When I first met Helga Smith at the Canada-US Servas Conference, she gave me a brief introduction to her life decade by decade, and every decade held something else that was interesting and completely different. Helga will have a chapter in a book called "Women Who Rock", which is to be published in the near future. The book features a variety of female movers and shakers who stand out not so much for their financial and entrepreneurial success but for their unique way of overcoming major challenges in their lives, their athletic accomplishments and community involvement.
The story starts in 1963 when Helga escaped from just outside of Berlin, in East Germany. A year and a half later she came to the United States without knowing any English. She got a job as a domestic and soon started to work in an office. Then she married an American who did not speak any German. Five years later she had three children and was single again.
Without any source of income, Helga briefly went on welfare but also managed to complete an associate degree in computer science. She worked for two major financial institutions in New York, developing skills in graphic design and business presentations. Typical of so many other Servas members, she dedicates her spare time to community activities. She volunteers for numerous worthy causes and trains with blind people.
As a matter of fact, Helga came to running in her late 50s. She initially accompanied her daughter, another enthusiastic Marathon runner, but got inspired to start running herself. Since then, Helga has completed several Marathons, including the highly competitive Boston Marathon.Helga's athletic achievements don't end here: she decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for the Foundation for International Community Assistance. She raised $10,000 to help women in Tanzania obtain small loans for business creation.
Mount Kilimanjaro was a special challenge for Helga: although any reasonably fit person can do it in theory, only 50% of the people starting the trek actually make it to the top. Interestingly, most of the failed attempts come from men in their early 20s who underestimate the power of the mountain and difficulties hiking in high altitude.Of course Helga is also a committed Servas traveller and has been part of the organization since 1985.
Being located in New York City, a very popular travel destination, she has hosted several hundred Servas travellers. In return, she has visited more than 50 countries. Helga thinks outside the box and has passed her unconventional ways of thinking on to her children: her daughter has cycled around the world and now works for International Development. Her daughter has lived in Egypt for four years and is now assigned to another Middle Eastern country.
Her son also lives in New York City, together with his Ecuadorian wife. They are both recognized and respected graffiti artists, producing murals for the City, for fun and for pay.Now, that Helga is semi-retired, she has joined another group of peace-builders: the "Non-Violent Peaceforce".
This is an organization that trains people to physically put themselves in harm's way where a human buffer zone can be useful to defuse a potentially dangerous situation. She said that this would be a cause that she would be willing to take a risk for.Very soon we'll be able to hear Helga's story, her athletic achievements, community endeavours and future plans for activism..Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions(http://www.
travelandtransitions.com). Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the transitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.
Submit your own travel stories in our first travel story contest(http://www.travelandtransitions.com/contests.htm) and have a chance to win an amazing adventure cruise on the Amazon River."Life is a Journey Explore New Horizons".The article with photos is published at Travel and Transitions - Interviews.
By: Susanne Pacher