Fueled by the transformative experience we had in Africa, we became determined to find an international volunteer experience. We found the perfect opportunity in South America. Having the chance to do some long-term volunteer work in Ecuador was a life changing experience - a pivotal part of shaping who we are today. We taught English and helped out the doctors and dentists in a community center located in a shanty town outside of Quito. Although we volunteered full time, we carved out time to enjoy the awesome food, the culture and even embarked on a couple of excursions. (We lost much of what we had written while in South America, but here are a few snippets we pulled together.)
GETTING PREPARED TO HEAD OUT
If you’re reading this, you probably know that we love to travel. We enjoy pretty much everything about it - researching a new destination (usually to death!), planning all of the logistics, and learning about another chunk of the world. Our desire for continually new and more involved travel experiences has typically been driven by how mind-blowing it is to expand our frame of reference by checking out unknown cultures, different customs, unfamiliar lifestyles, unusual food etc.
So - a while back - as our eyes were opened and our perspectives changed by our initial travels, we grew increasingly motivated by getting to several vastly different regions. Back then, we thought about how incredible it would be if, while in our thirties, we could get to the last of the continents. We were especially intrigued by Africa and the idea of journeying to a place largely believed to provide the biggest contrast to the US way of life.
Well, we recently made it to Africa. While there, we were able to have an up-close look at one of the most impoverished regions in the world. In a shantytown in Zambia - by far the most “different” place we have ever visited (as expected) - we were most struck by what unites human beings rather than what makes us different. Things such as the opportunity for a healthy life, a safe community, and the chance to make a difference and be heard.
Motivated by our experience in Africa and our altered viewpoint - along with our growing frustration with the senseless inequity in the world - we’re plunging into a whole new type of adventure as we spend a few months volunteering in and traveling around South America. Along the way, we’ll accomplish our once far-fetched goal of seeing all of the continents first-hand.
We’ll always be intrigued by digging into differences across the world, but thanks to our patch in Africa we’re now more fascinated by those things that connect us.
TOMORROW WE LEAVE
Today is the day - the evening before we hit the road. Excitement does not even begin to describe it. It is truly surreal for both of us. We are so happy that we are well prepared (because the last-minute jitters tend to sneak in and make you feel like you’ve forgotten something - thanks to the planning...we haven’t). We wonder what is in store for us.
SPECIAL GIFT DAY
What a big day it was. Our center out in Roldos was having one of its special gifts days. When we showed up, a huge line of people was waiting to go through the process of receiving the gifts they had coming to them. It was really cool - even local venders had come to set up food stands etc. Unforgettable. At first Caanan was stationed at a door making certain that people stood next to the wall - what a drag. I was luckily stationed at the gift distribution area from the get-go. So, when people had gone through the entire process, they ended up in my area to receive their gifts - toothbrushes, school supply kits, socks, sheets. I think that was all. We saw close to 500 families in about 5 hours. What a trip; and another great example of how helping to build infrastructure really does make a difference.
DOING FIELD VISITS
We arrived to an intense day at work. We fairly quickly raced off from the center with the "chief" and a field officer to do three field visits. Holy crap - did we ever see poverty. It was so sad. Essentially roofless houses with a bazillion pets and just as many kids, dirt floors, the smell of piss and worse. It really rivaled Zambia - no joke. The big exception is that we saw a lot of electricity. This is probably what justified the “please do not rob us” signs that we saw. We learned - no surprise - that things get pretty lawless during the night. People with nothing take whatever they can get from people who also have nothing. Absolutely nuts.
We are so lucky we get to witness these things FIRST HAND. Not only that - but to be a part of the solution. Incredible.
Despite the realization of all that went on today, we are excited to be back (safe) at home regrouping for our guests tomorrow. More than that, though, we’re regrouping for our own sake, trying to figure out how to navigate all of this new information about the world while still maintaining some level of sanity. So many facets to this journey, and so many things to figure out. It’s worth repeating that I could not do this alone. One of us can usually be “big” when the other might not be able to fully pull it together. What a indescribable gift.