An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Posts from — January 2009

Sparks and Fire

When the fires of inspiration fade, sometimes all you need is a spark. My spark was named Mariana, and when I first saw her I expected sparks of a different sort. Pretty, passionate, petite, she is the kind of person you notice enter a room. But there is a big difference between noticing and catcalling, so when Mariana walked by one day and someone blurted out from across the room “Oh Lah Laaaah!”, I did what most people would. I paused, squinted my eyes like I just forgot what I was doing, then turned to watch the sparks and potentially backhands fly. They never did. Mariana smiled, said hello and continued to her desk. What I didn’t realize at this point, was that the nickname for Mariana was “Malala”, which gets shortened to “Lala”, which when used in a Spanish greeting becomes :”Hola, La!” This of course is much more similar in sound than meaning to the abrasive and slightly creepy “Oh Lah Laaaah!” I thought had been said.

I learned quickly thereafter that Lala was a good person to know, especially if you were looking for a ticket out of the country. Granted, I had decided to stay and weather this storm of humanitarian disappointment, but it never hurts know your options, and Uraguay was just one boat ride away. So in my frustrated state, I sought Lala for advice and ticket prices. “Hola, La…” I said-again it went off without a hitch. “How do I get to Uraguay?” With that our friendship began. We talked a bit about boat rides, but before long I realized I had met a person of similar passion. She was well traveled (had even been to Africa), but more importantly had volunteered throughout Argentina. I told her what I was trying to do, and probably vented more than anyone would care to hear. She listened. Then I listened. I watched as her wheels turned and the fire in her eyes grew. “We’ll find something…” she assured as she searched her sources for ideas.

When we finished our conversation, I still hadn’t found a project. But what I did find was renewed hope, and a fire that burned a little brighter. Then things started to happen. I got an email from a company (TOM’s Shoes) that I had contacted while still in the US. It was a lead I assumed was all but dead. I would meet with the founder and his right hand man to discuss my options. But before I had the chance to do that, another opportunity arose. A local volunteer group known as “Voluntario Global” was having an introductory meeting. Anyone interested in working with impoverished kids, or just having a beer and learning about the organization could come. I was interested in both.

I traced cobblestone streets through the oldest bario in Buenos Aires until I arrived at a small pub. Inside a modest and eclectic mix mingled. People from different parts of the world, armed with drinks, sought seats as an Argentine woman prepared in front. Her name is Valeria Gracia. She is the founder and, until this year, director of Voluntario Global. She stood and warmly described a successful year, then the upcoming project.  In one week Voluntario Global would sponsor a party for a large number of children from different parts of the city. I listened, excited about the opportunities unfolding. Then I tracked down Valeria to talk.

Valeria is a charming, confident woman. Her smile is gracious and inviting. That became obvious as one after another, people stopped bye to exchange a departing hug, kiss or smile. Eventually, we found a corner table to talk. She told me the history of Voluntario Global, her years working in a hostel, volunteering off hours in necesitous neighborhoods. She knew the need, and through her job realized there was a group of people with the time, talent and means to help. Eventually Valeria left her job at the hostel and began an organization that invited volunteers to bring their talents to help train, teach and serve both children, and adults. As she spoke, the fires flared. She and her husband have never had kids. “These are like my kids,” she said as she looked across the room at a handful of young adults she had seen grow, and now showed such promise.

I mentioned the fire I saw in her eyes, she smiled humbly. I shared my intentions, goals, and vision. I explained to her that you, the readers, had given money to make a difference, to help fill a need. She shared a few ways I could potentially do that. Finally, I mentioned I still had one last meeting and opportunity before I could commit. She understood and we finished talking as people casually passed by to say good bye. I knew there were needs in Buenos Aires. I knew I had found a solid organization, and I knew that behind it there were genuine hearts hoping to help. What I didn’t know was that there was a need about to unfold that few others knew about.

My plans were about to change.

Voluntario Global:
TOMS Shoes:

January 23, 2009   No Comments