The ISLA experience by Director Olin Patterson
I will forever be fond of the initial moment during our first ISLA trip when we met the Nicaraguan Lifeguard volunteers we were going to be working with for the upcoming Easter week. We had put so many painstaking hours into fundraising, logistics, gathering supplies, and travel to get to this moment of finally commencing this project.
That particular morning it was stiflingly hot. Our group of 8 lifeguards from Southern California had been offered accommodations in a tiny supply room at the Nicaraguan Red Cross Headquarters. Our room had just enough space to all sleep on the floor, and all night we were plagued by the bombardment of beetles and lizards that would crawl all over us as we slept. I had some of the most intense food poisoning of my life and the rest of the gang was not in any better shape as we coped with the heat, transportation, and logistics of arriving at our destination in the developing world. Regardless of our adverse conditions, what I loved most about that moment in time was the spirit and excitement of all of our original team members. It was as though everything had been against us for so long in getting to that place. And regardless to all the hurdles and challenges we faced, we had arrived to a tiny and seemingly remote area to assist these people with guarding some of the most dangerous and deadly beaches in the world. This would be the beginning of life-changing and life-altering experience in the week to come.
Fast forward to four years later, and I am blown away by what ISLA has accomplished. In the past four years we have managed to bring down multiple groups of lifeguards, medical supplies, and even technical equipment like AEDs and paddleboards to assist with lifesaving… But this year, we were unleashing our biggest project of running an intensive 3-day course to train and certify a hand-picked group of Nicaragua’s most elite armed service members and Red Cross lifeguards. And on top of that, we were running the same courses and exchange programs in other countries including the Dominican Republic and Mexico. All of this was being powered by a rapidly growing force of volunteers from all over the United States and the world.
Despite the incredible stories of insane medical aids and life-saving rescues, what I love most about ISLA is the incredible opportunity it has afforded me to meet so many dynamic and passionate people. From the lifeguards we work alongside with in other countries, to the ISLA volunteers that run our exchange programs and lifeguard courses, I am constantly humbled and inspired by the love, care and service these people provide. My favorite thing to witness is the lasting friendships that always emerge despite the language barrier and cultural differences. In the end we all have the same fundamental needs, and making new connections and friends is one of the most rewarding.
As I look back on ISLA’s success, I am proud of the impact we have had in saving lives and improving the communities we serve both internationally and within where we live. I know ISLA is going to continue to impact the world for the better through its hard working individuals that believe in the importance of ISLA’s mission and believe in their own personal abilities and power to change the world.
I believe the ISLA experience is truly for those who are hungry for an unrivaled and life-changing adventure of travel, service, and meeting new people. We are so excited for the impact ISLA is going to continue to make and welcome everyone to get involved with our mission.
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