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Lessons from Madagascar

When I was 18 and had just graduated high school, I took a trip to Madagascar through a company called Earthwatch Institute. The purpose of my trip was to work with researchers studying the Fossa, the native carnivore of the island. I had never traveled across the ocean before, or gone anywhere as far away as Madagascar. After three VERY long plane rides and a five hour drive, I arrived at the research station in a small park. We lived in tents, only had electricity for part of the day,

and didn't have hot water (or water that we could drink or brush our teeth with, for that matter). Although I missed my first-world amenities, I quickly realized how little this mattered. While I was pining for a hot shower, the people of this village were the friendliest I had every met. When they needed water, they had to fetch it from a crocodile-invested river where a member of their village was recently killed.

They had nothing even close to what I had back at home and it struck me, even at 18, that they were some of the happiest people I had ever known. I couldn't get over how content they seemed with what they had: food, family and friends. As a naive 18-year-old, I learned a valuable lesson during that trip. I learned that we take so many parts of our lives for granted, and yet we worry about the small, trivial things. I look back at this experience as a defining moment in my life. This trip really made me realize that so much of what occupies our thoughts and efforts robs us of looking at our life with eyes wide open, seeing what we really have. It has been almost 20 years since this faithful trip, yet every day I keep in mind the life lesson I learned that first sunny afternoon during our trip to the village.

Chandler Denison currently works in the consulting industry where he specializes in environmental market analysis, mitigation banking and other ecological offsets. He received his MBA from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and undergraduate degree in Biology from Pitzer College. He serves as a trustee on the board of the Maryland Historical Society and a director on the board of the Valley’s Planning Council. When he is not busy working or spending time with his wife and two young children, Chandler enjoys traveling, going out to eat, exercising, reading and working in his yard.

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