Forty years ago, Laura Tomlinson and Kim Berge worked together in Colorado Springs. They parted ways soon after college to pursue their careers – Kim attended a Physician Assistant program in CT and Laura pursued a graduate degree in Education in CA. They never lived in the same town again. Each got married, raised their own families, established careers, dealt with many of life’s twists and turns, and stayed connected by phone for four decades. After they both retired, they talked about traveling abroad together. How fortunate for us that they chose our Peru Program for their first volunteer vacation!
Laura explains why they chose Global Volunteers: “Philosophically, we agree with the Global Volunteers’ way of operating – to meet needs identified by the host site and work beside the locals to augment their efforts toward change. After a lot of research on different organizations, Global Volunteers shifted to the top after in-depth communication with the head office and several alumni volunteers. Our due diligence assured us that Global Volunteers provides a solid infrastructure as well as opportunities, for Kim to use her medical skills and for me to teach English. Finally, we chose to volunteer in Sagrada Familia, an orphanage outside Lima, Peru because it’s a relatively easy route from our homes in Colorado and New Mexico, and because of our Spanish skills.”
Retiree volunteers tend to have a life-long experience and skills to contribute, regarding their volunteer projects, Laura explains: “On site, it took a couple days to develop partnerships that were viable and lent themselves to contribution versus observation. After substitute teaching in the upper school, prepping vegetables in the kitchen for the students’ mid-day meal, and playing with the toddlers in the pre-school, I settled into a routine for the remainder of the two weeks. Kim and I worked in the medical clinic in the mornings that serves not only the students and staff, but also locals in the surrounding shantytown. After I weighed, measured heights, took temperatures, and charted, Kim took blood pressures, and she then assisted with medical interventions. This experience alone was an entrée into the local culture – siblings accompanying their elders, young mothers nursing their newborns, locals needing psychiatric support, and students wandering in with their playground scrapes and yearning for personal attention. The clinic is a safe space where members of this community congregate to share, ask, advise, and address life’s fundamental issues.”
“We walked away humbled, in awe of the orphanage’s efforts to save the lives of their 1,300 children, and hoping that our contributions really mattered.” ~Laura Tomlinson
Volunteering provides you with the opportunity to build a bridge of communication and care, with people from different countries, and explore a different culture and way of life. Laura says: “The natural barriers between the orphanage staff and students, who rarely if ever had worked with Americans, and volunteer team melted over time. Kim and I partnered with a young medical assistant eager to learn English. The latter was proficient, organized, and curious about Kim and me. Despite the language barrier, we laughed, hustled as a team, and bonded around needs of the patients. At the same time, Kim struck up a conversation with a fifth grade teacher who accompanied a student to the clinic. This dedicated educator is invested in his students learning English. From there on out, Kim and I participated in his class in the afternoons assisting with vocabulary definitions and pronunciation through chorale response and role playing. Similar to all of our interactions with students in this orphanage, every individual in this class of 45 was affectionate, demanding of our attention, and curious about who we are and our lives in the United States. Although neither the teacher nor the students communicated in English, our bond was celebrated on our last day with banners thanking us and decorated handwritten letters expressing gratitude and good will. We departed in tears.”
“The potential to develop relationships such as these and the desire to make a difference in the lives of few were the motivation driving us to volunteer.” ~Laura Tomlinson
Reflecting on their service in Peru, Laura shares: “We consider ourselves fortunate to have lived life as we have, and our subsequent shared experience cemented the fact that the two of us make an excellent team. Witnessing each other at our best, and at our worst, we nudged each other through several uncomfortable situations. We had to dig deep internally in search of resources to unlearn and relearn. Our self-deprecating senses of humor served as our most effective antidote.
“The complexity of this volunteer experience is challenging but doable. The sum total is exhilarating.” ~Laura Tomlinson
VOLUNTEER WITH YOUR FRIENDS, FAMILY, GROUP OR AS AN INDIVIDUAL
Laura and Kim have committed to serve together on another exhilarating volunteer experience. You can have the satisfaction of sharing service with your friends too! We engage people of all ages and from all walks of life on our volunteer programs. Learn more about how to volunteer in Peru or contact us to learn more about our worldwide volunteer opportunities.
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