A native of Rives, Martha Edinger, is retired from practicing law and now resides in Lakewood Ranch, Florida with husband Sandy who spent his career in banking. The two have a love of travel. They’ve been to numerous countries together, cruising and touring, dining well and enjoying the fruits of their years of labor.
But even with 43 countries stamped in expired and current passports, Martha had never been to Mexico. In August, as the result of her current role as Board Chair for the Dresden-based Global Citizen Adventure Corps, Mexico became stamp number 44.
The history buff and quilter joined six other travelers to explore Oaxaca, where she added to her understanding of the ancient Mexican culture and shared her stitching skills with students and community members.
As usual for the nonprofit focused on offering travel service-learning experiences, the GCAC participants partnered with in-country nonprofits. Mundo de Talentos offers girls and boys between the ages of 10 and 13 a two-year program that weekly introduces students, in a participatory way, to possible career opportunities. Fabrica de lo Nuevo is a community center where GCAC volunteers served as teachers.
“Our arrival had been talked up and people came,” explained Martha of the warm reception. “Julie did a drum circle, Merric did math, and I did sewing.”
Dr. Julie Hill, co-founder of GCAC, brings her music expertise and administrative skills to GCAC programs while Stacie Freeman, also a co-founder, leads the global studies course students traveling with GCAC complete for college credit.
Merric Anderson of Greenfield High School; Marianne Moore from Westview High School; Dr. Jessie Thoman of UT Martin; Cheyenne McMullen of KY completed the roster of intergenerational traveling learners.
During their seven-day stay, the group immersed themselves in the rich culture of Oaxaca, learning the art of weaving, attending a pottery demonstration, shopping, and discovering the process for making chocolate.
One of the most enjoyable experiences, Martha notes, was participating in a traditional Oaxacan cooking class, discovering the secrets behind the region’s famous cuisine, rooted in Zapotec heritage.
She also fondly recounts a night of enjoying foods native to the area at a pop-up restaurant on the sidewalk.
“When we arrived, it looked like any street corner with closed shops with no activity whatsoever. We saw two other people standing nearby who told us kindly in Spanish to stand in line and wait, and that we were at the right place for great food.,” she said.
“When 7 p.m. arrived, all magically and instantly transformed. Doors opened. Tables were brought out, string lights hung and illuminated over a portable stove and bin of prepped food. They took and prepped our orders and then we stood in the street to eat. It was specifically Oaxacan food, not processed, and very fresh, with beef, chorizo, or pork. I loved it. I will never be able to go to a Mexican restaurant around here again. Oaxaca spoiled me,” she concluded.
Examining cultural norms and biases became easier as conversations around the table explored topics beyond the cuisine, comparing advantages and disadvantages of daily life.
A tour with En Via, an organization dedicated to the empowerment of women, the well-being of families and the strengthening of communities, added further insights.
Even the choice of hotels became a learning experience.
Hotel con Corazon has no tv and no pool, concrete floors, and practical furnishings. Martha delights in sharing that the rooms were “cool enough that you could sleep with windows open and air conditioner off” and praises the breakfast, different every morning with its “awesome coffee.”
The hotel gives 75% of profits back to community charities, proving to be a perfect partner for GCAC. Martha underscored the value of experiential learning as she noted one particular “lesson learned.”
“At the hotel and the school, they compost,” she explained. “They don’t waste anything, use every part of it. You don’t waste.”
Martha is already planning to return with husband Sandy and is ready to encourage more GCAC board members to participate in upcoming programs in other locales such as Honduras and Cuba. She believes the value of seeing firsthand what their donations are helping to accomplish and for which their board work lays the foundation is immeasurable. She also thinks the experiences are a matter of good economics.
“I’ve traveled to 44 countries now and paid a lot more money for way less than I got on this trip,” she said. “It’s a different experience because we were out with the local people.”
She then chuckles and adds, “I brought back handwoven rugs and pottery. I did what I could for the local economy.”
Co-founders Hill and Freeman are grateful to Martha for not only her role as board chair but also the time she invests in heading up the board committee who oversees the scholarship process.
“GCAC is only one year old in October,” Hill explained. “Yet because of the support we receive from our working board, we have already provided scholarships for 14 students and left an economic impact of almost $84,000 in the countries we have visited since January.”
Freeman added, “Having a diverse board, representing so many different perspectives informed by an array of experiences, ensures that GCAC can remain true to our mission to increase mutual respect for people, places, and the planet. We are truly appreciative of all they do and we’re thrilled Martha was able to see and experience our work firsthand.”
A group of students and community leaders from Global Citizen Adventure Corps were fueled for their week of service and learning about Mexican culture with a breakfast from Hotel con Corazón. The accommodations in Oaxaca, Mexico, exemplified the nonprofit’s commitment to partner with other charitable organizations as a percentage of the costs at the hotel are distributed to community charities. GCAC participants included (from left front and clockwise) Cheyenne McMullen, Martha Edinger, Merric Anderson, Marianne Moore, Stacie Freeman, Julie Hill, and Jessie Thoman.