Posts Tagged With: Volunteer

7 years ago today…

What were you doing on this exact date 7 years ago? I was zipping up my backpack to load up before my mom dropped me off at the Sacramento airport for the first day of an unpredictable journey around the world. I can recall having no fear or at least no hesitation in the adventure I was about to embark on. Just excitement and a new found enthusiasm for life!

As each year unfolded and my passport filled to the rim (with about 80 stamps!) I encountered new friends, adopted cultural traditions and continued to allow my mind to expand. Sometimes it’s surreal when I look back on the photos as it usually feels like I’m talking about someone else from a book I read or movie I saw. If you want to see a clear layout with links of my first exciting year on the road, take a look at the 2012 archives!

I was going to make this post about some of my favorites from around the world, cuisine, music, architecture, etc. but as I began to write I felt more drawn to explore what kind of lessons I gathered from a variety of places. Could be that I’m 9 months pregnant and my sensitive hormones are on high, or simply because I’ve never really stopped to ask myself such a question.

So Erika, where did you learn some significant lessons and how did you walk away from it a better person?

PERU – Although I visited several different cities throughout the country, a little village has always stood out to me. I rarely go back to a place I’ve been, but the magnetic pull was too strong for me to ignore in Huambutio. I was invited to volunteer there in a variety of things from teaching English to painting walls, cooking and even to coach gymnastics.

The lesson here was simple, appreciation for the simple things.

Sounds obvious or cliche, but there were a few events that triggered this conscious thought. First was the toothpaste. We taught the kids how to make their own toothpaste (that they got to take home) and the importance of dental health. The enthusiasm and gratitude they showed was outstanding! Something we may all take for granted or even see as a thoughtless item we look for on sale at Target, but these children guarded their portion like it was gold. Makes me wonder if they had ever used any… ever. Next was meal time. The children’s breakfast everyday was 1/2 of a hard boiled egg with a scoop of plain oatmeal (not your Starbucks brown sugar, toasted nut and cranberry shenanigans, but warm oats and water). We would divide an apple into 1/8 slices in order for everyone to get a bite as a snack and occasionally got to accompany it with a few pieces of toasted corn. Lunch and dinner was whatever we picked that day from the garden. A clear memory I have was the evening they said we were goin to make corn bread. Now, I was aware enough to not aimlessly look for a box of ready make Betty Crocker, but I was on the scout for cornmeal and the rest of the ingredients. I can’t remember how long they let me look before informing me that we actually have to go pick the corn to start the process. After I was done blushing, off to the garden we went! An experience that made every bite of that bread savored as if we had spent hours preparing it… because we did!

I suppose all of this hit me harder than I was expecting when I flew out of Peru into the states to visit family. My first stop was Dallas, Texas… home of everything huge! I had my apple bits, a few nuts and some cash to get me buy as I plopped down in the food court during my layover at the airport. A family sat next to me who didn’t go out of their way to be discreet. The children were clearly mad at the toy they got in the happy meal, a meal that they didn’t want to finish for whatever reason. After fits and French fries on the floor, the meals went into the garbage. I’m not claiming that we need to starve to appreciate fullness, or go without toothpaste to love a good sale at Target. I will admit however, that I may have judged this situation in the moment, but looking back now it was an opportunity that invited me to reflect on my own behavior. Had I carelessly disposed of food that could of been leftovers or compost? How many times did I complain, especially as a child, about the items in front of me with no gratitude that I even had options!?

Moving from food to activity, we ventured to the outdoor area and I was pleasantly surprised at the creative use of items that would typically land in the trash. Used plastic containers, snack wrappers, laundry bottles, juice boxes, warm out shoes and more. I loved it!

This experience as a whole opened a new part of my character to this day (even ask those close to me), it’s left me very aware of waste, unnecessary abundance and a love for keeping things simple. I am that weirdo that has 1/4 of an apple in my fridge with full intentions of eating it. I order a to-go box with my meal whenever we enjoy the luxury of eating out. I choose not to go to Costco and buy a village sized pack of paper plates on sale because I “might” need them someday. By no means am I claiming some sort of award winning lifestyle, just sharing the lesson that 7 years later still sticks in my everyday existence. And now with a little girl due any day, I hope to carry this in our family and raise a grateful human that appreciates her surroundings and has gratitude for our simple luxuries.

