Traveling the world. It's something many of us dream of doing but only few ever get the chance. And for one Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, mom and her four children, they have taken their world travels to a new level. Amy Hoffman Ford, a woman’s health nurse practitioner and single mom of four, has helped to open her children’s eyes to the world. Not through books, photographs or films, but by immersing them into the cultures themselves.
Over the years, Amy traveled alone to Africa to underdeveloped and untouched areas all over the vast continent to serve women and children in need. These were the only times that she has been separated from her children. Her weeks abroad only added to her passion for the world and its people and helping others. “During the time spent away I started having visions of 'one day' bringing my children along so that they, too, could experience, live and love on others in need like I have. I have always told friends and family, ‘I can't wait until the day I bring the kids with me!’ Several trips later, it hit me hard and fast. Why on Earth do I need to wait until 'later’? The time is now.”
Amy and her children, Emma, 15, Bennett, (now 14, having celebrated a birthday in Sri Lanka), Hudson, (now 12, having celebrated a birthday in Fiji and Bali) and Mara, 8, set out on this journey in late January on a one-way around-the-world humanitarian journey to volunteer and open their hearts to wherever there was a need. The preparations were endless, with months of planning to prepare for their journey across the world. With four children in three different schools within Kootenai County, the school district showed their support from day one for this “world schooling” adventure the children would soon embark on, all while helping those in need.
Along their journey, which includes 96,269+ kilometers traveled, 28 planes rides and 51 accommodations, they’ve had a variety of hands-on learning experiences. From astrology (at an observatory in Australia where they had the opportunity to see stars millions of light years away), culinary (cooking classes and sampling), archeology (digging for fossils, in which Mara found some dated 550 million years old!), history (seeing knights’ armor from 1810 in person and sleeping in a 16th Century Kasbah and getting lost in the twists and turns of the thick mud walls), zoology (rehabbing elephants in Thailand and Africa), herbology and farming (working on a tea plantation), aviation (getting to meet the pilot and sit in the cockpit of each of their flights, and Bennett helped land the plane on one of their international flights), maritime (learning how to read the wind, navigate the ocean and sail), geography, currency, politics and more. And there was, of course, PE daily. There’s nothing like hiking the Great Wall of China with your family to get your heart rate up.
“When I stood by the elephant in the wild, I felt peaceful and graceful when I felt the elephant. I felt like an elephant, and they were big and I was small, and when I fed them bananas I felt happy and I had a lot of fun. Their names were Gentong, Boonront and Maydoom, Toomay,” says Mara. “One day we rode a bike to a bat cave in the forest and it reminded me of “The Goonies” adventure, just us and the forest, and when we walked into the cave there was 1,000 bats in the cave in every corner.”
Bennett recalls his many experiences along the way, as well as his various encounters of the different foods, religions, cultures and people. “Some experiences go from helping spear fish in Fiji to eat and feed the locals to serving people at a traditional Thai wedding in Thailand. But one of my many favorites is when we went to Australia and got to see an observatory on what was probably the best nights to go and see it on! We learned about the stars, how to use the big telescope, how massive the stars are and a whole bunch of really cool things that blew my mind away! If I had a chance to go back to Dubbo in Australia and do the same thing over again, I would definitely do it!” he says.
During their five-month volunteering world journey, Amy has watched her children interact with all races, cultures and ages, only walking alongside them, not in front of them. “I have watched them hoist paraplegics into and out of sailboats to volunteer days afloat our earth’s ocean waters. I have watched them fill woven baskets full of tea leaves lending a hand on a plantation and living on a Buddhist monk monastery. I have watched them serve the needy at a program called REFOOD which upcycles unused or a surplus of grocery stores’ rations. I have witnessed them having full on conversations with groups of locals and only smiles, gestures and drawing pictures were the mode of communication as stories unfold and are shared. I have witnessed my children walk with elephants, the gentle giants in the northern forests of Thailand, without any gates or chains to separate both species nor signing any waivers to do such. I have heard locals call these children ‘their children’ like their own.”
Life’s simple luxuries were no more. They have slept on floors and taken cold bucket baths. They lived among those whom they served, and always did it with a smile, no matter how difficult it could be at times.
“I have watched them serve hundreds at a wedding wearing peasant clothing and walk barefoot among the fancy dressed guests. I have yearned for these teaching moments for so long,” says Amy. “One of the children even celebrated a birthday with the indigenous people of Fiji who lifted him up high like the Lion King, planted a palm tree for his day, in his name, and gave him the sacred island knife to cut his birthday cake … on Castaway Island. Yes, the infamous Tom Hanks island.”
Hudson adds: “To compare a country to another, you have to experience each one. Like Sri Lanka and Dubai are two very different countries. In one flight everything changes. It goes from poor to rich in five hours; people living in shacks and fishing on wooden poles to hot tubs and Lamborghinis, six-foot tin houses to the tallest building in the world. In one day I experienced so much. We need to be grateful for what we have because some people live in half cargo containers and steal electricity to survive. No need to ask for more than what we have.”
Amy reflects back on taking the children to Bumi Sehat; a world-famous birthing clinic and meeting the founder, an American. “Anyone who knows me knows this is my second passion, besides raising my children, is helping women and children,” she says. “My children asked the founder such brilliant and thought-provoking questions, and they also knew deep down how important this one day along the journey was for me. It brought tears to my eyes when Hudson got to hold a newborn baby, born just the evening before, both of them sharing the same birthday.”
Along this journey, the definition of “home” changed for this family. Some may say home is where the Wi-Fi is or where you hang your hat, but not for Amy and her children. Throughout this journey, they have discovered that home is where your heart is at; home is made up of the people who give you life and make you smile, where welcoming hearts and love live. “I will always be home when I am with them,” she says.
“When we were in Cape Town, South Africa, my mom took us to one of the many common townships which she has frequently volunteered at delivering babies in her past journeys,” says Emma. “A township is where the poorest of the poor people live together in a community made up of tin, cardboard and stolen electricity. In the streets, trash is thrown everywhere, kids run around barefoot, even with the hundreds of broken glass bottles on the ground, yet, they were still smiling and happy. This made me think, why, with the way they live, the things they don’t have, how do they still smile and love on one another like they won’t see tomorrow? Witnessing this first hand made me realize that you don’t need much in life. That is one of the many things that I have learned while on this world journey.
With the community that we live in back in the states, we are shielded from this kind of poverty and lifestyle. This is why I am so thankful my mother has taken us around the world, to show us what Coeur d’ Alene couldn't and what school textbooks can’t define.”
Amy says that observing her children discover their world and watching these discoveries through their eyes and seeing them trust in themselves was her greatest souvenir.
“When you want so desperately for your children to understand the ways of the world, appreciate what they have, be grateful, be kind, be patient, be loving, have moments with their creator, and you try to teach them these things and show them the ways, and then the lightbulb goes off in your soul; they are finding these things within themselves—all on their own.”
During the closure of the last weeks, as Amy and her children gathered around their nightly family meal, and while tears were shed, not one of them wanted to return. Now, as their journey has come to a close, Amy says this: “I can say that putting myself through graduate school for a double masters, raising four kids on my own since the youngest was in diapers and everything in between … We rocked this! This came from the strength within. I can finally say something positive about myself, which is reflected from the souls of my children’s hearts; I successfully got my children one full rotation around our Earth. We did it!”
If asked if she would do it all over again, the answer is an overwhelming “Yes!” As Amy smiles, “Our five happy hearts are now quilted around the world together, and we can’t wait to blanket our woven love all over Mother Earth again!”
United Arab Emirates