03/10/2012 09:26 am ET Updated May 10, 2012

The Impact Of International Volunteering On The Retired Population

All too often in our culture, seniors feel left behind in the always technologically advancing society that is the U.S. today.
Yet, there is a world of cultures that consider seniors wise and valued because of their life experiences.
My mother was a farm wife all her life. She raised her children, cared for her home and worked a farm from age 18 to age 80. She never traveled nor ever dreamed it was possible to do so.
Then I became involved in Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS) when I turned 50. I volunteered in India first, and then Ghana and Peru. She was amazed at my travels, loved my stories and wished she could share in the adventure. "Why not?" I asked!
So what can an 80-year-old woman do?
My answer was anything she wanted to do. The sky is the limit and everyone has something to give. We picked Russia for her volunteer experience and went together. She greeted everything with wonder. The mundane aspects of travel -- getting a passport, booking flights, getting a visa -- were all great to her.
We traveled to Russia prior to the start of our CCS program and got the chance to visit Moscow. She wondered at the sights.
On the first day of our volunteer program, we went to an orphanage to work, an experience that she never stopped talking about.
We had determined ahead of time that teaching people how to knit was her strong point. The children gathered around her in droves. She was a huge hit.
We ran out of yarn and went in search of more -- and this was repeated a number of times. The older woman who ran the knit shop we frequented became my mother's friend. At the end of two weeks, 50 children had new mittens and the skill to create more.
I remember lying in bed that first week in the dark and hearing her whisper, "Now I know why you do this."
Shortly after our return, my mother's health declined and she passed this year at the age of 86. Our volunteer experience was profound, and I am so thankful we had that time together.

As she was dying and reflecting on her life, she told me that the volunteer program was a major highlight of it. We all have so much to share, and CCS had truly given her the experience of a lifetime.

-- Marge Rubin, Cross-Cultural Solutions Program Advisor and Volunteer