Welcome to our new interview series, The Ripple Effect. The Ripple Effect explores the emotional impact of volunteer travel and its lasting effect on people’s lives. Over the coming weeks, we will be interviewing adventurous volunteers who have given their time, compassion, and sweat equity to make a difference. Today, we’re speaking with Paul and Anne Jeschke. They traveled to Kenya with Habitat for Humanity to help build homes for local families. In the process they learned how important it is to give back. Paul and Anne are an inspiration for volunteers of any age.
I lived in Kenya when I was a child so Africa has always held a special place in my heart. The sunsets were spectacular, like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere else in the world. They’re orange and pink, expansive, like a painting on velvet. I was only seven when I lived there but I made three lifelong friends—each of them uniquely bright, energized, curious, and kind. I fed giraffes and walked with elephants. I tended a carnivorous pitcher plant in my own backyard. Africa is magical. It’s full of incredible creatures, each more fascinating than the last—the stark stripes of the zebra, the proboscis of the anteater, the mischievous cunning of the spider monkey. And it’s full of incredible people, many of whom face unimaginable challenges and hardships. Organizations that serve Africa help to protect this magical place while they help to improve the lives of her people. If you have never been to Africa, go! It will change your life forever.
The world needs more heroes. Heroes are people who step up, who face challenges selflessly and with resolve. Heroes help others when they don’t have to. There are so many people with privilege in this world—people who have everything they need but don’t look beyond their neatly kept front yards. I don’t blame these people, in fact, often I am one of them. It’s easy to live, to move through each day focused on the little things. We are all concerned with our own well-being: our relationships, jobs, and dreams. Sometimes we need reminding that we live in a global context, that our privilege stands on the shoulders of other people’s need. We don’t all have to be Angelina Jolie, but we do have to do more. Inequality is an innate part of life but that doesn’t mean we should accept it. Fighting inequality is everyone’s responsibility and it starts with a simple choice: deciding to volunteer.
Why do we volunteer? We want to help. We want to leave the world in a better place than we found it. We want to matter. Sometimes, we want to heal. I’ve explored the many ways volunteering helps teach a person to be a global citizen, and the many ways it enriches the spirit: helping others, seeing your work improve lives, seeing yourself through the eyes of people from vastly different worlds, feeling the connection we all share. But I haven’t explored how we can use volunteering to find ourselves—to put our pain and suffering in perspective, to get outside our own heads, and to process grief.
When I was a young girl, I lived in Kenya. I spent long days at Masai Mara game reserve, a massive wildlife park (and popular tourist destination) where the animals roam free. I watched the lions sleeping in the hot afternoon sun; the gazelles, fleet of foot and on the watch for cats; and the zebras swishing their tails, a black and white tangle of shivering flanks. The boars rammed each other in the tall grass. A herd of elephants circled to protect a single calf. As the sun started to set, the nocturnal animals emerged: the hammer-headed fruit bat; the aardvark with its long snout and shuffling gait; the bush baby with wide, staring eyes and a whip-like tail; and the civet who’s musk is used in the fanciest perfumes.