Written by Mariam Ashkanani,

I remember waking up one day at 6:30 am. Everyone else was still asleep. While I was going to sit outside with my breakfast, it started raining, and as I sat there I remember vividly how I felt. I was happy. 

The OX Adventure experience in Sri Lanka was utterly beautiful. I would even dare to say life-changing.  You take part in a voluntary project thinking you already know what is there waiting for you. Well, you are wrong! Nothing will prepare you for the strip-down of your materialistic mindset while you face a new world with the core of every human being; a heart. One takes such journeys with an open mind, hoping that they might help to change someone else’s life. The reality of it though, you will return home a different person than the one who started this trip. Something about helping others helps you as an individual too. Sri Lanka has definitely highlighted that for me. I was ashamed of how small I seemed when I was facing the people there. I thought I had everything they desired in life. Financial stability, free education, a family that is not apart due to crucial circumstances, and most importantly, the safety and the many opportunities we had in our country. But they were happy with the little that they had, and I wasn’t even close to that happiness that sparkled in their eyes. “They are poor, that’s why they are happy.” That’s what one of the locals said to me. One of the many lessons I learned while I was in Sri Lanka was, it’s not the number you hold while counting your blessings, it’s the attitude that comes with it. That was my first discovery. 

 Part of the OX Adventure program was helping build a computer lab at the Foundation of Goodness. Also, we were a helping hand in a local school when it came down to teaching the kids and re-organizing their library. The students there were very excited about our visit. They asked us questions, took our pictures, and most importantly, they let us in. They let us in their school. They let us in their private lives and also, they let us in their journey and struggles with education. The interesting thing about these jobs was the fact that we were part of someone else’s educational journey, even though it was for a short period of time. Most of us take school and learning for granted, because we view our educational system as a mandatory step toward getting a job. To them, it’s key to provide your family with a better life. It’s a window that shows you a promising land. It is a heartwarming feeling to be around children who are culturally open and always prepared to benefit from each opportunity they face. They might be less educated than us, but they have bright minds. That is one thing I noticed in Sri Lanka, people there had experienced life in ways that we will never be able to reach. They still valued education, of course, but gaining knowledge in their point of view was more than being in school and register for classes. In school, they teach you how to memorize information and they put that to a test. In real life, though, you have to practice your knowledge cause it’s part of learning and gaining those information. Because of that, I believe that life is an open school for everyone to learn from. People in Sri Lanka, due to their living style and condition, had learned so much about spirituality, giving back, making the most out of everything they had and also, the importance of always having an open mind. School may give you an education, but life will offer you knowledge. And that was my second discovery. 

Part of OX Adventure’s aim for this experience was to push our limits a little bit further. Whether it was trying a new dish of food or going kayaking in a river when you don’t even know how to swim. From zip lining to surviving life without the Internet, I genuinely enjoyed being out of my comfort zone. One of the places we went to for an adventure had a sign that said, “Your options are limited only by your fears.” At first, I thought I understood it, that I actually grasped the meaning behind it. But only when I challenged my self and took a leap of faith with my fears and jumped into a river (literally) that I understood that life begins behind the lines of your comfort zone. It is scary at first, to be facing what you fear the most. It may even give you a panic attack, believe me, I’ve been there!  But the feeling you get afterward is so amazingly rewarding. To build a wall of fear with your mind and then break it down with an adventure is a fantastic eye-opener. So, that was my third discovery! Always go for the extra mile behind the lines you drew, cause you will be surprised by the number of things waiting for you at the end of your boarders. 

One of the elements that make Sri Lanka a heavenly place to be in is nature. You are always surrounded by greenery wherever you go. I’m sure there is a scientific research that states that being around so many trees will make you happy. And even if it didn’t, I’m sure the aesthetic of that view will definitely do the job. From the shining stars at night, to the sky blending with the sun at sunset, you can only feel so small compared to the bigger universe.  It’s beautiful to think that we share this planet with so many other lovely creations. We are all small dots connoting to be a perfect circle, the circle of life. I never felt more happy or content as a whole in my life as I did in Sri Lanka. I felt like I had an important rule in life, just like the sun, trees, and stars at night. My fourth and last discovery can be translated into this quote I once read by Max Ehrmann that says, “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

If I must add anything to this, I would say that everyone should plan a trip like this, at least once in their lifetime. A trip like this would change you on so many levels. You learn more about life, cultures, spirituality and most importantly, you know more about yourself. Besides, what’s more fun to travel with 14 strangers and then come back home with a second family?