5 reflections from Boxers volunteering abroad

This past summer, a few dedicated Boxers found themselves in the middle of Costa Rica, having volunteered to participate in Box’s service learning project with Team4Tech. This year, the team was tasked with the development of curriculum around several makerspace kits ranging from programming and hardware to design and 3D printing to help the teaching facilitators of Ideas en Accion and Fundacion Paniamor integrate these new subjects in to their education outreach programs.

Like previous years, Box.org has again partnered with Team4Tech, this time in a collaboration to bring the technical expertise of the Silicon Valley to Costa Rica while providing 5 boxers a service learning opportunity outside of their normal day to day. The 5 Boxers, Chloe Langston, Kate Koch, Ian Schlesinger, Jasen Mikels, and Sumat Lam, dedicated 10 weeks of preparation leading up to the project while also raising over $30,000 to support the initiative. A month after their project has ended, the team reflects on their recent experience abroad.

Finding Inspiration - Sumat
For many people, their best work can be traced to an inspiration or passion. For Sumat, who returned as the Team Lead for this project after his experience last year in Cambodia, this trip was dedicated to finding out what motivates him to do his best. Despite having never worked on a 3D printer before the beginning of the project he found that he “was motivated to succeed knowing that his work will lead to even more success down the road for a whole lot of people”.

Sumat working with a Paniamor facilitator to demonstrate how the 3D printer works

After weeks of tinkering around with the 3D printer and independent experiments and research, this work resulted in a detailed plan and approach to introducing the concept of 3D printing and design. During this process, Sumat realized that what drives him to his best is enabling others to succeed in their own ventures, which went hand in hand with the purpose of this project. Despite the numerous setbacks and difficulties, Sumat never lost this motivation to succeed. In considering the impact the recent experience has had on him after his return back to Austin, he remarks that he is “much more aware of my own capabilities and how important having the right mindset and motivation is to success”.

Persistence and Commitment - Jasen
The goals that were agreed upon at the beginning of the project:

  • “To empower the community”
  • “To train the trainer(s) in both technical and soft skills in order to inspire the youth to use technology to solve community problems.”

These goals speak to the persistence and commitment that all of the organizations involved had, and will carry forward with the curriculum that was developed.

For Jasen he was intent on striving to make the uncertain factors, certain with the Robotic and Sensor kits. The inability to obtain the kits until he was in country and having challenges meeting the fundraising goal up until a few days before his scheduled departure for Costa Rica, spoke to his commitment to the project despite the obstacles he faced along the way.

Once in country Jasen had the opportunity to spend half a day at the, LEAD University maker lab, rebuilding the example robot used in his curriculum multiple times, changing out sensors, updating the code, and multiple other changes, until finally SUCCESS! The finished robot (nicknamed Fabio Jr.) spoke to persevering to job completion.

Jasen and Fabio Jr while training the facilitators.

Through his journey he learned that "developing courage, compassion towards ourselves first and then compassion for those around us, we are able to develop connections to those people and things that we desire to have in our lives".

Stepping outside of your comfort zone - Kate

Before the trip, Kate couldn't even spell "Arduino" correctly. Working with physical technology wasn't just beyond her comfort zone- it was foreign. For the volunteers on the trip, it was this foray into the unknown that sparked the developments they came out with at the end, from learning technology that many had never used before, to developing a curriculum guideline for the facilitators to use for kids of different ages. Kate attributes the ability to cope to "the attitude of perseverance and the courage to jump headfirst into the ambiguous" as imperative to her overall success on the project. Despite unforeseen hurdles, from broken robots to outdated software to a massive language barrier, the Boxers put their skills and experience gained over the course of their careers to good use accomplishing the goals they had set out, developing various curriculums and building deep connections with the non-profit partners.

Kate, Ian, and Jasen observing the Paniamor facilitator teach the students a lesson in cyberbullying in Spanish.

Awareness of the world around you - Ian
The team of boxers arrived in Costa Rica ready to experience the unexpected, little did they know they were still ill-prepared for the change and challenges to come. Ian came on the project "expecting to learn more about Costa Rica and to address a need in the education system, but came away with so much more", thanks to his keen attention to everything that was happening around him. From the first day to the last, each moment was a moment of growth; growth in perspective, understanding, and appreciation. The facilitators possessed and demonstrated a passion for improving the world that forced many a reflection for Ian and the rest of the Boxers. The nightly reflections the volunteers participated in ranged from life's meaning to career pursuits and global change that lasted long into the nights. 11 days, 2 techno bus tours, and countless light-bulb moments later the team found themselves back in the States, feeling more united and ready for change than ever expected.

Ian using his Spanish skills to gauge the interest from the kids on the different makerspace kits.

Challenging others to do more - Chloe
Since returning from the trip, the Boxers have all been viewing their worlds a little differently, finding more opportunities to realize their passions and enable those around them to do the same. With a technical background, Chloe has been seeing the potential in her teammates and coworkers to utilize their unique technical skills to help non-profits in the community. After seeing the incredible work 5 Boxers could accomplish, she has "started to envision all the good that can be done with 2,000 volunteers". Box has an incredible culture, full of compassionate individuals, many of which already do so much to improve their communities. But how do you increase the scope to lead to larger impacts? Chloe has decided to explore how she can enable every Boxer to utilize their passions and unique skills to help organizations that are doing so much good but are in need of all the help they can get. Following her example, the rest of the team has also committed themselves to finding ways to increase their ability to contribute to causes in their own community.

Kate and Chloe sitting down with Catalina from Paniamor going over the plans for the Tecnobus tour.

After nearly two weeks working with the facilitators in Costa Rica, the Box Volunteers' reflections show the deep impressions left from their experience volunteering in Costa Rica, over a month later. What they take away from this service learning project will undoubtedly help each of the volunteers in pursuing their goals, whether they are career, personal or volunteering goals.

Throughout the course of the project, the volunteers participated in 550 hours of service with over 240 hours of training for 10 facilitators from Paniamor and Ideas en Accion. In addition to the donated makerspace kits, the volunteers have also created a number of guidelines and references to help the facilitators fine tune the curriculum they've started. Even with all of the outcomes described here, many of the volunteers would argue that they are the lucky ones who have been impacted the most, from being able to work with such amazing and impassioned facilitators, to being able to make an immediate impact in a worthy cause, to helping them re-evaluate their outlook on life and inspire them to do more.

The Box Volunteers posing for a picture with a handful of the Paniamor and Ideas en Accion facilitators.