It was part of a Global Volunteers short-term service program, which places volunteers in 20 countries worldwide. A private nonprofit, non-sectarian development organization, Global Volunteers was founded in 1984 with the goal of helping to establish a foundation for peace through mutual international understanding.
Programs center around a one-, two-, or three-week volunteer work experience in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, or the United States. "Mark and I wanted to begin our life together in the spirit of giving and sharing," said Sandra, a teacher and novelist, when asked why she chose such an unconventional honeymoon.
The couple joined a team of 14 volunteers who spent two weeks at Foundation Campamento Cristiano Esperanza, known in English as Camp Hope. They spent time tending to the daycare children, painting the old daycare center, building a wheelchair ramp for a new group home, and helping the daycare staff to learn English.
Mark, a psychologist, used his professional skills to consult with Ecuadorian social workers on the issue of children's physical and sexual abuse, how to recognize it, and how to intervene in situations where it occurs.It wasn't moonlight and roses, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Working shoulder to shoulder with Ecuadorians, newlyweds gain a unique, non-tourist perspective on the South American country's people and culture.
"I formed a very sweet bond with many of the young teachers at the daycare center. I also fell in love with the children," said Sandra. "When it was time to say goodbye at the daycare, I couldn't stop crying. At that moment, I realized just how deeply touched I was by these children."
Mark was also moved by the experience, writing in the team journal: "In the bright eyes and unconditional smiles of the children at the daycare, we see why we have traveled thousands of miles, sanded down walls, shoveled mounds of dirt, inhaled paint fumes, pounded stones into pebbles, and awakened at dawn to do it all again.
"It is for these shrines of the human spirit, which we have known all along is what brings us [volunteers] from all corners of the United States. We are buoyed by these running, chattering, hugging reminders. The team at the new daycare site reported that the dirt was not too heavy despite much weekend rain. It will be even lighter if they can see all the great kids their work will benefit."
Mark and Sandra aren't the first couple to begin married life in service. In fact, the idea for Global Volunteers was "conceived" during a honeymoon. Co-founders Burnham Philbrook, a former Minnesota senator, and Michele Gran spent their honeymoon volunteering in Guatemala.
When they returned, Philbrook and Gran's trip was written up in a local Minneapolis newspaper. So many people asked them how they, too, could serve abroad for short-term stints that Philbrook and Gran decided to start Global Volunteers.
The first team to Jamaica arrived in 1984, and teams still serve in the same community today. Besides providing ongoing health care such as dental exams and blood-pressure screening, volunteers there have helped construct a holding tank for the community's water supply; built classroom furniture, playground equipment, and footbridges to cross local rivers; improved community buildings; and helped with the coffee harvest.
During most service programs, volunteers have weekends and evenings free and serve during the day on projects that range from building classrooms in Ghana to teaching business courses in Ukraine to teaching English in China. No experience is necessary.
Volunteers pay a U.S. tax-deductible fee that covers food, lodging, transportation at the site, the services of an experienced team leader, and project materials. Transportation to and from sites is not included in the service program fee, but airfare is tax-deductible. All free-time expenses and plans are the volunteer's responsibility.
Nancy Groves is Communications Coordinator for Global Volunteers.