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Globe Aware volunteer vacations featured on CNN

volunteer-vacations-cnnCNN reporter Marnie Hunter writes a great new feature focused on finding volunteer trips that actually help communities around the world.

The story, (which you can read in its entirety at the bottom of this post) focuses on volunteer vacations and the importance of having a professional, long-term facilitator working as a liaison to ensure projects are high quality, well organized and designed to meet the needs of the communities they are built for.

The reporter notes that, “a hastily built structure may not benefit the community it’s designed to help,” and that, “a traveler’s biggest contribution may be through cross-cultural exchange.”

Both valid points, these are points also happen to define exactly what Globe Aware is doing and has been doing for years.

Globe Aware employs people within the destination communities and on the ground to ensure volunteer vacationers mesh with the local communities and all parties benefit from each individual trip and project:

Finding volunteer trips that actually help

By Marnie Hunter, CNN

(CNN) — The idea of volunteering away from home seems like a win-win to many travelers: a way to experience and help another community at the same time. But without a solid, well-designed program and reasonable expectations, volunteer travel can do more harm than good.

Showing up in parts unknown, hoping to make a big difference in a small amount of time, is likely to leave travelers and hosts disappointed.

“You’re not going to change the world in a week or two. You’re not going to eradicate poverty in a village. You’re not going to teach a kid how to read,” said Doug Cutchins, a former Peace Corps volunteer and co-author of “Volunteer Vacations: Short-term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others.”

The key to having a positive impact in a short amount of time is realizing that your efforts are part of a process, Cutchins said. Results are subtle and come about slowly through a long line of volunteers.

“Development is a tricky process, and as Americans we are very, very product-oriented,” he said.

He’s concerned with what he calls “development by monument,” where volunteers want a completed building or another physical representation of their volunteer efforts to answer the inevitable “what did you accomplish?” question from friends and family at home.

“That’s one of the first questions you’re going to get asked, and it’s hard sometimes for people to say, ‘well, I was kind of part of a process, and we engaged in cultural exchange.’ But that’s really the very best way to do it,” Cutchins said.
Daniela Papi agrees. She is one of the founders of PEPY, a non-governmental organization dedicated to educational development in rural Cambodia. PEPY Tours hosts learning trips that help fund the group’s projects.

The organization has gone from referring to those trips as voluntourism to calling them “edu-tourism” or “educational adventures.”

“The number one thing that’s going to happen is that you are going to have a new perspective on your country, on your life, on your choices and how they affect the world, on what it means to live in whatever country that is,” Papi said.

The 10 days or so spent traveling and learning would ideally inform participants’ choices and outlook at home, where they will have the largest impact, Papi said.

Teaching English and construction projects are the most common types of voluntourism projects Papi sees in her region. Travelers involved in a construction voluntourism project should ask the operator and organizations involved about the plans for the structure when the volunteers go home, she cautions. Who is going to take care of it, who will work in it, how will they be trained, and who will fund the training?

A poorly constructed school without trained teachers isn’t likely to have the benefits volunteers envision. And in the case of teaching English, who will teach the children when there are no volunteers, and what effect does a revolving-door model of teaching have on kids?

Successful projects start with the needs of the community, voluntourism organizers say.

“We don’t go in and say, ‘this is what your problem is, and this is how we’re going to fix it,’ ” said Catherine McMillan, a spokeswoman for Globe Aware, a nonprofit that develops short-term volunteer programs.

Members of the community should be involved in identifying and addressing areas where partner organizations can help.

The organization you’re working with should have a strong and ongoing relationship with the community, local non-governmental organizations and project leaders on the ground.

“It’s a complicated kind of tourism, because you don’t want to send folks and do something and then not have, not measure the consequences of that action in the long term,” said Erica Harms, director of the Tourism Sustainability Council, an initiative involving the United Nations and travel partners.

Travelers should ask about the program’s history and its involvement with NGOs or other organizations. Find out where the funding is coming from and where it is being allocated. Ask about how the project is supported over time and how the community was involved in its development, Harms said.

And keep in mind that organizing volunteers to help support these efforts is not free. There are costs associated with housing and feeding volunteers, with transporting them locally, with training them and establishing a system of working that allows visitors to contribute for a short period.

Cutchins says reputable organizations will be up-front about costs, what is included and where your money will be spent.

