Man On a Mission: How One Guy and His Guitar Can Change the World
Jenn Miller has been on the road with her husband and four children for over five years and is well versed in all aspects of long-term travel. Each week Jenn will bring a unique insight into extended travel, touching on topics ranging from inspirational articles to practical trip planning to family travel to education on the road to interviews with interesting people she’s met along the way.
I met Duane in a bar. I was out with my friend Chris, tucked into the corner of our favorite evening spot, next to the open fireplace, sharing a beer: he never wants a whole one and neither do I. You never know what you’re going to get at Paco Real on a given evening. Sometimes it’s hippie kids busking for a buck to make their next bus fare. Other times, it’s free salsa lessons. This evening, it was a lifetime friendship, gift wrapped with a bow… well, with dreadlocks anyway.
His eyes were the first thing I noticed. They are, indeed, the window to the soul. They are intensely black and snapping with happiness and vigor. His smile was a close second.
“Wow!” Chris whispered.
Indeed. This guy positively drips joy. When he picked up his guitar, I fell in love. Brotherly love, of course!
How many people do you know who walk away from everything they know, chase a dream, and make it happen, with just a guitar and a beautiful voice?
Duane is one of those rare people who exudes optimism and confidence and at the same time humility and peace. He knows who he is, and he’s so comfortable in his own skin that everyone else is in theirs, too. He lives his life by the seat of his pants, by the strings of his guitar, and out of a deep faith that everything is going to work out just fine… and it does.
We’ve fed Duane meals in several countries. We’ve enjoyed his music in bars, in our living room, and on hot summer island days in an attempt to raise money for his projects. We’ve picked him up from bus stations at midnight, and we’ve shared hostel bunk beds. He’s taught my kids, laughed at my kitchen table, slept on my couch and in my little brother’s bed, and with every layer of his story that we uncover, I come to admire him more.
How many people do you know who walk away from everything they know, chase a dream, and make it happen, with just a guitar and a beautiful voice? How many mid-thirties single guys do you know who set up their whole lives around children who are not their own and then support those kids’ educations single-handedly by singing? Yeah, he’s that kind of cool. The deep well of goodwill, generous to a fault, loving to the extreme kind of cool.
Would you like to sit around our dinner table and hear his story? If you hang out long enough, the guitars might come out, and we’ll spend the evening singing…
Tell us your story
Who are you? What did you do? Where have you been? Inspire me!
My name is Duane Forrest. I was born and raised in two pretty tough neighborhoods in Toronto, Ontario. Single Parent home and 3 siblings.
Growing up many of my “friends” where getting involved with unsavory things. I was able to escape all of this with the help of three things: God, strong male leadership, and the Arts. I studied music, anime style art, and fell in love with theater and dance. After graduating I began teaching music privately for a few years. Then eventually had an idea of starting a school of the arts for youth in Toronto. I was moments from completing my dream in Toronto when I suddenly felt like it was not the right time. I laid it to rest but kept the business cards hoping that one day, I would resurrect it.
Shortly after all of this I went on my first mission trip to northern Ontario. Was bitten so many times by mosquitoes, I cried. After coming back, I was forever changed and just could not see myself in Toronto anymore. As big as the city is, I felt like I had plateaued in terms of learning. Sure, I could have stayed and studied more music or art and technically could have continued “learning,” but the learning that I experienced on that first trip, could not be taught to me in the traditional classroom.
Traveling, languages, culture, and serving people infected me like a virus.
I could have stayed and studied more music or art and technically could have continued ‘learning,’ but the learning that I experienced on that first trip, could not be taught to me in the traditional classroom.
I just had to go. I started working with several cool organizations and have lived in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Honduras. I have visited many places in between, and I was able to achieve most of this with a very cool dream I have- to use the proceeds of my music (performance and Cd/merchandise sales) to fund projects/missions I am involved with. I now have the school of the Arts I spoke about earlier, in Honduras. The school is called Genesis, and it provides local kids with a space to learn and grow and become creative in that they wouldn’t have any other way.
What is the one thing you learned from travel you could never have learned in a classroom?
That what you think you need, in terms of material things, you actually do not need. You can only truly come to this revelation by traveling and seeing new things.
What, in your opinion, is the single greatest factor that keeps people from traveling?
Fear. But at first I thought it was fear of what dangers they could run into while travelling. Now I know it is fear of what they have to let go to do it.
What enabled you?
Lack of money, funny enough. Because I was not all tied up into car payments and stuff like that, it was easier to leave.
What was your biggest obstacle to overcome?
I hate bugs.
Who did you meet on the road who changed your life? Tell us about that.
In Mexico, I would visit the local jail every Saturday. I would visit with a team of pastors. They would go and preach to the cells (they were holding cells, so prisoners were only there for a couple days at a time.) One day I was given a cell to preach to. This cell seemed strange. It was a cell full of women, or that is what I thought. Upon speaking to one of them, I found out they were transexual prostitutes. The problem is, they did not have access to the things we do in Canada, so their transformations looked grotesque for lack of a better word. I had an amazing conversation with this one guy, who told me how he loved God. We talked about life, and he told me his story. The slippery slide that brought him to where he was. How it all began with just trying to get some work to put more food on the table for his family. Then the drugs came, prostituting, then him actually taking certain injections of female hormones. the surgeries, etc.
I said to him “You should come with me to church.”
He laughed and said “Look at me, I could never step into a place like that, they would never receive me.”
We became friends, and I was forever changed.
This project is about giving every young person the freedom to travel. Tell us how we can do that.
Cost is the biggest problem. Parents are paying for all this other stuff like flat screen TV’s, so it would be hard to send their kids away and pay for it all. Having living expenses covered is a huge way in making it happen. Volunteering for room and board, and honestly, one less iPad for the family equals a round trip flight to Central America.
Duane accepts volunteer teachers and workers for his Genesis School in Honduras. If you’re interested in traveling, staying local, and investing in the community as part of your experience abroad, contact him. I can’t think of a better place to do it.
Check out some of Duane’s music
To be inspired by other travelers, check out the following articles and resources:
- Picking Up a Hitchhiker: An Interview with Richard Decal
- Armed with Words: One Woman’s Deployment to Afghanistan
- Searching for Summer
- How Volunteering Changed Me
- Fill out a traveler profile to connect with other independent minded travelers