Monday, July 16, 2007

Gary Duncan, Assistant Director of Marketing

No one would ever guess how difficult it is to get a Study Tour group from the States to Ecuador... but we are leaving Atlanta today for a six hour flight to Quito. Let me summarize the details of what it took to get us all in one place for this international departure.

We start working on each Study Tour approximately six months before departure. First, we get clearance from the host country that it is okay to bring a group of sponsors and donors to their country for 7 to 10 days-- hey, it is no easy task hosting a large group with various needs and personalities but all of our CCF national offices do a superb job in making us feel welcome and part of their family.

Betty B and I negotiate the lowest rates, but highest quality, with airlines, hotels, local transportation, in-country restaurants, etc. for each Study Tour. With the Study Tour to Ecuador, we have excellent support from Carlos M. and Zoraya (national staff in Quito) who are busily coordinating trips to CCF program areas; visits to CCF sponsored children and families, tours of local historic and cultural venues, etc.

Despite our best efforts, there are always glitches out of our control (like the US Passport Agency and Embassies that issue tourist visas), but our Richmond staff seems to handle these problematic situations with courtesy and kindness.

Finally— we have done as much planning as possible to make each trip a success and the day arrives for our departure. For the past months, hundreds of emails have been written and countless number of telephone calls have been made to arrange things, answer questions, give reassurance to nervous travelers, and nail down those last-minute travel gremlins that always seem to appear-- like, "I lost my passport, I can't find my ticket, the airline has cancelled my flight to the departure point..." hey, all in a day's work and I am surprised that most situation can be, and are, resolved!

Now is the day of our departure from Atlanta to Quito. Thoughts run through my mind as we sit waiting for everyone to arrive at the world's busiest airport. Please, let the thunderstorm avoid us in this area and everyone arrive safely and find the international gate to Quito in this gigantic airport! I think of the variety of sponsors going on this trip and how great it will be getting to know the new travelers and renewing the friendships with people who have traveled with us before on Study Tours.

Two hours before take-off, we start doing head-counts. Renee and I will be frantically searching the Atlanta airport for anyone who has not appeared at the gate. In five years--remarkably-- I've had only one person miss an international flight and he was stuck in a traffic jam trying to get out of Manhattan to JFK.

I imagine that our CCF-Ecuador staff is feeling anxious at this point knowing that these US sponsors will soon arrive in their country. They are an outstanding staff and have nothing to fear, everything will go perfectly... and if it doesn't, that's just part of the adventure of traveling in a foreign country. Our sponsors are in for a great trip that will be fun, educational, and for many of them, life-changing! We are going to meet our international family for a great reunion and sharing of experiences that make us residents of one world despite different languages, religions, political beliefs or economic backgrounds. CCF sponsorship is a great equalizer of people on Study Tours; we are in for ten days of surprises and companionship.

Vaya con Dios y Adios Compadres!

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