What was the highlight of your trip?
Rich: That’s a tough one but meeting my children and their families was just about as good as it gets. In Kenya I had to travel overland deep into the interior of the country where Mureti, the young boy I sponsored, lived. It was there in the middle of the desert set among the Baobab trees that his school and tiny village were located. I met his grandfather and cousins who were caring for him after he lost both parents to aids and before I left we planted a tree to remember my time with his community. I was the first westerner to visit his tiny enclave. Every experience I had with all my kids was like that; incredible.
Why did you volunteer abroad with Love Volunteers in Peru?
Rich: After I had made the initial decision to take a year and travel around the world it occurred to me that there were three fundamental spiritual callings occurring at the same time. The first was the idea that I wanted to take a step away from the handcuffs of an existence defined in part by the worlds collective dream of what one is supposed to “do” in life and instead, before it was over, to take time and “just be”. The second was to visit all nine children I had been sponsoring since 1990 and the third was to make the trip about giving (not getting) and to do that I needed help setting up numerous meaningful volunteer programs in over twelve countries where I could participate in something bigger than myself. Love Volunteers was the perfect organization to connect me to those experiences.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Rich: That’s a hard one. Love Volunteers set me up in Peru, Albania, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nepal. Each country and program had its own special savoir-faire but if I had to describe one common link between them all, it would be “organized chaos”.
That’s not a bad thing by the way. That’s what life is. When you volunteer you have to be prepared to be ready for the unexpected and be self-motivated. You learn very quickly that different cultures act and do things very differently than westerners. You need to be ready to work with people who don’t speak your language or live at all like you do and it’s important that you arrive without any expectation.
I brushed children’s teeth in Peru and then played goalie on a rock and dirt soccer field with them, I taught young Albanian boys what the term “respect” (respekt in Albanian) meant and why it is a cornerstone in the way you should lead your life.
I worked with leapers in Ethiopia and rewrote a complete business plan and designed a web site for a volunteer organization in Uganda. In Kenya I spent time in an IDP camp and taught leadership skills to young adults, and in Nepal I taught English to boys displaced by Maoist rebels. In every location I tried to use my gifts to fill in gaps at each program and I always learned as much from the people I worked with as they did from me.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Rich: When I returned from my trip abroad I decided to quit my job and start a non-profit organization dedicated to helping neglected communities around the world sustainably emerge from self, moral and material poverty. It’s called The Orchids of Light Foundation and we connect people with a giving heart to sustainable projects needing funding that originate from fourteen communities in nine countries around the globe. We are unlike any other non-profit because we give 100% of our patron’s donation to the community and project of their choice. Love Volunteers connected me to five of those communities.