Visiting all the vacation hotspots such as Cuba, Mexico or the Dominican is not what Allan and Lydia Sorflaten are all about.
The Shortts Lake residents have been volunteer advisors with Canadian Executive Service Organization (CESO) for 12 years.
And even before that the Sorflaten's knew travelling and seeing the world had to include helping others.
Allan, 69, who had been based in Truro for 17 years as an agricultural economist with Agriculture Canada, took early retirement in the spring of 1997. Lydia, 67, after spending the last nine years of a 33 year teaching career at Hants North Rural High School, retired in 1998.
Since that time, in the quest of strengthening economic and social well-being, the couple have made 16 trips to far off developing countries. Besides being to the Caribbean several times, they have travelled to South America, Africa, Italy and most recently to the Philippines.
As the Sorflatens do not always travel to the safest areas of the world they try to be aware of their surroundings.
"We have second thoughts at times," Lydia said. "We sometimes ask ourselves, ‘What are we doing?' The question is pretty well answered for us after working directly with people on projects, then seeing them evolve and knowing they are key to progress."
Sharing highlights of their most recent trip, the Sorflaten's described Tablas as a remote island and one of 1,700 islands that make up the Philippines.
"It would be about 40 per cent as big as Prince Edward Island," Allan said. "While we were there, from mid March until the end of April, it was very hot and humid with the temperature being 36 and 37. We worked closely with the agriculture representative in the Municipality of San Andres, which would be approximately the size of Colchester County. Of the Philippines 92 million population, there would be around 16,000 people where we were. The language is Tagalo, but most people speak some English."
Food was one area Lydia focused on.
"These people feed themselves with hand-seeded rice," she said. "Everything is done by hand. Coconuts are also one of their main crops. They also depend on fishing."
Allan faced the challenge of developing a comprehensive agriculture strategy and planning document.
"We did this within six weeks so we were busy," Allan said. "You could describe me as a consultant working for free. It was good to be able to prepare a 55-page report. Twelve copies were made for distribution to the mayor and other San Andres officials."
Lydia was also busy on the food side of things.
"We prepared for and conducted six full workshops on agro food marketing," Lydia said. "We visited neighbouring communities to observe and to purchase materials for practical use in these workshops. There were 35 participating businesses. As a result of the workshops, participants developed new products."
Some of the non-food agricultural products the workshop focused on were tiger grass brooms, hand dyed nito vine palm woven baskets and hats.
"Food people who participated were involved with bakeries, restaurants, jams, atchara (pickles) and candies," Lydia said. "Each participant left with a full label for marketing their product. It is quite common to see products without labels which causes confusion and is dangerous."
Lydia noted people take great pride in their schools and recreation.
"Basketball is their national sport," she said. "There are basketball courts in every village."
Allan observed overwhelming displays of both wealth and poverty during the couple's travels, which included spending time in Manila, the country's capital. Allan feels that the Philippines comes out of the United States mold.
"There's been a longtime relationship between the United States and the Philippines," he said. "It goes back to the Second World War. They are of a strong strategic interest to the United States. Overall, it was meaningful travel and it was good to lend a helping hand in community development."
Lydia cannot forget how much the local people loved sharing their culture.
"They have pride they didn't realize they had," Lydia said. The bottom line is you come away with something that is almost indescribable."
Although it is not yet definite, there is a good possibility the Sorflatens will return to the Philippines to assist in other regions of the country.
Lyle Carter's column appears every Tuesday in the Truro Daily News. If you have a column idea, contact him at 673-2857.