All of us travel for different reasons. Most of the time, it is for our own benefit. We do it for our own pleasure, for our own growth, and/or for our own advancement. Then there are others who travel for another purpose; their travel benefits others and helps those around them in numerous ways.
MaryAnn is one of these people. She has traveled to better the lives of many people in impoverished areas by working for World Vision, an organization that has been helping millions of people around the world for over 60 years.
Tell us a little about World Vision International and what you do for the organization. How long have you been with them?
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian and development organization that serves about 100 million people in about 100 countries. Disaster relief is part of what we do but our main focus is community development. We spend about 15 years in impoverished communities helping them to realize their own hopes and dreams. When we leave, the community is self sufficient and they don’t say, “Look what World Vision has done” but rather, “Look what we have done.” That is how it should be.
World Vision’s model of community development is what made the difference for me. Seeing a model that actually breaks the poverty cycle and gets at the root causes of poverty and injustice are why I became a donor and then a volunteer and now a staff member. I work with our donor volunteers and from time to time I get to take them to the field to see what their money and efforts are doing. We get to visit with the community members and hear about the work they are doing in partnership with World Vision to build better lives for children, families and the community. I have been blessed to work for them for three years this October.
Where have you traveled to for the organization?
I’ve been to Mexico a few times, Ecuador, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Cambodia. And I have traveled to a bunch of places in the US for meetings (much less exciting).
What has been your most satisfying experience?
The coolest part of traveling for World Vision is that we always get to meet people. Part of the organization’s calling is to serve the poorest of the poor and that usually takes our work to very remote areas of the world. What I have found is that I truly get to experience the culture, the people and in turn the country by getting away from the bigger cities and seeing the non-tourist inspired side.
Last March I took a group of our donors to see the work that was being done in Peru. We stayed at a hotel in Ayacucho which was lovely and it happened to be Carnival when we were there. This town was very far from Lima and the main tourist attractions so what we saw was Carnival put on by the people, for the people. Apparently people from smaller, more remote places had traveled for hours to get to Ayacucho to represent their communities at Carnival. It was amazing to glimpse this more intimate part of Peruvian culture.
Thinking of another example, the best tortillas I have ever eaten were hand made by a woman in a very poor area of Mexico. Frequently, the people we visit with see us as guests and they prepare food for us from what little they have. As an American it can take you out of your comfort zone a bit to eat food you aren’t sure is “clean” (for example one of the women in my group found a spider in her soup once) but it is humbling in the best possible way and I am sure that I have never had food prepared with so much genuine love, dignity, and righteous pride than in those dirt floor homes, spiders and all.
Where have you had the most logistical difficulties?
While visiting a community in Ecuador a few of the community members told our group about a beautiful crater lake that was about 20 minutes away. We had finished our agenda for the day and the group wanted to see the lake so we set off. It was about that time in the trip when I finally learned that everything was apparently “20 minutes” away even if it was really 2 hours away. We got to the lake and a fog had rolled in so we only got a tiny glimpse of it before the sunset. It started to get cold so we began to head back. We got to a point where all of the traffic stopped and we learned that there had been a mudslide.
Apparently, this was the only safe road in or out of the area. There was another road but it was too dangerous to drive on. The police had blocked off the area where the mudslide had happened and they didn’t know when the road would be open again. We were sort of trapped. It was dark, everyone was hungry and cold. It took me a few minutes to work out but we headed back towards the lake, found a “restaurant” which was really the second room in a two room home where a family ran a tiny restaurant business. They opened just for us and everyone warmed up and ate. When we were finished the road was open.
The next day, in another community, some of the community members wanted to take us to see a town near an active volcano. The last time the volcano erupted it covered the town in 12 feet of lava. Even though it was only “20 minutes away,” I had to put my foot down.
Have you gotten a chance to go to any of the more touristy areas when you’ve traveled, or has it been all business?
I have had the option to stay over and do some of those things but since I have kids I feel too guilty about staying any longer and I just head home. I do plan on doing that as they get older though and hopefully as they get older they will be able to meet me in different countries and we will get to explore together.
Do you have any tips for travelers choosing to go off the beaten path, or to lesser known areas?
Most of my trips have fallen into this category and I love that. In Peru we visited a town called El Tambo and it was a four hour drive into the mountains on some pretty scary mountain dirt roads but it was breathtakingly beautiful. The people we met were just as beautiful. What you get to see when you get off the beaten path is humanity in a more pure form – the truth about their struggles and their hopes and dreams and you realize they aren’t very different from your own.
One of my favorite quotes is by Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” My other favorite quote is, “The world is both more stunningly beautiful and tragically broken than most people are willing to see” – H. Peter. Whenever I meet someone who has traveled or truly desires to travel I know that they have a more complete understanding of humanity and we are probably going to get along.
My suggestions would be:
- Have a plan, know your context (don’t put yourself in an unsafe situation because you didn’t know your context), but be flexible and open to where the trip takes you.
- Work with a guide or translator who really knows not just the area but the people and the history. That extra insight is invaluable and it can keep you safe as well!
- Finally, know your comfort limits and don’t push yourself too far past them or you’ll just end up distracted.
What are some of your “must have” travel items?
Hand sanitizer – everything else can be dealt with!
And finally, did you have a favorite stuffed animal when you were a kid?
I did actually, it was a lamb someone got me as a baby. I called it Lambyginns. I am not sure why.
Has your job given you the opportunity to travel? We’d love to read your comments below! 🙂