In the summer of 2014, Liz Turnage and her son Jacob decided to take some time out of their busy schedule to make a difference in a rural village in Tanzania. This was a difficult task given that Liz is a full-time and hardworking physician and Jacob is an active teenager and involved high school student. They made it happen though! And now both Liz and Jacob view their experience as one of the best decisions they’ve made. Here’s their story…
Interview with Liz
Why did you decide to volunteer with your son? What motivated you?
“Jacob has grown up with many more privileges than most both in America and around the world. It was important to us that he have some exposure to other cultures and ways of life, and to understand how important it is to give back to the world. He’s also growing up fast, so having some time away from cell phones and electronics and home distractions is a great way to have some bonding time.
There are not many mother/son programs around, this worked great for both of us. We did a service trip to Central America the previous summer and had a wonderful trip working in a small village. Jacob made friends with kids who didn’t share his language as well as kids from across the USA. He worked hard, laughed, exercised, made friends and on the return trip said “I realized cell phones aren’t really important”–pretty amazing from an American 14 year old! We both returned home wanting to do more, again looking for need, organization, and exposure to other cultures. We didn’t think we could have a better experience but we both agreed, Tanzania was even more amazing and worth the long days of travel. We both are looking forward to a return trip in the next few years. Jacob really wanted to see Africa, so we went looking for a program with a clear record of service that could accommodate our different ages and skills and give us guidance on our first trip to the continent. Global Volunteers was clearly the best choice, they were experienced and established, had needs we could both meet in our own ways, and staff that were local we could learn from. We didn’t want a program that tried to change the local culture, we wanted a program that respected that culture and worked with local people and ideas.”
How did experiencing this volunteer program together impact your relationship?
“The memories we share are amazing, it’s one of the few times since Jacob has been a teenager we’ve had significant quality time together. He’s growing up fast and I know the time he’ll spend traveling with his mom is limited. We both had fun and got to work together in ways that’ll never happen at home. It was a wonderful way to see the young man my son is becoming, since like most teen boys he doesn’t talk much about what’s going on his life it was a unique opportunity. And Edward’s advice to me as we were leaving was priceless–“Jacob is a good boy, he is 75% work, you find him a good wife, not a wife that will confuse him…”–I’m doing my best!”
What would you say to other parents who may be considering this opportunity for their children?
“We had several multi-generational pairs in our group. My son was 15 at the time of our trip. Our Tanzanian experience was wonderful start to finish. We quickly felt like we had an extended family, and really appreciate all the Global Volunteer’s team did to make us feel safe and welcome. It was a rare combination of fun and hard work, without the stresses (and electronics) of home to interfere with time together. The landscape was amazing, we felt safe the whole time, and the trip was wonderfully organized. Edward, our team leader, was a great role model for Jacob to work with. I wish every teen could have an opportunity to do something like this with a parent, it was quality time in the best sense of the phrase.”
Interview with Jacob
Describe your favorite memory while volunteering with your mom.
“My favorite memory on the trip I think was a combination of memories. During our time in Pommern, I have never seen her so happy. Always a smile on her face and always ready to see twice as many patients as she sees on a regular day at home. I’d wake up early every day, really early, and yet as I was coming down for coffee, she was about to head out the door, off to see 40+ patients before breakfast. I will never forget how happy she was, and still is. I took some photographs one afternoon of her talking with a bunch of young girls. The smile on her face I just won’t forget.”
Did you learn anything new about your mom or your relationship with her?
“I learned for one thing, what a hard worker she is. I knew through all of her schooling she would have to be, but man, she really loves what she does. I am an independent son to say the least, and my mother knows that, but we had a great trip together. I’d tell her about my day helping Moses build a new bathroom and working with Edward on different tasks at hand as she would tell me about all of the patients she would see, about how if she had the same resources at home she could get most of them back to health in no time at all. I have always loved my mother, but this trip gave me a whole new perspective on the matter, now I really really love her.”
To learn about how you can volunteer in Tanzania with Global Volunteers, click HERE.