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The best travel adventure is to volunteer abroad

University of Southern California student Rachel Scott, writing for The Huffington Post’s Blog, examines the benefits of traveling abroad. She immersed herself in foreign communities and cultures and discovered the secret to the most fulfilling travel adventure is to volunteer abroad.

Don’t Just Go Abroad — Volunteer Abroad

I took my first trip abroad to Thailand this past December and found myself bringing in the New Year in a new country with new friends and an interesting new perspective on life. I spent nearly three weeks stepping out of my comfort zone, exploring the land, riding elephants, feeding monks, shopping in night markets, learning a new language and appreciating new foods and culture. While the spices of Thailand tickled my tongue and the temples sparked an interest for learning, I can’t begin to tell you about my trip without telling you about the lives I tried to touch and how they touched me.

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Ask anyone about their study abroad experience, and they will tell you it was nothing short of amazing. But there is a secret to making it even better — volunteering.

I traveled to Thailand with 17 other amazing American students who decided to give up their entire winter break, including Christmas and New Years to help those in need. We partnered with an organization called Travel to Teach, and together we headed to two different schools in Chiang Mai. We had the opportunity to work with primary school children from poor backgrounds, who didn’t have much. It was at one school where I came across a teenage boy who gave himself that nickname, Laos. He fled from Burma with his family, hoping to get a better life in Thailand. I would soon learn that he was among dozens of other children in the same position. At his school, more than 90 percent of the children were Burma refugees or children of Burma refugees. For nearly all of them, we were the first Westerners they had ever seen.

Laos was taken back by our differences and was stunned to learn that we had traveled across the world to teach. Although he was a teenager, he was in classes with children who were two to three years younger than him. He knew the most English out of everyone in the group, often translating for the rest of the students. Laos took such pride in school, he was happy to be there and looked forward to learning as much as he could. For the next week I would work with him and dozens of other students, teaching English and helping with tasks around the school. While many of the students impressed me as students in the classroom, I was more impressed by the conditions in which they lived in and how they got to school.

At the end of the first school day, I walked with Laos and several students down to the driveway, where I assumed they would be picked up by their parents and taken home. Laos waited for his little sister, who was several years younger and also attended the school. As he waited, he told me that the two bike nearly an hour just to get to school. He told me his sister rode on the back of his bike, while he pedaled all the way home. I began to wonder how the other children arrived to school and how they got back home. I turned around and saw dozens of children piling into a van and dozens of others climbing into the back of a pick up truck. I sat there and counted, watching as 16 kids got into one van. I looked inside and noticed how they were all packed in together, none wearing seat belts. Yet, they didn’t seem to mind. These young girls and boys weren’t complaining about the time it took to get to school, their family conditions or even the fact that they had to go to school. Rather, they were eager to get an education and delighted that a group of “Westerners,” as they called us, had traveled thousands of miles just to be with them.

We were just as delighted to meet them and excited to help in whatever way we could. We taught them English, an important skill to have in order to move up in Thai culture. Learning English not only gives a way for Thais a way to compete in tourism, one of the country’s main industries but it can also give access for students to attend international schools and gain other educational opportunities. We helped rebuild their school — building a water fountain, painting classrooms, building a wall to block out the noise from the street and donated money to help sustain the institution.

Despite the language barrier, it was amazing how much we could communicate without saying much at all. Many of us came to Thailand to help those in need but in the end we were the ones that perhaps received the most. We each developed our own relationships with the children and they left lasting impressions.

“One of the students that I got attached to was little Fai,” Juan Ramirez, a student-volunteer on the trip said. “Fai was around the age of 10 and was one of the shyer kids,” he continued. For several days, Juan worked with Fai teaching her English and working on her vocabulary. “I remember the last day of school was so sad, especially when I had to say goodbye to Fai. I saw her eyes tearing up,” he said. The experience changed Juan’s perspective on his own education. “There have been times where I complained about our public schools,” he said. “There were times when a child’s textbook was falling apart or their pen would barely write. Even though they had so little, they still seem so grateful. It just brings into perspective that material possessions don’t bring happiness,” he said.

