The joy of learning, and of giving back


Ann Speak, Cuso alumni

Ann Speak’s volunteer experience changed her – and so did her decision to offer a gift

Growing up in Winnipeg in the 1950s, Ann Speak remembers being intrigued by the bits of the broader world that would filter into her sheltered prairie life.

“In the wintertime I would go to bed with my transistor radio, moving the dial around and hearing different languages,” Ann explains. “I didn’t understand anything, but I remember thinking, ‘Wow, there is a whole world out there speaking in different languages.’ That inspired me and made me really curious.”

Her interest in going abroad and learning more about other cultures eventually led her to Cuso International, and when she was about 30 years old, she accepted a two-year placement in Nigeria. As for many volunteers, it was a life-changing experience that shifted her perspective of the world and how she wanted to live in it.

“In many ways, it’s as if you’re a child … as a volunteer, you’re always learning something new, you’re exploring, and it’s very humbling because of course you’re always making mistakes,” says Ann, adding that when you are in a culture that is not your own, you depend on others to explain social conventions to you, similar to how a child depends on others for learning.

“It changes you forever … you come home and you see people differently.”

Ann continued working in the non-profit sector as a fundraiser, often with Cuso International. Over the years, she has had the opportunity to speak with many Cuso International volunteers and says they often told her the same thing about their experiences – that they learned more during their placements than they felt they had to offer.

“Even though their job was to deliver a certain skill set, really what they got out of it far outweighed what they possibly thought they could have left behind. I thought that was really interesting … it was always the same response.”

Ann felt it was a natural progression for her to give back to Cuso International through a gift in her estate. But, even though she has worked in fundraising much of her life and has heard many wonderful stories from donors, she didn’t expect the immense joy she felt after making that decision.

“I was just so happy. It gave me great joy to do that,” Ann says. “Offering a big gift to a place that has meant so much to me – it really made me happy.”

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