Maine Assistant Attorney General William (Bill) Laubenstein has served abroad and in the USA with Global Volunteers since 2007 – contributing his skills to youth and adults in Vietnam, the Cook Islands, Greece, South Africa, India, Ecuador and West Virginia. In this interview, he offers highlights on his volunteer travels to date.
My Global Volunteering story has many chapters – with each service program as a separate chapter. All of the countries I have served in with Global Volunteers hold special moments in my memory. But a few stand out more than the others. Those are the ones I most often share with others.
I first served in Tanzania – in the little mountain village of Ipalamwa – teaching civics to middle school students. They were attentive, writing diligently each word spoken or written, knowing that only hard work would enable them to move to the next level. I was impressed by their determination. But more than the great experiences I had in the classroom, there is the memorable Saturday night student service – where students alone or with small groups sang and danced in a festival. Each night, I put my name on the list and offered a song. Days offered long walks that attracted bright smiling children eager to pose for a picture. The welcome from the students and villagers, the guided tour through the market, the competitive scrabble games, all are still vivid in my mind.
In Ecuador, the Global Volunteers team pulled together helping in two-day care centers—serving lunch, helping with the feeding of the youngest, preparing lesson materials, taking long walks hand in hand to the playground for games and pushing these beautiful children on the swings. One little girl attached herself to me and we shared many smiles. The last day party of featured girls in party dresses and the young women teachers performing native dances; then an evening of dancing with the teachers and hotel staff.
I asked a colleague before leaving for my Global Volunteers service program in India to tell me about her country. She said she could not really tell what it would be like when I arrived because each time she visits the country has changed. Yes, India is a country constantly changing so I only got to sample a moment in time. Cultural shock is not too strong a phrase to describe my reaction to the visual and physical impact of the heat, the crowded streets, the roaming animals, the strong contrasts of vibrant modern cities and poor outlining villages. Each evening over dinner my partner and I talked with Stephen, the country manager, about India, its political and religious challenges. His leadership now in Nepal is a strong pull to serve there with him.
Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. – Buddha
I could speak more about Global Volunteers in Crete, South Africa, and the Cook Islands, but the one country that draws me back is Vietnam. I served there in 2017 and 2018, each time working in the Vietnam Institute for Development Strategies with Institute researches on their English literacy skills. These women and men are among the country’s best and brightest, all working to move their country forward after decades of war and the deprivations of war. When asked about the “American War,” they respond that they have moved on. Just meeting with them, sharing stories, taking lunch with them was so enriching. Each morning I walked through the markets of the Old Quarter before joining in the groups exercising around Hoan Kiem Lake, a lake rich with Viet Nam history and entwined with its ancient and colorful culture. In the evening, I walked around the lake with couples and families, children playing and enjoying ice cream. I kept in touch over the year with a young woman I worked with in 2017 and we renewed our friendship in 2018, enjoying a hot pot dinner at her favorite vegetarian restaurant, and buzzing through the sea of motorbikes on her bike. Exciting, exhilarating, dynamic. After dinner, we had ice cream at a very local indoor, (bikes included), ice cream parlor before taking a stroll around the Hoan Kiem Lake. I cannot fail to mention, too, that each year our team was led by Jeff Rogo, a wonderfully warm and caring leader.
There is no escaping the changes and chances of this fleeting world, but we can choose to stand together. – Canon Angela Tilby
The trip home always provides time to reflect on my Global Volunteers service: did I give as much as I took away? Did I carry out our mission of promoting peace and understanding as well as sharing my talents and experiences? Was I able to offer the help the host country was seeking? Overall, I believe the time was well spent, both for me and the adults and children I met and shared my life with as they shared a small part of their lives with me. Nevertheless, the return home involves a significant readjustment to life here in the United States. This has been particularly true with regard to Vietnam, a place I now feel is like a second home, a home I will certainly be returning to.