Trip of a lifetime
lydia LaBelle de Rios and her husband Gregorio Rios are no strangers when it comes to helping others in an adventurous fashion. The Rifle residents met in Paraguay, Gregorio’s birthplace, more than 11 years ago while Lydia was serving in the Peace Corps. They married in 2004.
Both have traveled extensively, for fun and for humanitarian purposes. However, they both acknowledge that the tip on the horizon is by far the most daunting.
In September, Lydia and Gregorio will travel to Mongolia where they will spend three months teaching English for the Swiss Program for Language Instruction and Teacher Training.
Aside from the fact that they are very much relying on trust in program organizers — mainly Anita Fahrni-Minear, who founded and directs the program — for most of the details and information, several other variables set this trip apart; primarily their two young boys, Dante, 8, and Alex, 4. Most of those past trips, certainly the ones they went on together, were before they had children.
Secondly, the trip means that both Lydia, who works as a rangeland specialist for the U.S. Forest Service Rifle Ranger District, and Gregorio, who works as a petroleum engineer technician with the Bureau of Land Management, will have to go three months without pay.
As part of their leave agreement — both expressed gratitude to their employers for allowing them the time off — they cannot work for pay while in Mongolia.
Plane tickets, vaccinations, keeping up with minimum bill payments and other expenses is expected to cost around $10,000.
While they have never been a family that placed a high value on money and wealth, they have maintained strong credit, and the risk to their credit score is somewhat nerve-racking, Lydia said.
To help soften the blow, the couple recently started a Go Fund Me page, gofundme.com/MongoliaRios. They have also reached out to friends and several different community organizations, hoping that they will be able to make some financial contribution in exchange for a post-trip presentation detailing their experiences.
The trip is happening, though, regardless of how much money may or may not be donated.
“We’ll see where we end up,” Lydia said. “That’s a lot of money, but we’ll take the hit if we have to.”
The more you give
Thinking ahead to the trip to Mongolia, Lydia said on the surface it might sound like the family is simply traveling to help others, but this type of work, she explained, is a two-way street.
“I thought it just kind of struck that chord with us but we both feel that everything we’ve always done has come back to us threefold.”
Gregorio concurred, “that’s a big thing to try and give it back. … Not everyone is as blessed as you are sometimes, and the more you give the more you receive. I was taught that way when I was a kid.”
The two attribute this shared philosophy to different things.
Lydia’s selflessness first emerged when she spent two years in Paraguay with the Peace Corps from 2002 to 2004. Since being married to Gregorio, who she says in naturally humble, for the past 11 years, she says she has become more humble and trusting. However, this is the first time Lydia said she has realized she is her mother’s daughter.
Her mother, she explained, was the most giving person she knew — a trait that often led her to being taken advantage of, and criticized by other family members, including Lydia earlier in life.
“We’re potentially putting ourselves in the hole $10,000 and that’s the first time I’ve put my money where my mouth is,” she said. “Greg changed that.”
For Gregorio, his desire to help others stems from his life in Paraguay and his gratitude to be living in America with Lydia and their children.
“We’re giving up a lot because your country, it’s the best country in the world,” he said with an authentic tone of appreciation. “There’s no other country like this one.”
The sacrifices are very real, a fact apparent by Greg’s somewhat slight hesitation when discussing the trip.
“Most people don’t see it practical and responsible, and I have to say there’s a huge part of me that feels that way too,” Lydia said. “I’m always doing things very planned and calculated so for something to pop up … and then the likelihood of it coming together was so surreal that I don’t know that we ever thought we’d be sitting here saying ‘hey we’re going to Mongolia in 30 days.’”
After learning of the possibility in May, Lydia said she thought the trip “would be a nice thing to do,” but did not realistically think it would happen. That was until a friend told her that she needed a place to stay for a couple of months in the fall, which provided an instant solution to the issue of pet care during those three months. From there, more pieces began to fall into place; the last one coming on July 23 when Gregorio got the green light from his employer.
Much of the work is still uncertain. In addition to teaching English, Lydia hopes to do some form of rangeland management, while Gregorio said he is willing to do whatever he can.
As for the children, the adjustment might be easier for them than their parents.
Asked if he was going to miss having TV for three months, 8-year-old Dante responded with a flat “no.”
Lydia hopes that the trip will help spur interest in international humanitarian work in the community. Acknowledging that it is a serious undertaking, she says she believes there is an undiscovered desire, particularly in younger people, but they don’t have the necessary connections here on the Western Slope.
“(It’s) sitting dormant in some of them because it just hasn’t been tapped into,” she said. “The more exposure that we can give to the community with these things … the more that those kids will realize ‘maybe i can do this.’ That’s the goal.”
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Former Rifle Bears standout turned starting running back for Western Colorado University Ty Leyba remembers it like it was yesterday.