By: Jill Lienau

I have started this blog many different times in the past month and have finally realized that no matter how many different times I write it, I will never be satisfied or feel that I have done justice to my experience. It was only a just a few days ago as I heard John Lennon’s “Imagine” playing, that I felt the words run deeply through my veins and was able to add the final connection that would tie my writing all together.

After traveling to Laos with the rest of the Give a Shirt team in March 2013, I have been asked by so many people “How are you? How was your trip?” I find myself struggling to answer these questions sufficiently in terms of what people “expect” to hear… “I am good, and it was great.” This response is true but there is so much more that I can’t begin to explain in a concise answer. When I hear this question there is so much I want to share but where do I start? In a recent conversation with Deanna I told her, “I am doing good, but I still don’t feel back to normal” What is normal? As Deanna explained, “That’s because you have changed.” And how true that is…. I have changed. The person that left a month ago is certainly not the same person that I see when I look in the mirror. I feel different… I have a deeper understanding, and I am filled with passion and desire to live a more meaningful life.

I have been fighting and struggling against the materialistic culture that we are absorbed in.  I find myself hyper sensitive to greed and ignorance. Everything from clothing, advertisements, and overabundance in every aspect possibly imaginable irritates me. What resonates with me is that as North Americans we believe we are living the best life possible and yet, having experienced poverty and corruption to an extent that is inconceivable, I truly believe we are doing something wrong. These kind hearted, gentle, gracious people who have so little in terms of material possessions, radiate nothing but pure joy and happiness from deep in their souls… unlike anyone I am yet to meet in North America. “Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can? No need for greed or hunger...” If more is truly not better, then it is time to simplify and search deeply for what really matters.

Numerous times I have heard “we need to help people in Canada first. There is poverty here and we should not be helping other countries until every person in Canada is looked after.” And to this, I would respond with a belief that it is our responsibility to help others. What does an invisible border or religion represent?  “Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do… nothing to kill or die for; and no religion too…”

I know that I was unable to leave what I saw in Laos and go on living the way I did before. I feel as though my brain is split in two… as I experience something here, I see on the other side the beautiful smiling faces of the kids in the orphanages and feel deep sadness as I try to process and connect the two experiences. “Imagine all the people sharing all the world…”

The powerful change that has occurred is one of intolerance. Intolerance for complaints of not having everything one wants, lack of appreciation and sense of entitlement. Not only intolerance of other people, but of myself as well. Self reflection has led to embarrassment of what I used to value and think was important. As an educator I struggle with finding a way to teach children appreciation, acceptance and global responsibility. I hope that by sharing my experience and passion I will spark at least some interest and inspire change.

As I re-live the day that we were loading up the truck at Deak Kum Pa orphanage with clothes to take to Num Buk, I remember the overwhelming sense of joy and happiness that I felt as I played Frisbee with Phon- a ten year old boy with a smile that could melt any heart. It is this feeling that I keep going back to when I struggle with not having the answers.  What I do know is that Laos and Give a Shirt ignited a fire inside me that I know has led me down the path that I have been forever searching for. I wanted to go to Laos to help others, but what I didn’t know was that the people I met, the connections I made, and the experiences I had, have helped me more than I ever imagined.

I hear the lyrics of John Lennon’s “Imagine” playing in the back of my mind…. “Imagine all the people living life in peace… you may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you will join us, and the world will live as one.” We may not be able to solve all the problems but we will make a difference… One shirt at a time….