Globe Aware‘s McMillan recommends looking up nonprofits on Guidestar.org, which compiles tax forms from nonprofits, to see how operators are spending. It’s also a good idea to contact past volunteers or people who are familiar with the organization’s work on site.

Travelers should be realistic about what would make for a positive experience and select opportunities that fit their skills and interests.

“I think there are very few people who would make really bad volunteers. … It’s really about matching the right person with the right opportunity,” Cutchins said.

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CNN wants your Globe Aware volunteer vacation story & pictures

volunteer-vacations-peruA great opportunity to share your  volunteer vacation of a lifetime with CNN.

A May 25, 2010 CNN.com feature titled “Trips of a Lifetime” asked readers whether they have ever volunteered on holiday:

(CNN) — If you’re the kind of person who’s happiest spending your two weeks off helping to look after elephants in Thailand or working for free on an organic farm in New Zealand, then perhaps you’ve been on a volunteer vacation.

More people than ever before are going on volunteer vacations, also known as “voluntourism,” and if you’ve had an inspiring experience helping others while on holiday we’d like you to upload images and video of your experience to CNN iReport.

We’ll use the best images and video on CNN.com and those of you with particularly compelling stories could be featured in an article.

Globe Aware encourages all past volunteer travelers to share their Globe Aware volunteer vacation stories with CNN’s readers. Simply log on to CNN‘s Trips of a Lifetime and then visit  iReport and share your volunteer vacation story, pictures and video with the world.

The  great work and projects by Globe Aware‘s many volunteer vacationers have made a world of difference for people and communities around the world. By sharing your story on as significant a stage as CNN.com, you can help educate and encourage others to join in this worthwhile, world-wide endeavor.

Also, don’t forget to share your stories with the thousands of volunteer vacation travelers who read Volunteer Vacations Blog – simply add a comment and be sure to subscribe to Volunteer Vacations Blog’s RSS feed – add your email and click on the subscribe button in the right hand column under Volunteer Vacations RSS Feed banner.

Globe Aware

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Our volunteer vacation in Costa Rica: Pura Vida!

volunteer-vacations-costa-ricaIn April 2010, as best friends, we embarked on our Globe Aware volunteer program, traveling to Parismina, Costa Rica. Pearl owns a micro-brewery in Sackets Harbor, NY with her husband Tom. Jennifer is CFO and Corporate Vice President of a non-profit substance use disorder treatment and prevention center in Seminole County, Florida.  Neither of us knew what to expect- this was our first out of country service project!  We were told that our jobs could vary so we went with open minds, ready to take on whatever task was handed to us.

The heavy rains kept us in San Jose for an extra day before we were able to drive to the Caribbean Coast with our guide, Federico. On Sunday we reached our destination as our little boat pulled into the tiny Port of Parismina, population around 600.

The next week turned out to be, hands down, one of the best weeks of our lives…EVER. Although our accommodations at first appeared rudimentary, by the time we left our Casona was our castle.

The food prepared by our host mom, Seylin was always plentiful and delicious, prepared with love and “secret” ingredient, Lizano sauce!! We had fresh juices at every meal…the tamarind juice and limeade were our favorites.  Seylin and her children Jeremy and Kendri were all fantastic to have around, and they made for great guides around the island on our morning and afternoon walks. The people of the island were all so friendly and welcoming…even the spiders were nice!

We loved stopping in the little store each day to purchase platanas and cookies for the kids. In the evenings, a visit to Alex’s Bar, Rancha La Palma, for an Imperial was always a special treat. Seylin’s brother Imer was our faithful companion. He was always there to find and open up water coconuts for us when we were thirsty. He helped us clean turtle bones and shovel sand in the recycling center. He taught us how to fish with an empty plastic bottle and fishing line. He enthusiastically searched for the enigmatic sloth to show to us, and helped us paint the turtle shack. He definitely gets the award for best ambassador to Parismina.

The kids of the island we will remember always … Cristopher with his dramatic gesturing, Melanie with her sweet disposition and school books, Bianca- Beautiful Bianca, Kendri- the first one we met and therefore the nearest and dearest to us, little precocious Jefferson, and so many more. They were always there, ready to laugh and play, but also often accompanied us to work, not hesitating to grab a shovel and help out. On the evening when we had no electricity, the kids entertained us with songs and games. They were very forgiving of our bungled Spanish and when we’d say “no entiendo- mas lento, por favor” they would slow it down and enunciate each syllable of each word so that we’d comprehend.

