Volunteerism, the only ism Worth Following


Without trying to come off as more pedantic and effete than I already am, I stand by the statement above. The reward factor is fully symbiotic – what we derive from our commitments is at least equal to the work that goes into them. The Beatles said it best at the end of the second side of Abbey Road. Lori’s work in helping the orphaned and needy personifies altruism at the highest level. When I am nailing up forms and watching a building for pre-schoolers take shape  in front of me, the satisfaction of doing is matched only by the appreciation emanating from the various interests that are served. Knowing that we are contributing in a fairly minute way to the achievement of concrete goals and the overall  betterment of humanity is a rush.

Many (though not nearly enough) individuals choose to give money to their favourite charities. There is a sense of satisfaction knowing that one’s hard earned dollars are helping those in need, however the actual sense of assisting is usually quite nebulous. Of course the tax receipt is a nice perk too. Sitting on an organization’s board could be considered a further level up the charity scale. In this case money and time are being donated. However, if you really, really want to get a sense of reality, if you welcome the opportunity to come face to face with certain elements of this planet that you would never, in all likelihood, otherwise be in direct contact with, try signing up and volunteering for a couple of weeks in the 2nd or 3rd world. Be prepared to have your eyes opened, your taste buds piqued, your emotions exhilerated and your soul bathed in contentment. The experience is incredible.

When traveling, I’ve often stated that it’s the weather you get and the people you meet that make or break the trip. This entry is mainly about the people. Ecotourism and Voluntourism is growing and spreading throughout the world as people of the baby boomer generation decide that it’s time to enact all those values that we fought and stood for growing up in the days of Abbie Hoffman, Richard Nixon, Timothy Leary and a whole cast of psychedelically colourful people. We have more time available, a few bucks in our pockets and can also see that as we close in on 60 that the end of the line is coming down at us so we’d better act now.

Lori and I have been very fortunate in many aspects of our lives. This is our third volunteer venture. Peru reminds us of India more than Vietnam for one particular reason. In Vietnam, there were 2 guests in the guest house – me and she. We do enjoy each others’ company quite a bit but spending every evening on our own playing Angry Birds and Bejewelled respectively left us aching for company. Cusco, like Chennai, offers up a cast of volunteers with whom we eat, work and play.

Many of the volunteers are students – some taking gap year; some, having finished their education and desire something different before engaging the real world. Others are med students doing placements. Two are recent high school grads. More on them later. The split between youngs and olds is about 70-30. Fortunately for both Lori and I, our chosen endeavours back home – hers in terms of art photography, mine in terms of dealing with young creative loft tenants, has kept us somewhat in the younger loop. Our relationships with Andrew’s and Trevor’s friends is a further indication to us that our lives have not settled into full blown fogiedom. The distinctions between generations in a volunteer group is absolutely non-existant. What is shared in spirit, approach, and adventure by far overrides any disparities created by birth dates. The same dynamic exists within those of similar ages. The young ‘uns come from all walks of life, countries, financial and educational backgrounds but the camaraderie cuts through any differentiations. Likewise, us in our 50’s share the same levels of diversity. The thing is, at worst you engage in pleasant conversations with some while others become instant mates, as the plethora of Aussies inhabiting this joint would say. Traveling is nothing new to Lori or me. Since marriage we have seen much of the world together. In our single days we both travelled extensively and off the beaten path. To a great degree, our individual travel experiences were one of the major elements that drew us toward each other in the early days. Her body didn’t exactly hinder the proccess, either.

All to say we have both, individually and as a couple, experienced the unique type of relationship that is enjoyed on the road. You meet somebody and spend as little as a day or two or as much as several months together. Regardless of the time frame, the intensity and depth of the experience is everlasting in the psyche. Partly because of the extenuating circumstance forced upon you by a pre-defined time constraint, you have to make the most of it and you tend to go deep real quick. You meet, you love, you like, you laugh, you learn… you move on with a piece of that individual forever ensconced in a special place in your heart and mind.

This is a side benefit of volunteerism. Chances are you will never see any of these people again. Once in a while a surprise visit occurs on home turf but that’s just an added life bonus. Despite the fact that as little as a few days or at most a couple of weeks are spent together, the people are never forgotten.

