Helping Out -February 13, 2003
Bill Downing of "Cool Cat" (with shovel) and his crew of volunteers rebuild the wall in the library grounds
Many cruisers we know left behind active work and social lives when they moved on board and headed off in search of tropical paradise. For some, the daily demands of cruising now gives them more than enough activity. Just keeping the boat afloat and in reasonable working order can be a full time job. Add to that an excursion to check out a nearby beach, followed by an invitation for sundowners on a neighbouring boat, and it's amazing how the day suddenly disappears. But for others, the joy of polishing stainless steel and changing engine oil filters doesn't last long. Even those pristine beaches and reefs start to look the same after a while. Once the novelty of cruising wears off, these folks need something else to keep them occupied - and starting cocktail hour at noon instead of sunset isn't the healthiest of solutions.
Volunteer work is one of the more constructive ways of filling gaps in the daily schedule. Wherever cruisers congregate, there's usually plenty of pent up beneficence waiting to be tapped. A lot of the prime winter cruising grounds are in countries that lack the resources we take for granted in the developed world. This creates all sorts of opportunities for any bored cruiser wishing to add a little meaning to his or her hedonistic existence. Two of the most popular targets for cruiser charity are animals and kids.
Animal lovers will be delighted to know there's no end to the number of causes to which they can devote their time and energy - everything from caring for stray cats and dogs to saving whales and sea turtles. Helping kids can involve volunteering at local orphanages or schools. Since arriving in George Town in the Bahamas over a month ago, for example, Eileen has been spending an hour most weekdays at the elementary school tutoring seven year old Stephen. Stephen's family came from the Dominican Republic a couple of months ago - they only speak Spanish. The George Town school doesn't have the special materials or staff for teaching English as a second language. Stephen's English is improving and Eileen's appreciation of the challenges of ESL instruction is increasing.
For those cruisers who don't excel at relating to animals or small people - David fits into this category - there's always building projects. Last week a contingent of cruisers busied itself at the George Town community library. It all started with Mary, on the sloop "Dark And Stormy", anchored next to us. Mary is a former school teacher. She knows a lot about books and wanted to help the library, which was not in the best state of repair. The interior of the building needed repainting and the stone wall out front was falling down. Mary recruited another of our neighbours, Bill on the catamaran "Cool Cat", who knows a lot about construction. Bill, in turn, recruited a bunch of other cruisers who were neither experts on books nor construction, but who could follow instructions. That's how David ended up carrying buckets of sand back and forth and covering himself (and a few ceiling boards) with paint. It wasn't the most efficient work crew, but after three days, the library and its grounds looked better and a bunch of otherwise under-worked cruisers felt better. Not a bad deal.