06282017Wed
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Los Altos couple describes second career volunteering to reduce poverty in Africa


Charles Lindauer/ Special to the Town Crier
Rick Walleigh shares his experiences in Africa at a Rotary Club meeting Jan. 7.

After Los Altos residents Rick and Wendy Walleigh built successful high-tech careers, they weren’t quite ready to retire. So they spent their “encore” careers volunteering in Swaziland and Kenya to reduce endemic poverty.

The Walleighs appeared at the Jan. 7 Rotary Club of Los Altos meeting, describing the conditions they set on where they would volunteer: sites with flush toilets and hot showers, no countries with flying bullets and no nation ending in “-stan.”

Nevertheless, Rick said, the couple did have “a lot of challenges and sometimes scary adventures.” He referred to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, as “Nai-robbery,” reflected in the 8-foot-high walls and armed guards protecting every compound.

The Walleighs spent half of 2006 volunteering in Swaziland and the entire following year in Kenya. They documented their adventures in a book, “From Silicon Valley to Swaziland: How One Couple Found Purpose and Adventure in an Encore Career” (Wheatmark, 2015).

Once abroad, Rick volunteered with TechnoServe, an international consulting nongovernmental organization specializing in business solutions to poverty. A former high-tech business adviser, he had to learn about agriculture, on which three-quarters of the world’s poor depends.

Much of TechnoServe’s work focused on helping farmers produce better and more valuable crops, then getting them to market. The co-op it organized for cooking bananas benefited small farmers by producing a reliable income.

Wendy used her experience in high-tech marketing and with Junior Achievement to introduce young Africans to entrepreneurship. She helped launch Junior Achievement Swaziland to teach financial literacy, including the use of credit cards, the importance of staying in school and self-reliance.

One small enterprise sourced local milk and boiled it to make yogurt, which was then bottled and sealed with “sanitary” aluminum foil. The venture employed local youth and provided nutritious food to neighboring communities.

Rick noted that though Swaziland suffers the highest AIDS infection rate in Africa, progress has been made through education and birth control. But major social and cultural changes still need to occur, he added, for the infection rate to decline substantially.

Encouraging others to pursue similar adventures, Rick urged Rotarians to “do something that excites you, think big and consider your legacy, because doing something good for others makes people feel good about themselves.”

For more information on the Walleighs, visit walleigh.com.

Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit losaltosrotary.org.

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