Categories: Accommodations, Edibles!, Travel talk, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Roses are red, hearts are blue…

The Blue Heart Campaign raises awareness to fight human trafficking and it’s impact on society. This inspirational foundation puts positive energy into “encourage involvement and inspire action to help stop this crime”.

I was honored to be invited to the Blue Heart International launch party hosted by my dear friend Teav and her partners Missy and Blake. Teav was born in Cambodia during a genocide and escaped to America with with her parents when she was 7. Now, she’s a proactive woman shining light on a growing issue that needs attention. Pictured below is the glowing girls Teav and Missy.
Fun fact: They’re both pregnant!


The elegant venue was held in the rolling hills of Lincoln, California. Let’s take a walk!







Lining the walls were tables of art and accessories that were created by the lovely ladies in order to raise funds. From recycled clothing that we’re made into scarves, to paintings and sparkling jewelry.




It’s been awhile since I’ve played with a stamp-pad, but what a perfect opportunity! Two fingerprints created the shape of a heart that marked the spot for your name. Adorable!



My smiling date for the evening? Meet Freya. I starting doing her hair years ago and we immediately connected beyond the salon chair. Now she’s a dear friend who shares the love for travel, food and putting her creativity to positive use. What a perfect partner to compliment this evening!


As people arrived, you could feel the love exude through kind conversation and genuine smiles.


These are some of the precious girls that were rescued years ago and have chosen to be a positive part of their community.



Cheerful tunes from this peaceful artist was a soft touch to enhance the already welcoming vibe.


Let’s take a moment and appreciate the phenomenal caterer that filled the room with hand rolls, small bites and chilled sake. The owner of Mikunis restaurant, whom also has an incredible story that he shared with all of us, kept the seaweed moving. I met him when I was 10 years old learning to use chopsticks while sitting at his first tiny restaurant. Oh how we’ve both grown. Thank you Taro!






After serving all of the grateful guests, Taro kicked off the speeches with his own story. One that included a pop quiz regarding his restaurant and the morals behind it. Guess who answered quickly and correctly? I’m now the proud owner of his recipe book!



Moving on to the purpose of the evening in which we got to hear Teav, Missy and others speak from their hearts. Unsettling facts, personal stories and future goals were just a few of the topics shared from the front of the room.



I’m confident to say the majority of the crowd was sniffling or gently holding a tissue to their eyes. A bitter sweet emotion seemed to capture everyone’s spirit… sympathetic yet hopeful. How do you feel when finding out that most of the girls are between 8-15 years old and are “sold” an average 25 times a day? Easier heard than truly thought about.



A personal thanks to Teav for inviting me to this eye-opening event and presenting new opportunities with endless possiblities!


…to be continued.

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Ticket for one please… and a Cambodian beer!

In the last 22 months, I’ve slept at over 300 different accommodations. A guest house, tree house, above a restaurant, in an office, a staff room, back of a van, loft of an orphanage, on the floor of several airports and I’m sure there’s more that I’m not recalling.

I’ve slept on a boat, in a train, and in a plane (if you want to count that), on a bunk bed, hide-a- bed, cot, couch, bean bag, bathtub, and in the dirt of… lets call it a “campsite”.

Not to forget the fancy resorts, average hotels, bed and breakfasts, family villas and the good ol’ hostel dorm rooms.

All of these of course, don’t include the spare space of my dear friends around the world who have opened their homes as I pass through.

My current location of residence is downstairs from my volunteer work place, which happens to be a movie theater! In the home, there’s a kitchen, shared bathroom, open living area and 3 other bedrooms.





The patio acts for a parking lot and shoe storage for all of us, including movie guests. As you round the corner, you’re welcomed to the entrance of The Flicks, the first movie theater in Phnom Penh! Every week they put out a schedule of specific screenings ranging from documentaries to recent blockbusters. The website is definitely worth checking out at





As you reach the top step, an outside balcony invites you for a sit before and after the films or you can choose to enter the hall and chill out by the bar.





We serve food, candy and what cinema would be complete without an old fashion popcorn machine (which made for a perfect “creative photo” of the day)!



