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Category: Volunteer travel
Should Americans Volunteer Travel In The Trump Presidency?

From The Huffington Post January 17, 2017 

By Christopher Elliott, Author of How to be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Gassle)

How should Americans travel abroad in the age of Donald Trump? No matter how you voted in the last election, the answer is the same: carefully.

But also, definitely.

As the president-elect prepares to take office Jan. 20, travelers have expressed worries about how they’ll be perceived internationally after a lengthy campaign that tested the limits of civility.

“A potentially controversial president means you have to prepare,” says Colby Martin, an intelligence director for Pinkerton. “Americans traveling abroad need to have a comprehensive plan for staying safe.”

Reality check: Most international trips abroad will probably — hopefully — be uneventful, regardless who’s in the White House. That’s because our most popular destinations are Mexico and Canada, in that order. And they’re used to the ups and downs of our political system and accustomed to American visitors. Roughly the same number of Americans visit Canada as they do all of Europe. But wander outside the well-trodden areas, and things could get interesting, say experts.

“The likelihood of any impact on American travelers abroad” will depend on what policies the new administration enacts, says Scott Hume, the director of security operations for Global Rescue. He says you shouldn’t be surprised by people who ask you direct questions about American foreign policy and politics.

If your goal is to avoid those conversations, “Take care not to stand out as an American,” he says.

So how do you do that, exactly?

Taryn White, a writer and frequent traveler based in Washington, tries to maintain a cover. “You have to look the part,” she says. “This means no white sneakers, ‘I ? NY’ T-shirts, or sweat pants. It also means being considerate of local customs and dress.”

One simple trick: Pack black. Darker colors are versatile and ensure you don’t stand out. Beyond the wardrobe selection, it means downplaying American mannerisms like laughing out loud, smiling a lot or using hand gestures.

But others say now may also be the best time to identify yourself as an American. Kori Crow, a political consultant from Austin, Texas, and a world traveler, says that counterintuitively, the more fractious a country’s politics are, the better your experience could be.

“They’re more forgiving because they don’t usually equate elected leaders as a reflection of its citizens,” she says.

Crow says people understand that American visitors are not its ambassadors. “You’d be surprised at how many foreigners will over-compliment you just to try and make you feel more welcome,” she adds, mentioning a particularly warm welcome at Vietnam’s American War Crimes Museum.

All of the above is true. There are times when you’ll want to fade into the crowd, but ultimately you have to be true to yourself. And as the experts say, don’t leave anything to chance.

How do I know? Because I grew up in Europe during a time of controversial American leadership. Most people I met were smart enough to know that American citizens do not represent the American government, and they knew from personal experience that democracy is imperfect.

In fact, I think we should all travel more internationally during the next four years. Just to show the world that Americans are a far more varied lot than the politicians they see on TV or read about in the paper.

Three things you should do during the Trump years:

Apply for a passport. Less than half of Americans have a passport. You’ll need one if you want to travel abroad. Go to the State Department site to start the process. Cost: $110 for adults, $80 for kids under 16. Does not include a $25 “execution” fee.

Learn another language. No matter where you go, knowing a few words in the native language will take you far. The next four years are a perfect time to pick up Spanish, French, German or Mandarin. Check out Duolingo for a crash course on your chosen language.

Build a bridge. Whether you strike up a friendship with someone who lives outside the U.S. or take a volunteer vacation outside the country, you can use your travel to show the world what Americans are really like. Check out organizations like GlobeAware or tour operators such as REI, which offer extensive volunteer vacation programs.

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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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Boost your earning potential through volunteer travel

Writer Morgan Quinn looks at volunteer vacations for U.S. News & World Report and considers the career and résumé they may hold.

6 Vacations That Will Boost Your Résumé

These trips will give your earning potential a lift.

