Category Archives: Uncategorized

Kawazu Sakura Matsuri (2020 Quarantine Edition)

We’re stuck inside, travel (and other life) restrictions in full swing.  But our minds are still free.  And there are so many things we can learn, enjoy, and discover from the wonders of our own internet-filled living rooms.  So, where should we begin? 

I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit over the past ~decade.  I actually started this blog hoping to share and process some of those experiences but to be honest, I’m usually too busy enjoying the trip to take the time to sit down and capture it in words!  And when I do, it takes me forever because I agonize over making it perfect – as any self-respecting, detail-oriented scientist would. 🙂 Ahhhh…luckily, I’ve suddenly found myself with a lot of time at home on my hands.  It still won’t be perfect, but at least it’ll occupy a few minutes of my time.  And maybe it’ll be a welcome and positive distraction for you, too.

Instead of debating the perfect opening post, I’m just going with the one that calls me in the moment.  Growing up near Washington DC meant that The Cherry Blossom Festival was always such a big deal.  If you’ve never witnessed first hand the pink and white beauty reflecting in the Tidal Basin, you should really add it to your bucket list! I can’t remember the last time I went, though, because the number of tourists usually outnumbers even the number of blossoms.  That is, if you are lucky enough to catch a peek before rain, snow, wind or any number of other natural “disasters” wipes the blooms off the trees and leaves puddles of pink on the ground.  If I lived within walking distance, this would definitely be the year to try since tourism is limited.  Anybody from DC reading this?  Have you seen them this year? ❤️

In early March of 2015, I went to another cherry blossom festival – the Kawazu Sakurai Matsuri on the Izu Peninsula in Japan.  Cherry trees in Kawazu are some of the earliest and slowest blooming in eastern Japan, providing the more than 1 million annual visitors with a wonderful welcome to spring.

Reaching Kawazu is a relatively easy by train and once you are there, you notice not just the beauty but also the street festival atmosphere during this time of year. 

Families come to enjoy good weather and partake in shows, games and of course food!

Luckily for me, not everything was made of fish…hahahaha.

If you want to learn more about this festival, here’s a great summary.

This trip was for me, at the time, a welcome break from the bustle of busy Tokyo (and life in general!).  Today, it brings back fond memories of a wonderful trip with friends and colleagues.  If you find yourself in Japan, make your way to Kawazu and enjoy!

So, you will never be rich?

Here’s how it happened, on the 10 minute Uber ride from the hotel to the airport.

Kenneth picked me up and as usual when I take an Uber, we struck up some conversation.  Why waste 10 minutes in a foreign country in silence rather than learning something?

We exchanged pleasantries and I told him I had been in South Africa only 2 nights, but had arrived after spending 3 weeks in Mozambique.  He was intrigued – because why would you spend 3 weeks in Mozambique?  I explained that I was volunteering with All Hands and Hearts building schools in rural areas which were destroyed in the cyclone last year.  He asked me why I would take such work.  I said I don’t get paid, I quit my “regular” job and now travel and volunteer because I enjoy helping others.

Then the thoughtful pause…

“So, you will never be rich?”

“No.  Well, maybe.  I don’t know.  I feel rich in my heart.”

This prompted an amazing conversation about how we view possessions vs. experiences.  How we can define “rich” in so many ways.  How society places value on things when that may not actually be the be-all end-all goal. How people are really just people no matter their life circumstances – we have more in common than we realize. He shared words of wisdom passed down from his father. I did too. We enjoyed a special moment.

Yes, it this happened over only 5 minutes and it was with an Uber driver that I will never meet again.  But these are the conversations that color our perspective and cause us to reflect, become better people, appreciate things in a  way which we might not otherwise. We are not so different. Who’s to say who is born into privilege vs poverty. It’s not what we were given, it’s what we make of it.

So I can ask you – are you rich?  Life is too short, don’t miss out on all that it has to offer. 

We are Waiting for you at Home

Nope….not at my actual home….welcome to Bolivia! I arrived here via blue skies with views of the most beautiful water I’ve seen from the air in a long time. I mean, come on. 🙂

And now, I’m excited to be volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Bolivia outside Santa Cruz de la Sierra in support of their special project, “We are Waiting for You at Home.”. This project supports families with children suffer from chronic diseases and/or disabilities. The goal is to expand and improve existing homes in order to provide a safe, healthy environment for the children to recover and thrive once they return home from the hospital. How could this not be amazing?!

We have just met our partner family. Jassmin is 15 years old but has already had 4 surgeries for retinoblastoma. She also suffers from hyperthyroidism, a speech impediment and an intellectual disability which leaves her with the mental age of a 6 year old. The good news is that she is an amazing, happy, funny, kind, giving kid AND her cancer is in remission, woohoo! The bad news is that in order to achieve this success, Jassimin’s eye was removed. When doctors attempted to place an artificial eye, her body rejected it and it too had to be removed. They hope to try again in the future – more surgery to come.

