Seniors invited to take part in vacation volunteerism

By Robin Intemann

For most, vacations are for kicking back and taking in the sites. For others like Kay Striklan and her husband, Lynn, it’s an opportunity to give something to communities in need. Learning about a country, the people they serve and themselves are the memories they bring home.

Those who enjoy volunteering while on holiday keep busy sharing their time and talents with others at their own expense – whether digging wells, planting gardens or teaching anything from English to computer skills, from health care to nutrition.

The couple made their first trip to Tanzania in 2001 in what was a combined anniversary and milestone birthday celebration. “I had always wanted to see East Africa,” Stricklan said. “I wanted to go on safari. Then I happened to check out Global Volunteers to see if we could also do a project through them. It wasn’t the animals that enchanted us as much as the people we were able to serve.”

Since 1984 Global Volunteers has provided services to communities in need around the world through one-, two-and three-week projects. Global Volunteers reports, “Half of our volunteers are 55 and older – 30 percent are over 65.”

During their first three-week visit, the Striklans met Andrew Mbughi. “We became friends with him and helped him with a career change to become a medical technician there in Tanzania.” This, in turn, led to the creation of Tutaweza, an educational aid project providing scholarships. The organization has awarded 60 scholarships for students, mostly orphans, to continue their education. Mbughi volunteers as the liaison between the Tanzanian children and the Colorado Springs-based nonprofit.

In October, Striklan will make her seventh trip to Tanzania. “My husband has gone one more time than I have, we’ll be even after this one” she said. Usually, their visits are meeting with Mbughi and the scholarship recipients. This year’s trip will be different.

Not only will it include four, possibly six, others from Colorado along with locals from the Tanzanian village of Ipalamwa, but they will partner with Global Volunteers on the Reaching Children’s Potential (RCP) project.

RCP is concerned, among other things, with the issue of stunting, a problem, Stricklan says is not improving. According to the Global Volunteers website “Stunting is caused by a complex array of factors, but in summary, it is the result of insufficient food, nutrition and protection from disease during the first 1000 days from conception through the second birthday – and inadequate parental education.”

Toward this end, volunteers will work with families on hygiene, developing skills so parents can better communicate with their children and build container gardens, Stricklan explained.

Not all of the trips the Stricklans have made to Tanzania have been through Global Volunteers. The ones they’ve made as part of Tutaweza have required them to do all of the planning and organizing. By contrast, Stricklan said, Global Volunteers provides participants with all of the necessary information to ensure they feel comfortably prepared for the tasks at hand, and the organization makes all the arrangements.

“Global Volunteers has got your back,” she said. Included in the $2,095 cost are food, lodging, evacuation insurance and local transportation. Air fare and incidentals are additional expenses.

Volunteering is nothing new for Stricklan who doesn’t just assist those in Tanzania. Locally, she has been active through Lutheran Family Services for many years. “When it comes to volunteering,” she said, “I’m kind of an addict.”

Admittedly, Stricklan said she likes to travel and not all trips involve volunteerism. Although, she noted, she likes to find ways to ensure her tourist dollars go to the local community rather than big businesses.

But it’s Tanzania that holds a special place in her heart. “The smiles here are just the best,” she said. “There is just such joy that comes from working with little kids. I love getting into the traditions of the country. It’s wonderful. It’s more than wonderful.”

She said she sees volunteer vacations, which are popular among seniors through Global Volunteers, “As a way to reach outside your comfort zone; to lend their gifts to a project. It’s an experience that is life changing … and senior citizens are revered in Tanzania.”

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