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Meet Kimberly Haley-Coleman of Globe Aware in Lakewood

Voyage Dallas October 4, 2017

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kimberly Haley-Coleman.

Kimberly, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.

I was raised with a deep love for different cultures. Before I got an MBA in international business, I got my masters in Art History (here at SMU). After working for a few nonprofits, I ended up in the for profit world doing business for multinational corporations. I found myself often traveling to developing countries where I sought to volunteer. I found that organizations just didn’t want short term volunteers, as the time and energy to train someone wasn’t worth it if the volunteer couldn’t commit a significant chunk of time, usually a minimum of a few weeks.

Since 1990 Ms. Haley-Coleman has been establishing long-term strategic partnerships and projects in non-profit and for-profit international arenas. Prior to founding Globe Aware, she was Vice President of Business Development for an aerospace company, Space Services International. Previously she led Business Development for Infotriever, which facilitated global contacts. As the Director of International Business Development at Investools, she created strategic international relationships and developed a globalization strategy to give free financial education tools to millions. During launch of CNBC.com, was Product Manager, managed and supervised product development efforts and trained on-air staff in using online stock evaluation tools. She developed and patented Dcipher, an artificial intelligence engine for free, real-time analysis of stocks and portfolios which helped provide investment analysis for those who could not afford financial advisors. At FCA, she created international joint ventures for small companies to develop sustainability of West African markets. Certified with Series 7, 65 and 63 licenses, she spent 2 years as Associate Portfolio Manager of the closed-end Capstone Japan Fund, she researched international stocks, made investment picks and placed trades. At Documentary Arts and Contemporary Culture, two Dallas-based non-profit organizations, she served as Associate Director of Programs, where she organized programs, wrote grants; prior nonprofit work includes internships at Dallas Museum of Art and High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. She squeezed in volunteering while traveling internationally on business and consulted with various international NGOs on achieving their goals.

Frustrated by the difficulty to give time effectively in needy communities within confines of busy life, she began Globe Aware to give Westerners a forum to serve in a meaningful and fun way for both the recipient communities and the volunteer. She wants Globe Aware to serve as a lamp to light that flame of inspiration in people who might otherwise have very little time to give abroad. She has an MBA in International Business from UD, grad with Highest Honors, received Texas Business Hall of Fame Scholarship Award, has an MA from Southern Methodist University and a BA from Emory University.

She is currently serving as Chair on the Executive Board of IVPA (International Volunteer Programs Association), on Dallas Opera Board of Trustees, on Board of Groundwork Dallas, is President of Dallas’ Shore Acres Beautification and is Leadership Member for Service Nation.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?

The problem is that most Americans with jobs simply don’t have that kind of time (weeks or months) to give. And yet they are frequently in a position where not only can they give more financially, but their souls actually need that meaningful interaction, perhaps even more than those who have flexible schedules. It can be such a grey, dog-eat-dog world. To get out of it, to stand side by side as equals helping people one projects that are important to them, that’s something that can bring new meaning and color and even appreciation to life.

Also 2008 was a bumpy year for sure. Expenditures on travel and donations are often the first areas cut so we, like most nonprofits, took a huge hit 2008 to 2009.

“I think it’s critical that in order to be a really involved, successful person, I feel it almost requires that one be a globally aware citizen. It helps find resolutions, on a global scale, to conflicts that are important, whether it’s political peace or bringing groups and different nationalities together to find a solution to problems that we all face,” Haley-Coleman said, “But it’s also a huge source of joy for someone for their whole life, to have those wonderful moments of cultural understanding.”

Please tell us about Globe Aware.

Short term, one week volunteer vacations in 20 countries around the world. Volunteers typically work about 35 hours a week, but they also have cultural activities scheduled and free time. The cost of the program and the airfare is 100% tax deductible against the participant’s income.

Specializing in well organized, short-term abroad volunteer opportunities. We usually focus on concrete projects. As examples, we assemble wheelchairs for landmine victims in Cambodia, install concrete floors in the homes of single moms in Guatemala, build adobe stoves in Peru, etc.

What sets us apart? That our volunteers typically feel they have received much more than they have given, because this generally inspires them to do even more and to stay engaged. When we know we are making a difference, it not only helps others but clearly improves our own sense of well-being. What better win-win is there than that?