Perspective was perhaps one the greatest gifts I received from the children in Thailand. I can go on and on about things they didn’t have but what was even more remarkable, is what they did have. They had happiness, joy and were full of life. They were respectful of each other, their elders and protected those who were younger than them. The children of Thailand were fearless, caring little about material objects and more about human interaction. As we left, I couldn’t help but feel so incredibly thankful for how they helped me and how much they pushed me to be a better individual. Just when I thought I couldn’t be more surprised by their strength, kindness and endurance, I was wrong.

On the last day at the school, two students who nicknamed themselves Nooey and June ran up to me with gifts. Before giving me a tight hug, they handed me a flower and a bear. They both began to cry. Yet again, I was amazed. The two little girls, who had almost nothing still found something to give. They didn’t have money to buy anything so instead they gave me their own personal belongings to show their gratitude. It was about the gift that meant so much to me but the gesture that made all the difference.

So I urge you not to just go abroad but to volunteer abroad. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and away from the typical tourist experience. It will be challenging, in many cases a culture shock — but it will reward you a thousand times over. As student volunteer Sahil Dhailwal said, “It’s sometimes so easy to forget that other nations and millions of other people with other languages, customs and traditions exist. This experience definitely opened up my interest in wanting to travel more and continue doing service.”

So take the road less traveled — explore, volunteer and open up your mind. You’ll learn that service is a two-way street and you may be surprised with who receives the most at the end.

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An international corporate volunteering program can help your business

Mark Horoszowski, writing for Devex Impact, a global initiative by Devex and USAID in partnership with top international organizations and private industry leaders, examines how an international corporate volunteering program can help a business grow into new, growing markets and assist in staff recruitment and retention.

Why your company needs an international corporate volunteering program

By Mark Horoszowski

06 February 2015

The current state of the global economy shows that businesses have immense opportunity — not only by expanding into booming markets, but also by helping develop the economic potential of underdeveloped markets.

It was evident at the 2015 World Economic Forum, where “the stars of the show were from the private sector … people and business are stepping in where government is failing,” according to Richard Edelman, the president and CEO of Edelman.

One of the ways that companies are stepping up is by bringing the skills of their employees to bear through corporate volunteering programs.

corporate volunteering

One of the ways businesses can help develop the economic potential of underdeveloped markets is by bringing the skills of their employees to bear through corporate volunteering programs.

A great example of this is Microsoft’s presence in 17 countries across Africa with its 4Afrika initiative. By helping develop skills, increasing access to technology and supporting innovation, the tech giant is working towards its goal to empower every African to turn their ideas into a reality, which in turn can help their community, their country or even the continent at large.

Originally, 4Afrika focused on hosting educational events for students and entrepreneurs, funding startups, and providing technology grants. But as the program grew, Microsoft realized it had more to offer than cash and products. In 2014 the company started to contribute its most valued asset — its people — to volunteer their skills with nonprofits, startups, schools, and small and medium-sized enterprises.

In doing so, the 4Afrika program has demonstrated that an effective skills-based volunteering engagement — we call it experteering — can accelerate the progress of local organizations, can help increase the economic opportunity within a country, and can provide an invaluable learning experience to the volunteer. Microsoft is not alone in this realization.

There are three well-documented forces that highlight why corporations should embrace international corporate volunteering programs, and help explain why the programs are growing at a rate of 150 percent:

1. How corporations benefit from international corporate volunteering.

The stated benefits of international corporate volunteering programs can be traced all the way to the bottom line. While early benefits of these ICV programs tout recruiting and retention benefits, new research shows that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Recruiting and Retention

Indeed, the recruiting and retention benefits are massive. Considering the cost of replacing an employee can be equal to 150 percent of their salary, more should definitely be done to retain top employees. Research by Points of Light showed that 90 percent of its companies saw a drop in turnover after implementing skills-based volunteer programs. Benefit Group reported that its turnover dropped from 22 percent to 7 percent after implementing its ICV program.

