12 Months, 4 Countries, 2 People: 1 Life-changing Experience (Part 1)

In 2016 Jonathan and Magali, a young couple from Belgium, embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure: a trip around the world volunteering with ADRA projects from Mongolia to Vanuatu.

Jonathan tells their story.

The idea for this trip had been on our minds for a long time. We both love traveling and discovering new cultures and people. For us, the best way to discover a place is to live with the people, share the lifestyle, and be involved with them. We had wanted to be actors rather than just spectators for many years. So, we decided to mix these two aspects: travel and involvement.

We began planning more than a year before we set off on our trip. It was a huge challenge financially and logistically, but we did it with the help of God, our church, family, and friends. As Adventists, we had been aware of ADRA for a long time, and I even had some experience working with ADRA in Burkina Faso eight years ago. That’s why we chose to volunteer with ADRA.

We sent a lot of emails to ADRA offices around the world with our resumes and a cover letter explaining our desire to volunteer. Fortunately, we received answers from several countries, and we finally selected projects where we thought our skills would be most useful (I was an ecological advisor in the business area, and Magali is a French teacher). So, we didn’t select the countries but the projects. That’s why we went to Kyrgyzstan, for example, a country previously unknown to us!

Over the course of one year, we visited six different countries and volunteered with four ADRA offices: Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Ecuador, and Vanuatu. We spent between several weeks and several months in each office. Our goal was to be at the service of the ADRA offices to help people in need.

Mongolia

Mongolia. Ulaanbaatar

Mongolia was our first stop, and it was a huge challenge, mainly because we spent most of our two months there in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, one of the most polluted cities in the world. Fortunately, we were welcomed by a very motivated and active ADRA team who revived our spirits. The discovery of the Mongolian culture and nomadic life was also fantastic, and the landscape was awe-inspiring.

As volunteers, we were involved in two different projects: MEAL (Micro Economic and Agriculture Learning) and Hope for a Brighter Future.

The first project was in the field of food security. It was started to help vulnerable home gardeners from 1,100 households—mostly women—increase their food production capacity. Indeed, in Mongolia, many nomads come to the city to find a decent life, but they end up in the yurt suburbs around the city without hygiene facilities, running water, electricity, and food. We helped ADRA create and provide a cooking class and brainstormed with the ADRA team about new methods for the permaculture approach, implementation of a seed bank, and improvement in the sale of surplus vegetables.