They also sell locally made coconut oil, body scrubs as well as rich jams and syrups. All of these are made by hand and provide sustainable opportunities to those in need. Learn more at


We always encourage a cocktail to enjoy while you lounge during the show. When I say “lounge”, I’m not speaking of sitting up strait in those awkward movie theater seats with the arm rest digging into your elbow as the kid behind you creates a drum solo on your chair. I’m talking about the couches and bed cushions that make up this cozy room for viewing. Place an order, grab your beer and lay down… The show’s about to start!




The guests range from locals to expats and include a bundle of fellow backpackers that are excited to feel a touch of home with English films and familiar junk food.

My job? I giggle as I type that, because the work here includes preparing the snacks and drinks, selling tickets and starting the film (watching it too if we want!). Clean up is a breeze and socializing with the guests comes naturally and is definitely my favorite part! Remember Bree? This is the fun spirited girl I met on the flight over here in which we departed by saying “maybe our paths will cross again”. Two days later…


Who is the operator of the genius idea? Meet my new Dutch friend Ramon. I’m positive there’s a handful of you out there who already know this popular guy of many talents. Author, artist, traveler, and retired backpacker, he has paved the ways for many couch surfers and exchange volunteers.
Words to describe this fella: quirky, smart, energetic and (based off of his panda bear hugs) certainly warm hearted.


Turns out I’m surrounded my amazing talent as Gillian, his roommate, is a dancer that is now the choreographer for a national broadcasting program. In fact, just this weekend she judged a televised dance competition where she spoke in the native language while scoring teams of K-pop. What a motivated young girl who took a one way flight from America to start a new journey in Cambodia. Want to see beyond the surface of this intelligent girl? I highly suggest sneaking more than just a peek at her blog pixiedustdance.blogspot.


Now we have Ashley, volunteer turned almost local, she’s also a part of The Flicks crew. Although I haven’t gotten to know her well, her straight forward personality leads me to think she’s confidently independent and her artistic creations expose her creativity. Here she is taking a photo of my “Backpacker go-to” layout. She has started documenting the difference between each traveler and what they always carry with them. (I was out of honey and hot sauce or that would be in there as well!)




Last but not least is my fellow workmate and volunteer, Semhal. She’s a driven college student born in America, native to Ethiopia and now traveling the world in the service of teaching English. With similar interests and instant chemistry, I feel like we’ve known each other for years! Between her quality listening abilities and natural positive outlook, kind and considerate doesn’t even begin to express the genuine heart of my new friend.


So there you have it, my short term home and new friends in the middle of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Next post… Heading to the streets!


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Return to Club Suyai Wari!

After playing in the dirt and enjoying breakfast with the students, it was now time for the homework help, art and crafts, and anything else that kept them intrigued.

Real quick, I want to toot my own horn with the childish excitement I had when seeing my old painting still on the wall. Here is was in the process and finished last year…



…and it’s still here!


The kids arrived after school and were definitely ready for some quality time. These students aren’t orphans or homeless, just often times in need of positive attention. Traditionally, they go to school then wander the village or help their parents by farming or selling goods on the street. We’re here to supervise them being “kids” while directing their energy towards learning new skills to benefit their future.

All righty adorable little sponges, lets play! Option one is using your small motor skills and an imagination by playing with building blocks and hand braiding jewelry.






For the older group, homework help and a game of memory with English words.


Have more energy? Head outside for a game of fútbol!


Hungry or not, everyone loves chocolate cake!





Boys will be boys…





…and girls will be girls.



Once we played around the house for a bit, a few of the kids finally recognized that I was a familiar face. We had a little fun looking through old photos and comparing last years smiles to the present.


To see these precious faces last year with the unforgettable experience I had with them, click here for the direct link to that post.

For more information about Club Suyai Wari, please check out their website at

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For dessert… Hugs around the table.

It’s been said that you cross paths with people for a reason, season or a lifetime. In my case, I come across so many beautiful connections, I feel like they all have a reason. Some, for that very moment to bring joy or possibly a lesson that is needed at that time in my life. Others, I bond with imminently as if the purpose was to develop an instant friendship that without a doubt would continue on.

If you’ve been following even for a short while, you can remember Ann and Colin from Ecuador. They’re the adorable couple that came to the Donkey Den as I was leaving. With only 2 nights and a short walk to bond, we made plans to hopefully reunite someday either in South America or even back in the states.