In the mean time, Jassmin lives with her mom and her two sisters, age 16 and 18 in a one crowded room with limited ventilation. Here they are during our introductions. Cute (Jassmin on the left). 🙂

These girls have had a difficult life. When their mom, Ana Maria, took Jassmin to Argentina for treatment, she had to abruptly return home when she received news that her neighbors were attempting to steal her land. And in an extremely unfair twist, their mom, Ana Maria, is also undergoing treatment for skin cancer. And just this week she was diagnosed with lung cancer. You would never know it to talk with her, this is a strong woman who loves her family fiercely and is so excited for this opportunity to improve her home.

We’ll be working side by side with this family for a week to help them achieve their dream of home ownership. I can’t wait to get to know them better and become a part of their family. <3

In April, I’ll be returning to Bolivia to again work on the “We are Waiting for you at Home” project! I’m currently recruiting teams for La Paz and Cochabamba. If you’re interested in providing financial support for families such as those of Ana Maria, please use the links here and here. Every dollar counts, ¡muchas gracias!

**Information included in this post was provided by Habitat for Humanity Bolivia. Their support is much appreciated.

Another “First”

When I began volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in 2012, it was a fun way to help others, travel, meet new people and get away from the stresses of work. I never could have imagined just how it would change my life! Since that first trip to Eldama Ravine, Kenya SO many volunteering “firsts” have happened for me. Some were significant (like the first time I witnessed and appreciated the real, true, tangible impact of safe, durable shelter on a families life*), some I prefer to forget (the first time I shared an outhouse with 300+ cockroaches!) and some were just plain unexpected (the first time I was offered a mouse kabob). 🙂

It’s now time for another “first” – next week is the first time I’ll be volunteering with a team comprised solely of people to whom I’m related! While I call them all “my cousins”, technically only one of them falls under that title…but it’s close enough to describe how special they all are to me. We are setting off for Sonsonate, El Salvador where we’ll be working as Global Village volunteers for one week with Habitat for Humanity El Salvador.

During the week, we’ll be assisting a family of 3 to build their own home. Carlos has been the owner of a bakery for 4 years. His wife Wendy is in charge of the baking, and Carlos goes out in the area around the community where they live to sell it each day. They are currently renting a house where they live with their 6 year old son Jonathan. We’re going to meet them in a few days and I can’t wait! Here is their photo with their parents.

I’m so grateful for all of the “firsts” that I’ve had the opportunity to experience as a result of volunteering. Thank you for your support and for sharing the joy with me!

* Follow this link to learn about how safe shelter changes lives.

Looking back on a great year…

It’s only a few days into 2018 and already I’m in full swing:  planning, organizing, scheming and plotting.  Haha, so many fun things coming up soon!  But before I get caught up in what’s next, I find myself looking back and thinking “WOW”.  2017 brought so many truly special moments.  Many of them were centered around my volunteer travels and none of them would have been possible without so many wonderful supporters.  Let me say that again to make sure it’s clear.  I couldn’t do any of this without YOU! 🙂

In 2017, I was fortunate enough to build homes with Habitat for Humanity Global Village teams in China, Mexico and Cambodia.  I worked with over 40 volunteers to help 3 families build safe and secure homes.  And along the way, more than 20 donors and supporters helped me to raise over $3000 to further this mission – thank you!  Truly amazing numbers.  But the numbers tell only part of the story.  It’s the special moments on these trips are what really get you.

In each location, the families, teams, building techniques and culture were extremely different.  We never knew what to expect until we arrived.  And I can honestly say that none of the trips were what I imagined as I was planning for them – they were all much better. 🙂

In China, our team of 8 volunteers worked with Mr. Long as he built a home for his multi-generational family.  Soon 13 people will be living safely here all under one roof!  You can read more about our trip to China here and see some photos of our work here.

 

In Mexico, a large team of 18 volunteers worked with Margarita – a widow who lives with her 3 daughters, 2 sons and daughter-in-law.  After her husband passed away, Margarita had to take on all of the household duties.  Life is challenging but she never complains – in fact, quite the opposite.  Margarita shared her smile with us daily and after we left, she said that she was still “dreaming about the work that was done and all the faces of the people that helped.”

    

The Big Build in Cambodia was a whirlwind of activity (read more here) and at the future homes of Sopheap and Sophary, you could feel the excitement.  Our team of 18 volunteers helped raise the walls of their homes and were inspired by their stories and outlook on life.

    

2018 will take me to many new places including (Vietnam, Jordan and Brazil) and I continue to be grateful for your support.  To those of you who have traveled around the world with me, thank you for the investment you’ve made!  But you don’t have to join a team to participate.  Whether it be a ride to the airport, a gift of tangible items or monetary donations to share with families around the world or even a message of encouragement, your involvement in this mission is paramount to it’s success and I am so thankful to have you on this journey with me.  Continue to ask questions, I love to talk about the trips!  If you want to be more involved, let me know and I’ll give you a slideshow – we can share the word together!  And remember, when you are ready – there’s always room for you on the next trip. 🙂

Just in case you’ve gotten all the way through this post and these words move you…I’m currently fundraising to help families in Brazil, Jordan and Vietnam .  Click on the country of your choice to access my fundraising page or let me know if you’d like to send any donations of clothing or other supplies. 🙂  Thanks in advance!