Presenting: Robert & Bette Allekotte – Servas Members, Family Travellers, Volunteers for Peace and the Environment
6. Please tell us about your 3 favourite or most memorable hosting experiences.
The Bhutanese student told us of how his parents grew up in a world without money, bartering only. We’ve visited and hosted some families who have become friends over the years. We see one another’s children grow from a great distance, but we feel like relatives. Servas guests have taken me to museums and architectural sites in my own city which I never knew existed. ( Frank Furness buildings, Barnes Foundation). It’s been a wonderful gastronomical experience as well. Some hosts have prepared memorable meals or suggested great restaurants, and occasionally we cook for our busy hosts. We enjoy living in homes, chatting, trading customs and participating in the day to day lifestyles of caring people.
7. You also work as volunteer interviewers for Servas. Please comment on that role and why you chose to get involved in that capacity.
We interview potential members because we want to spread the word about Servas and make sure members understand how it works. Our mission is to spread peace and justice as we provide memorable experiences through hosting and traveling. People like to talk about their trips; interviews give us a chance to listen and possibly give ideas to potential members. We have enjoyed sharing our experiences at union workshop conferences, parent groups and students who always wonder how we can afford such extensive trips on teachers’ modest salaries. It’s also been wonderful building friendships around the world and watching families grow as we continue to keep in touch, sometimes even revisiting.
8. You also communicate the message of peace to young people. How do you go about that?
Through teaching, we emphasize the understanding and acceptance of cultural diversity, that while geography and climate may make us different, the common bonds make us very similar. If students come to see people as individuals, then wanting to hate or kill them becomes more difficult.
9. Your children have grown up travelling with you and hosting people from all over the world. Please tell us how that experience has affected your children and your family as a whole.
As world travelers, our own children do not take the earth’s resources for granted. Both of our daughters are students of international dance and language, using both to communicate as they travel. We believe they see themselves as international citizens. They are happy to travel independently and love to learn. Their last trip was to the Galapagos Islands.
People ask us if the girls remembered their travels. I know they are more globally aware than the average American child. They certainly are adventurous when it comes to ethnic foods. Months after traveling through Japan, as I was putting our oldest daughter, then four, to bed, she asked me, “Mommy, what does the Buddha’s hand mean? Why is it facing down and sometimes up?” I told her what I knew and the next day we researched it.
Both girls traveled to Japan by themselves to meet us after a teacher’s seminar, where we visited many wonderful hosts and soaked in many small town onsen (public baths). The girls were 13 and 16, which are usually very self conscious ages. The youngest said, “It’s really a shame we don’t have these bathhouses at home, but I guess Americans wouldn’t be comfortable naked in one big room.”
Micole, our ball room dancer, has been sponsoring a child in the Philippines for ten years and is supervising social workers this year while applying to law schools. Alana has joined a Mexican folk dance troupe and a hip hop group while majoring in cultural anthropology.
10. You also dedicate your time to help save our environment as members of the Sierra Club. Please tell us about these endeavours and any other volunteer activities you may be a part of.
Servas and Sierra Club have some commonalities. Both stress respect and preservation of the earth for present and future generations. The Sierra Club’s Innercity Outings try to show kids that the outdoors is accessible and fun. Leaving their TV’s, games, refrigerators and air conditioning back in Philadelphia for a few hours or overnight camping can be eye opening for all of us. To earn their “ticket” home, they collect up trash as we walk. We try to teach kids to get along as they explore their planet. At the end of each excursion we gather in a circle and tell the group our favorite part of the trip. They learn greater respect for themselves, one another, and their home. The Sierra Club’s motto is,” Take only pictures; leave only footprints.”
Israeli-Palestinian peace quilt
11. What are your plans, now that you have all this free time on your hands?
Now we plan to live in Brigantine and have time to be volunteers for Servas. We are active in the communications, key persons and membership committees, trying to increase our numbers and partnerships with like-minded organizations. We welcome family, friends and Servas members to our home at the beach. Bette is adjusting to our new environs. We will still lead Sierra Club trips and try to bring a more active chapter to Atlantic County. Rob is involved in the writing and production of middle school musical theater and Holocaust education. We still plan to travel. We’re heading cross country in October followed by a trip to Southeast Asia. Servas will definitely be a part of those trips.
Thank you both, Robert and Bette, for taking the time to tell us about your international experiences and connections as well as your local activities. We wish you all the best for your upcoming travel plans to Thailand and all your other endeavours.