For most families, it’s enough to pack up the van, drive a few hundred miles and spend a couple of weeks away from home. Maybe the trip involves a tent or a cabin. “Roughing it.”

The Kulbis family of Riverside went a bit farther.

Actually, what the family of seven (including five kids ranging in age from 7 to 15) did was to ship out for nearly an entire year to Africa – living, going to school and, for mom Ruta Kulbis, taking part in a corporate citizenship program where she used her strategic management experience to develop youth programs and marketing plans and communications for HIV/AIDS prevention.

Much of her work centered on working with youth, girls in particular, to empower them as they enter adulthood. The Kulbis family lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from September 2008 to July 2009.

“Half of the population there is 15 years old and under,” said Ruta Kulbis. “It’s important for kids there to grow up with opportunities.”

Mrs. Kulbis took a year sabbatical from her job at Accenture, which provides such opportunities for its employees through Volunteer Services Overseas, and works in 35 countries worldwide.

“We’ve been wanting to do something different for the last 10 years,” said Tadas Kulbis, Ruta’s husband. “We wanted to live in another country and do something significant. We wanted to help. And with that in mind, we were always looking for an opportunity.”

Volunteer Services Overseas found them that “something” in Ethiopia. The Kulbis family also realized as time went on that the organization, despite its good intentions, was not used to finding accommodations for such a large family.

At first told they would be housed near work and transportation, the family’s home- a dark, one-story edifice with bars on the windows inside a compound housing other foreign nationals – was not so convenient.

“They’re used to working with single volunteers,” Mr. Kulbis said. “We knew we were an outlier.”

For her services in Ethiopia, Mrs. Kulbis was paid $200 a month, which is considered a living wage there. The family soon found out that her Ethiopian salary didn’t go very far.

For one thing, the rent for the family’s home was $250 per month. Added to that was schooling for the Kulbis children, including a high schooler. Because Ethiopia does not allow foreigners to attend their public schools, the Kulbis children were placed in a British private school, but attended classes with children from all over Africa, many of them the sons and daughters of diplomats.

Maintaining any standard of living was a financial hardship, Mr. Kulbis said, one that would not have been possible without the generosity of friends and family who helped make sure bills got paid, held yard sales and fundraising parties and helped the family pack for the move.

The family rented out their Riverside home while away but still ended up using a large portion of their savings, Mr. Kulbis said.

While the school may sound tony, the private school was also spartan relative to what the Kulbis children were used to in Riverside. Fifteen-year-old Kovas Kulbis remembered that in his once-per-week chemistry class they did one experiment – pouring water into a cylinder and measuring it.

In fact, Kovas and his 13-year-old brother, Vidas, spent part of their time in Addis Ababa teaching others. Kovas taught math and English, while Vidas taught computer classes.

Vasara Kulbis, 9, and her father formed a girls soccer team, something at which local youth ministers at first scoffed.

“They laughed at us,” Mr. Kulbis said. “They said girls are too difficult to work with.”

That aspect of Ethiopian culture, gender inequality, is one that Mrs. Kulbis found important to tackle.

“A big area of focus for our developmental effort was empowering women,” she said.

Giving women skills and opportunities to earn money and avoid the practice of early marriage will only improve conditions for women in Ethiopia, Mrs. Kulbis said.

“When women are better educated, they can also pass that on to their children,” she said.

For their own part, the Kulbis family had no choice but to grow closer and learn to depend on one another. They shared rooms (and beds), made sure to boil any water they used (the only cooking utensil the family had was a hot plate) and generally learned to do without many of the creature comforts of home.

“In the beginning it was hard to settle in,” said 11-year-old Lukas Kulbis. “There was less space, less things. After a while it was easier when you got to know what to do.”

“As a family I think it definitely unified us,” Mr. Kulbis said. “Each of us stepped up and did what we were good at.”

The younger children, Vasara and her 7-year-old brother, Rytas, also quickly learned that Africa had urban centers like Addis Ababa, the fourth-largest city in the country, and wasn’t a series of isolated tribal outposts and exotic wildlife.

“Rytas said he was surprised to find that his home was a city, and not like a jungle.”

For several months, Mrs. Kulbis and the older children kept a regular blog of their adventure in Addis Ababa. That ended when the family used up its ration of electricity toward the end of their stay. After that is was five days without electricity and two days with it.

The relative deprivation was also a lesson in the stark difference between the U.S. and many other countries throughout the world.

Mr. Kulbis noted that it was very apparent “how absolutely lucky we are, the circumstance we live in and the excess of things we have. We got rid of a third of our stuff before we left. When we got back, we said we could get rid of another third. We just have too much stuff.”

Once back home the family also had another reality check – the pace of life here compared to Ethiopia, where going grocery shopping was an hours-long affair and making dinner was mainly a from-scratch proposition. Riverside, comparatively, runs at lightning speed.

“The fast pace is just unbelievable here,” Mr. Kulbis said. “Things there would be one or two hours late if they happened at all. You wouldn’t plan that many things to do in one day.”