In retrospect, we both wished we had brushed up on our Spanish speaking skills a bit more before our trip. Although the people were so kind and patient with our “Spanglish”, it would have been nice to be able to converse with them a little more. That being said, we did just fine and had some hilarious moments trying to understand each other with sign language, drawing pictures and scouring our dictionaries for the right words! And if there was one thing we wished we would have brought with us, it would have been some soccer balls! They love soccer (“futbol”), especially the kids and it would have been so simple to have tossed in them into our bags!

We really went into with this with an open mind and that’s the key. You have to be prepared to just roll with the ways of the island, the people, their lifestyle…as long as you do that, you’ll be ready for whatever comes your way…It was one of the best experiences of our lives- truly. We are definitely going back and look forward to the day when we will see all our Parismina friends again!

Pura Vida!!!!!!

Jennifer Small

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Our Volunteer Vacation in Peru, Part 2

Stephen Hauge was kind enough to share his story of high adventure, investigation and discovery while on a Globe Aware volunteer vacation to Peru. This is Part Two (CLICK HERE for Part One). For more volunteer vacation stories, information and travel opportunities, be sure to check back or, even better, subscribe to Globe Aware‘s RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feed by entering your email address in the Volunteer Vacations RSS Feed form in the right column.

Sites
cuzco-peru-volunteer-vacationsOn the first Sunday, we visited the Incan ruins at Tipon (a spiritual place with terraced fields and rock water courses, perched on a mountaintop and reached only by numerous switchbacks) and Pikilacta (a more ruined location yet with a long highway down the middle of “town”). Everywhere stones were piled in different arrangements, and one had to use one’s imagination to envision the purposes of the past.

On another day we visited a hillside overlooking Cuzco, overseen by a smaller version of the Brazilian Jesus, with outstretched arms. To his side was an Incan sanctuary and temple called Sacsayhuaman, again with marvelously intact and tight-fitting boulders in walls over 360 meters in length.

Our other trip was to a llama/alpaca/vicuna zoo where we were able to feed grasses to these distinctive white, brown and black animals before proceeding to a retail outlet that offered products from their wool.

Projects
We ostensibly were there to lend a hand (actually, both hands and legs and sinews and . . .) to whatever projects needed to be done. Rob Underhill, a dentist, had a specific skill that could be leveraged, so his family rose every morning at 5:30 to be driven into the upland villages to minister to the locals.

On one day we went with them, driving over passes through the lovely land, which stretched out in quilt patterns around us. Twice we had to get out of the van due to the rutty road, but we achieved our destination. Our job was to “build a stove,” while the dentist ministered to 30-35 locals, cleaning where he could – giving novocaine and pulling teeth where he had to – passing on mouths that were too far gone. One boy had a piece of sugar cane right through the center of his tooth, so both came out when the tooth was removed.

Building the stove required the kids (and the dauntless Meg!) to stomp dirt with water into mud and mix in straw for adobe bricks while John, Ram and I cut lengths of rebar (metal rods) with a dull blade. When we were done, we were informed the lengths were too long so we operated again (ah, for the maxim of measure twice and cut once). Otherwise John and I lugged professionally-made bricks on our back from a nearby site to form the base of the stove. In time it was made, though it had to dry before we could add the stovepipe to channel the smoke out of the house (this had to be done the following day). Throughout, locals came to the dentist – the field hands leaving their tools stuck in the ground – while other locals helped with the stove. It was a nice coming together of the “village.”

At the alburgue, our projects were primarily manual labor — moving large rocks, clearing and centralizing debris, knocking down a wall with a pickaxe and chopping down its poles with an axe (we sharpened it in a nearby carpentry shop). The first Monday, after 2.5 hours of this, I was so physically exhausted, I caught a nap after lunch. I had forgotten the altitude (above 10,000 feet), and we had simply gone after each task at full bore.

At the same time Meg, Sangeeta and the boys created several walkways of stone in our overall beautification project.

Had we discussed in advance what skills we had and how they could be leveraged (like the dentist’s), we may have been more productive. Perhaps next time.