By Morgan Quinn

April 30, 2015

Game-Time-6891No matter how many corners you cut and airfare deals you score, taking a vacation is expensive. What’s more, many Americans avoid taking time off altogether because they’re worried how it will affect their careers. A 2014 Glassdoor survey found that U.S. employees only use only half of their eligible paid vacation and paid time off. A U.S. Travel Association study last year also found that nearly half of employees continue to check their work email when they do go on vacation.

What if you could take a vacation that would help your career – not hurt it? What if your time off added valuable skills to your résumé and even put you in line for a promotion when you returned?

A growing trend among American workers and recent college graduates is the volunteer vacation, where travelers work their way through various cities around the world, adding skills, learning new languages and boosting their earning potential. If you want to take some time off to travel this summer – while still working on your career – try one of these vacation ideas.

1. Learn a language. Taking language classes in another country gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture and hone your linguistic skills, both inside and outside the classroom. Classes and prices vary, but there are numerous programs that help foreigners study languages around the world, including French in Quebec City, Spanish in South America or Japanese in Tokyo. Whether you are learning a language from scratch or just brushing up on your skills, you’ll return home with a new section to add to your résumé and some real-world experience.

2. Volunteer on an organic farm. Do you want to get your hands dirty this summer? The World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms organization links volunteers with organic farms for a unique work experience. In return for volunteering, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles and farming. WWOOF farms exist across the globe, from Argentina to Thailand.

The length of stay is negotiated between the host and volunteer, with visits as short as several days to as long as half a year. This is a truly one-of-a-kind experience for people looking to add organic farming and sustainable agriculture experience to their résumé.

3. Practice a trade. If you’re handy with a hammer or looking to get construction and contracting experience, there are a variety of opportunities to lend a hand to an organization in need of volunteers. For instance, Habitat for Humanity offers an international program that organizes volunteers to build well-constructed, affordable shelters for people living in poverty. Another organization, HistoriCorps, works with volunteers to restore historic sites on public lands throughout the United States.

4. Teach overseas. No matter what industry you work in, teaching is an impressive addition to your résumé. Plus, the huge availability of teaching positions across the globe means you can find a tenure that works for you. You can also choose whether you’d prefer to work with children, teenagers or adults.

There are overseas teaching programs like The English Camp Company, which organizes summer camps in Taiwan, Italy and Austria for kids ages 6 to 14. Volunteers have the opportunity to tutor campers in English, live with families and experience authentic local culture firsthand.

5. Conduct scientific field research. If you’re a science enthusiast or interested in exploring ways to make our planet more sustainable, this type of vacation is for you.

Earthwatch Institute expeditions send volunteers to do field work side-by-side with leading scientists. Volunteers work directly under the supervision of experts and get the opportunity to collect data and work as a full-fledged expedition member. Not only will you add an impressive and memorable experience to your résumé, you’ll help the world’s top scientists conduct research that makes our planet a better place to live.

6. Work with animals. If you already have experience working with animals or are simply an animal lover, consider taking a vacation to volunteer at a facility that helps injured or abandoned animals. You can spend a few days or a few weeks giving hands-on care to furry friends who need your help.

For example, the Earthwatch Institute offers a weeklong trip where volunteers monitor threats to ocelots in Trinidad. The Pacific Whale Foundation sponsors a free program, Volunteering on Vacation, for Maui visitors who want to help protect the island’s rare and endangered species.

Just a word of caution: All these vacations may be in historic, beautiful or exotic locations, but they are definitely not a day at the beach – so be prepared to get down and dirty.

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Retired officer: Homeless people are individuals, not problems

Marilyn Jones, correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, examines a former police officer’s unique understanding and approach to homeless individuals in his Northern California community.

Robert Anderson sees homeless people as individuals, not problems

Because of the efforts of the former police officer, many people he came to know on the streets now have stable housing –  in a place and in a program he helped create.

By Marilyn Jones, Correspondent

April 17, 2015

After retiring recently from a 32-year career on the San Mateo, Calif., police force, Robert Anderson could be taking life easy, enjoying soft breezes on a tropical beach. But after decades working to find homes for chronically homeless people, he couldn’t just walk into the sunset.

