When Tamera Easterday really likes something, she can’t stop thinking about it. But she’s not a stalker, or like the creepy mom in the children’s book “Love you Forever.” You could say she’s more of an enthusiastic advocate for artistic and altruistic causes.
In the 1980s, her interest in international travel took an unexpected humanitarian turn after she sponsored a child through Compassion International. “I wanted to see that there really was a child. I wanted to meet the child.” So, she traveled with Compassion International workers to Ecuador. “I was able to meet the child, a 12-year old girl, and she was awesome,” says Easterday.
“Compassion International was great. You could really see the results of their efforts. They built a school in Ecuador and the sponsored children got to attend the school. The children also received a school uniform, one meal a day, and medical care. Traveling with Compassion International gave me the desire to take more humanitarian trips. I realized that it’s not just about going to pretty places; it’s about the people.”
Easterday also had an outstanding experience working with Global Volunteers. For a couple of weeks she taught English to elementary school students in Puglia, Italy. Global Volunteers’ website says volunteers work only “at the invitation and under the direction of local community partners, and one-on-one with local people.” This would not be the case with another organization with a similar name.
Her 2010 journey to post-earthquake Haiti, with a different agency, Global Volunteer Network, quickly received the nickname: Survivor – Disaster Edition. This organization had no physical representation in Haiti. The group of volunteers was essentially abandoned upon arrival in Croix de Bouquets (not in Jacmel, their original destination). Easterday says, “We were located at a school and camped out in tents on the roof. We were left to our own devices. We picked up garbage and eventually planted a garden thanks to an amazing organization, Double Harvest.” Easterday and the other volunteers also put tarps over the outdoor classrooms, built benches for the students, and began an English language class. After much frustration the group was finally able to open a clinic.
“I left Haiti with the realization that unless an organization is a good steward of the money donated…it is actually accomplishing little more than…volun-tour-ism,” says Easterday. Still, she says, “We were inspired by the resilient people in unbelievable circumstances.”
Easterday did not use a humanitarian tour group when visiting Africa. She and five friends created their own successful animal conservation education tour with the help of a travel agent who secured the gorilla trekking permits for both Rwanda and Uganda.
Easterday offers the following advice for planning humanitarian adventures:
In nearly all of her humanitarian travels, including Haiti, Easterday became friends with a few locals she is still in touch with today, except for the girl from Ecuador. “I sponsored her until she turned 18, and we corresponded beyond that time, and then I never heard from her again.” Since returning from the Haiti trip, Easterday has been promoting music by Justeland, a Haitian translator who worked with her aid group. So far she has raised approximately $600 by selling his band Blessing Voice’s music at my.musicians.com. While in Uganda, she became friends with a veterinarian she met at the Jane Goodall Chimpanzee Sanctuary. When he later traveled to the United States for the first time, she visited with him in Washington, D.C. She also returned to Uganda to be part of his wedding party.
With regard to future humanitarian travel, Easterday is contemplating an independent trip to Turkey.
© Debra Dylan, 2013