Machu Picchu
Our major trip, at the end of our stay, was to Machu Picchu. As landslides had devastated the railroad and tumbled the rails into the turbulent Rio Urubamba alongside, operations had been shut down for almost two months as the Peruvian Department of Interior (so to speak) frantically rebuilt the railway and retaining walls (often using large rocks in wired cubes, which I first saw in Jackson Hole 20 years ago). The key length of track was re-opened only two days before we were due to take it, so we were marvelously lucky. From Cuzco it was a van drive of 90 minutes, followed by a two-hour, 20-kilometer train ride, made more glamorous because a kind woman attendant, taken by John’s and my twinship (as she had had an ex-boyfriend who was a twin), allowed us to occupy the paneled car, instead of a regular one.

We arrived in the town below Machu Picchu and were met by our landlord, who escorted us to the hotel. Since it was dinner time, we went to Indio Feliz, which turned out to be a highlight of the trip — marvelous food; a nice ambience with the packed house, low-slung ceiling and business cards stapled to the walls; solicitous hosts (when I told the male owner that everything was “formidable” – with a French accent, as he was French – he appeared overcome with gratitude). I had a superb French onion soup, chicken with mango, orange pie (alas, the promised ice cream was absent), and a Fanta orange soda – all for $25 (including tax and tip). And management threw in freshly made, warm garlic potato chips as well as keepsake small pots with the restaurant’s name as their “business card.”

Hector, our guide, arrived early in the meal to discuss arrangements for the following day. We proposed a schedule; he told us the schedule, which we duly accepted.

Accordingly, we were up at 4:45 a.m. for “breakfast” at 5:00 and in line at 5:15 so we could see the dawn rise. What proactive timing you may assume until you saw the line of 150 fellow tourists already ahead of us and waiting for the modern 28-passenger buses that left at 5:30 and every five minutes thereafter. Thus, over the roiling Rio Urubamba gorge and up a steep set of switchbacks, we arrived at Machu Picchu, the only unlooted Incan site, re-found in 1911 by Yale professor Hiram Bingham. Mist covered everything. Fortunately Hector had a “back story” to tell so we listened as the mist wore off, and we saw an amazing collection of steep terraces, rock structures, and seemingly endless, connected buildings, all amid steep mountains that the Incans worshipped as divine beings. Although the site was used primarily for spiritual and astronomic purposes and housed only 500 souls, its building is a remarkable accomplishment. Hector said granite from the “quarry” at the site was often used and the actual construction went on for over a century – one could well believe it. The Spaniards supposedly were unaware of the site so never attacked it, but as it had no military value, one could agree. Nevertheless, it is rightfully deemed one of the modern Seven

Wonders of the World
After the informative two-hour tour (and the sight of llamas acting as grass mowers), we returned to the buses, the drive down, the train and the bus back to Cuzco. The only break was at Ollantaytambo, where we had lunch (I had a trout ceviche in honor of Camden’s birthday), and John and I looked quickly at an impregnable fortress there, built of ramped terraces and stone bulwarks, where the Incans thwarted Pizarro’s 1536 attempt to defeat them.

Overall Perceptions
Peru is a lovely country, with soaring mountains and colorful, rocky hillsides — but the poor are everywhere evident, always walking, often carrying something. Red mud brick buildings with red tile roofs dot the landscape. The food is filling if simple, though perhaps too reliant on the staples of potato, rice and bread. Everyone looks the same: short, dark hair, dark eyes, and the older folks are old before their time. Yet, like the mountains, the people are rocky and resilient.

SBH

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Our Volunteer Vacation in Peru, Part 1

Stephen Hauge was kind enough to share his story of high adventure, investigation and discovery while on a Globe Aware volunteer vacation to Peru. Enjoy Part One, Part Two is soon to follow so be sure to check back or, even better, subscribe to Globe Aware‘s RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feed by entering your email address in the Volunteer Vacations RSS Feed form in the right column.

A Trip to Peru
Your dauntless explorer and guide has returned from a 10-day sojourn to Peru, in the company of John, Meg and David, under the aegis of Globe Aware. Unlike the daily narration and multiple dispatches for my recent trips to Egypt and China, I will tell this adventure in one comprehensive perspective.

Arrival
On Friday, March 26, I flew from Newark to Lima, fortunately a direct flight though of 3760 miles, and passed the time by looking at information on Peru and by reading The Prisoner of Zenda (which Humphrey Fry had read to John and me in eighth grade at St. Bernard’s). Lima, the capital, accounts for 25% of the 28 million inhabitants in Peru, where the Andes mountains, the second highest range in the world, take up 40% of the country. In 1532 the conquistadors arrived and began Peru’s 300 years as a Spanish colony. In 1824 Spain was finally defeated, and in 1980 democracy came to Peru.

