J.D. Lewis and his two sons, Jackson and Buck, have done what no other single-parent family has done -- Travel around the world to 12 countries in 12 months.
The idea all started when then, 13-year-old Jackson told his father he would like to give back to those in need.
“And out of the blue, we came up with going to 12 counties in 12 months,” Lewis, who is an actor and acting coach by profession, said. “We wanted to volunteer but didn’t know what was needed in other countries.”
With a contact made through the Peace Corp, the Lewis clan was guided to find safer countries to travel and the preparation began.
Lewis said they have had some amazing experiences and worked with incredible organizations in their stops abroad. They visited Antarctica, Argentina, Australia, China, Haiti, India, Kenya, Peru, Russia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Thailand.
The Lewises ended their journey with a final stop in Durant where they visited family and continued to do volunteer work traveling to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and working with Habitat for Humanity, visited the ninth ward in New Orleans and helping serve meals through an Operation Upward that provides for low-income children in Jackson. They headed home to Charlotte, N.C., July 14.
“I really want to encourage people to volunteer,” Lewis said. “You don’t have to do a year. Even if you go for two weeks -- you volunteer and you have an experience that stays with you for a lifetime.”
One of the more eye-opening experiences for Lewis was visiting an HIV clinic in Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa.
“It was the most startling for me because the poverty is so unbelievable,” Lewis said. “They live in this tin shelters with human waste/sewage flowing between the houses. So many of the children and adults have HIV and there are a lot of health issues. Some have TB (tuberculosis).”
The visual images along with contact with people around the world have been life lessons that Jackson and Buck will take with them for the rest of their lives, Lewis said.
“When you see people dead in the street, when you see lepers in India, when you see kids on the streets sleeping on wooden carts in the streets, when you work with special needs kids from another culture . . . Every place we went was a different lesson,” Lewis said. “You also realize that the world is a small place and that everybody is just people. We are all just trying to get through the day.”
At the New Hope Foundations in Beijing, China, the family worked with children who are physically challenged.
Lewis explained that in China, couples are only allowed to have one child and if
that child has a handicap, they leave the child at a hospital or in the street.
This was a special experience for Jackson,
who taught pre-school aged orphans. He said he enjoyed working with children and spending time with them.
The rehabilitation of Howler Monkeys in little town of La Cumbre, located in the Argentinean Sierras was a rewarding experience for the Lewises, especially the youngest Buck. The Lewises worked with the organization to undomesticate the monkeys, that were once household pets, and return them to the natural habitat.
While they all agree they monkeys are as “cute as kittens,” the family of three did some hard work.
A typical day would be approximately 10 hours of preparing food, cutting leaves, getting water, delivering food and water to each group throughout the forest, helping with the baby monkeys, etc.
“I think that my kids will be humanitarians and volunteers for the rest of their lives,” Lewis said.
They may be back in the U.S.A. but for Lewis, the work is just beginning. They plan to stay in contact with each of the organizations and help to fundraise for their needs. To learn more about the Lewises and their journey, visit www.twelveintwelve.org
12 in 12: Family ends year of humanitarian work in Mississippi after time abroad
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