Travel is an important part of my life. And in the last fifteen years or so, volunteer travel has been a game-changer.
In fact, I just did the math: Of the 39 posts I’ve contributed to this blog, 22 have involved travel, of which 10 specifically focused on volunteer trips, like Mr. Silverback and Me or The Toilet and the Classroom. (If you want to see photos of some of the more exotic trips, you’ll find them at my blog.) It wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been self-employed management consultants with great work/life flexibility. A friend of our daughter, when she was about 14, once said to her parents, “I don’t know what Carole and Geoffrey do, but that’s what I want to do when I grow up.”
The flexibility became even more important towards the end of our careers, since we could “dial down” the assignments and free up time to do other things. But what other things?
Enter American Jewish World Service (AJWS). They had a program called the Volunteer Corps that sent out mid-career or post-career professionals to non-profits in the developing world, groups that were long on doing good, but often short on doing it efficiently. My husband was a former Peace Corps Volunteer and I was a former public school teacher, so travel + service = perfect.
AJWS’s assignments ranged from two months to a year. Perfect! What was also important to us was that AJWS placed more emphasis on the S than the J, since we are what’s called secular Jews, ie we identify as Jews but don’t practice the religion and certainly wouldn’t have been able to teach anyone about it. Our lucky linkage with AJWS — we happened to see the only ad they ran in a magazine we rarely read — resulted in five projects spread out over seven years.
Irrigated agriculture in drought-stricken Senegal, gorilla preservation in Uganda, orphan welfare in Namibia, sex education in Thailand, and AIDS prevention/treatment with a marginalized segment of the population in Ghana. All “good” things.
The big questions: Was it enough? Did it make a difference?
Yes and Yes. Globally? Probably not. But for that one non-profit doing one good thing in one place, definitely. And that was good enough for us. We had an itch, we found a way to scratch it, it felt good and it did good at the same time. And that’s not a coincidence: helping someone else feels good.
Have you ever experienced that?
* * * *