UI alums Jim and Nan Hurst
Around the World on 20 Volunteer Projects
by Mary Ann Reese
Some people slow down after they retire. Not so for UI alums Jim Hurst '55, and his wife Nan '56. Since retiring from General Foods in 1990, in Modesto, CA, Jim and Nan find their passports bulge with names of countries where he has served as an agri-business consultant for four U.S. volunteer agencies.
Assignments lasting two to eight weeks have taken the Hursts to the fields, orchards, and homes of local farmers and entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, Egypt, Guinea, India, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Nepal, Russian Siberia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Zambia, to name a few.
"Volunteer projects are great for anybody who likes to travel and wants to help people," says Hurst. "But you've got to be flexible, because you'll run into primitive conditions. And projects are rarely what the specs say they will be."
Hurst has traveled abroad with four organizations, each brokering needs of people in developing countries with skills of American specialist volunteers (see box). The agencies pay for transportation, food, and lodging during the project. Hurst's wife of 53 years almost always accompanies him, even if he must pay her way.
Hurst first developed a taste for overseas consulting while working for General Foods. A supervisor sent him abroad on company business, and then suggested he sign up with International Executive Service Corps. As requests for help arise, volunteers with suitable skills are offered specific assignments.
Trying volunteer consulting in Kenya
Kenya was Hurst's first project. "I wanted to see if it was something I enjoyed." His assignment was a plantation that "grew just about everything tropical." The owner wanted to raise jojoba, in addition to chickens and oranges." Right away Hurst could see his land was not suited for jojoba. "It was a tropical coast; jojoba requires different conditions." Instead, he recommended expanding the citrus crops.
Hurst was hooked. "I can't think of a better way to travel. You have a purpose, a focus, and a chance to make great friendships. And hopefully you make the world a little better."
Since then, during 20 assignments in 14 countries he has helped train managers for a consumer cooperative in Nepal, establish a food processing factory in Bangladesh, evaluate and recommend improvements for a Siberian food processing plant, and shared food drying techniques with orchard growers in Kyrgyzstan. In 2004 he advised the Melitopol Extension Service in the Ukraine on ways to deliver extension services to area vegetable growers, based on lessons learned as a Latah County UI Extension agent in the '50s..
A wealth of friendships forged
"It's hard to be sure about the technical impact I've had. But I do know that my wife and I have made some wonderful friends. We show what common people from the United States are like." They've attended weddings in India and Central Asia, ridden elephants in Nepal, and dined at a village barbecue in Siberia. They have eaten crocodile burgers, shivered in winters with no heat, sweltered in summer monsoons, stayed in fancy hotels and lived with "wonderful" rural families without electricity.
Nan's cross stitch, Flat Stanley tales
While Jim's out solving business problems, Nan finds her cross-stitch work is often a great ice-breaker with the women of all nationalities. Also, Nan documents their travels in e-mails home, and she captures their adventures through the eyes of Flat Stanley for their daughter-in-law to use with elementary students. In the original book, Stanley is squashed flat by a falling bulletin board, so he travels in an envelope. Teachers encourage students to track Flat Stanley's travels on a map. Thanks to Nan, Flat Stanley has dogged the Hurst's footsteps.
Like the Hursts, Flat Stanley sees people helping people as a bridge to peace and understanding. None of them plan to hang up their suitcase anytime soon.
Contact Hurst at firstname.lastname@example.org.