Bright green pushpins have been tacked into several locations on the Ford family globe.
The strings connecting the pins represent the routes Amy Ford and her four children will take as they lend their hands, open their hearts and earn their way around the world.
"I’m looking forward to them taking care of the elephants in Thailand and seeing how they respond. We’re looking into volunteering and rehabbing pandas in China as well," Amy said, cozy on her couch next to her kids. "The kids are going to have their own camels in Morocco and be responsible for them and sleep under the stars in nomadic tents."
Thailand, China and Morocco are just the tip of the geographic iceberg for the Ford family's upcoming globetrotting journey. Amy and her kids — Emma, 14, Bennett, 13, Hudson, 11, and Mara, 7 — will travel more than 42,000 miles through more than 18 different countries as they embark upon their humanitarian adventure.
The Coeur d'Alene family has been discussing their plans for quite some time. Amy, a women’s health nurse practitioner and a nurse midwife, has spent time in Africa providing medical assistance and delivering babies. She also has a second home in Zambia. Her experiences there, as well as continent-hopping on her way back to the U.S., have motivated her to give her children their own experiences abroad.
"I want them to experience that, because every time I am there is the only time that I’m away from them. I want them to be there with me,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. "With everything that is going on in the world, I said, ‘No, life’s too short.’ We’re not promised tomorrow. Why not take these kids and show them that there is a lot of good in the world? I want them to be the good in the world as well, so let’s do this."
Each Ford child chose a location. Mara wants to see the animals in Africa. Hudson wants to visit Fiji, where the family will take surfing lessons, after being intrigued by the film "Castaway." Bennett wants to see the Great Wall of China. Emma was inspired to go to Amsterdam after reading the play version of "The Diary of Anne Frank."
“I chose China because I really like the food and the culture,” Bennett said. "They have really cool buildings and the architecture of how they built their buildings back then. I thought it would be really cool to see it."
The family leaves Jan. 27 and will return July 3. They have already made arrangements with the kids' schools to keep in touch with teachers and use their travels for educational purposes for themselves as well as their peers.
"Not all classrooms have four walls," Amy said. "Ultimately, I want them to realize that they’ve left their mark and that they’ve developed even more than they already are into these great little human beings, and that their hearts naturally are wrapped around Earth."
As a single mom, Amy has been budgeting, clipping coupons and finding ways to build up finances for the trip. She doesn't know exactly how much it will cost, but the family will be able to save money by working for food and lodging through cultural exchange programs such as Workaway.
Some of their tasks will include helping homeless communities and disabled children in Portugal, teaching English in Spain and volunteering at medical clinics in Zambia.
“We’re going to do a lot of fun stuff, but we’re going to do a lot of hard stuff, too,” Amy said. "There may be times when their tummies are hungry, and they’re going to feel that. There might be times when we have to ask some restaurant owners or places where we stay, ‘Can we clean some dishes or sweep some floors so we can have some fruit or veggies or maybe a scoop of ice cream?’ I think the kids already see value in that."
The family will sleep in treehouses during a South African safari, travel through Australia and Singapore and they'll spend a week with their dad in Greece. Amy contacted The Press with exciting news that they’ll get to stay at a Buddhist monastery in the Fujian Province of China, where the girls will bake bread in the kitchen and the boys will help on the tea plantation.
"We would be the first family to ever stay on their grounds," she said. "The boys would be able to join in their Kung Fu martial arts training that is highly coveted and 'outsiders' are never allowed to join, per strict rules. They said because we are from the U.S. and want to make healthy relationship ties, as well as the possibility of exchanging Chinese medical practices and Western medicines lessons, this would be of value as well."
Emma said she's looking forward to the excursion because "this isn’t a big family vacation where we can stay in high-class hotels every day and sit on a beautiful beach that costs a whole bunch of money.
"We will experience beautiful beaches and all that, but through a more humble way," she said. "Yeah, staying in grand hotels is awesome, but (this way) you get more out of the experience."
“There’s more to life than just staying in fancy hotels and having the best things you can possibly get your hands on with money," Hudson added.
Keep track of the Fords at www.polarsteps.com/globetrottin5happyhearts, on Instagram at globetrottin5happyhearts and at www.globetrottin5happyhearts.com.