Because of his efforts, many of the people he came to know on the streets have moved into stable housing in a place and in a program Mr. Anderson helped to create.

0420-PMAD-MANDERSON

Robert Anderson (c.) stands outside The Vendome, a shelter in San Mateo, Calif., with manager Steve Carey (l.) and Richard Gilmour, a once-homeless man helped by Mr. Anderson. (Courtesy of Robert Anderson) San Mateo, Calif.

When he was a 19-year-old political science major at San Jose State University Anderson, who had grown up in nearby San Francisco, interned as a police cadet in the San Mateo Police Department. Coming from a middle-class background, he wanted to gain some street savvy, and he found the police work fascinating. Seeing people at their worst awakened in him a desire to try to make a difference. After he graduated from college, he entered the police academy and became an officer at age 21.

Almost immediately, he started dealing with homeless people and their many problems. He describes those days as feeling like being in the movie “Groundhog Day” – every day the same calls, the same complaints from property owners and merchants, the same hassles that the homeless had caused people who came downtown.

Since homelessness is not a crime, he was limited in what he could do. One woman, for example, adamantly refused to go to a shelter and lived for years on the same downtown corner. A juniper bush on the corner actually grew around where she camped out, nearly enveloping her.

But sleeping in doorways, urinating on private property, and public drunkenness are crimes. When Anderson arrived on the scene, the same scenarios took place: The homeless were arrested, followed by periods of incarceration and a constant drifting in and out of jail or prison. Anderson also felt stymied in his efforts to curb substance abuse, chronic alcoholism, and episodes of mental illness, which often meant his calling an ambulance to take a homeless person to the emergency room.

More and more he felt frustrated.

“On the street, I had to be reactive,” he says. “People would say, ‘Can’t you do something?’ I developed relationships with the homeless, but my toolbox was limited.” Most often his only contacts with the homeless occurred as the result of complaints.

He began trying to learn who these homeless people were and how they had wound up in their situation. “These are real people,” he says. “Each with their own stories and different journeys that brought them to living on the streets.”

A colleague of Anderson, Barbara Walt, a local business manager and treasurer of the downtown business association, recalls contacting him repeatedly to do something about the homeless people on her business property. She would arrive at work in the mornings to find them asleep by the front door. Bottles lay strewn around, and the area had been used as a public restroom.

“But Robert treated these people with respect,” she says. “He would always be a gentleman, was always kind to them. He cared about them, and he would look for a safe place for them to go.”

By 2006, Anderson knew the homeless situation wasn’t going to be solved through citations, temporary incarcerations, and trips to the hospital. So, along with San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer and Byron Hudson, a case manager and social worker, he decided to try a new approach.

Typically, homeless shelters require that residents already be off drugs and alcohol, having completed a treatment program. Anderson and his colleagues worked to establish what they called the Homeless Outreach Team. They based their approach on the philosophy that housing is a basic human right, even for those still abusing alcohol and drugs. HOT joined forces with the city, especially the police department, and the Downtown San Mateo Association, as well as nonprofits such as the Shelter Network of San Mateo County.

“At the time, there were 28 full-time homeless people living in downtown San Mateo,” says Nancy Bush, a senior vice president at United American Bank and Anderson’s colleague at the downtown association, which was receiving hundreds of complaints every year.

HOT members, especially Anderson, worked with each homeless person to get him or her into stable housing, Ms. Bush recalls.

In 2007, the city purchased The Vendome, a run-down 19th-century hotel. The city restored it, creating 18 rooms for residents and a communal kitchen.

“Robert’s compassion and sensitivity, as well as his ability to ‘meet people where they are,’ made him extremely successful at getting the homeless off the streets,” Bush says. “He was able to identify each individual’s specific needs and worked diplomatically to address their issues.”

