Duane Forrest: One Man Can Change The World: On Genesis, Selfishness & Serendipity

January 9, 2014 in Canada, Honduras, Inspiration, North America, Travelogue

4:40 a.m. I am awake.

My brain is writing. I don’t know why this happens to me. Perhaps it’s just that the middle of the night is the only quiet space in the day in a family of six. Perhaps it’s my unconscious is smarter than my conscious self and it’s only when I give up and conk out that she can do her best work, which sometimes means waking me up.

This morning I woke thinking of two things:

  1. My first serious attempt at fiction. All of a sudden, I know how it ends. After months of sitting at a tipping point, the resolution has presented itself. Excellent. Now to find the time to write it.
  2. Duane’s Art School in Honduras and the board meeting that will take place in 14 hours.



How I came to be on the board of directors for Genesis Community of the Arts, in Copan Ruinas, Honduras, is a long story. It starts with a beer in a bar in San Marcos, Guatemala, and my friend Chris, with whom I could not hold a decent conversation because we were falling in love with the musician. Tall, dark and handsome, dreadlocks, a Mac and a guitar, his voice and a smile. I didn’t know how to describe him to Tony and Ruth when I got home that night except to say, “This guy… he’s amazing… he’s… well, he just exudes joy, you have to come tomorrow night and see him.”

The rest, as they say, is history: Duane came for dinner, of course, and the whole family found a kindred. He played music with Hannah. Ruth joined him for a gig the next night, she’s a concert violist. We stalked him, attending four shows in five nights, and as I fell asleep on the bunk below his in a hostel in Antigua a week later I smiled in the darkness and the serendipity of it all.


Duane’s music is fantastic.

You should definitely buy all of it. Better yet, see him in person if you get the chance because it’s the joyful part that’s so much fun to watch. But it isn’t about the music really. What blows me away about this guy is his heart and his personal mission. That night in Paco Real, on the main path up from the dock in San Marcos, he explained between sets that he was touring with his guitar across a wide swath of Central America to buy blue paint. He’d lost his heart to the children of a one horse town in Honduras and devoted himself to enriching their educations, fostering their creativity and in doing so, breaking the cycles of poverty and ignorance that continue to enslave the indigenous populations and perpetuate their oppression.

Coincidence: I lost my heart to the children of Central America too.

And so, Duane became my brother: we talked literacy, arts, education, funding, vision, and our shared belief that boots-on-the-ground efforts by a small army of dedicated people who “get it” are almost always better than big organizations where time, money, productivity and vision are often lost in the bureaucracy. We picked him up at midnight at the bus station when we lived on Cape Cod. We organized a benefit concert for him with my parents in Canada. I wrote about him for Boots-N-All. Anything to buy more blue paint.

One of the criticisms that we continue to receive is that we are selfish.

  • Our travels are selfish because they are for our own gain, where other people travel for mission work.
  • Spending our money on what seems, to some, like perpetual vacation and an irresponsible lark, seems like a waste because it serves no greater purpose.
  • Because our children lack church and the organized oversight of missions committees and teams leading groups to do god’s work, we’re raising them live selfishly, travel selfishly and with the “unrealistic” idea that we can do whatever we want in this life, when really, what we should be teaching them is to serve.


Can we talk about that for just a minute? 

See, here’s the thing:  The whole point of our travels is the education of our children and to give back to the world.

The mission of our family, no matter where we’re calling home at the moment, is to feed, clothe, encourage, welcome, support, build up, and enable the people we cross paths with. It’s why we relentlessly invite strangers to dinner. It’s why we pick up hitchhikers. It’s why I hire people to teach us things as we travel. It’s our entire philosophy of life.

It is true that we’ve never gone on an organized mission or humanitarian trip, and it is very likely that we never will, for a variety of reasons that I’m happy to elaborate on if you are interested. Suffice it to say that we have a philosophical and fiscal bone to pick with that approach.

Instead, we prefer to view our entire lives as a humanitarian effort.

  • If we had not selfishly traveled, we would never have met the young man we’re putting through university in Cambodia.
  • We’d never have had the opportunity to support Imelda’s work and make sure her kids were able to go to school for another year.
  • We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to stand in the school yard at Pixabaj and watch the money Hannah raised for CoEd Guatemala’s literacy program in action.
  • We would never have been made aware of the medical needs of Juan’s family that were well within our means to reach.
  • We could never have had the blessing of contributing to the art and education, as well as the clothing and nutrition of a beautiful family of orphans in Siem Reap.

We selfishly spent nine months traveling across the poorest sections of Southeast Asia. We never once stayed in a chain hotel. We purchased almost all of our food from local markets and ate at mom and pop restaurants. We spent our entire household budget, an average of $3000 a month into local communities, every dime going into the pockets of real families. Do the math on that. Now do the math on how much of the money spent on the average $5000 mission trip abroad goes into the hands of the people on the ground who need it most.

We are traveling because this is our dream, but that doesn’t make it selfish, friends.

We see it as just the opposite. We see it as the very easiest way to live as generously as possible, by lowering our own overhead, investing our money directly, at the grass roots level, and lots of it. But it’s about so much more than the money, isn’t it? It’s about the time, and the people. It’s always about the people.


It’s about guys like Duane.

I feel completely out of my depth with this whole “board member” thing. It feels like something people who are older, with more experience would be better at. Duane introduced me as “running an international organization,” which made me laugh. If I run anything it’s more like an international disorganization. But, I would do anything for this guy. He assures me that it’s just more of what I’m already doing for him: supporting his work, thinking creatively about how to stretch a buck, growing the vision, buying blue paint. I can do blue paint.

So here I am, in the middle of the night: thinking about the green hills around Copan Ruinas, remembering walking the cobbled streets with my sweet cousin Ruth, and the sound of the rain on the roof while we slept. That town will also live in infamy for the worst breakfast we’ve ever eaten and a subsequent ten hours of sickness on chicken busses getting home to our lago, but that’s another story altogether. I’m thinking about my friend Jade, who met Duane at the concert we held for him three summers ago on Wolfe Island. She and I are taking a little walk in Spain later this year; we’re going to use it to raise some money to buy more paint. Selfishness, or serendipity? 

On the off chance that you’re looking for a way to change the world in the New Year, may I suggest my friend Duane and his village full of children? Your money will sow joy, laughter, arts, education and opportunity into the lives of children for whom opportunity is everything. I assure you, the money will be well spent, that’s my job, I’m on the board, after all!

You can stalk Duane on Facebook and Twitter if you like! 😉