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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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Globe Aware: Making A Difference

Globe Aware was featured in a June article written by Lisa M. Dietlin, CEO of Lisa M. Dietlin and Associates, Inc., philanthropic advisor, author, for the Huffington Post.

Enjoy:

Making A Difference: The World of Giving — Voluntour and Do-Good Vacations

Posted: 06/ 7/11 01:12 PM ET

It’s summertime and many of us are thinking about our vacation plans. With gas prices still rising and travel becoming even more challenging, I recommend considering a Voluntour Vacation or a Do-Good Vacation.

Voluntour vacations or do-good vacations are fast becoming a popular way to plan your excursions and volunteer. Though Americans volunteer in large numbers annually, using a vacation into a volunteer opportunity is a new phenomenon that, surprising to many, is are often tax-deductible.

Here are some reasons to consider voluntouring on your next vacation:

Voluntouring is rapidly gaining popularity. Some studies indicate that as many as half of the people living in the United States intend to take a volunteer vacation at some point in the future.

Voluntouring is thought of as a “mini-stint” in the Peace Corps — you will be working with a community and its residents side by side. It is a unique way to give back.

A voluntour vacation is about helping and learning both in terms of aid, and cultural experiences. Most voluntours are taking place in Third World and developing countries such as Peru, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Morocco, Romania, Russia, Nepal, South Africa, Thailand, or Vietnam.

Remember it is very important, if you plan on doing this, to consider ways to respect and connect with the communities and people you are trying to help.

Your experience can last from 1 to 12 weeks.

Alternatively, Do-Good Vacations are money raising adventures combined with European vacations to Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland and Spain and include nights in historic castles and visits to lesser-known areas. Do-Good Vacations are about traveling to a distant land, working with a nonprofit outfitter to raise money for a cause — unlike voluntouring you will not be working with the local community and its residents.

You can start by finding a reputable organization that works in the area in which you want to explore. Here are a few for a voluntour vacation:

  • Cross-Cultural Solutions was founded in 1995 and has an outstanding reputation. Their tag states:
  • “Volunteer Abroad – work side-by-side with local people and experience another culture like never before. It’s the experience of a lifetime.”
  • They work with over 4000 volunteers annually, have a staff of more than 300, and work in 12 countries.

Globe Aware, which started volunteer missions in 2000 but has been working in this area since 1993, provides short term weeklong adventures in service, focused on cultural awareness and sustainability. Their tag line is:

“Have Fun. Help People.”

Their website states:

  • All costs including air fare are tax deductible
  • You need no special skills nor do you need to speak a foreign language.
  • People can go solo or with families such as multi generational trips.
  • Enjoy befriending people in new and interesting countries and experience the reward of helping them on meaningful community projects.
  • Promote cultural awareness and promote sustainability; cultural awareness means recognizing the beauty and challenges of a culture, but not changing it; sustainability is the idea of helping others to stand on their own two feet; teaching skills rather than reliance.

According to USA Today, Global Volunteers is the:

“granddaddy of the volunteer vacation movement”.

Their tag line is:

“travel that feeds the soul”

Founded in 1984 and facilitated more than 22,000 volunteers on six continents.

You can teach conversational English, care for at risk children, paint, build and repair buildings, provide health care services, work with young children including infants and toddlers as well as teens, adults and elders.

Families, students, solo travelers, Baby Boomers and groups are the types of people that participate.

You can have an experience in Europe, North America, South America, Central America, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.

For Do-Good Vacations, consider these:

  • For a Cause’s mission is to energize and inspire people to make a difference in the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS and Breast Cancer so that no one faces these battles alone.
  • The World Bank runs a program called Stay Another Day that directs tourists via a website and booklets to pre-evaluated activities that benefit the local community. For instance, vacationers can tour an orphanage in Cambodia, playing with the children and, if they wish, purchase goods such as the silk products the locals have made. The visit is free, but tourists are asked to make a donation.

Here are five recommendations and tips on easy ways to Make A Difference (M.A.D.):

  1. Find the best organization that matches your passion and has a long standing commitment to that area.
  2. Select a trip that suits your abilities and interests.
  3. Speak with volunteers who have been on the excursion before.
  4. If traveling to a non-English speaking country, try to learn the language or at least some phrases; even though it is not required, it is a great way to begin getting prepared.
  5. Research local customs and mores, but recognize that reality can be different from what you read in a book or online.

