Madeline Moore was a bit nervous when she was traveling to a remote village in Fiji. The road was rough on the two-hour journey by truck. Upon arrival, she’d be staying with a local family in their home, along with another Rustic Pathways traveler. Madeline says she was unsure if she’d feel comfortable being in a stranger’s house – or if the language barrier would be too much. But the villagers immediately eased her concerns. They welcomed Madeline and the other students with open arms.
“They were so sweet. All the moms would come together and plan special activities to integrate us into the community. We played games with the kids and had dance parties at night… We put on Shakira and the kids got so excited. They were much better dancers than us,” Madeline said.
These interactions sparked a love of travel that would carry Madeline through high school. She ended up going on six programs with Rustic Pathways from 2016-2019. The trips were coordinated with her school, Marin Catholic in northern California. The programs took her to seven countries – Fiji, Thailand, Tanzania, Peru, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Morocco.
The first stop was Fiji. From there, she traveled to places that taught her about different cultures and history – the impact of war and the power of reconnection. She saw exotic animals, provided service, tried new adventure activities and most importantly took home lessons that she still uses in her life today.
Responding to Local Needs: From Fiji to Bosnia
Most of the programs Madeline experienced had a service focus. A number of the projects were based in communities that were hard hit by destructive events.
In Fiji, Cyclone Winston caused extensive damage in the country in 2016. About 40-percent of the population was significantly impacted by the February storm. A few months later Madeline’s group took steps to help communities that were still recovering. This included an emphasis on environmental projects, such as planting mangroves, along with fun activities like teaching the local kids English.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the focus was on the Yugoslav Wars from 1991-2001. Madeline said she was surprised to see the impact of a conflict she knew nothing about.
“I somehow never learned about the war at all, so learning about it from the perspective of the Slavic people was interesting and enlightening,” Madeline said. “That was one of the times where I went home and wanted to look further into it.”
Madeline says they helped clear debris in a park area and did painting projects. They also did a tour to see areas heavily impacted by the war.
“There were buildings that were in obvious disrepair. But there were also a bunch of plants growing within them,” Madeline said. “It was nice seeing that life starting again, even 10-15 years later, and how much they had reconstructed in that time. Getting to help with even a little part of that with the service was one of the most impactful parts of a Rustic trip for me.”
As Madeline’s appreciation for service grew, she tackled new projects that addressed ongoing needs in other countries. In Peru, her group worked on infrastructure projects and lessons at an all girls school in a remote region. In that South American country only about 36 percent of girls in rural areas end up graduating from secondary school. So the schools for girls aim to increase educational opportunities.
“We built a hand washing station, and that was pretty cool because we got to do the whole process from start to finish,” Madeline said. “We removed all the rocks and dug out the area. Then we added all the cement and everything else. So it’s pretty cool to watch that project come to fruition.”
When not doing service Madeline got to try a host of activities, including snorkeling, hiking and island hopping. That also created some special memories.
Big Adventures and Small Memorable Moments
One of Madeline’s most memorable adventures was going on safari in Tanzania. The night before they went on the outing Madeline says they were really tired from service and weren’t entirely thrilled when the program leader said they had to watch a safari safety video. As they settled around the screen, the movie The Lion King popped up.
That elicited some laughs as they kicked back and enjoyed a relaxing night watching the movie. The next day they headed out on the safari for an unforgettable day that wasn’t what Madeline says she expected.
“I didn’t think seeing an animal in person would be that different from going to the zoo or looking at a picture of them. But it definitely was a totally different experience,” Madeline said. “I remember looking at the zebras as they kept crossing right in front of our truck and seeing animals roll around in the mud like water buffalo and hyenas. It was almost hypnotizing.”
That safari gave her a new appreciation for wildlife. And it wouldn’t be the only activity that sparked a new interest. In Thailand, Madeline found that it was really fun to learn the Thai form of kickboxing, Muay Thai. When she returned home, she continued doing kickboxing.
She also learned to be a more adventurous eater. Before traveling, Madeline said she had “the taste buds of a toddler.” But in countries like Thailand she tried foods like the love-it-or-hate-it durian fruit, bugs, pig’s ear and chicken heart.
She also saw that she was welcomed everywhere she went on her Rustic journeys, which helped her come out of her shell and be more open to communicating with strangers. Those skills helped her as she graduated high school and moved onto college.
Taking Home Life Lessons
After high school, Madeline went to college at Chapman University in Orange, California. She had hoped to travel more, but the pandemic ended up canceling those plans.
Still she stayed on track academically, graduated from school and started an editorial internship, using those communication skills she mastered on the road. As Madeline moves into the work world, she’s keeping in mind one of the key lessons she learned while traveling.
In that very first village Madeline visited in Fiji, she was amazed at how much the villagers embraced their time together. When the students left the village the local residents clearly showed how much they enjoyed the students’ visit.
“When we left, the villagers were running after the truck we were in, and we all just burst into tears because we didn’t want to leave,” Madeline said.
During Madeline’s next trip in Thailand, a teacher helped Madeline realize how she could be more like those villagers. This teacher mentioned she was having a hard time at home because her dad was really sick and mentioned how that would affect her goals for the trip.
“She said her goal was to stay present and be in the moment,” Madeline said.
Be present – that would end up being the key travel and life lesson for Madeline.
“That’s something I still think about a lot and try to emulate in both big moments and small moments,” Madeline said. “I try to be more present and get everything I can out of each moment.”