Skip and Vickie Larrington have been hosting Legacy’s international visitors at their Smith Mountain Lake home for the last 10+ years. Recently they traveled to the Middle East and connected with their “daughters” from TechGirls.
Below is Skip’s account of their travels:
Our friends have often asked us why we host people through Legacy international. Our response is pretty simple. Through hosting people from other countries, we have learned that these people want the same things for their children and families as we do in this country. We want to live in a place that is safe, with adequate shelter, food and drinkable water. We want our children to get a good education. We want our children to have better lives than we did when we were growing up. We found that we have minor differences and major similarities with our foreign visitors. We hope to send our guests home with a new impression of Americans – that we are warm and welcoming and that we are more like them than they might have thought.
What an absolute joy it has been connecting with the TechGirls. We have hosted numerous people from different countries through Legacy International. Our favorite group has to be the TechGirls. The openness and honesty of these girls is so refreshing. The girls are so fluent in English and intelligent that conversing with them is a true pleasure. In three days, we got to learn so much about them, their culture, and their personal dreams and aspirations. Our commonalities are many, and our differences are few.
Vickie and I both commented at the time, and still are amazed, at how quickly these girls became part of our family. They may have only been in our home for two days, but their honesty and the frank discussions we had about their homeland and their culture opened our eyes to the world they live in – a world we can’t even imagine. The religious and cultural differences melted away as we all interacted as simply human beings.
We decided that we were going to take a trip to the Holy Land this past spring with a tour company. There was the option of adding a few days in Egypt and Jordan prior to the main Israel / Palestinian Territories portion of the trip. Since we were going to endure the plane flights over there anyhow, we might as well see Egypt while we were there. Seeing the pyramids had always been on Vickie’s bucket list.
opens IMAGE file One of the two girls who stayed with us was from Cairo; we could get to see her! So we contacted Natalie to let her know when we were coming. There was no hesitation in her response. She would arrange her schedule to show us around Cairo. We were also in contact with one of the other girls, Nada, who was attending school in Cairo. We had met her for only a few hours while she visited our house for swimming and boating on that Saturday in July, but we had also bonded with her during that afternoon. She was excited about our visit and said she would also meet us for the day.
Natalie and Nada met us in the morning and took us around Cairo for the day. We walked the real streets of this city where tourists do not go. They took us to the Prince Muhammad Ali Palace. We saw the gorgeous architecture and beautiful craftsmanship of the time. There were very few people there, and we were definitely the only tourists. They then took us to the Citadel of Cairo.
Later, on our last day of the tour in Jerusalem, we had all day to explore the city. Our other TechGirls guest, Vera, was from Bethlehem, and we contacted her. We met Vera’s parents and siblings in their home. What a unique opportunity we had to see the inside of a home in Bethlehem. The children were all multi-lingual. Vera and her mom took us through the market in Bethlehem. She bought us different types of bread as well as raw almonds and some sort of beans.
We also visited the Milk Grotto Church and Solomon’s Pools. We knew that we were seeing the Bethlehem that tourists never see. We got to try all sorts of delicious dishes that we never saw as part of the meals in the hotels. When we left Vera she was all teary, as were we. She gave Vickie a hug and said, “I don’t want this to be the last time I see you.”
We assured her that it would not be.
The highlight of our trip was not singing praise songs on the Sea of Galilee, or seeing the pyramids, or walking the Via Dolorosa. It was seeing the girls, and in Vera’s case – meeting her family. Bridging the gap between our countries happens one person at a time.
TechGirls has offered us the opportunity to make life-long friends. More than that, we feel like we have added family members to our family. Our trip over there allowed us to become part of their family and to truly gain an appreciation for the challenges they experience on a daily basis. These are connections that we value and will continue to build on in the years to come.
We are currently looking for host families in southwest Virginia for the spring, summer and fall! (One week and weekend options.)
opens IMAGE file This is a opens in a new windowprogram of the U.S. Department of State, administered by Legacy International.
TechGirls is an international exchange program designed to inspire and empower girls from the Middle East and North Africa to pursue deeper level of training in technology through hands-on skills development.