The Meanderthals
VIA has a funny knack of attracting like-minded individuals from all walks of life who share the values of volunteerism. Every year, these conferences are attended by people who in their work unwrap human potential like a kid opening a Christmas present. Their commitment, dedication to task and attention to detail is inspiring.

And, as the erstwhile deans of the VIA Class of 2011, Gabi and I find it refreshingly reassuring. To see the enormity of these young adults’ potential, to be part of their world and to see the intelligence, good-heartedness and honesty that each weaves into their work…well, it’s faith-restorative in nature.

In a world where cynicism breeds like antibiotic-resistant organisms, VIA provides the antidote for counterproductive thinking. Here, hope, promise and potential are the foundations upon which each VIA volunteer spreads their influence.

Conference is a chance to commune, laugh, brainstorm, vent and repair.

There are all kinds of problems, from organizational dysfunction to malaise in the classroom, from government intervention to social problems like civil unrest, trafficking and domestic violence. Yet, as a family, we deal with them – collectively, productively and collaboratively.

For this is the spirit of VIA, and as the organization approaches its 50th year it’s worth paying respects to an entity born to provide an alternative to military service during the war in Vietnam and having evolved into a respected partner in the development of Southeast Asia and China. VIA’s future is married to the work and commitment of its staff and volunteers under new leadership with new visions and ideas.

There’s Noel, a free spirit working to fight human trafficking in northern Thailand, sharing experiences and finding solutions with Sarah, who’s working in a similar position on the border of Vietnam and Cambodia. There’s Rachel, tucked away in an English teaching post in Indonesia, comparing notes with peers who do similar work in Vietnam.

There’s Helen, occupying VIA’s sole post in Myanmar, sharing her view of a society showing sudden promise and openness to engaging with the rest of the world.
There are others, too, with equally compelling jobs, stories, experiences, frustrations and challenges.

Solution orientation and positivism are woven into the fabric of this organization, and having been exposed to VIA for 4-5 years (the first 2-3 passively, as Gabi and I assessed our options to move to SE Asia, the last two as VIA volunteers) we have seen the organization through its share of challenges. Funding issues, staff changes and the impact of a global economic meltdown have provided moments of uncertainty and difficulty for VIA’s brain trust.

But there seems a larger mission at the core of VIA, one of those rare objectives and ideals worth preserving, worth protecting and cultivating.

Onward. Always onward. And doing good work, whether it’s English resource or English teaching, in Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam or Cambodia. VIA SE Asia is flourishing and prospering, and we prepare to leave conference believing that our future is somehow inextricably woven into VIA’s own.
On one of our last nights together we walked as a group to a surfside restaurant to have dinner and dance to the sounds of a Filipino cover band. As we walk, I am struck by the metaphor of the moment: 16 sets of footprints, visible for now, soon to be washed by the sea as the tide rises and ebbs. We are here for the moment and may leave impressions that will only be retained by memory.

And now, 16 smiling faces press close around the table, which is covered by fresh local seafood and other specialties of the house for VIA’s closing conference dinner. There’s  steamed shark, fresh fish salad and grilled wild boar and venison skewers. There’s rice. And there’s beer and wine – for those in Muslim-dominated Indonesia, the first they’ve seen in awhile.

And there are stories, each volunteer sharing the highlight of the past few months. There is laughter; there are some tears as the poignancy of the moment settles. There is communion of spirit, of intent, of potential.

All in the spirit of VIA, a powerful guiding force that does only good in a part of the world so deserving of all we have to give.


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