Who knew installing solar lights could have such meaning?

A Navajo family enjoys their newly installed solar light.

A Navajo family enjoys their newly installed solar light.

By A.J. Holzer

As I landed in the Durango airport, cramped into a small airplane, my entire Rotary career flashed before my eyes. I had joined Interact at the beginning of high school as a way to help my community and connect with others. And for most of my high school years, I was able to do just that, growing as a leader and learning from my peers. The experience was uniquely personal – all I knew of Rotary was my club and the work we did in the community. But in the summer of my sophomore year, my knowledge of Rotary was about to explode to an entirely new level.

As president of my Interact club, I had the opportunity to attend the 2017 Rotary International Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. I felt like a minnow tossed into the ocean. I was overwhelmed by the colossal reach of Rotary around the world. I learned about projects ranging from complex irrigation systems that allow for farming in Turkana, Kenya, to establishing an array of financial help for poor villagers in Guatemala. I met passionate Rotarians from all corners of the world, and was instantly inspired to look for a way to become involved at this level.

On the reservation

After a year as club president, I decided to do something about this desire. I browsed this blog for information about great projects, and found a write up about the Navajo Solar Lights Project. After hours of research, I emailed founder Joe Williams, who told me more about the project and I discovered a shared passion for Rotary service. He invited me to apply to be a summer intern with their project, to spend a week and a half in the heart of the Navajo reservation. I knew this would push me out of my comfort zone, but I was ecstatic for the chance to have a positive impact on the lives of others.

Installing a solar light.

A.J. Holzer installs a solar light on the Navajo reservation.

During the week and a half, I developed a completely new outlook on service. With other volunteers, I helped install solar lights in more than 15 homes. These lights mean the world to Navajo elders who don’t have access to electricity. Not only does it increase their safety and well-being by eliminating the harmful effects of kerosene lamps, but it provides a measure of  independence.

There is an incredible unity and resiliency on the reservation. During my first install in White Rock, New Mexico, we drove out into the desert past buildings until we came to a small cluster of homes. The elders and children in the community had come together to support each other around food and fun, and I immediately felt welcomed and loved.

Outside your comfort zone

Throughout my internship, the relationships I formed with others transformed me the most. I learned so much about Rotary from Joe Williams and other members of the Durango Rotary Club. And from the Navajo elders, I learned about resiliency and their ability to endure hardships.

There are many ways to serve. But what Rotary offers is the chance to get outside your comfort zone, and expand your horizons. Rotary brings people together across all ages. By working within the boundaries of the Rotary Youth Protection Guide, Rotary clubs provide a perfect environment for youth to explore and for Rotary members to invest in the future.

A footnote to Joe, Nancy, Jan and all those who participated in my internship experience, I cannot thank you enough. You all continue to inspire me to fight for positive change in the world.

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