Volunteers from America
More than a year ago, Liz Zipse and Kip Patrick packed a couple backpacks and flew to the Philippines to see whale sharks.
Their one-way tickets cost $22 and thousands of frequent flyer miles.
Their plan was to see the world, volunteering at least one day a week wherever they happened to be.
The inspiration for this extended trip struck several years ago during a hike along the Continental Divide. Patrick, who grew up in Louisiana, and Zipse, a 2000 Fruita Monument High School graduate, saw trash everywhere, so they began picking it up. At some point in all that litter, they realized that if they planned things right, they could do the same on a beach in Borneo or along the trail up Mount Everest.
Fortunately, they had been saving money. When they married in 2008, they had a small wedding and used the bulk of the funds they were given to buy a house in Washington, D.C., where Patrick worked for a public relations firm and Zipse was part of a physics organization.
They rented out a room in that house and saved more. They created an inexpensive but exciting itinerary. Finally, that sweet time arrived when a yearlong hopscotch around the world was possible.
They quit their jobs, rented out the entire house and took a bus to New York, where they caught that flight to Manila.
Since then, they’ve been to Palau, Borneo, Laos, Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), Nepal, Tibet, India, Kenya, the South African coast, Madagascar, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Egypt, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
The trip was “kind of our belated honeymoon,” said Zipse, 31, while sitting with Patrick, 40, drinking coffee along Main Street on Wednesday morning.
And while they had adventures such as sledding down the Cerro Negro volcano in Nicaragua at a breathless speed and getting close — too close for Zipse, who got spooked and ran — to gorillas in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, they also volunteered.
They volunteered with organizations. They helped others when they saw a need. “We picked up a lot of trash,” Zipse said.
Patrick acknowledged he and his wife have “a rather loose definition” of volunteering.
But part of that service is being willing to do just about anything and keeping your eyes open. Sometimes it’s being in the right place at the right time, he said.
“And we’re pretty open to changing our plans,” Zipse said.
The whale sharks in the Philippines created one such time when Patrick and Zipse switched from tourists to volunteers. The marine conservation organization LaMaVe (Large Marine Vertebrates) Project, which was conducting a study on tourism and whale shark migration, had none of its volunteers show up on the particular day Patrick and Zipse visited. So the couple signed on to count whale sharks.
A few days later, on Earth Day, Patrick and Zipse were on the island of Palau. Or rather, they were in dive gear in the water around Palau, volunteering with a group to clean up trash on the ocean floor and reef.
One of the couple’s favorite volunteer experiences, albeit again somewhat serendipitous, came about a year ago in Laos. They had snagged a stack of children’s books printed in Laos from the literacy organization Big Brother Mouse and weren’t exactly sure what they should do with them.
Then they met a kid in one of Laos’ provincial capitals, Phonsavan, who wanted to take them to his village, which happened to be at least an hour-long scooter ride into north central Laos. It was there that Patrick and Zipse gave away the books.
“While hesitant and terribly shy at first, the kids soon began to line up to get their book. As soon as they had one in their hands, they would gather around to read to each other (and to Liz),” the couple wrote on their website, 1of7.org.
“Even more eye-opening was the behavior of the adults. One father sat in a hammock and read to his kids. Another sat and read to herself as if she were holding a bestseller.”
Flash forward through being recognized as the “American trash picker-uppers” while hiking in Nepal and volunteering at a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica, and Wednesday found Patrick and Zipse with some actual bestsellers at Mesa County Libraries.
“We are well-versed in the Dewey Decimal System,” Zipse said as the couple finished up their coffee on Main Street, then headed over to the central library to shelve books as volunteers.
Some people say volunteering short-term isn’t really helpful, but that mindset can be used as an excuse not to do anything, Zipse said.
“No matter where you are, home or far from it, you can give back,” Patrick said.
Especially when it is as simple as picking up trash. Last week, after the couple flew from Panama to Colorado to visit family, they found themselves back on the Continental Divide.
“There was less trash this time,” Patrick said.
The couple are scheduled to fly back to Washington, D.C., today. They have some ideas for the future that run along the lines of nonprofits, writing books “and we’re also thinking about a job and making some money,” Patrick said.
Other than living off what they had saved, during the past 17 months Patrick and Zipse earned a little income through some freelance writing jobs.
They estimated their daily budget has been between $50 and $100. The least expensive hotel they stayed at was in Nepal: $2 a day.
Perhaps one of the more unforeseen expenses of their trip was the loss of one of Patrick’s two pairs — they packed light — of underwear. It was stolen.
“Not an expected hardship,” Patrick said.
While they re-enter life in the United States, Patrick and Zipse plan to continue volunteering. At 1of7.org, the couple offers tips and website links to help those who want to incorporate volunteering into daily life or a vacation. The site also contains numerous blog entries, photos and a trip map detailing the couple’s adventures.