PENDLETON — When Kayla Massey was 17 years old, she took her first trip to Ecuador on a short-term mission to work on the construction of a youth center and church.
“It was a moving experience,” she said of the 10 days spent working with short-term youth ministry. “My eyes were opened to another world. It was the first time I had seen poverty at that level. It ignited something in me and determined my purpose. If you do it right, there’s a possibility that you can effect change. It’s very powerful.”
The Ecuador experience was the impetus for a lifestyle change. Massey, now 23, graduated with a Business Management degree in 2014 and began to contemplate her future.
Last year, with the help of her Holy Trinity Episcopal Church family and community, she raised $10,000 needed to embark on another mission, this time to the Philippines for a year to help communities turn their assets into self-sustainable products and projects.
“The entire cost was covered by my incredible family, church and the community, who support my work and believe in me and what I could do,” said Massey.
She was accepted into the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) to work with an asset-based community development program.
“They needed someone who had the business management and marketing skills to turn assets into products and products into marketable goods for a community in the Philippines,” she said.
Eligibility requirements for YASC were to be between the ages of 21 and 30 and to have a college degree.
“Without my Tri-County degree, I couldn’t have had this experience. YASC matched me perfectly,” she said. “I used my marketing skills along with my knowledge in acquiring baseline data and using monitoring and evaluation tools to see projects from start to finish. It was exciting to use that knowledge in a meaningful way.”
The diversity of the program attracted her to the year-long exposure and the place — she spent a year in Northern Luzon in the Philippines where she was the only American working with a community who spoke the Ilocano dialect.
“It’s important to be open to opportunities,” said Massey. “My mindset was open to whatever came my way. I wanted to be an active part of their community.”
She immersed herself in this new culture initially by learning the dialect — within three months mastering key phrases. Within six months she was confident in her communication. She lived on a compound of the church, St. Augustine Episcopal Church, in Santiago.
She spent the first days being introduced to the Episcopal-CARE organization, which focuses on poverty alleviation, self-sustainability, institutional sustainability and disaster relief.
“Underdeveloped countries are reliant on the church but they want to be a self-sustained community,” she explained.
That’s where she came in. In rural Santiago, a mostly agricultural-based community, she worked with a team on a project to produce their homemade peanut butter on a larger scale. She assisted with getting the product to stores for sale. They also catered to the small market, their own storefront, a post where residents bought products.
“It’s a livelihood project,” she said. “The team did all of the work. I guided them from the business management perspective to help acquire baseline data. They did all of the ground work.”
She also worked with marginalized citizens, mostly women, who grow berries for Bugnay wine. She helped them produce it and distribute it in stores.
“The best part of my journey was the community I had and was allowed to be a part of. Strangers welcomed me so openly. They were hospitable and cared about my needs. I had a whole new family on the other side of the world, and I still do,” she said.
She welcomed a new family this fall, when she moved to New York City to participate in an internship with the National Office of the Episcopal Church. She works with United Thank Offering (UTO), a grant-based organization and part-time with the YASC office. She resides in an apartment at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in Chelsea.
She left Sept. 1 for the year-long internship which hopefully will open doors for future opportunities like the unforgettable experience she had in the Philippines. Her Philippine community family is still with her in many ways.
“When I returned to the United States and entered buildings with air conditioning, it was weird. I found myself wondering about the energy bill, and when I see a house with a yard, I wonder how to maximize the space by planting crops,” she said. “I will continue to look at life like that. I learned to appreciate the little things. I hope I never stop appreciating the little things, like cheese.”