After the first residents moved into The Vendome, HOT conducted a study to track the results of the pilot project. The study found that once participants got settled in their new home and began receiving support services, the cost of their medical care and criminal-justice interventions was reduced by 85 percent. The number of police responses involving the homeless dropped in one year by 99 percent. Although alcohol abuse wasn’t eradicated at The Vendome, there was a dramatic decrease.

Today, The Vendome provides apartments for more than two dozen previously homeless residents. Each has chores to do and a code of behavior to follow. Every resident has a private room and is responsible for its cleanliness and maintenance. One current resident has started a garden and grows vegetables served at meals.

For some, the housing is provided free of charge. But The Vendome uses a sliding scale based on income to determine a resident’s rent. More and more residents have been able to earn money once they’ve stabilized their living arrangements.

However, not every homeless individual at The Vendome becomes a success story. Sometimes an alcohol or methamphetamine addiction returns, and the person goes back to the streets and to his or her former life. Sometimes mental illness plays a role in keeping a person from adjusting to life at The Vendome. But the majority of residents become responsible and happy as they settle into their surroundings. Some find work, and some even move into their own housing, reunite with family, and begin living independently.

Since Anderson’s retirement, another police officer, David Johnson, has  taken over Johnson’s role with HOT and The Vendome.

But Anderson has no plans to leave San Mateo. He still walks the streets, especially the downtown area, supporting the efforts of Mr. Johnson. They meet for lunch about once a month, when Anderson provides updates on what he’s been observing.

Anderson also stays in touch with homeless people he’s known for decades. One formerly homeless man (someone Anderson used to arrest and take to jail) has moved out of The Vendome into his own apartment. Not long ago, he surprised Anderson by asking him to be in his wedding. Many of Anderson’s former arrestees even have his phone number and e-mail address.

Anderson is often asked if San Mateo’s  success story could be duplicated in other cities. He’s happy to speak about it, he says, but he offers a word of caution. “This worked in our city only because I had personal relationships with these people,” he explains. “But it took a very long time.”

Anderson’s colleague, Ms. Walt, continues to join him in monthly walks around the downtown area. “If you could see how he’s received wherever he goes, you would know what an ambassador he is for the city,” she says. “He’s beloved.”

Anderson says he feels the same way about San Mateo, the city he’s served for more than 30 years – and counting.
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 three organizations that help those in need:

  • Globe Aware promotes cultural awareness and sustainability by helping communities prosper without becoming dependent on outside aid. Take action: Help the underprivileged in Romania.

  • Miracles in Action provides Guatemalans in extreme poverty with opportunities to help themselves. Take action: Provide a backpack and school supplies to a poor child.

  • Children of the Night helps rescue children from prostitution. Take action: Support the work of Children of the Night With Out Walls by providing activities, therapy, and support for mentally ill people.

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The Festive Traveller – Q&A on Volunteer Travel

Kimberly Haley-Coleman, founder and Executive Director of Globe Aware, recently sat down with Jessica Wynne Lockhart, contributing editor at Travel with Purpose’s Verge Magazine to discuss how to make the most of  Volunteer Travel and a volunteer vacation. The Q & A is below.

How to be an effective global citizen during the holiday season.

santa-volunteer-vacationsAs the holidays approach and the fiscal year draws to an end, it’s a natural time to think about how we can support our global community. But with thousands of charities to choose from, how do you select a reputable organization to donate your time or money to?

It’s not an easy question, which is why we called in the experts: Nick Beardsley is the Project Advisor for Gapforce, a provider of structured gap years and summer abroad programs; Justine Abigail Yu is the Communications and Marketing Director for Operation Groundswell, a non-profit that facilitates service-learning experiences; and Kimberly Haley-Coleman is Founder and Executive Director of Globe Aware, a charitable organization that mobilizes small groups of volunteers to promote cultural awareness around the world.

Nick, Justine and Kimberly shared with us how they believe we can be effective global citizens this holiday season:

Why do think it’s important to reflect on global citizenship during the holiday season?