Bonus Tips: Expect none of the comforts of home. In other words, you will be “roughing it” so go with an open mind and see how your heart is transformed. It can be the vacation of a lifetime!

By taking a voluntour or do-good vacation, here are some benefits to you:

  • You know you will be making a difference through your efforts.
  • Studies show that volunteering adds years and health to your life.
  • You will be traveling to places with unique cultures and in some instances, especially with voluntouring, you become immersed in the culture and community.
  • Your trip could be tax deductible.
  • You will make lifelong friends!

Doing something for someone else always adds value to our life! Consider adding a voluntour or do-good component to your next vacation! You just be might surprised at how vacationing can lead to making a difference! Are you M.A.D. today?

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Travel For Less by Pitching In – Globe Aware

Spend Less TV put together a great video on Globe Aware‘s colunteer vacation program. The producer shows how you can travel for less than what it might otherwise cost you while also volunteer to help out in villages & towns all over the world.  Some qualifying students may even travel for free.

Enjoy!

 

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Why pay to volunteer?

Charyn Pfeuffer, writer with  Wyndham Worldwide, recently mulled over what motivates individuals to take volunteer vacations.

Her insight:

“Why on earth would you ever pay to volunteer?” is a question frequently asked in the do good-o-sphere.  It’s a perfectly valid query considering some voluntourism opportunities cost upward of $1000 (and more) per week.

In my volunteer experience, I’ve worked with organizations – ranging from free (food and accommodations, too) to $1000+ per week. As to be expected, the experiences have varied greatly – from highly structured, impact-oriented programs to crossing paths with people whom have blatantly misrepresented themselves.

Personally, I’ve savored the projects where I put in a solid work week, but still have some free time to explore my surroundings, and when applicable, get to know my fellow volunteers. While the emphasis is still very much on service, this dynamic strikes the perfect balance between work and play and gives the volunteer an opportunity to step back and get some perspective on the work being done.

Until my recent voluntourism project with Globe Aware, I admit, I had issues with paying to volunteer. I mean, think about it. What is volunteering? At its very core, it’s giving one’s time without the expectation of payment for service.  So, I had a difficult time understanding why anyone would pay vast sums of money to help out.

After my Globe Aware experience, the pay-to-play dynamic makes better sense to me. Here’s why: The voluntourism company has put considerable time into researching and developing its affiliations. Once it’s established a relationship, it must define and refine a program, so that the volunteer and the community being served have a smooth experience – from coordinating ground transportation logistics and creating a productive work schedule to incorporating cultural activities.  The company also provides a built in safety net of sorts by providing travel insurance, orientation and pre-travel reading material, meals and an onsite point person.

For travelers who want to leave little up to chance, especially in a developing country or a destination where language is an issue, I can see the appeal of paying to leave the logistical legwork up to someone else. Ditto for inexperienced travelers who may be daunted by the possibility of an independent volunteer experience – there’s been very little hand holding at most of my low-cost programs. For families, I can’t imagine a better way to impart learning about the world and giving back to your children than to engage in a voluntourism project together.  So despite the sticker shock of paying $1,290 to volunteer for one week in Costa Rica through Globe Aware (paid via a Travelocity Travel for Good grant), I was told that $1,135 of the fee directly went into community support and programs. That’s a much larger percentage than I expected when you consider overhead costs and marketing fees.

Would I do it again? Depending upon the time, place and project, paid voluntourism absolutely has its place.  When it comes to my personal volunteer and travel style, I’m more a DIY girl, who will always eschew a guided tour for the possible serendipity of getting lost.  But in many cases, especially when it comes to working with local communities, local insights, understanding and direction can be invaluable.

I’ve learned countless lessons about voluntourism along the way, including:

• Whether you pay $1 or $1000 a week to volunteer, a price tag does not correlate with what kind of voluntourism experience you will have.
• Research the organization and specific program as best you can.
• Ask to speak with prior program participants.
• Find out where your fee goes.
• And above all, approach every volunteer program with an open mind.

Every experience boasts its pros, cons and a world full of unforeseen variables, and although I’ve yet to find the Little Black Dress of voluntourism programs, I’ve learned so much about myself and the world along the way.

Have you volunteered abroad, and if so, what type of work did you do? I’m curious to hear feedback from women who’ve engaged in both paid and unpaid voluntourism opportunities.

 

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Photo memories of Ghana during a Globe Aware volunteer vacation

Joann Brancato is a professional photographer who recently traveled to Ghana on a Globe Aware volunteer vacation. Check out Joann’s photos from her trip:

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