Elmira’s Rachel Clark is confident that she has one of the best jobs, ever. The 25-year-old works for a cruise line: singing, dancing and entertaining crowds of people while she hops between continents. And she gets paid to do it. In the past year she has been aboard a ship that set sail in Japan, then travelled to Singapore, China, the Maldives, past Somalia, through the Red Sea, made stops in Jordan, Egypt, Greece, Croatia, Venice, Spain, Portugal, down coast of Africa, before continuing on to Argentina and Brazil, and up through the Caribbean before returning home.
“The experience is amazing,” she said, while now on a break from work and enjoying some time at her Birdland home. “I get to travel and also save money, do what I love, and meet people from all over the world. I am very lucky.”
That luck is not something that is lost on Clark, however, and above all else, her passion lies in giving back to those who don’t have the luxuries that she has experienced. In September, she will be taking time off work to return to Kenya, where she spent nearly three months last year volunteering at an orphanage.
“I love my job on the ship, but I needed to do something with a bit more meaning. Something I could really pour myself into and when I heard about this opportunity, I jumped at the chance.”
Clark was unsure at first how she would be able to help, if she would have qualities that would be of use to a community.
“I am not a nurse, or a teacher, or a construction worker. I wasn’t sure if my going to Africa would be of any help to anyone, but I knew I wanted to do hands-on work.”
Then she saw a call for volunteers needed to provide a helping hand at an understaffed orphanage in Kenya.
“The ad said, ‘You will be spending time with orphaned kids who need love. They need you to play with them, to hold them, and to read to them.’ I can do that!”
Once there, the former EDSS student fell in love with the community – the rich culture, the residents who welcomed her with open arms and the families she stayed with while visiting. And she learned to play the role of nurse, teacher and construction worker.
“I did whatever they needed me to do. Anyone can make themselves useful, regardless of what skills you might have.”
Now Clark, alongside two of her friends who will be joining her, is headed to that same village in Kenya to volunteer once more.
“I am very, very excited to be taking my friends there. There is only so much I can say to explain what life is like there and there is only so much that someone can see from pictures. I can’t wait for them to be there and see it, and meet the kids I talk about. It’s a life-changing experience which changed my entire outlook.”
In addition to her two friends, Clark will also soon have the chance to bring others with her to the place she loves so dearly.
When she returned to Elmira from her trip in 2009, she held a presentation about her experiences. She wanted to show the people who had helped support her trip that their money had truly gone to a good place. Corinne Taylor-Aldous of Goliger’s TravelPlus in Waterloo was in the audience for one of her presentations and approached Clark at the end to make her an offer. Taylor-Aldous asked Clark if she would be interested in taking a group of people from Canada to Kenya with her to participate in a two-week ‘voluntourism’ project, and Clark jumped at the chance.
“The offer was a gift from God, I am sure,” she said. “To be able to take others to the place that changed my worldview so drastically, and where I felt so much love, will be a wonderful experience.”
The trip is booked tentatively for September 2011, and those interested in participating can contact Goliger’s Travel for more information.
“It’s not going to be a glamorous trip – we will be camping and carrying our stuff around with us wherever we go,” she explained. “We will be sleeping in the homes of the Maasai people I have met and doing the real-life things that you can’t do with a tour company. I can’t wait.”