We will attempt to create a few sketches, pix and words as usual, of some of the characters we’ve been fortunate to have met up with as the volunteer portion of our voyage nears its close. A few of our housemates have been touched on already, here is a quick view into some of the others; enjoy our company.

Kendrick. An old soul in a young body, he hails from the Seattle area. He is in pre-med and will make a compassionate and comforting doctor one day. Mellow and musical, Kendrick does for others before he does for himself. On his last night here, he gathered the volunteers around a table and sang a song to us that he had written about moving on and saying good bye. He placed himself in all our hearts that night.


Amy. One of the plethora of Aussies here, Amy personifies kindness and warmth, but don’t cross her. Her smile radiates and her natural pretty and wholesome looks fit perfectly on the farm girl that she is. A dedicated and hard working student, she is heading for what will certainly be a successful career in child care. Her values are solid and old fashionned but her being is fully contemporary. She is the hardest bargainer here and when she walks into the market, the vendors cringe. An example of Amy’s soul – She worked and saved to allow herself the oportunity to join the volunteer program. She then raised aditional funds through a sausage sale at her church group. Rather than apply the money to her trip, she is taking the proceeds and buying a washing machine and dryer for the orphanage. Rarely have I met such a genuine and fine person.

Jon. Maybe it’s the Jewish conection, but we met and clicked. Jon is between Andrew and Trevor chronologically. He is a gifted math whiz who, in kindergarden, when everybody wanted to be firemen or astronauts, wanted to be an actuary. Don’t judge him by that. Okay, maybe just a bit. He has finished uni, as the Oz people say, and will be heading into the world of business. Having graduated amongst the top in the country, he will be employed at a high level in the Australian government’s central banking. Don’t be surprised if I send out a follow up blog in a couple of decades referring to this kid who has become the head of the IMF or something similar by then.

He shares my dry sense of humour and his timing is identical to mine. More often than not our comments come out in stereo. We work on construction and tend to communicate with each other in a way that nobody else in Peru seems to have any idea as to what is transpiring. He looks to me as a vision of  where he is heading, which has resulted in the saying we share  “Luke, I am your future”. We are part of the construction-Spanish class cadre and since we are also living in the same house, I think that we’ve spent more time together than anyone else here. I will miss him the most when we go.


Jon arrived with his schoolmate Arthur, in tow. Although Arthur lives in Melbourne at present, he originates fromn China and will ultimately be returning to the mother country to help move the family business further. His father is in Shanghai and seems to have a substantial real estate company under his belt. Arthur is being groomed to enhance the links in the political sphere, with the ultimate goal to logarithmically advance the family fortune. He is hard working and driven. Both he and John are on my construction team and in our Spanish class. Arthur was as familiar with physical labour as he was with Spanish, i.e. nada. But he has worked incredibly hard to better himself in both spheres. The bus ride back to our guest house after construction is not the best time to engage him in conversation; he is out cold 20 seconds into the ride. Unfortunately, Arthur’s stay was cut short today as a result of a family illness. He is heading to Australia to pick up his Chinese passport and will be heading back to Shanghai to deal with some unpleasantness.

Alana is yet another wallabyist. A medical student, we spend much time together. She is not a house guest but one of the construction crew and part of our small daily Spanish class. We have great times together as both those activities lead to heavy bonding. She and Lori snap a zillion photographs together. Alana is not afraid of hard work and contributes mightily in all areas of mutual endeavour. Another example of the type of over achiever that reflects the profile of the type of person who signs up for this type of program.


One of the few Americans in the group is Grayson Keller (sitting behind Alana), a native of Nantucket and a large teddy bear of a guy. He is in his mid twenties and works in construction on the island. He also has a landscaping business that is his true passion. He is also a musician that was good enough to get into Berklee. We discuss flowers and plants, Getz and Coltrane, and spend much time hammering nails, building supports, sawing posts and doing all kind of construction things together. He is mellow, kind and certainly coming into his own.  

