By Kaylee Plouffe
My third year playing volleyball for Trinity Western was undoubtedly one to remember. On paper, we had produced one of the most successful and dominant performances in TWU women’s volleyball history. Many records were broken with the addition of winning Canada West in straight sets and silver at nationals. However, if you were to ask me what my favourite part of my third year at TWU was, I would wholeheartedly say our team impact trip.
For those who do not know, which included me prior to this experience, an impact trip is a trip to another country whose goal is to assist the local population. Although this may be similar to mission trips, what made this a unique experience is that our impact trip’s goal was not to impose our method to help the local issues, but to use the power of assistance through sport to create a positive change. In other words, the organization–TeamUp–worked alongside local leaders to aid the growth of sport and development of community programs. In combination, they have and will continue to foster life-changing opportunities for the communities affected. Despite the incredible impact on the local population, I would contest that the impact the trip has had on me is equally profound.
From a very young age, my whole life has revolved around sports. I was the kid who tried every sport their parents were able to squeeze into their schedule. I spent my childhood in gyms and my weekends at tournaments. And although I was not able to go to many birthday parties and vacations, I loved it all the more. Looking back at it now, sport has given me so much more than I can possibly repay. It has shaped and moulded me into the person I am today and I am so incredibly grateful for it, therefore, I fervently believe that every child should have the opportunity to participate in sports.
When I first heard that we were going to be going on an impact trip with my TWU volleyball team, I was immensely excited. I have always loved going out into my community and volunteering my time whether that be at food banks or coaching, it’s something I’ve been drawn to. What I was not aware of at the time was how we would be impacting the community. While, typically, volunteering looks a lot like manual labour and doing the ‘dirty work’, I was genuinely surprised at the method we used to impact the community. To clarify, our team participated in the Team-Up Cup volleyball tournament in the afternoon and helped out on work sites in the morning. In particular, some of the work projects we helped with included building schools, a soccer field, and a volleyball court. However, I believe that the most influential aspect for the people in Paraguay was the Team-Up Cup. On the outside, many people would probably not believe playing in a tournament would look like volunteering, but it was so much more than just the volleyball. To give some background, the area of Paraguay we first travelled to was the Chaco. This is a Mennonite community in the heart of the Paraguayan desert that has considerable developments and decent wealth. However, as this community was very traditional, our team of elite young women was truly there to become role models.
Speaking for myself, I do sometimes forget the impact I have on younger players. Having been a part of numerous international tournaments at both the youth and professional level, I have experienced all the people who want photos and autographs. In those tournaments, we athletes are quite removed from the local population and fans. However, being in Paraguay, not only were we playing volleyball and being asked for photos, but we were able to connect and get to know the people who lived there. This helped me realize what type of impact I was having on the community, especially on the young girls. I remember one day when we had gotten to the gym early, we were watching the match prior to ours. Instead of sitting all together as a team, we joined one of the local teams and started talking to them. Although there were many hand gestures and Google translate needed, we were able to understand their stories and how we were influencing their community. They had explained how they had never seen such good volleyball, nevertheless that we were young women doing it. Just our team competing in the tournament gave an example to the girls that they could pursue sports. Genuinely, this was the first time I had realized how much of a difference I can make in the community through sport.
After speaking with those girls, I started to look at myself from a different perspective. How can I use the gifts I have been given to impact those around me most profoundly? I carried this question with me through every game played, camp coached, and work project. Henceforth, I was amazed by how much I was able to do to serve and help others. I wish I could say there was a huge moment that sweepingly affected someone for the rest of their life, but truthfully, I found it in the small fleeting moments. Those times when one doesn’t truly see the opportunity unless they are looking for it. In passing in the hallway and stopping to talk, asking fans about themselves while they’re wanting a photo, or inviting the kid in the corner to play. It was truly a choice I chose to make, and am forever grateful I had.
After all that’s been said and done, I cannot be more grateful for the opportunity to go on the impact trip. It has shown me how valuable sport is to connect people and how much I’ve taken for granted. Further, it has made me evaluate how much of a role sport has played in my development as a well-rounded person. On the whole, the people of Paraguay had taught me some valuable life lessons. Through that, I was able to push my love of the game of volleyball way outside the limits of the court, to love and serve those around me.