A piece of the journey...

Life’s a journey not a destination, And I just can’t tell just what tomorrow brings
— Aerosmith (Amazing, 1994, UMG)

Why leave a lucrative career in real estate to pursue an MBA in International Development? Why start a company devoted to equipping and inspiring people to a greater good? These are questions I am often asked when people inquire of my latest career move or when they hear about what I am trying to accomplish with Champagne Avenue and they are questions for which I can often have trouble verbalizing answers. Quite frankly there is no one single explanation of what inspired my current endeavours but rather it is a culmination of life experiences that has brought my journey to its current path. 

One such experience was my first trip to Cape Town, South Africa. Below is an excerpt from a letter I wrote describing the experience. I still think about this little boy and the lesson I learned and I am forever grateful for the shift in perspective I received that day... 

"Though technically I started in real estate July 3, I was quickly side tracked as I left July 21 for the most beautiful country in the world, South Africa. As part of Street Invaders I co-lead a team of youth and young adults to the incredible city of Capetown, SA. You never understand the saying “I left my heart in Africa” until you have been there. My time there has left a deep longing in my heart to return. The country is so beautiful, by the end of about the 3rd day I had to stop taking pictures of scenery, because literally every where you turned was a landscape worthy to be captured and I was running low on camera memory. 

The dichotomy of Africa is so shocking. The first few days we were there we spoke mostly in schools and spent time among the more privileged classes, but mid week we traveled for the first time into the township of Khayelitsha.  Khayelitsha was a jaw dropping experience, before us literally as far as the eye could see was a shanty town, shacks housing over a million people filled the landscape. Homes the size of a chicken coop with a dozen people living inside, it was so heart breaking to see the conditions the least fortunate of the population are forced to live in. But here in the midst of such brokenness I was also shown beauty. Thankfully kids are kids, no matter where you go children always carry such a joy, all they want is to play and have your attention. 

One child in particular gave me a most valuable lesson. While we were working on an outreach providing the people of another township clothing (not Khayelitsha but similar), a boy of about 10 years was riding around the crowd on a beat up old box style bike. His clothes were ragged and he looked like he had never had a bath in his life but he carried such a joy with him and had such a sincere smile. The kid seriously drew me in. The tires on his bicycle were thread bare and it had been spray painted silver at some point but the paint was now peeling but man this kid was proud of his ride. He raced around block and got me to time him as he did a lap. When he stopped I motioned towards the pile of clothes that we had brought to give away and asked him if he wanted some. He just looked up at me and politely replied “no thanks, I have enough”. His response absolutely shook me, when was the last time I had ever considered that I have enough, and here this kid with next to nothing by way of possessions was absolutely satisfied.

Most people go on short term missions thinking they are going to change people’s lives, we in north America especially can be guilty of a "saviour" complex but I have got to say from my experience this is a falsehood, my life has been immeasurable changed by stepping out in mission and I have been far more impacted than any impact I have caused. I could write pages on the rest of the trip but will save that one day for my memoirs, but if you would like to hear more about the trip just call me I love to talk about it."

Several years have come and gone since that first trip, I returned to Africa four more times in the next five years and never fail to return with a greater perspective than when I left. Too often we get caught up in ourselves and our lives and our focus creeps inward and we focus on our own comforts and conveniences. To guard against this we must continually be challenging ourselves to gain new experiences and find occasions to live outside our comfort zone.

So yeah, there you have it, one piece of a beautiful puzzle that will eventually define Champagne Avenue. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below I would love to hear what you thought. 

As I wrote this I had Amazing stuck in my head and well it just kind of fits so take a moment and rock out if you are so inclined ;-)

David Whitrow

A problem solver blessed with commonsense practicality, bred as a boy on the Canadian prairie. A world citizen with an international perspective gained through volunteer work in Africa, Asia and Central America. A life long learner with a passion for leadership and business strategy, he maintains an aptitute to apply critical thought to create unique solutions.