras government, for agriculture. He is looking to return to the orphanage to help teach them how to farm the land that was donated to them. Usually the children only have rice and beans to eat each day.

When I arrived at the orphanage I saw a mural of a lion and told Samuel that he is that lion. He is an inspiration to so many, including many young ones from Honduras who can see in Samuel what is possible.

I was able to photograph all 66 children. Most of the time we couldn’t communicate and oddly enough we didn’t need to – smiles and hugs were our language.

I’m not sure why, but I was really surprised to see how happy the children all were. Love really does conquer all. I realized in all of them that hope was very much alive. As a photographer, you often focus on the eyes. I photograph children with cancer and in the NICU and I have seen eyes that do not have hope left in them. However, these children…the hope was there.

© Jodi Swanson

Now that I am home, I have hugged my 7 year old son till it annoys him. I know I will feel no guilt when he asks me for his next toy and I say “No.”

The boys in the orphanage snatched my lens cap to use it as a Frisbee – and it made me wonder where true creativity and innovation comes from. Am I removing it from my son by buying him toys or should I let him have some time to be “bored” and see what he invents on his own?

I once interviewed a CIO that said, “You spend more time with your co-workers than you do your own family, you ought to know something about them.” And, he’s right.

The time Cisco gave me to continue my passion in giving back, may have been some of the most rewarding. I realized that the days Cisco has given us to give back is not just a benefit, but it is actually a beautiful gift and I am so very grateful.

It just so happens that one of our customer executives, whom I got to know, had a direct report that grew up in a small orphanage in Honduras.

That orphanage was called La Finca.

It is just a piece of what inspired Karla and me to travel to Honduras – and maybe it will inspire future Cisconians to continue giving back and perhaps even to help La Finca.

Please consider helping by donating to La Finca.

 

Want to work for a company that encourages you to give back to your global community? We’re hiring!

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22 Comments

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  2. Jodi, thanks for sharing with all of us your story. May we all have this kind of decision to help our sisters and brothers in need. Marco

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I've been wanting to use Time2Give later this year and have been looking for ideas for how/where to help. This post as well as the comments from others who've contributed across the world are inspiring and informative. Thanks again and please keep sharing your wonderful giving-back experiences!

  3. Wow! Thank you for sharing your journey to Honduras. This is so inspiring and truly eye opening. It is great to work for a company that encourages its employees to give back.

    What a great story Jodi! I was raised in Guatemala in a very Catholic family, and volunteering at orphanages was one of the things I did several times when I was a teenager. I can imagine how you felt spending time with these kids. I remember we used to bring them food donations mainly, but sometimes we would bring clothes and toys. One of the things I learned is that they don't always want toys but attention because there were so many of them and the nuns would try to give them all attention but they weren't enough. Rather than playing with toys, they wanted us to play with them. They wanted to feel appreciated and give hugs and kisses because it was something so rare to them. Definitely a great lesson in life because we often take things for granted.

      I completely agree Kimberly. It is hard to be away from them and now that I am home I use Google translate to talk to some of them every few weeks when they get on a computer. Heartbreaking stories. I am hoping to take my son at some point, because like you, I did volunteering as a teenager and it was one of the best things in teaching me about human compassion.

  4. Lovely and inspirational story Jodie. I've just used my Time2Give for this year at a wildlife sanctuary in Namibia. I'm already planning to use it again next year but this time helping provide clean water on a project in Malawi. Thanks for sharing.

      Hi Sam, maybe we should tell your story on the blog! Reach out to me via email. :)

      Sam - How wonderful and would love to see photos of your efforts. Wish I could be there to take the photos and help you. :-) I sure hope there is a blog on your efforts.

  5. Jodi - awesome!!! I'd like to touch base with you sometime given that I also work in that community (La Finca, La Colonia, Mirador and Las Brisas). Would be wonderful to see if we can find any synergies between our outreach efforts. Thanks for all you do and helping make difference. Fazil.

      Fazil - How wonderful you actually do work in that area. What a small world and yes, let's connect.

  6. #inspiring #beautiful Thank you for sharing such a heartwarming and touching account of your experience and the pictures.

  7. Wonderful story and your passion is totally evident in how rewarding your trip was to you! I myself am preparing for my 11th Missions Trip to Kenya, Africa in a couple weeks! It is indeed very humbling to be in a position to be a blessing to others! I too am so thankful to Cisco for the Time2Give initiative! What a wonderful company that not only allows, but encourages its employees to think outside of themselves, and assist others! Hey, that's what Cisco does anyway - right!?! Thanks for sharing!

      Thank you so much everyone for the kind and encouraging comments. I hope so much this helps the orphanage as they are struggling and they get 100% of any donations. Lovey, I think the universe just decided to pay this blog a visit. You are the fourth person I have somehow got connected to about work being done in Kenya. I'm starting to think I'm supposed to go to Kenya. Guess that might be my giveback trip next year. We should talk. I never thought I would be going to Honduras and the ducks just happened to be sitting in a row when I got to the pond. :-) Major kudos to you for doing this, I don't know you, but so proud of you. ~Jodi

    Lovely! Thanks for sharing!

    This is a great story, passionate and inspiring. I have had the pleasure to meet Jodi Swanson in Chicago. Our Cisco Project IT Connect First Stop Chicago is serving the inner city, which includes some of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago. This project not only helps teenagers see the possibility of a brighter future for themselves, but it also helps the parents and in turn the entire community. This is all done by teaching students about Cisco technology and educating them on how to use it hands-on. We are hoping to pull Jodi in to volunteer and meet some of the students, parents and have them photograph the stories of success.

  8. Thank you for sharing your story, Jodi. I was touched and inspired by your effort. Cisco's Latino employee network, Conexion, can offer readers additional opportunities to support the Latino community in the US and abroad, with the goal of increasing inclusion and collaboration across cultures inside and outside Cisco. Cisco employees can learn more at https://cisco.jiveon.com/groups/conexion

    Wonderful story #Krista! Thank you for your service to others. #LoverWhereYouWork

  9. Jodi, you are amazing. I am honored to be your friend. Thank you for sharing, and for doing everything you do.

  10. Thanks for sharing the Love!

  11. Wow, such great wisdom to be learned from these children. I love this quote: I’m not sure why, but I was really surprised to see how happy the children all were. Love really does conquer all. As educated professionals we live each day in our world's believing that money and material possesions bring us hope and happiness. It could not be further from the truth, love really does conquer all!!! Thank you Jodie and Karla, when is the next trip? Linda and I are ready to go!

  12. Excellent, passionate story! Thank you for sharing and inspiring! Krista

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