I did not coin the phrase, but I like it. In fact, so much so that my sons and I are living it!
We are traveling the world doing our best to make a difference. As many of you know, this all began when my eldest son came home from school one day and said, “Dad, we have this cool life, how come we aren’t doing more to make a difference in the world?”
You can do it as well. And it doesn’t have to be 12 months. You can do it for a week, two weeks, one month: however long you wish. And you can travel wherever you like. Sure, you are thinking, “You can do it. You have money. You have a job you can leave behind.” Here’s the clincher! I don’t.
But I did have a strong desire to teach my children to make a difference in the world and to educate them to be global citizens. And with a simple plan, some elbow grease, and the help of some great friends and supporters, it happened. The goal of Twelve In Twelve is to educate and inspire others to do what we are doing. In addition, we want to be a hub in the states for the twelve organizations we have worked with abroad.
We have all taken the family on vacation, some trips more memorable than others. Most holidays are only vague memories. This will be one trip that will have lasting value in our lives. One that will stay with us forever.
We have been traveling for the last 7 months and it has been an extraordinary adventure. If we had done this trip as tourist, we would have stayed in hotels, gone to the tourist traps, bought the souvenirs, maybe met a few people in passing, and been able to say, “Yeah, I’ve been there, too.”
We have been staying in hostels, orphanages, with local families, at boarding schools, with friends of friends, and have lived with the locals. We have connected with real people, experiencing their histories, their culture, their talents, their dreams and their laughter. And the work, if you can call it that, is fun! And being of service and helping others feels great!
Some people will say, “I’m too shy”, or “It would make me uncomfortable”. There could not be a better way to meet people. You are there to give the gift of your help and people are open and available to it and appreciate it. A common purpose is always a great way to break the ice.
I can’t begin to tell you how many people we have met on this amazing journey. In our wanting to make a difference in people’s lives, our own lives have been profoundly changed.
The kids and I are learning the big life lesson, “That it’s in the giving, not the getting”. In our normal lives, we are so busy collecting things, saving for retirement, waiting for the promotion, and paying the mortgage, that we sometimes forget to live. We forget that we share a planet with so many amazing people. I’m not saying that monetary success or owning a home aren’t important. But perhaps more people need to look at living beyond the daily grind: Experiencing more joy, helping those in need, and feeling that life has deeper purpose beyond collecting more things.
My kids and I have never felt so alive and useful as we have while working with runaway teens in Russia, pushing a swing for a Chinese child with no use of his legs, holding a baby before surgery in Hong Kong, walking rescued elephants in the mountains of Thailand, creating art with orphans of the genocide, teaching English to eager students on Zanzibar, or writing plays with kids in Kenya.
We are a lucky family to be able to do all this. But it came out of a desire to make a difference. And when there is a desire to do good, the universe seems to support those kinds of efforts, and great forces come into being. Once we decided to do our project, it was amazing how our enthusiasm seemed to open doors: how we were able to gather information, how friends and family came out of the woodwork to help us, and how plans seemed to fall into place.
When the boys and I return, we will be setting up the network, to help others do global relief work, as well. Our goal is to be a resource to help others organize their trips to make a difference. Being a support system with suggestions for travel, medical advice, housing options, fund-raising ideas, and identifying worthy projects and organizations worldwide to work with. We have done the trial run and now want to share the information.
I always tell my acting students, “In a hundred years, we are all going to be dead. The tragedy is the life not fully lived!” In this age of technology and internet, the world is getting smaller and smaller. We have got to get out there, meet our neighbors, and perhaps lend a helping hand.