Vicky is yet another kangarooite. She is a school principal who has travelled the globe, mostly on foot it seems, having completed the Inca trail, climbed Kilimanjaro, traversed New Zealand and hiked Mongolia. And that was just last week. She is older, more reserved but exudes competance. Vicky has recently spent a year in Qatar helping them set up their educaional system. Were she to have moved there full time and taken the top spot, Arab spring would have sprung successfully from there.

 Mim, short for Merian, is yet another down underite. She is a teacher and worked under and subsequently befriended Vickey. Our first conversation centered around the correct pronunciation of Tower of Babel. She insisted that it was Baybel, I of course correctly took the approach of babble and was naturally proven right yet again. We managed to do what the Babylonians couldn’t and built a solid relationship on that foundation. Mim is solid, dependable, sharp, kind, caring, funny and has an incredible crush on the doctor who looks after the volunteers.

Dr. Grover

 In her own self deprecating fashion, Mim is a house favourite. She is old school with a mischievous twist.

Delima, or as I prefer to call her, Dilemma is one of the more fascinating characters in what is already a fascinating cast of characters. Heralding from Malaysia but presently studying in Australia, she is a complex and interesting compilation of her background, her present environment, and a mind that is sharp and restive. Her parents are both successful journalists and Delima speaks beautifully and eloquently although her verbiage is punctuated with ‘fuck’ and ‘niggah’ (used almost poetically in a rap sense). She is coming to terms with her various and varied elements that make her up. Educated, modern Muslim, (fluent in English, much to the chagrin of the average Malay), compulsively neat (home clothes for indoors, multiple daily showers, a phobia about people sitting on her bed, etc.) elfin and brave, Dilemma is learning the ways of the world. At this point, she is not sure of the direction in which she is heading. I have many long and interesting discussions with her and a major theme that runs through them centers on the realization that she is in a developmental portion of her life and she must catalogue and learn. Where she ultimately ends up  who knows; but this is a point in time for gathering skill sets, not making decisions. My relationship with her is in constant flux – from paternal to friend to confidante to just being silly together. She is upbeat and fun and is an integral element of the house.

Then there’s Bridgette; a New Zealander by birth, she moved to Australia at 17, met a guy, pumped out 4 children in 5 years, raised a family, had the kids move out, ditched the father and has entered into a new phase of her life.She is traveling and the world is her oyster. Bridge enjoys, really enjoys a bottle of white wine now and again and again and again. She also smokes like a chimney and loves to have fun. Her experiential existence seems sheltered almost to the point of naive. She is scattered and forever misplacing and losing stuff. Bridgette also seems to possess one of the most natural instincts for business of anyone I’ve ever met. There is a simple formula that she follows – if it’s cheap enough – buy it. She has bought and sold real estate, purchased, developed and sold a successful nursery (only to buy it back for 10 cents on the dollar after the purchaser made a mess of it) and then resold it. Bridgette loves life and makes no apologies for doing so.

Every now and again a meteor flashes into one’s life. Tiagra is one such such meteor. Charismatic, charming, pretty and loaded down with more baggage that the Samsonite warehouse, this Vancouver product is a talent, an energy and a force that could make serious impact. Don’t let the pierced septum, shaved left side of her head and assorted tattoos allow you to write her off. Assuming that she is able to come to terms with her demons and channel her talent (she wants to go into fashion design) Tia will hopefully find the canvas to allow her to share her skills and her personality with the rest of the world. It will be fun for all those who have been fortunate to cross her path to see her in action.

A couple of days ago two kids showed up at the door. Eleanor and Nora (or as I refer to them EleaNora) are recent US high school grads. Eleanor will be attending McGill this fall so naturally the conversation started there. The two girls had met in high school and were now taking a gap year together. Lori asked, quite innocently, where they went to high school. Nora answered that it was a small private school in Connecticut that Lori had probably never heard of. Yup, Choate. Three Choaties sitting in a kitchen in a volunteer guest house in Cusco, Peru. Pretty common stuff. The rest of the night was spent discussing a few faculty members still there, recounting personal experiences, but mostly being blown away by the coincidence. The two girls are very much into partying and my hope is that this gap year will induce a level of maturity heretofore unseen. But they are a couple of smart kids with much ahead of them.

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