Leadership Development

According to recent research by The Conference Board of CEOs, a lack of globally-minded leaders is a leading concern for CEOs. Corporations have responded by increasing their investment in leadership development by as much as 15 percent year-over-year. Increasingly, leadership development programs are looking to experiential programs that provide true growth opportunities.

A great research summary by McKinsey explains why experience is so important: “Even after very basic training sessions, adults typically retain just 10 percent of what they hear in classroom lectures, versus nearly two-thirds when they learn by doing.”

More than any other benefit, leadership development is recognized as a primary outcome of every report we’ve seen on ICV programs.

Performance and Engagement

In a program that we supported for Microsoft, both the participants and their managers shared that the program noticeably improved leadership-related skills, and 100 percent of the managers would permit other team members to participate. A little time away from the job doing relevant and meaningful work appeared to result in employees returning more engaged and higher-performing.

Additional research from George Washington University found that beyond “stimulating new insights,” international corporate volunteer “programs are a better investment than businesses school leadership programs, both in terms of cost and diversity of learning.”

Indeed, companies should give their employees time to travel and volunteer, and pay them to do it.

Innovation

While slightly more challenging to measure, program managers of ICV programs state innovation as one of the leading reasons to justify its expense. Not only does volunteering in geographic areas of strategic interest provide unique insights that can’t be taught in a textbook, it also provides unique customer insight, which can lead to new product and marketing developments. In addition it fosters engagement, which is proven to improve on-the-job performance.

According to RealizedWorth: “For companies where employees were more engaged than not, their profitability jumped by 16 percent, general productivity was 18 percent higher than other companies, customer loyalty was 12 percent higher, and quality increased by 60 percent.”

2. Why employees demand international volunteering opportunities.

Beyond the obvious desire to see the world, international exposure is a right of passage for up and coming business leaders. Harvard Business Review consistently writes about the value of international experiences for business leaders. In fact, of employees aged 25-34, more than 5 percent plan to relocate overseas to gain international exposure. In a recent article on the Society of Human Resource Management titled “Developing 21st Century Global Leaders in 2015,” the SHRM foundation was quoted saying, “to be effective, the leaders of tomorrow must be able to collaborate while navigating cultural, regional and political differences.”

Beyond global experience, skilled-volunteering also acts as a tool to recruit top talent. According to research published by Net Impact, an average of 75 to 80 percent of respondents prefer to work for a company known for its social responsibility, 53 percent of working professionals state that the ability to make an impact is essential to on-the-job happiness.

Perhaps more telling was that 35 percent of students would take a pay cut to work at a company committed to CSR and 78 percent said money “was less important to them than personal fulfillment.”

3. How skills-based volunteering is building a better world.

According to the World Economic Forum, one of the leading barriers to progress is a “lack of access to quality talent”. This “skills gap” is becoming so large, that in some places like Brazil and India, it is being considered the leading barrier to progress.

In a recent campaign we participated in with Devex, Peace Corps and other leading global development organizations called #DoingMore, participants shared stories about how skills-based volunteering was:

    1. Essential to building skills of change-makers, like the MySkills4Afrika program which used volunteers to teach program management best-practices to startups and social enterprises working out of iHUB.
    2. Solving complex technical, creative, and/or business problems facing organizations, like the Microsoft Leaders in Action program which consulted with Kenya Red Cross to optimize its use of existing technology as a way to improve operations and measure impact.
    3. Addressing systemic issues by connecting skilled-volunteers not only to small, resource-strapped organizations, but also to international NGOs and even governmental institutions.
    4. Accelerating projects that lack human capital by bringing in skilled volunteers for very specific tasks.
    5. Empowering job creators by connecting skilled-volunteers to the most under-resourced organizations that also have the most potential to create jobs and end poverty.

Perhaps more than any business activity other than core operations, international corporate volunteering programs have massive potential to create positive business outcomes, positive personnel outcomes, and positive global development outcomes.