Arriving about 10 p.m., taxiing to a local motel, sleeping until the 4:45 a.m. wake-up call, missing breakfast (which began at 6:00 – ugh) to taxi back to the airport, I flew 80 minutes on the 7:00 LAN Air to Cuzco — capital of the Incan civilization, a holy city, and probably the tourist center in the country. I arrived and settled in to await the arrival of John, Meg and David, who were on the 8:30 flight. With their arrival and that of our coordinator Rocio, we bundled into a taxi and drove to the alburgue, where we would stay for our visit.

On Sunday, Ram, Sangeeta and Nikhil Prasad – friends of John, Meg and David – arrived, and on Monday so did the Underhill family (Rob, Juliet, Zoey and Bailey).

The Alburgue and Kids
As you will see in the slides, the alburgue was an attractive school-like complex with bunk-bed rooms, several meeting rooms, a large dining hall, an outside concrete basketball floor that doubled for soccer, and further space for a carpentry shop. The tourist volunteers shared a bathroom that had good hot water (though non-potable water).
The purpose of the alburgue was to house boys and girls (our group were 7 -17 years of age, speaking little English) from neighboring communities and thus enable their access to education, medical care and some job training. Their parents paid in potatoes for their kids to learn – first Spanish rather than Quechua, their native tongue which was considered lower than Spanish; then, some academic and vocational skills that would enable the kids to get jobs and rise from the subsistence farming of their parents.
The kids were an interesting mix of older boys and generally middle-aged girls, who got on well. They had a natural cheerfulness and eagerness to learn and to play.
We played soccer and volleyball with them (after buying nets for both) as well as Bingo (Meg’s superb idea) and created an art project (Sangeeta’s idea). (Many of us had brought a broad range of “supplies” for the kids.) One would have thought the boys too “old’ for these activities, as well as a game of Facts in Five where they had to put the Spanish and the English word in each box – but they seemed to enjoy themselves tremendously.

On the last night before the kids went home for a few days of Easter break, they offered a dance recital. This consisted of the girls, in groups, singing and dancing. The boys had one dance number, which consisted more of abashed shuffling to music. At the end (after Meg got everyone up and dancing to some “line” music), each kid presented a thank you card and a hug to a member of the volunteers – a touching moment.

Meals
Alicia created our meals at the auberge, solid and tasty food – breakfast cereal (Corn Flakes) and milk and fruit for breakfast; delicious soups, diced tomatoes and avocados as a salad, and similar dishes for lunch (the large meal of the day); and fewer dishes, like potato latkes, for dinner. One marvel was fried chicken (though only 1.5 pieces a person) when we returned from our trip to the uplands. Potatoes, rice and bread appeared with high frequency, and we tried for the first time local drinks like a grape-colored corn beverage and watermelon juice. The highlight meal was Easter lunch, when we had three soups, fish, rice pudding and sauce, and stewed apples.
The two special off-campus meals were the three-course meal near Machu Picchu (see below) and on our last night an excellent dinner (I tried the alpaca) at the Inka Grill on the market square.

Cuzco
We went several times into Cuzco, once guided by Lucia. Highlights were numerous small shops reflecting the numerous entrepreneurial folks in the city (at one Rocio bought rubber shoe soles and yarn for the kids to fashion slip-ons); the market square covered with booths and colorful ground cloths spread with opportunities for the tourist or native (prices were low as discretionary spending seemed low as well); four churches, which were filled, as we arrived on Palm Sunday. Several had tall, ornamental chancels, and were highly decorated throughout. At one the padre blessed us by slinging holy water at the congregation. Another time a black Jesus was brought outside of its “cathedral” and carried through the streets while locals celebrated by throwing red fuscias upon it.

Walls from Incan times were still in evidence, with the boulders so tight-fitting that there was no room between them, even for a slip of paper.
Twice we sat on a balcony overlooking the square and had snacks while watching the scene unfold below us. One was often aware of the street sellers, struggling to get passers-by interested in their wares – not dissimilar from those in Victorian England. Young bootblacks offered to polish shoes for one sol ($0.35). How little times have changed.

To be continued …

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