August 2019 – “Not all of us can do great things,” Mother Teresa wrote. “But we can do small things with great love.”
I don’t live by that nearly as much as I aspire to. But housesitting gives me an opportunity to do a small thing for pet owners with great love. My favorite thing about housesitting is that it allows me to share the gift of travel with pet owners who might otherwise feel homebound.
Housesitting also takes me to some pretty interesting parts of the world. After housesitting all summer in Réunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean just east of Madagascar, I decided to spend a two-week break traveling in Madagascar.
It was there that I met Zoziane. She’s one of the hordes of dusty children who descended on me at every tourist stop selling whatever is popular in the nearby village….In her case, it was polished stones. She stood out, though, with her crisp English and confidence. (I really admire English-learners; it’s a lot of work and discipline!)
I asked her if she wanted to join my guide and me in our car to ride to the top of the plateau overlooking Titriva Lake. She grinned and jumped in.
She is 14 and wants to be a National Tour Guide, like Arséne, my 35-year-old certified and trained guide. He told her to study hard and to keep practicing her English. She couldn’t stop grinning.
She gave each of my questions careful consideration before answering. Sometimes she responded, very seriously, “I need to think about that.”
Her school costs 20,000 Ariarty per month (about $5 USD), a small fortune for many families. There’s so much poverty in Madagascar – throughout Africa. It’s overwhelming. And it’s hard to know how to help. I don’t want to be culturally or economically patronizing or create an expectation of hand-outs.
“Never worry about numbers,” Mother Teresa wrote. “Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”
After we left, I asked Arséne: Would it cause a problem for her family or other siblings if I gave her some money for school? He assured me it wouldn’t and that he’d be happy to deliver an envelope to her mother the next time he was in that village.
Here’s his video handing Zoziane my envelope and personal note. It made me tear up. …And feel small. For the cost of a latte at Starbucks, I could support a student’s education for a month.
Or, I could pay more attention to the person right in front of me.
This was a tough blog to write – so personal. I’d love to hear your reaction in COMMENTS below. Thanks for reading!
Kelly Hayes-Raitt admits she sleeps around. Usually with animals.
As a full-time housesitter and traveler for the past decade, she’s learned a thing or two about housesitting and shares her knowledge and experience in her popular book How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva available in soft cover or Kindle at Amazon or ebook on her HouseSitDiva website.
Before nomading, Kelly reported live from Iraq during the early weeks of the U.S.-led invasion. Her journalism has won several literary awards and has been widely published in anthologies.
Lately, she’s turned her energy toward helping other writers get their books jumpstarted. Her coaching clients call her “inspiring,” and students in her workshops rave about her unique teaching techniques. Learn more about working one-on-one with Kelly at JumpStartMyBook.org.
Or join her in Cape Town, South Africa, February 1 – 10, 2020, for a magical writing retreat to jumpstart your book! JumpStartMybook.org/writers-retreat/
I love it when individuals come together and share thoughts.
Great blog, stick with it!
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Beautiful post, thank you so much for sharing 🙂
cheers from Stockholm Sweden!
Thank you, Ann!
This is so inspiring and a great example of making a difference at a local level while traveling. As I travel more, I try to give back to the local communities I’m staying in. This is wonderful.
Thank you, Ann, for your kind words — and for your own impact when you travel. I’m going to do this more often!
What a lovely gesture, no matter how small. I’ve been to a small part of Madagascar and have seen the poverty and the difficulty of some of their lives. It is great that your contribution could end up in her hands and not line the pockets of companies or people that claim to help but don’t really. I commend you!
Alma, it was so easy to give through my tour guide. I’m going to do this more often! Thanks for your kind words.
What a great and humbling experience! We can help someone else with a sum of money we spend every day on things like coffee or lunch… With her ability to learn languages and determination, I am sure she’ll accomplish her goal of being a guide and more!
Maya, thanks! I appreciate your comment. I’m also hoping that because Zoziane met me personally that she’ll be even more committed to her studies.
Wise words from Mother T. – just think what we could all do if we switched our Starbucks habit to supporting girls in developing countries. I did something similar during our Cambodia trip, and it felt insignificant but this post and Mother T’s words have made me realize it was worth the effort.
Jay, good for you! I think sometimes we diminish in our minds the impacts we have. I mean, my gift to Zoziane feels so small to me. I just loved that the tour guide sent this video!
yep made me cry, it is a worry isn’t it do you give, how much do you give. I lived in Mexico in a tiny fishing village for a year and the only thing I could think of to do was hire a village woman to clean the house, get the men to pick the dangerous coconuts and actually pay them as well as let them keep the coconuts. It’s a struggle when you have so much compared to others with so little.
Faith, thanks for this personal comment….It’s a constant struggle for me about how to give back. I like your idea of hiring people. Was this Ajijic? I housesit there for 6 months every spring and fall!