A local family recently returned to the Columbia Valley after packing up — yes, the whole family all together — and spending a year abroad.

Mark and Ruth Zehnder spent extended time volunteering overseas in 1993, shortly after they married, and have wanted for some time to do something similar with their four kids. This past year, from July 2016 to July 2017, the time was finally right and the family – Mark, Ruth, sons Luke and Jacob, and daughters Naomi and Hannah — hit the road. The family vacation writ large will be the subject of what promises to be an eye-catching slideshow this weekend.

“It was a big thing to pull off,” Ruth told the Pioneer. “It wasn’t a holiday, we weren’t lying on beach. We volunteered and we were trying to understand the cultures, the political systems and the issues we were encountering by meeting people living in the places we went. It wasn’t about entertaining our kids and having a good time. We tried our best to get beneath the tourist veneer. It was about trying to increase awareness in our kids.”

Ruth and Mark had thought about such a trip when the kids were younger, but felt it unfair to subject their family to things such as seeing acute poverty or possibly dealing with tropical disease before the kids were old enough to have a say in the matter.

“But at this stage, they are all old enough. They all had a choice, and they were all willing to come – more than willing, they were pretty excited,” said Ruth. “Not only were they old enough to decide on their own to come or not, but also they were old enough to remember. That way the trip had more of an impact on them.”

Both Mark and Ruth were at a point in their careers— Mark as a veterinarian and Ruth as co-owner of Invermere Physiotherapy — at which they felt they could not only afford to leave work behind for a year, but also could rest easy knowing they had left their businesses in capable hands.

Luke took a year off from his university studies, Jacob (who graduated from David Thompson Secondary School in 2016) delayed going to university for a year, and Naomi (Grade 12) and Hannah (Grade 9) did their high school courses from the year via distance education.

“We ended up finding out that Luke is a really gifted teacher, and he really helped Naomi out with her Grade 11 pre calculus,” said Ruth.

The family managed to get a good look at five continents in the 12 months away. They began the trip by motorhome, departing Invermere and heading north to the Yukon and Alaska, then making their way through B.C., stopping in Haida Gwaii, then continuing on down the Oregon and California coasts all the way to San Diego. There the family ditched the motorhome and flew to Bolivia, where they spent two and a half months volunteering at the La Paz zoo, with Up Close Boliva, and at the Senda Verde wildlife sanctuary. Next up was a six-week stop in South Africa, followed up two months in Bali, where they worked on a small organic farm project.

At the end of April 2017, Luke and Jacob headed off on their own, travelling for six weeks through Thailand and Cambodia before returning to Canada to work summer jobs. Ruth, Mark, Naomi and Hannah hopped over to Greece, doing some Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WOOF) work in mountains of northern Greece, at a nunnery working to preserve heritage seeds, before stopping in Switzerland to visit Mark’s extended family. Ruth and Naomi came back to Invermere at that point, while Mark and Hannah squeezed in one final stop, in Charlottetown, P.E.I., where Mark attended a veterinarian conference.

“A lot of people, since we got back, have been asking us if we are going to show some photos and tell some stories. That’s what prompted the show. We want to do this, but we want to do it once,” said Ruth.

The slideshow is Sunday, August 27th at 7:30 p.m. at Pynelogs.

To get a sneak peek, check out the trip blog the family made at https://zehndersworldtour.wordpress.com.