Most teens spend most of their summer at their jobs, by the pool, or hanging out with friends. For Sean McVey, this was not the case. From July 3 to 21, Sean journeyed to a third-world country, Tonga, where he teamed up with 17 other students and an organization called Humanitarian Experience for Youth (HEFY) to help build a library and counseling center in Tonga.
Sean got the idea to go to Tonga when he saw a couple of friends from his church go on the trip. He was a freshman when he became interested in the project. After talking to his friends about it, he researched the project and saw that it was closing down for a few years. Fortunately, the project opened up again this summer. He researched it again and saw that there was an opening to go to Tonga in July. He signed up, much to his benefit.
“(The trip to Tonga) was the most amazing thing in my life,” McVey said. “It teaches you so much respect; you start to enjoy things more.” He said that the trip made him thankful for all that he has.
When asked about how it felt to deal with the poverty in Tonga, McVey said it did not adversely affect him because, “Everyone was so happy … even though they were in that third-world poverty.”
McVey said that it was almost like they were not in poverty because they were so optimistic and good-natured. He said that the kids in Tonga are “essentially the same” as the kids in the U.S., and just like American kids, the children in Tonga love to play, laugh and “get attention.” He described how the children were playful and resourceful; in one incident, when they did not have a soccer ball to kick around, they used a coconut, and had just as much fun.
A typical day for McVey involved getting up at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast, starting work at 9 a.m., having a break to enjoy recess with the kids in Tonga, and working until 4 p.m. Afterwards, the volunteers would have free time to do various activities that were put on by the HEFY organization.
Although McVey described his experience as “amazing,” he said that it is not for just anyone. “You have to have maturity,” he said. He said to be a good volunteer, a person should be able to handle poverty and a different culture.
For the youth that do travel with HEFY, the trip can be very beneficial.
Mary Dewey, the program manager of HEFY, started getting involved 10 years ago when she traveled with the organization. After her trip, she finished college and started working for HEFY. She worked as a trip leader, traveling to Peru, Bolivia and Fiji, before becoming program manager about a year ago. She described the HEFY experience as “fulfilling for the youth.”
Dewey said that the best part about working with HEFY is, “Seeing the difference in the lives of the kids when they come home.” She said that teenagers today are so “closed in” and focused on their own lives, and that going on a trip is a good opportunity for them to be exposed to the world. She said that the kids are so thankful when they come home because they learn to appreciate everything they have.
The Humanitarian Experience for Youth is a nonprofit service organization that offers humanitarian expeditions for youth ages 16 to 19. Every summer, about 17 youth and three to four adult coaches are accompanied by HEFY leaders and taken to places such as Belize, Peru, Tonga and Fiji. The community service expeditions are about three weeks long. One day of the expedition is set aside for sight seeing, but otherwise, the trip’s main focus in on working with impoverished people to improve their lives. Typical projects involve building a house, school, medical clinic, or other needed project.
“Simply stated, the purpose and motto of HEFY is ‘Changing lives through service.’ It changes the lives of everyone involved,” said HEFY Founder Glenn Bingham. HEFY’s mission is to provide opportunities for teens to serve in areas of the world where they can be of assistance. The organization’s headquarters are located in Provo, Utah.
As McVey enters his senior year at Ponderosa High School, he plans to carry his experiences with him and encourage other youth to follow in his footsteps.