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Volunteer vacations in Vietnam with Globe Aware

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Globe Aware: A season for Asian travel

Globe Aware was featured in a June, 2011 spotlight in the International Herald Tribune:

For students longing to take time off before starting college or university or working people who would like a complete change from their daily occupation, taking a ‘‘gap year’’ can be a rewarding, lifechanging experience, especially if the time is spent volunteering.

Teaching English, for example, is a huge help in poor communities in Asia and requires little training. Other projects may include sports coaching, community building projects and working with handicapped children.

According to studies by such leading universities as Harvard, students who take a year off before college are more focused and motivated when they begin their studies than those who don’t.

Globe Aware, a nonprofit organization based in Texas, organizes volunteer programs around the world.

‘‘Gap-year volunteering broadens horizons, strengthens résumés and brings the kind of perspective that can change lives,’’ says Catherine Greenberg, its vice president of volunteer communications. ‘‘Kids who volunteer internationally realize how fortunate they are and gain insight into what’s truly important in life — not money or greed or luxury items, but community, compassion and hard work.’’ Each project aims to promote cultural awareness and/or sustainability. Cultural awareness, explain the organizers, means learning to appreciate a culture but not changing it.

‘‘By promoting volunteerism,’’ says Greenberg, ‘‘we’re promoting active civic engagement in disadvantaged communities in an exciting and different way.’’ Combining travel with volunteering has become popular enough that a conference on ‘‘voluntourism’’ will be held June 28 in Denver, Colorado.

‘‘This is the first time there has been a conference held that focuses solely on voluntourism,’’ says its organizer, Alexia Nestora.

Subject matter for the conference will include the economic impact of voluntourism, how it has evolved and how to create sustainable projects, as well as industry sessions on subjects such as the marketing of volunteer travel.

Nestora is a consultant on the industry Though the company is American, Asian students participate, too.

WLS International is a London-based organizer of volunteer-abroad projects that focuses on Asia, specifically Cambodia, China, Nepal, India, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Volunteering abroad, says the company, is a way to make travel meaningful and have a simple, affordable vacation. Many of its projects attract those taking a gap year.

Ben Mattress, a young volunteer from Australia, says his weeklong project teaching English to young children in Siem Reap, Cambodia, was a life-changing experience.

The children are ‘‘so happy and eager to learn, and very smart,’’ says Mattress, adding that he is eager to volunteer there again. An added benefit of this project is its location at the gateway to the ancient Angkor Wat temple complex, a Unesco World Heritage site.

Young people may spend several weeks or months abroad, but will certainly return with experiences that will last a lifetime.

Says Greenberg of Global Aware: ‘‘If our local young people can benefit from this experience, it’s one vital step toward reshaping our culture to be more green, more responsible and more caring.’’ and writes the blog Voluntourism Gal. She says that the industry has been very competitive and that conference participants ‘‘are showing their willingness to move into an era of cooperation that can only better serve the sometimes-at-risk and always needy populations where our collective projects are concentrated.’’ In Globe Aware’s Laos program, volunteers have the opportunity to work with orphans and schoolchildren in Luang Prabang.

In a weeklong program, participants work with local monks and perform such tasks as teaching English, assembling wheelchairs from recycled parts and distributing them to the needy, distributing books and helping to repair schools. There is also free time to visit the temples, Buddhist caves and waterfalls of this charming Unesco World Heritage site.

Adventures Cross-Country, a Californiabased youth-travel company, has been leading volunteer programs for gap-year students for nearly 30 years. Its Asia Gap Semester, for example, takes students to China, Thailand and Tibet, and includes such activities as helping mahouts and biologists rehabilitate elephants at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, and teaching English to Chinese and Thai students, some of whom have never met Westerners.

 

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A 12-year-old volunteer vacationer’s perspective of a Globe Aware experience

Laws of Life Essay
David Hauge – 6D
Nysmith School – April 15, 2010

If you are not part of the solution,you are part of the problem

“If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” My mom always says this quote to me. The quote was originally said by Eldridge Cleaver, a civil rights activist in the 1960’s. I believe that it is very true. For Spring Break every year since I was 10, my parents and I have gone to another country to volunteer in their communities. When I was 10 and 11, my family and I went to Vietnam, and it was amazing to see what the people live through every day. No electricity, no running water, no cars. We helped build a house for 2 days, and taught in a school for 2 days. It was a great experience. I would totally recommend it to anyone who would like to be part of the solution.