How are we different? People calling us will not confront a voice mail tree or unanswered emails. We are committed to human interaction. We let locals decide which projects they need. We allow families of all ages to participate. Also, this isn’t just fulfilling. It is outright fun. If it isn’t fun, we aren’t doing our job. Our motto is, “Have Fun, Help People”

Also, most of our peers don’t believe in contributing financially to project work, seeing that as a way to increase reliance on outsiders. We take a different approach. If you spend money on wheelchairs and give them to people who need them, this increases their self-independence. We engage in projects that the locals have asked for, do them in a way they decide upon, we don’t choose projects involving heavy equipment or machinery or high on ladders, don’t handle bodily fluids or require certain skills.

Doctors Without Borders is a great organization, for example, if you’re wanting to do surgery. That’s not our forte!

Every organization is different. Ours are specifically geared toward those without specific work or language skills who have *very little free time*. Our most often call is someone who knows they want to volunteer but have no idea where. We spend a fair amount of time assessing how much travel they’ve done before. For example, if they’ve never left the country, we generally think its huge amount of culture shock to go straight to India or Cambodia, for example, and we might recommend Costa Rica, as its culture isn’t quite as drastically different from North America. If they have traveled and they speak another language, such as Spanish, we might steer them to a country like Peru. See its very much based on the specific volunteers past service, travel, and languages. Oddly not many people decide where to go based on what TYPE of service is offered. For example, we assemble wheelchairs for landmine victims in Cambodia. I really don’t think that the service itself is ever a deciding factor, and really that’s ok. There is REAL NEED everywhere. Start with your interest, inclination, and perhaps any culture you have personal connection to.

Globe Aware has just launched a 3-part initiative in an effort to aid the post-earthquake Mexico reconstruction effort in the villages of Hueyapan, Zaucalpan, Tetela del Norte, Jojutla and Yautepec, as well as their main program location, Tepoztlan.

The organization has a deep connection with Mexico, and recognizes that these smaller communities are not receiving the help they need. The organization immediately connected with program coordinators and began relief aid by coordinating the delivery of supplies for assistance in these areas.Globe Aware has now begun work directly with families in those locations in rebuilding their homes, prioritizing building homes for those with single mothers and young children, as well as the elderly. Volunteers who register for the Globe Aware Mexico volunteer vacation program will have the opportunity to be a part of these critical reconstruction efforts. Haley-Coleman, stated that “In a world where many of us may feel helpless in the face of seemingly constant manmade and natural disasters, this kind of effort means not only getting much needed supplies and housing directly to those who most need it, but also allows our hearts to heal as we participate in the mending.”

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?

Yes, luck played a part. We were fortunate to come up at a time when there is a generally growing sense of social consciousness that has allowed us to succeed. Also, our volunteer demographic happens to coincide with an attractive ad demographic for a lot of mainstream media, so we have been the fortunate beneficiary of being the subject of their stories and segments. If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?

It certainly would have been easier if I started earlier before having children, but I think things work out the way they do for a reason.

Janet Robinson, a recently returned mother who volunteered in Cuba says “I think my children learned what you really need to be happy. I think we learned about material possessions and what people, in general, need to be happy, because we saw people who didn’t have anything who were having happy and wonderful lives.”

Pricing:

Programs cost about $1000 to $1500 a week and include food, accommodations, bottled water, project materials, medical insurance, bilingual coorindator, in-country transportation, etc and are fully tax deductible against your income.

Contact Info:

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What do you know about volunteer vacations?

Volunteer vacations or ‘voluntourism’ are exactly what they sound like; individuals spend anywhere from a few days to a couple of months working on social and environmental projects.

Oct 18, 2016, 04.26 PM
Source: Moneycontrol.com

Would you rather spend your annual two weeks of vacation sipping sangrias on a tropical beach or building greenhouses in the mountains? Would you opt to spend your time on a luxurious Caribbean cruise or teaching school kids in a remote area? Today more and more people are signing up for the latter options, in line with a rapidly burgeoning tourism trend known as volunteer vacations.

Volunteer vacations or ‘voluntourism’ are exactly what they sound like; individuals spend anywhere from a few days to a couple of months working on social and environmental projects.

What do you know about volunteer vacations

What do you know about volunteer vacations?

These can include building houses, bathrooms, and other amenities, teaching children as well as the underprivileged important skills, studying the environment or animals and even typing up data; an exercise which may seem dangerously close to your regular job.

Why are more and more people choosing to spend their vacations working, rather than indulging in some well-deserved relaxation? Perhaps society is developing a stronger social conscience; in a world where celebrities are quick to pledge themselves to causes, and educational boards demand their students get involved with social work, several individuals prefer spending their free time improving the lives of others to make a difference.

