I first encountered international volunteering with my Rotary club, as we conducted a home rebuilding project in Guatemala post Hurricane Mitch. During the trip, I spent considerable time with the family of the village chief. When I first saw Maria, their six year old daughter, she was asleep in the mud of their living room floor. She was a healthy, sweet child and she became my shadow for the entire time I was in the village. When I returned the next year, Maria was no longer the vibrant little girl of a year ago, but was now thin, gaunt and bedridden from tuberculosis. Several nights during my stay I sat with Amilca, her older brother, while he tried to keep her fever down with a damp cloth.
With her parents and a doctor from our group, we decided that when we left the village, we would take Maria with us to a tuberculosis sanitarium. However, by the end of the week her condition was much worse and she was unable to travel. By the time we finished our long hike out of the jungle, word awaited us that Maria had passed away. This event changed me. I realized just how privileged I was; how if Maria were in Canada or the USA, she would have gotten the proper care she so desperately needed. From that point forward, I committed to do whatever I could to help alleviate the burden of poverty in the developing world.
After several more volunteering trips, I began to realize that not only did we make a great difference in the lives of our project beneficiaries, this work was also having a huge impact on us. The opportunity to serve internationally added a whole new very positive dimension to our lives. At the time, there was little opportunity for people outside of organizations like Rotary to be involved in international volunteering, so we decided we would start an organization that would offer the opportunity to anybody and everybody.