Inveterate Travelers Find Meaning in Relationships Formed Through Service
Greg and Marcia Potvin have served on eleven service programs with Global Volunteers since 2007. In this interview with Maggie Bjorklund, Volunteer Engagement Manager, Greg and Marcia tell why they continue giving of themselves as volunteers, what they’ve learned from our partner communities around the world, and why they intend to return once the pandemic has diminished.
Greg and Marcia Potvin really know what they are talking about when they speak of volunteering abroad. Over 13 years, they’ve served in nine different countries: Ecuador, Romania, Tanzania, Peru, India, Cuba, Greece, Nepal, and the Cook Islands. They identify with the goals of Global Volunteers of waging peace around the world, and forming friendships that establish the foundation for peace among cultures. But the questions begs to be asked: What is there in volunteering abroad that has made it such an important part of their lives? This is their story:
What continues to motivate you to serve with Global Volunteers?
We are inveterate travelers and seekers of knowledge about other cultures and people. The depth of intimacy one experiences in this type of travel is life changing. The personal relationships that we develop, both with the people we serve as well as fellow volunteers, adds incredible personal value to our lives. We have access to so much wealth it only makes sense to share what we can. The gratitude we are extended can be overwhelming and humbling.
“The personal relationships that we develop, both with the people we serve as well as fellow volunteers, adds incredible personal value to our lives.”– Greg and Marcia Potvin
Greg and Marcia’s appreciation of the relationships they form with the people they serve and their fellow volunteers is sincere. After serving in Greece in 2017, Greg and Marcia wrote: “We always enjoy the chance to get to know the people of our host country. As always, the people were curious and helpful. On one occasion we visited the home of one of our students. The team consisted of a number of interesting and enjoyable people.” In 2018, Greg wrote these lines to the people he served with in Tanzania: “We often tell our friends and family that one of the greatest gifts of volunteering is serving with brave, compassionate and selfless people. My life has been enriched in countless ways by my interactions with you!” And Marcia shared after working with women who carried bricks, sand, and water for a construction project in Tanzania: “It is all about relationships! …I was blessed to call [the local people I served with] by name and ask about their families as the day progressed. Making an effort to learn their names afforded me the opportunity to sing with them as they worked. They taught me songs, more Swahili, and an appreciation for the sisterhood we share.”
Has the experience of serving abroad with Global Volunteers changed your life?
Greg says, “It is impossible not to be changed. Watching people with so little open their lives to us in so many ways always makes me humble. We have so much, and I wonder sometimes if we are as welcoming.”
And Marcia adds: “Serving abroad, I experience the wealth of how being vulnerable, observant, and loving can cause continued growth.”
“Watching people with so little open their lives to us in so many ways always makes me humble. “– Greg Potvin
How do you connect your interactions with local people with the greater goal of waging peace?
As residents of the USA, we feel a responsibility to demonstrate that we are all in this together. We want to dispel any misconceptions people may have and we find direct interaction to be the best practice to create understanding. We are more alike than different and this is much more obvious through this type of connection.
Greg and Marcia have indeed waged peace all around the world. They have served struggling communities in all sorts of ways, from teaching English to labor projects, and even teaching how to make PowerPoint presentations. Exploring each of those experiences would take volumes, but perhaps exploring one snippet can give us an idea of what those experiences have meant to them. In a journal entry Marcia wrote when leading workshops for parents in Tanzania, she says: “Today was another humbling time for me as a mother stood up, baby at her breast and thanked me for sharing so much information with the group and for being so kind to them. The simple things that I know intuitively and from experience with children are the things that, when communicated, humble me so. The only reason I know these basic facts is because I have been privileged from birth.”
For Greg and Marcia, the value of serving abroad lies in the relationships they are able to form with the people they serve and their fellow volunteers. As they mentioned, when people with so little open their lives to you, the experience humbles you, makes you examine your own life and causes you to grow. That is a life-changing experience, and it makes volunteering abroad worthwhile.
“Today was another humbling time for me as a mother stood up, baby at her breast and thanked me for sharing so much information with the group and for being so kind to them.”– Marcia Potvin
Do you intend to serve again when it’s safe? If so, where would you like to serve?
We are planning on serving again with Global Volunteers as soon as it is safe. We are planning to return to Ipalamwa as soon as it is open, and also St. Lucia, Crete, and Cook Islands in the future. We may try to do two programs a year if financially possible.
What are your greatest concerns about what’s happening in our partner communities during the pandemic?
We are concerned about the continuity which we believe to be so important to these programs. Many have become accustomed to our presence and our absence could cause profound deficits for the programs and the people.
How important will Global Volunteers be to help partner communities recover?
Our involvement will be crucial to recovery. As much as anything Global Volunteers’ return should assure the recipients that we are still there for them and that our commitment is long standing.
What advice do you have for those who have to wait to serve abroad?
Please be ready to jump in once the opportunity is right. We are quite sure that we will be needed more than ever and that we will be welcomed with open arms by all we serve. We anticipate that what we receive in affirmation will be intense and rewarding. More now than ever the people of the world need those who serve through Global Volunteers.
“Please be ready to jump in once the opportunity is right. We are quite sure that we will be needed more than ever and that we will be welcomed with open arms by all we serve. More now than ever the people of the world need those who serve through Global Volunteers.“– Greg and Marcia Potvin
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