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Volunteer travelers battle Thailand’s illegal dog meat trade

Every year tens of thousands of dogs are inhumanely transported from Thailand to neighbouring countries where they are butchered for their meat. The Soi Dog Foundation and the Thai government are actively working to end this brutal and cruel practice. This story by by correspondent Tibor Krausz in The Christian Science Monitor relates the work of a retired British couple to put an end to the practice. The author also acknowledges the work done by Globe Aware volunteers and volunteer travelers to help Thai elephants.

John and Gill Dalley battle Thailand’s illegal dog meat trade

The British couple moved to Thailand to retire. But when they learned of the illegal capture and torture of dogs, their plans changed.

Buriram Province, Thailand — You hear them before you see them. From inside seven well-equipped enclosures at an animal sanctuary within a remote forest in rural Buriram Province comes a canine cacophony of barks, woofs, and yelps. The spacious runs are home to some 1,500 dogs – young and old; big and small; white, tan, brown, spotted, blotched, dappled, and black. They loll in the shade, bicker over chew toys, or leap about, tails wagging, as visitors approach.

John Dalley (second from r.) relaxes with Soi Dog Foundation staffers and dogs rescued from Thailand's illegal dog meat trade.

John Dalley (second from r.) relaxes with Soi Dog Foundation staffers and dogs rescued from Thailand’s illegal dog meat trade.

Until recently a terrible fate awaited all these dogs: They were destined for dinner tables. In Thailand’s clandestine dog meat trade countless dogs – pets and strays alike – have been seized from streets and outside homes by criminal gangs that cater to vendors and restaurants selling canine meat from Thailand to Vietnam.

John Dalley will have none of that. The retired chemical engineer from Leeds, England, and his wife, Gill, a former bank employee, set up the Soi Dog Foundation in 2003 on the tropical island of Phuket in southern Thailand, where the couple had just relocated for their retirement.
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“We had a dog back home, but I wasn’t particularly involved with animal rights,” recalls Mr. Dalley, a lanky, cordial man. “But you see these dogs [in Thailand] suffer, and you want to do something to help them.”
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So they do. The animals here owe their lives to the Dalleys. Their charity has built a canine shelter with treatment and adoption areas. It pays for its operating costs through donations from Soi Dog’s global network of supporters.

The nonprofit has helped rescue thousands of dogs from being slaughtered. In the northeastern province of Sakon Nakhon, a hot spot for the underground dog meat trade, Soi Dog pays rewards to locals for tips on dog thieves and works with local police in arresting them.

The charity also has its own task force, which has intercepted dozens of trucks with cargoes of stolen dogs bound for Vietnam’s booming canine meat markets. The unit has also uncovered illegal butchers, tanneries, and holding centers, shutting them down and freeing scores of dogs.

According to the Thai Veterinary Medical Association, half a million Thai dogs were smuggled to Vietnam and China in 2011. Today the number is no more than one-third of that.

“The numbers are down. We’re winning,” Dalley says. “But we have a long way to go yet.”

To evade capture, the criminal gangs have changed their tactics. They used to transport dogs on torturous journeys across borders in cramped poultry cages without food or water, or hidden in sacks under their trucks’ false floors. Not anymore.

“With the last two trucks we’ve caught, all the dogs had already been butchered with their meat placed in iceboxes,” laments Varaporn Jittanonta, a nurse who works as Soi Dog’s relief coordinator. She’s standing beside kennels of young rescuees earmarked for adoption. Recently, four dogs from Buriram – easygoing Malt, bouncy Midnight, mischievous Sam, and affectionate Paige – were taken for adoption in the United States by the Virginia-based A Forever Home Rescue Foundation.

Yet successes in some areas come with setbacks in others. The drive spearheaded by Soi Dog to curb the cross-border dog meat trade has driven up demand for live dogs in Vietnam where thieves, often armed, scour villages and towns for unguarded pets.

“Dog thieves like to target pets because, unlike strays, they’re friendly and approachable,” Dalley notes. “Pets also command better prices [at meat markets] because they’re healthy and well fed.”

In areas where dog meat is considered a delicacy, such as Thailand’s Sakon Nakhon Province and Hanoi, Vietnam, curbside food stalls sell roasted dogs and entire eateries specialize in dog meat dishes. The animals’ skins often end up being used in leather goods, including golf gloves exported to the West.