Here we are a few weeks ago in Santa Marianita, Ecuador…


…and now Cusco, Peru!


We came back together with the intensions of having lunch or maybe a night out, but after a short conversation (and a Cusqueña Negra) it was decided that much more was in our future!


Not only are we going to hike Machu Picchu together, they’re going to join me as I revisit the home I volunteered in last year! (To see that full experience click here)

We start by meeting up with one of the other volunteers. Abigail is here from England and was all smiles as we made our way to the tiny village of Huambatio. Follow now as we jump from taxi to bus to a decent walk before finally landing at Club Suyai Wari.






We’ve made it! Now to figure out how to turn on the electricity and water while we wait for Enrique to get home.



A few unexpected volunteers showed up with backpacks, smiles and an appetite… Problem solved!





Rise and shine! Time for an adventure in the local school where we’ll be doing anything and everything that we can help with. A gorgeous morning walk leads us to a view that sits beyond this vibrant school. A quick tour before the kids see us!






Ooh, which door will he go with folks?


This was a little building full of recyclable designs, representing just a small portion of the reused objects placed within the property. How encouraging to walk around knowing these students are being shown how to use their creative minds!







Shoe garden, toilet seat… Backpacks! Who needs planters when you can use your old purse? Time to get our hands dirty!










With 5 happy, healthy and high energized volunteers, why not put us to some solid use? A great workout that will benefit everyone involved. Ready, set, go!







As we finished up, we were literally taken by the hand and guided in for breakfast.
Step one- Pick a mug and gather around the table.








Step two- Enjoy half of a hard boiled egg and a cup of warm quinoa soup. I love this place!


Step three- Gladly return the hugs being passed around the table while holding back the tears of joy that gently fill your heart with the good stuff.




Finally, rinse your dishes and put them in the bucket for tomorrow’s breakfast.



Ann was kind (and brave) to walk with me as I tried to remember the way into the next village. Key word tried, as I forgot that there was a small bus that took you most of the way before the jaunt up the hill. Here we are realizing it, then hitchhiking our way to the finish line. Thank you Ann for your positive attitude during our accidental mini journey!



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Pretend work and real play with my new friends at The Donkey Den!

After my amazing welcoming present of the fishing last night (that fun post seen here) I wake up to get a nice tour before getting started with the others.

Looking at the guesthouse from the beach.


The view off the balcony looking back at the beach.




A walk through the kitchen and outdoor dining area followed by a peak in our room.





Did I mention there are 5 very relaxed dogs and 9 lazy cats?




Here is the creator, owner and very well known, sweet Linda. A generous woman who clearly has a strong drive considering she built this guesthouse from the ground up. I really have a hard time imagining the process she must of went through being new to Ecuador and having very limited knowledge of the Spanish language. That alone speaks in volume for her patient yet feisty personality.


We’re all here to pitch in to bring this place as far as it can go. Meet a power couple that has been here for two months already and has transformed the Donkey Den to what it is today. All the way from Australia, “just passing through” is Bernie and Trevor. (He usually doesn’t rock the pink top, but i think its a job well done).


Ann and Colin are what I believe to be a perfect balance of outgoing and grounded. With their creative powers combined, this adorable team turns everything they touch into a work of art. The love they have for one another is shown through respectful words and kind conversation. When I grow up… I want to be just like them!





PS: Ann has a blog too. Check her out at NeverLostAnn!

Finally, there’s Sophie. She’s laid back, naturally funny and extremely easy to talk with. Traveling through South America, we connected at the right time in the perfect place for our paths to cross and continue. Within hours of meeting we had plans to skip town together and spend a week heading south. For now, more work in the Den.








When the days work (if you call it that) is finished, you have many options to fill your time.

There’s reading, writing or sleeping in the hammocks -aka- “Hammock Therapy”.



Taking a walk through the town.







Our favorite is beach time of course!






I had a little (a lot) of fun getting side tracked with a stick in the sand and effects on my camera!




Each evening promises a gorgeous sunset to calm the mind and welcomes another peaceful night of realization that this is my life… I am so grateful.


Categories: Accommodations, Art, Edibles!, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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