Nick Beardsley, Project Advisor for Gapforce: It should be important at all times to both pursue and reflect on global citizenship in one way or another. What the holiday season does is offer us the opportunity to think about others at a time that is infamous for being selfless. It is a time to remember those less fortunate than ourselves. It is the perfect time to transcend geographic, political, and cultural boundaries and recognize oneself as a citizen of the global community.

Each year, the popularity of “charitable giving” instead of “gift giving” increases. What are your recommendations for choosing a charitable organization to support?

Nick: You should choose an organization that means something to you. It may be that you have a personal connection to the cause or it may be that the organization has simply touched you in some way. Choose with your heart.

Kimberly Haley-Coleman, Founder and Executive Director of Globe Aware: Start with what you know. If you belong to a trusted community centre, school, animal shelter or faith-based organization, this is a wonderful place to start.

If you are just now setting out to find an organization, know that this takes time. Ask friends and family whom they support and why. Make a list of what world issues most concern you and which entities seem to do a good job of addressing those issues. Look at the publically listed financials to get a better understanding of how the organizations spend their revenues. Don’t hesitate to call the organizations to find out more about them. If you aren’t ready to make a financial contribution, see if you can volunteer with the organization to get a better feel for how they operate.

Justine Abigail Yu, Communications and Marketing Director for Operation Groundswell: Really do your research here and look at the actual impacts of the organization. First of all, does this organization’s values align with your own? Are they addressing the problem they set out to solve? Do they show evidence that demonstrates that their approach is effective? How do they measure their progress? Does the charity receive feedback from the people it intends to serve and are they using that feedback to improve their programs?

I know that it’s fashionable to assess an organization by looking at how much of donors’ dollars are being put towards overhead as an indicator of efficiency and legitimacy. The thinking here is that the lower the percentage that’s going to things like administrative costs, the more effective an organization is. But that’s not necessarily the case. I would challenge people to look deeper than that and ask harder questions. Although keeping a low overhead may be important, the bottom line is that we all want to support organizations are actually solving the social problems that will change our world.

For those who are going away for the holidays, how can they turn their vacation into travel “with purpose”?

Nick: My suggestion is to learn about local traditions and join in. It could become a new tradition that you practice even when you return home.

Kimberly: Picking an eco-conscious hotel, bringing needed donations to a community that has requested them, steering clear of handing out candy and money (which only builds dependency), reaching out to connect with locals in a non-consumer fashion (attend a local faith service or eat a meal with a family) and, of course, volunteering.

Justine: Wherever you’re going this holiday season, take the time to find opportunities that get you off the beaten path to really connect with the local culture and people. Try local delicacies that you’ve never heard of and learn the local language—that genuine attempt at connection builds cultural competency and empathy. And if you want to get your hands a little dirtier, look for opportunities that combine responsible volunteering with cross-cultural dialogue and critical learning.

What are your favourite gift ideas for travellers and global citizens?

Kimberly: Take the time to experience a new culture with a friend or family member while volunteering abroad—this is a bucket list item I hope everyone gets the chance to experience in his or her lifetime. Or, for an easy and incredibly practical gift, I love the luggage scales you can get for less than $10. Highly compressible extra bags, gift cards for phone apps (with suggested list of latest travel apps), and travel guidebooks are awfully nice too.

Justine: Find something handmade and artisanal from a place that means something special to you or to the person you’re giving the gift to. There are a lot of really great cooperatives and organizations that sell their goods through direct trade and this is a really great way to support the local economy of another country.

For example, we all love coffee here at Operation Groundswell. One of our partners, De la Gente, is this awesome agricultural cooperative in Guatemala that creates direct connections with buyers and consumers to improve the livelihoods of the small-holder coffee farmers they work with. All profits generated from the sales of coffee go directly to these farmers. It takes a little bit more research and thought to find these gifts, but it’s so worth it.

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