Aside from the feel good factor, volunteer vacations are the perfect way to experience a particular place in an entirely unique way. Travelling in the 21st century is no longer about following a structured itinerary that takes you through all the regular tourist traps in a city. Today, travelling is more about authentic experiences – volunteering vacations allow travelers to interact with locals in an organic way teaching them more about their culture than any regular resort stay would. While travelling is always an opportunity to broaden your horizons, volunteer vacations will introduce you to entirely new approaches to life and ways of living.

When it comes to ways of living, be prepared to rough it out should you decide to take a volunteer vacation. As most organisations which take volunteers for short amounts of times are non-profit groups, they’ll offer humble digs which one may have to share with other volunteers. Food is typically simple, and while most volunteers do get leisure time, the work can be tough and challenging. Additionally, most volunteers are required to pay the organisation for the chance to volunteer; the payments are used for boarding, supplies and sometimes partially as a donation to the cause.

Despite these considerations, people across the world – especially the youth – are getting on board with the concept. There are various organisations to look to if you’d like to explore the idea of volunteer vacations yourself; WWWOOF India, for instance, aims to improve the practice of organic farming in India while Dakshinayan in Jharkhand asks volunteers to teach health education as well as basic Maths and English skills to the local population.

If you’re looking to volunteer overseas, Projects Abroad is a platform for a variety of organizations which require volunteers in countries like Italy, Romania, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Kenya, Morocco and Fiji. Global Aware is another international organization which offers international programs as well information about volunteer vacations.

These organisations are always looking for enthusiastic volunteers to commit to their cause; if it seems up your street, there’s no nobler way to spend your days off.
Tags  Caribbean cruise vacation

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That one-of-a-kind special volunteer vacation

August 23, 2016

Wisconsin State Journal
By LISA M. DIETLIN For Lee Enterprises

Are you always in search of that one-of-a-kind special vacation? Are you constantly trying to find time to do good?

There’s a tremendous opportunity to have a very special vacation, meet amazing people, visit places you’ve never been all while making a difference by taking part in voluntouring or in a do-good vacation.

Volunteer vacations

Volunteer vacations offer countless benefits and opportunities

Voluntouring is a chance to  participate in programs around the world that make a difference within a short time frame – anywhere from one week to about three months, while vacationing!

Because you’re donating your time and effort to a nonprofit organization, a significant portion of your vacation costs may even be tax deductible.

Here’s how voluntouring works:

You will be working side by side with a community and its residents.

Voluntouring vacations are available around the world in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia.

The projects cover many important areas, such as children, the environment, health care, education, historic restoration, animal conservation, senior care, construction and others.

Voluntour participants often speak about building tremendous new friendships that last for many years.

While some trips are for adults only, there are many that are appropriate for families and young people.

Voluntourism has become both a big and global business primarily supported by the increasing desire of travelers to take worthwhile and meaningful trips while trying to do some good.

Examples of voluntouring vacations

Through Projects Abroad, a two week program offers voluntourists the opportunity to work in archaeological ruins of ancient pre-Inca structures in Peru. Anyone 16 years or older can participate. The work would include preliminary investigations, excavations, analysis and registration of cultural materials, site visits, office registry work, working at museums, archaeology presentations, classification of ceramics and community activities including working at an elementary school. The group also organizes social events for volunteers.

Another example of a trip takes place with Greenforce (www.greenforce.org); for approximately $3,900 you can work to save the endangered orangutans in one of the oldest and most beautiful rain forests in Borneo.

Other types of trips include voluntourists working on restoring temples by spending half the day cleaning paintings or building walls with the monks. The rest of the afternoon they spend their time sightseeing.

Or a penguin rescue and rehabilitation program in South Africa with accommodations and a meal allowance during six weeks of catching, feeding and cleaning up after penguins and other seabirds. But you also have two days off per week to sightsee.

The possibilities and opportunities are truly endless.

Alternatively, you might also want to consider a do-good vacation, which includes travel to more common holiday destinations in places like Ireland, Italy and Spain. These vacations are different from voluntouring in that you will be working with a nonprofit to raise money for a cause and not be working in a local community.

Often travelers create their own trip by raising money or awareness on behalf of a cause or organization that is near and dear to their hearts. Work with your favorite nonprofit organization to create a plan of action that includes doing good on your next vacation.

