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Volunteer Vacations - When You Want to Do More Than Write a Check

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Maggie worked in an orphanage with tiny babies who had AIDS while Deb taught at a primary school within walking distance of the volunteer compound. "Lots of the mothers of my students had AIDS," Zimmerman says. Zimmerman's husband, Doug, a business owner, worked with a women's co-op to develop a business plan, and her son Matt helped with computers at a high school. "My school had no electricity," Zimmerman says. "The kids didn't have supplies, and neither did the teachers. I brought 50 boxes of crayons."

Back in a Blink. Many volunteers report that once you've acted on your instinct to help others, it gets into your blood. Zimmerman's daughter Maggie wants to start an organization that would raise money to send teenage volunteers. Her son Matt called her recently to propose that the whole family volunteer in Latin America. "I was thrilled," Zimmerman says.

Molly Last, an English language development teacher in San Francisco and former Peace Corps member, has volunteered in many countries during her vacations. In 2004, Last, 47, decided she wanted to work with Buddhist monks. "It was a step out of my comfort zone," she says.

Global Service Corps placed Last that summer with a family in Thailand. Three days a week she taught English in a large high school in Kanchanaburi, and two days a week she went to the wat, a Buddhist temple. "I taught novice monks, aged 12 to 19, who were making a life commitment," she says. Materials were scarce and not all her students had notebooks. "There are taboos—women mustn't touch the monks, for instance. To give a monk a book, I had to lay it on the table, and then he'd pick it up." Last was planning a trip to Poland in summer 2005, but after the tsunami hit, she decided to return to Thailand instead. "I didn't feel right not going back."

Sewell was just settling down from her trip to Indonesia when the relief agency called again. "They needed an RN." So Sewell flew back to Indonesia, this time to Banda Aceh, one of the places hardest hit by the tsunami.

By the time Hurricane Katrina picked up speed, Sewell was a seasoned volunteer. This time when she got the call to help, she didn't even blink. Two days later she was on a Greyhound bus bound for Louisiana.

Michele Morris is a writer based in Park City, Utah. She is the author of The Cowboy Life. This article appeared originally in NRTA Live & Learn, Fall 2005.

Watch for new stories every Thursday in Live & Learn, NRTA's publication for the AARP educator community: Celebrating learning as a creative lifestyle.

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