What am I going to do for the rest of my life? This is the question that haunts any junior in high school. There are so many factors that key into the making of this type of decision. I sit and I search and I search and I find the word “help” sitting right in front of me; this was exactly what I was searching for. AYUDA opened the door for me to a new feeling of knowing.How did I know this? I know I like to motivate, I like to meet new people, I like to volunteer, I like to help people, I like to learn, I like to travel, and I like to exercise. AYUDA is all of these things I like combined, so I was very interested. I applied, and I got accepted to be an AYUDA volunteer. My experience with AYUDA so far has been phenomenal. I got to experience traveling alone for the first time when I flew across the country to meet all the volunteers at the Volunteer Training Program Summit. This is where I learned all about diabetes and how to take care of it. I also learned how to efficiently fundraise and how to talk about AYUDA. I was introduced to a culture I was previously unfamiliar with; I learned about the traditions, food and dances of the Dominican Republic.My fundraising efforts have gotten me more involved in my community. I have met many people who love to donate to organizations like AYUDA, and I have made many long-lasting friendships with people who have been interested in supporting me. I cannot wait to go to the Dominican Republic in one week to volunteer in the Ganémosle program. I am looking forward to promoting exercise by encouraging people to participate in Ganémosle la Carerra a la Diabetes.
In a few weeks i'm going to celebrate my 20th Diaversary. That's right, 2 decades of living with my diabetes. I've taken it on countless presentations, infosessions and classrooms, dozens of cities and states and even a handful of countries and continents. I've gone through the life of a highschooler, the challenges of university and now the honor of my graduate program. I've had numerous lows and countless highs and have developed some minor super powers like seeing food as carbs and carbs as insulin. But what I've loved the absolute most about my 20 years with my diabetes is the people i've met living with theirs and the celebrations we've shared together.
Camp Ami was the first time I have been to the western side of the beautiful island of Hispanolia and the experience was one I will never forget. I have to admit, my Spanish is stronger that my French and my French is magnitudes greater than my Creole (Muen Relay Cristof is my name is Chris and that's about all I got), but even so, when myself alongside the other AYUDA volunteers met our local partners for the first time and shared our experiences with diabetes and what this program means to us, it was as if we all knew each other through our mutual friend, diabetes. We asked each other the international diabetes ice breaker of "what's your favorite low snack?". Mine has always been peanut butter crackers while my friend Amos' was fruit and honey. We shared how long we've been living with our diabetes and what it meant to us to share our condition with others.
This is where the value of these celebrations really presents itself.
Coming from 20 years of knowing my condition, I wear my pancreas (or lack there of, a functional one that is) on my sleeve. For a few others it took some time, but after hearing a few stories of some of our same ups and downs (literally) you could tell the mood in the room really began to pick up. What started off as an ice breaker developed into a full fledged celebration that carried through throughout the week. At Camp Ami the same energy and thrill to thrive showed itself in our dance parties, musical chairs, countless ball games and relay races and water games in the beautiful clear blue waters. We laughed, we cried, we danced and we shared.
We celebrated our diabetes not as diabetics, but as friends, who happened to see food as carbs and carbs as insulin.
On May 11th I celebrated ten full years of living with diabetes. If you talked to me on May 11th of any other year, I would not have been so celebratory. In fact, I use to regard diabetes as a hindrance. It made every aspect of my life—sports, class and friends—more difficult. May 11th merely served to remind me of how much more challenging my life had to be as a result of diabetes. However, May 11th, 2014 was different. After finding my place last year as an AYUDA volunteer and spending three weeks in the Dominican Republic to support others with this same condition, my mindset changed completely. Diabetes is still a huge day-to-day commitment with a plethora of emotional and physical ups and downs, but for me, it has been a blessing in disguise. Last summer was the first summer I volunteered with AYUDA, and I’ll be returning this year for the Campo Amigo program in the Dominican Republic. It was an incredibly sobering experience to witness the poverty some Dominicans face on top of managing such an expensive condition. The experience showed me how lucky I am to have access to such great resources and to be supported by such a wonderful community. In this way, my experience with diabetes challenged me to take full advantage of the resources and knowledge I have and to bring them into communities that are less fortunate. AYUDA became the first experience in my life for which I felt I could personally make a difference. I learned that there are few things in life that bring as much happiness as assisting another to improve his or her life. So, thanks to AYUDA, this year and every year, I’ll be celebrating on May 11th.