Making a world of difference

Courtesy of Jonas Grushkin/Photogenesis Photography

Durangoans Laura Schweizer, left, and Ali Roach, right, joined several other locals in September on a voluntourism trip to Tibet, where they met this woman and her child in a village where they helped to install running water.

I guess you could call it taking volunteering to a high level, make that a very high level. Not only in commitment, but literally, too, in altitude.

One of the great ideas in travel in recent years is “voluntourism,” the idea of making a difference in the world while seeing somewhere new and different.

For a group of Durangoans, their project was bringing running water to the village of Yoloshi, 13,000 feet high, in Tibet.

Because of all the political complications between China and Tibet, they were in the Tibet Autonomous Region and not in one of the other two traditionally Tibetan provinces. It’s difficult to get the right kind of visa for the other two regions. The trip was under the aegis of the Tibetan Village Project.

The six-family village, population 120, gets its water from a spring in the Himalayas located 1.2 miles uphill from the village. Working with the villagers, the Durangoans installed a spring box and dug a trench, laying a 2-inch black pipe down to where the water was needed. This not only saves a walk for water, it means water will be more accessible in the winter, when it traditionally has frozen. Four multigenerational families now have a tap at their home.

While this water is quite clean in purity, the group also built bio-sand filters based on a contest-winning Stanford University design. They assembled the components themselves in Chengdu, China, on their way to Yoloshi. Two students from Stanford and a team member from Steamboat Springs were also along for the trip.

It helped having Eddie Cheung along. Born in Shanghai, he immigrated to the U.S. when he was 21. Not only did he do a lot of translating, he was also the master planner for the excursion. At their visit to a school in the village of Dora, he looked around and said he had been one of those kids himself.

Jonas Grushkin of Photogenesis Photography captured beautiful images of the experience, and Ali Roach and Laura Schweizer added youth, beauty, optimism and hard work to the team.

The group was inspired after hearing Durangoan retired Air Force Gen. Ron Fogelman speak about his trip the previous year to install solar panels at that school in Dora.

Every member of the group came back with a love of the Tibetan people, awe for the beauty of the Himalayas, appreciation for all the modern conveniences we so take for granted, and respect for a culture so ancient and so hardy.

Because tourism is involved, they did get to visit a place that was on group member Roger Ptolemy’s bucket list, the Potala Palace in Lhasa. It has been the winter palace of the Dalai Lama since the seventh century. Only 2,300 people a day are allowed in to the fragile buildings, so just getting in was a score. They lucked out by having a guide who knows the monk caretakers, so got a rare behind-the-scenes look at the palace.

Two of them tacked on trips with a personal connection to the expedition. Grushkin’s son Aaron, 22, attends American University but is currently based at Peking University for a Chinese immersion course. Grushkin spent three days in Beijing visiting him before the adventure to Tibet began.

Ptolemy added a week on afterward to go to Myanmar, formerly Burma, where his daughter, Jennifer Goodman, is teaching English under the auspices of the U.S. State Department. She recently earned her master’s degree in Southeast Asian studies from Cornell University after a two-year stint in the Peace Corps in Thailand.

In addition to visiting Yangon (Rangoon), where Goodman lives, they made side trips to Inle Lake, located in a vast marsh, where all the buildings were on stilts. A highlight there was the artisan cottage industries ranging from potter production and jewelry making to blacksmithing and lotus-fiber textile weaving.

Having visited Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Ptolemy had a standard of comparison for Bagan, an ancient capital of the country and a World Heritage Site, where 10,000 Buddhist temples and stupas once stood. More than 2,000 remain, and it was an impressive experience indeed.

Their farewell dinner was at a little eatery in Goodman’s neighborhood where celebrity chef and globe-trotting gourmet Anthony Bourdain had eaten a couple of months earlier.

Both Aaron Grushkin and Goodman are graduates of Durango High School, so no one can say we don’t send our youths out into the world.

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Scorpio birthdays continue to abound for Mark Simon, Tori Brunvand, Andre Craig, Gavin Hamlin, Keanu Pangelinan, Doug Bishop, Dane Englund, Jack Englund, Samantha Harris, McKenzie Hoffman, Tara Safran, Mary Shafer, Zack Esgar, Lukas Kleva, Amelia Perkerwicz, Brianna Tomberlin, Jesse House, Carolyn Bowra, Kalli Fassett, Michelle Unterberger, Michelle Rabouin, Sean Jackson, Doug Pierce, Holly Landgren, Taylor Moore, James Plotnik, Alisha Hjermstad, Kathleen Shock, Diane Wildfang, Lana Jacobsen Swearingen, Michelle Sylvain, Janet Grenawalt, Yvonne Johnson, Caroline Dellinger, Jim Clay and Whitney Burns.

And because everyone said I have to, I, too celebrated a birthday this week. Go, Scorpios!

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There are birthday presents and then there are the once-in-a-lifetime gifts that will always be remembered. For Karren Little, the latter came about when her significant other, Gary Penington, took her to Denver and, as a surprise, to attend a John Fogerty concert.

Little wore out a copy of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bayou Country” cleaning house on Saturday mornings. (It took hours to clean, but she was dancing the whole time. “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising,” need I say more?)

It’s safe to say Little spent the entire concert, which was called “Bayou Country” and included every song on the album, on her feet.

But that’s not all. Penington, who spends his summers producing concerts in conjunction with Major League Baseball games, scored backstage passes, so Little got to meet the man himself.

This was one unforgettable birthday. Many happy returns for the actual day, which is Thursday, but I bet it will be anticlimactic after the trip to Fogertyville.

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There’s nothing better than a scan free of any sign of cancer for anyone, not to mention a 3-year-old. Brave little Ozzie Goldman got to celebrate the outcome everyone was praying for with about 70 friends and family members at the First Presbyterian Church of Durango on Oct. 26.

The city of Durango proclaimed Oct. 26 as Ozzie Goldman Day, and Councilor Sweetie Marbury was on hand to read the proclamation. (Although I’d be interested in how much a 3-year-old understands of something like that!) The Rev. Beau Smith crowned Ozzie as king of the evening with a headpiece to match his red velvet robe.

Of course, when a member of the family is fighting cancer, every member is affected. Ozzie is the son of Dan and Robin Goldman, who I imagine appreciated the celebration more than anyone.

Organizers of the party didn’t forget Ozzie’s older sister, Gracie, 6. Being the healthy child with a sibling going through something like this is tough, too. David Pugh read a proclamation declaring her a princess for the evening, and she, too, was dressed as royalty.

After dinner, Jon Powell and his three dogs put on a magic show.

Ozzie was treated at Children’s Hospital Colorado, and his local physician is Dr. Jesse Hutt.

Thanks to Pat Wainwright for serving as my correspondent for this heartwarming story.

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The days may be getting shorter, but that doesn’t mean the celebrating has to end any earlier for the anniversaries of Mark and Rita Simon, Charlie and Amanda Blalock, David and Nancy Custer, David and Julie Downs and Wallace and Elizabeth Olson (61! and welcome to Durango).

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