“There are a lot of weird beliefs about dog meat,” Dalley observes. “In Vietnam people like to eat it in winter because they consider it a warming dish. In [South] Korea they eat it in summer because they see it as a cooling dish. In Cambodia some men believe they gain virility from eating black dogs.”

In Sakon Nakhon, a kilo (2.2 pounds) of dog meat jerky costs about 300 baht ($9) – the daily wages of a laborer. “It’s a luxury food,” the Englishman notes.

“I abhor this trade because of the shocking cruelty involved in it,” he says. No effort is made to ensure humane treatment of dogs before slaughter. In fact, the killing methods used can be intentionally brutal – still-conscious animals are often beaten or burned. Some in the trade believe the release of adrenalin in a frightened animal enhances the flavor of dog meat.

Recently, comedian Ricky Gervais, actress Judi Dench, and other British celebrities joined Soi Dog’s petition against Thailand’s “dark secret,” endorsing the animal charity’s campaign in an online viral video. The move helped to put pressure on Thai lawmakers, whom Dalley has long been lobbying for more stringent animal welfare laws – or rather, for any meaningful legislation at all. Until recently, people who abused or maltreated animals faced only a small fine (the equivalent of $30).

Then last December, after consultation with him and other animal rights advocates, Thailand’s parliament finally passed the country’s first Animal Welfare Bill, which has increased penalties to a maximum of two years in prison and 40,000 baht (around $1,200) in fines.

Yet for Dalley the new law has been a Pyrrhic victory: Despite his advice, Thai lawmakers failed to ban the slaughter of non-livestock animals for their meat and skin. “The only way to measure a law’s effectiveness is to see how it affects the level of crime it’s meant to stop,” he says diplomatically. “We’ll see.”

But it isn’t just dogs threatened by meat traders that need the Dalleys’ help; many others do, too. Soi Dog provides emergency and veterinary care for abandoned pets and feeds hundreds of strays on the streets and at Buddhist temples.

The Dalleys also run a shelter and adoption center for some 400 dogs on their tourist island. Most arrive malnourished and diseased. Thanks to round-the-clock care from several veterinarians, dozens of other paid staff, and volunteers, hundreds of neglected and discarded dogs have made remarkable recoveries.

The couple also has had to overcome pain and sorrow. In October 2004, a stray dog, groggy from being tranquilized for a neutering procedure, fled into a boggy water buffalo field. To save him from drowning, Ms. Dalley waded in after him. Within days, however, she developed a serious bacterial infection. Eventually both her legs were amputated below the knee.

Then on Dec. 26 that same year a devastating Indian Ocean tsunami ravaged much of Phuket, claiming the life, among thousands of others, of a close friend of Gill’s who had been helping her save dogs.

“I went into shock for 24 hours,” she recalls. A day later, though, using a wheelchair, she was out and about in the island’s worst-affected area helping counsel relatives of victims and tending to displaced dogs languishing without food and shelter.

She now uses prostheses to get around.

“As I was learning to walk again, I thought of the dogs that still needed my help,” Gill says. “Pure joy for me is changing an animal’s life.”

Her husband isn’t slowing down, either.

“I was going to spend my retirement in Thailand playing golf and diving,” John says. “Instead, in all my time here I’ve gone diving once and never swung a club. But one thing I want to do before I die is to end the dog meat trade.”

How to take action

  • Universal Giving helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations around the world. All the projects are vetted by Universal Giving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause. Below are links to the Soi Dog Foundation and Globe Aware, two organizations that protect animals in Thailand:
  • The mission of the Soi Dog Foundation is to improve the welfare of dogs and cats in Thailand, resulting in better lives for both the animal and human communities. Take action: Here are three Soi Dog Foundation programs seeking help. Support efforts to rescue dogs from the dog meat trade. Volunteer to help street dogs and cats. Donate $30 to give a stray animal medical treatment.
  • Globe Aware promotes sustainability, helping communities prosper without relying on outside aid. Take action: Volunteer to help elephants in Thailand.
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