Category Archives: Disaster Response

“Val, why do you travel so much?”

My wanderlust was acquired very early in life.  By the time I was two, my parents had traveled extensively with me, and before any trip we took, dad would break out the atlas, and we would let our fingers do the walking over the maps to our destination.  I was always fascinated by these colourful maps, measuring the distance we covered in a few hours in a plane over the different topographical features in hand-widths. We would visit our family in Poland, or go south to a Caribbean island.  We took road trips to places like Sault Ste. Marie, and Hershey, Pennsylvania.

I remember one plane trip, while looking out the window being very upset that I wasn’t allowed to go outside and play in the fluffy clouds.  I had imagined they felt a bit like a bouncy castle, or a feather duvet.   By the time I completed my undergraduate degree in university, I had visited Europe at least 10 times, but my travels were only beginning.

The loss of my Mom in May 2000 had the greatest impact on my desire to travel.  She and my dad were excitedly looking forward to retirement, in order to visit exotic places like South America and Asia.  Unfortunately those plans were cut short by cancer, and in those final weeks that I cared for her,  I learned a life lesson that I continue to carry closely in my heart and mind. I learned not to take anything for granted, to take every opportunity that comes my way, and to live each day to the fullest!

Just after we lost my mom, a good friend invited me to go with her to visit her family in Italy.  During this trip, we discussed our dreams, our goals, and made plans to someday visit India and Nepal together.  Ironically, those two countries remain on my ‘bucket list’.  (perhaps she and I will end up visiting them together after all!)

Then one day everything was just right. I had no debt, no serious relationship, and was ready to leave a really stressful job that I wouldn’t miss. I had always wondered what the wildlife in the hills of Borneo sounded like, what the sand felt like on the beaches of southern Thailand.  I’d always wanted to see a sunrise over Angkor Wat, a massive temple complex in Siem Riep, Cambodia, and wander the streets smelling the amazing dishes being prepared in the French Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam.  So I bought a ticket to Asia, and planned my departure for January 2, 2005.  I knew as I tearfully went through security and saying goodbye to my dad and aunt at the airport, that I would come back a different person.

On December 26, 2004, a 9.0 earthquake rocked the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra, spawning a tsunami which would obliterate half a dozen coastal nations, and take with it over 200,000 lives.  It was this disaster, and my experience in post-tsunami recovery which changed my path, and became my destiny.

I now travel to unusual places around the world like Pakistan and Haiti, having discovered the fascinating and rewarding field of humanitarian relief work… My life’s true calling!!

The purpose of this blog is to capture the essence of some of my adventures, but also to share some of my stories and experiences.  I will be departing next week for East Africa, where I will meet up with my friend Anne Stevenson.  Together, we will travel to Tanzania, and experience a big game safari.  Admittedly, the closest I’ve come to wildlife in their own surroundings are the raccoons that I chase away from my garbage bins.

I’ve heard that if you go to Africa, it’s in someways a shame – because you’ll never want to go anywhere else, you’ll always be trying to go back.  We shall see…