Tips for voluntouring

  •     Find an organization that matches your passion and has a proven track record.
  •     Select a trip that suits your abilities and interests and be prepared to work!
  •     Speak with people who have been on the excursion before or worked with the company you choose.
  •     Learn about local customs – even a bit of the language – before you go, but be prepared for a trip that may be tremendously different from what you might expect.
  •     Expect none of the comforts of home, in other words, you will be “roughing it.”
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Volunteering Helps You Get Your Dream Job

Want to volunteer your skills with social impact organizations around the world? Check out MovingWorlds.org

MovingWorlds.org co-founder Mark Horoszowski manages the global platform connecting people who volunteer on worthwhile projects around the world.  Mark recently wrote this great article on volunteering which appeared in his blog and in The Huffington Post.


Good for the World, Good for You – This Infographic Shows How Volunteering Can Help You Find and Get Your Dream Job

Finding and earning your dream job is no easy journey, but it turns out that doing good for the world might be your golden ticket.

Over the past few years, we’ve spoken with hundreds of volunteers, hiring managers, recruiters, and career coaches to explore the theory that volunteering can help people get their dream job in any sector: public, private, or non-profit. We’ve complimented our qualitative stories with quantitative research to show that volunteering helps you at all the main steps of your career path:

  1. Identifying your passions and career calling
  2. Building critical skills and making your resume stand out
  3. Helping you ace the interview and hiring process

Our team is incredibly eager to show this research as it represents a true win-win: Some of the biggest challenges facing this earth are skills-related challenges, meanwhile people benefit by contributing their skills to global issues.

“No matter the position I’m interviewing for, I look specifically for volunteer experience – it shows me that the person has passion, thinks beyond him/herself, and has the ability to take initiative. In short, it shows me the person will be a better team member.” – Mary M, Leadership Development Professional at Fortune 50 Company

In summary, our research shows that people should be pickier about the way they engage in volunteering by making sure their time and talents are actually needed – not just their physical presence. In fact, we found that volunteers are more engaged, deliver more value to organizations, and stay longer if they donate their real talents as opposed to their muscles. In doing so, they also tend to experience “career enlightenment”.

However, there appears to be a right and wrong way to both volunteer AND communicate your experience on your resume, LinkedIn profile, and cover letter. The following infographic shows you why and how volunteering your skills, especially on a dedicated project like an international volunteering trip, can help you find and get your dream job. It is also full of useful tips about how to choose a project and how to talk about your volunteer experience during the interview process for public, private, or governmental jobs.

Volunteering Can Help You Identify Your Dream Job

Beyond helping you understand your strengths, being purposeful about your volunteer work can also help you learn more about specific industries, gain experience working on different types of teams, and gain exposure to what it’s like to work inside different sizes of organizations. The combination of these can help you refine what and where your dream job is. In fact, 95% of career advisers agreed that volunteering “brings clarity to the job search”, and 76% strongly agreed that it made you “more likely to get your dream job”.

“If you’re thinking of making a career change years down the road, consider volunteering now to lay a foundation for the future. It helps you identify your real strengths, build a bigger network, and explore what truly motivates you. You’ll look back and be glad you had the foresight to plan early.” – Brad Waters, Founder of Brad Waters Coaching and Consulting

There is a great article in the Harvard Business Review that hits to the theory as to why this is true: Profession and Purpose

Volunteering Can Improve Your Resume and Help You Stand Out

This was one of the most interesting areas in our research… We found that most recruiters spend less than 60 seconds looking at a resume, and experienced recruiters spend even less – one recruiter shared that she spends less than 30 seconds per resume. Only 30.4% felt that candidates with international skills-based volunteering experience stand out.

So what do they look for? They focus their few seconds of attention on REAL work experience that tells a “cohesive story” about why you are applying for a job and deserve to get it. While recruiters tend to agree that volunteering makes you a more interesting candidate (54%), the slight majority DO NOT look specifically for it.

In other words, while recruiters don’t look for volunteer experience, our research hints that if it is communicated the right way, it makes your resume “stand out”. However, one anonymous recruiter told us that “a resume with too much volunteer experience is a negative thing if the person is applying for a for-profit company, even if that company has a history of good social responsibility”.

Recruiters did agree that there is a “best” way to position your volunteer experience, and it’s probably not what you expect.

“If you have completed meaningful projects, include it as real work experience, not in a ‘volunteer or interest’ section. Call it ‘Pro Bono consulting’ and articulate the situation, task, action, and result – just as you would a normal job.” – Katie Kross, author of Profession and Purpose

Your skills-based volunteer experience should help you round out your resume and tell a recruiter that you have the skills and experience needed for it, as well as a passion for the industry. As an example, if you are a finance professional looking to get into the tech industry, like Google, volunteering finance skills at a tech nonprofit or a tech startup can help show your passion for tech. Or, perhaps you’re a program manager at a tech company and want to get into global development at the Gates Foundation. In this second case, having volunteered overseas for an extended length of time with a similar type of beneficiary organization will prove that you have the skills and field experience to earn a position.

