Barbara’s Story: Breaking Barriers to Serve
Barbara Jones is a recent graduate of Central High School in Bridgeport, CT. In addition to serving her local community with buildOn, she was the first buildOn student to build a school with us using a wheelchair. This is Barbara’s reflection on that experience, in her own words:
Finding something you believe in, finding purpose, gives you the courage to do things you wouldn’t otherwise do. That’s what happened when I became the first buildOn student in a wheelchair to go on Trek to Malawi, Africa, and build a school.
At first, it was overwhelming because there were many factors that we didn’t know would work. We didn’t even know if my chair would be able to move through the sand or how I would contribute to the worksite. I was also coming into a community where they didn’t see people in wheelchairs every day, which felt overwhelming.
But, I like to break barriers. What made me step up was that you don’t really see a lot of people with disabilities out there doing things that you see people with non-disabilities do. I wanted to show people that even though I have a disability, I can do anything you can. I want everyone to understand that people with disabilities are warriors!
Once I got to the village, they were so accepting and immediately accommodating. My family made sure they had a wheelchair ramp from the front to the back of their small, mud home. My host mom and dad made sure that I had everything that I needed to be part of the family.
In Malawi, I connected with a boy named Patience. He was one of the first kids that would always come around me because he had never seen a wheelchair. But he would always push my chair and help me navigate the village or help me carry bricks to the worksite. Every time he would come next to me, he would always put his head on my shoulder, and Patience would confide in me because he felt like I was somebody he could talk to.
I think that serving others helps show people that we don’t have sympathy for them. As Patience and I were serving each other, we were building empathy. I listened to what he was going through, and I shared about my life too.
“Service makes you feel like you have somebody. That there’s a community around you. And, being on Trek changed my life. I had to tell myself, ‘go do it. You’ll get through this. People have it way worse than you do.’ I had to go harder than I thought I could, but I knew my buildOn family was there to support me.”
When I was younger, I didn’t have anybody who was there for me. I come from a home where I don’t really have that family connection. I used to be really, really angry and I didn’t know why I had so much anger. But now I know it’s because I didn’t have the support that I have now.
Service makes you feel like you have somebody. That there’s a community around you. And, being on Trek changed my life. I had to tell myself, “go do it. You’ll get through this. People have it way worse than you do.” I had to go harder than I thought I could, but I knew my buildOn family was there to support me.
Unfortunately, this year I was hospitalized again. But the good news is this year I was the first in my family to graduate high school, albeit over Zoom from the ICU. And next year, I will be attending Sacred Heart University with a full scholarship! One day, I want to start my own non-profit organization called safe and sound where I can help kids do better in school, get youth off the street and away from gun violence.
You may read my story and think of me as a role model, but I don’t really want to be a role model. I want to be a teacher. I don’t want people to look up to me, I want them to be their own role models. I want to teach them that they can be great!