Ken Budd’s The Voluntourist is a remarkable memoir about losing your father, accepting your fate, and finding your destiny by volunteering around the world for numerous worthy causes: Hurricane Katrina disaster relief in New Orleans, helping special needs children in China, studying climate change in Ecuador, lending a hand—and a heart—at a Palestinian refugee camp in the Middle East, to name but a few. Ken's emotional journey is as inspiring and affecting as those chronicled in Little Princes and Three Cups of Tea. At once a true story of powerful family bonds, of sacrifice, of self-discovery, The Voluntourist is an all-too-human, real-life hero whom you will not soon forget.
After his father suddenly dies, the then 39-year-old Budd, a freelance journalist, goes through a classic existential crisis: "What will people say when I'm gone?" he asks himself. "What if my own life ends in an instant? What have I accomplished?" Seeking answers to these questions as well as ways to tackle his grief leads Budd to immerse himself in a life devoted to volunteer work. In this sincere and subtly written memoir, Budd gracefully and often humorously records how he changes "emotionally, physically, spiritually" as he travels to work with "people with real problems and different perspectives." Budd begins his journey in New Orleans, helping victims of Hurricane Katrina, then moves on to teach English to elementary school children in rural Costa Rica. But these two experiences become the genesis of a broader project the heart of his memoir to make four more trips in nine months, volunteering in Asia, South America, the Middle East, and Africa. His underlying theme of learning to "be trained in patience and compassion" overlaps with not only his grief over his father but also his coming to terms with his and his wife's decision not to have children. In Kenya, Budd finally experiences a spiritually uplifting resolution of his journey of self-discovery, realizing that "we live up to those who shaped us by honoring their strongest values, by caring for those we cherish, and caring for those that they cherished."