The Laxdals have done 13 Global Volunteers trips. Even when they're not with their grandchildren, they enjoy experiences they could never get from a tour bus. The Laxdals have helped Aboriginal people in Australia open a storefront and tended to children in a Romanian orphanage, and they look forward to helping teach English in Tanzania and working in schools in South Africa.
"We don't go in there with anything to offer except our hands and experience," says Stefan Laxdal, 72. "They suggest what they would like us to help them with, so that's what we do."
Kathleen O'Neal, Projects Abroad
When Kathleen O'Neal packed her bags for a six-week trip to Ethiopia, it was the realization of a dream deferred. In the 1960s after she graduated from college, O'Neal had been invited to be a Peace Corps volunteer in that country. But then her mother got sick; she met the man she would marry, and O'Neal never made it to Africa.
So two years ago, at age 65, O'Neal signed up for a Projects Abroad mission to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She and her husband stayed with a host family, and each day he worked with a small newspaper and she took a 30-minute ride by minibus to the orphanage where she volunteered. "The assignment was: Just go where you hear the most crying," says O'Neal. "One of my goals was to get the children more active, get them doing physical things and playing with toys."
Traveling to such an impoverished country, where the average annual income of $1,000 makes it among the poorest in the world, was startling. "I've seen poverty, but boy, what I saw in Ethiopia was pretty astounding," she says. "You see people wrapped up in blankets, lying on the streets, and that was their home. This reinforced for me how fortunate we are in this country."
In the evenings, she returned to her host family and was amazed by how comfortable she felt in the home of strangers half a world away. "The trip reaffirmed for me that I would have loved going there [for the Peace Corps], and I probably would have been able to make some accomplishments," says O'Neal.