This year, my family and I went to Cuzco, Peru to help rebuild and play/teach kids ages 8-18. When we first got out of the airport, it was hot and humid. My parents and I met my dad’s identical twin, my uncle, outside. We then met our guide Rosio outside the airport. We left the airport in 2 taxis and started our ride to the albergue, where the kids stayed. When we were traveling through the streets, I saw a lot of broken down buildings that were being rebuilt. I saw many stray dogs, looking for something to eat. I saw many people in small business shops, trying to make a living.

When we arrived at the albergue, we were shown to our rooms. Inside were 4 bunk beds, 1 for each one of us. We settled in, because the kids were not coming until Sunday night, and today was Saturday.  All the kids were at their actual homes for the weekend, except 2. Christopher, an 8 year old, and Samwell, a 13 year old. That afternoon we visited an open-air market. We then got the materials for the project the kids were going to do that week, which was crochet slippers. After we got the materials, we headed back to the albergue and a long awaited good sleep.

The next day, at about 7:00 o’clock, we had a breakfast of bread and cornflakes (that is what I had). We then went to see the town square. Being Palm Sunday and the people in Peru are very Catholic, there were many people there. My family, Lucia, another guide, and I went to about 5 churches. We headed back to the albergue for lunch. The other volunteers arrived while we were in town. They were friends of ours from Virginia and it was fun to have friends on this trip. We all then had an hour-long nap.

After that, we headed to Tipon, a sacred place of the Incas, with some of the kids who had just arrived. It was a long car ride, especially on the dirt roads. When we got there, we started hiking. It was interesting to think that 500 years earlier, Incas stepped on the same stones and grass.

After dinner, we were introduced to the kids. We had them stand up, say where they were from, and one thing they liked to do. Almost all the girls said that they liked volleyball, and all of the boys said that they liked soccer. Being a soccer player, that was nice to hear. We then went to bed and thought of the long day ahead.

The next day we started our work projects, which included rebuilding the carpentry area. We started by moving all the pieces of scrap wood to the far end of the soccer court. Not field, court. Then moved all of the stones to a near by grass area. This is much harder said then done. We did work like this for the next 3 days. Until Wednesday, when things take a twist.

It starts out like any day in the morning, but it starts to rain. So we head inside. I really do not feel well. When my mom takes my temperature, it says 99.9, a low-grade fever. I ended up staying inside almost the whole day, reading. What else could I do? They had no medication, no hospital. I then realized how spoiled we are in this country. Our government is arguing about health care, but in some countries, there is no health care at all. “Look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time.” Never take anything for granted. I could have easily gotten very sick and had a big problem.

On Thursday, we went drove for 2 hours by van to build a stove for the villagers up in the mountains. This required my friend Nikhil, 2 other teenage volunteers  from Florida, and me to stomp around in mud (I hope only mud) for a long time, while putting in pieces of grass. After we got home from that experience, we felt good about ourselves. We also all knew that we were going to Machu Picchu the next day, so we were psyched about that.

The next day we caught a 5:00 PM train to the town near Machu Picchu. We spent the night at a nice hotel, waiting the impending doom of waking up before sunrise to get there. When we got up at 4:45 AM, we had breakfast and met our tour guide Hector. We got in line for the bus at 5:15, and saw about 150 people ahead of us. We caught the 13th bus, and were on our way. Hector was a great tour guide. The sights were so beautiful, and the phrase “Memories last a lifetime” really kicks in here.

Overall, the trip was one of the best in my life, and one of the most fun too. I would recommend it to everybody. The organization is called Globe Aware / Adventures in Service. Their message is “Have fun. Help people.” I had fun, and I helped people. My last favorite quote is “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi. Things will not get better by themselves — we each need to be part of the solution.

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