Volunteering Can Help You While You Interview

We were pleasantly surprised by the number of managers that get excited when candidates have real volunteer experience – 66% specifically look for it and strongly value it. Similar to career advisers and recruiters, they agreed that “day of labor” style volunteering didn’t add much value. Instead they emphasized that people who engaged in skills-based projects for a specific cause “stood out as more interesting candidates because they are likely to be better team members”.

“International experience (of any kind, personal or professional) leads to a greater life experience, which then leads to a greater awareness of needs. In my experience, candidates who have these things then have a greater ability to innovate.” – Harry Weiner, Co-founder and Partner at On-Ramps

Similar to on your resume, volunteer work is only interesting it if demonstrates that you took initiative and delivered meaningful results. Anecdotally, we also feel that managers value volunteering for another reason – many felt that it involved “transferring skills to others”, and this resonated as being very valuable as it showed you had prior experience with coaching and developing others.

Why is Volunteering Experience Valued so Highly?

Along the entire candidate screening and hiring journey, volunteering your skills simply shows that you take initiative, are more selfless, and truly value your professional skills. Managers equate this to mean that you are more likely to be a better team member and deliver results.

“In every situation – from financial to creative positions – I look at a candidate’s volunteer history. It’s a good indication of their passion, leadership and problem solving abilities.” Julian Lorentz, Owner at Awakening Visuals

Indeed, we saw that managers agreed or strongly agreed that skills-based volunteering, especially in international environments, was a great way to develop skills needed to succeed:

  • Collaboration: 93.8%
  • Communication: 97%
  • Emotional Intelligence (EQ): 89.3%
  • Grit: 80%
  • Innovation: 70%
  • Leadership: 90.3%
  • Problem Solving: 90.3%

However, managers were quick to note that “not all volunteer experiences are created equal”. First and foremost, managers are most interested “in finding quality people with demonstrated skills… volunteering doesn’t automatically mean you are either of these. It has to be the right type of volunteering project”.

An Important Caveat

As an organization with a mission of accelerating the impact of changemakers around the world, we would like to add the caveat that volunteering should be approached as selflessly as possible. Our research should not be used to motivate people to volunteer just for the sake of professional gain… In fact, our research shows that people should start their volunteering endeavor by auditing their skills, formalizing their goals, and then searching for an organization that specifically needs their skills. Groups like MovingWorlds, Catchafire, and LinkedIn For Good can all help you find the perfect placement. Done improperly, volunteering your skills might make your resume look better, but it can harm the organization you are trying to support.

In fact, a notable number of respondents felt that volunteering did NOT even belong on your resume at all and were quick to add comments that if they felt volunteer experiences were engaged only for professional gain, it would negatively impact the candidate.

In Summary

Our research shows that volunteering can indeed help you in all steps of your career journey, from identifying your passion to standing out in the hiring process regardless of your career ambitions. However, volunteer experience doesn’t automatically launch you past other candidates, and in fact, it can even detract from your resume. One of the senior level managers we spoke with best summarized this point when he shared that

“When I’m looking for someone to join my team, the recipe is actually pretty simple… I want the person to have the required skills, I want to know the person has passion for our company and industry, and I want proof that the person will be an effective team member and the potential to be a long-term contributor, and hopefully, a leader… the right type of volunteer experience can help with all of those, especially the latter, but it’s not a replacement for job experience… it’s more of an icing on the cake situation. But when you’re looking for the best cake, icing is pretty @%&$ important!”

It is our contention that in this globally-connected and competitive job market, the more connections you’ve made, skills you’ve practiced, and experiences you have, the more you stand out. And, considering some of the world’s biggest challenges are propagated by a lack of access to skills, we also live in a time when doing good for the world can help you get ahead, and is good for your health, too!

If you have additional insights on the topic or care about it, we’d love to talk to you. Find us on Twitter or contact us.

This post originally appeared on the MovingWorlds blog and is reposted with permission.

This page contains materials from The Huffington Post and/or other third party writers. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (“PwC”) has not selected or reviewed such third party content and it does not necessarily reflect the views of PwC. PwC does not endorse and is not affiliated with any such third party. The materials are provided for general information purposes only, should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors, and PwC shall have no liability or responsibility in connection therewith.

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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.

2015-02-08-THAI2011-thumb

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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