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Globe Aware Volunteer Vacations in the spotlight!

Kimberly Haley-Coleman, Executive Director, Globe Aware was recently featured in a continuing profile series at WorldNomads.com, a popular web-resource with a focus on keeping travelers traveling safely:

1. Who are you?  Brief description of trips you offer

Globe Aware is a nonprofit that organizes one week volunteer programs in communities all around the world. Our focus is to promote cultural awareness and sustainability. For us, the concept of sustainability is to help others stand on their own two feet; to teach skills rather than reliance. For example, we build schools in Ghana, homes in Vietnam, assemble wheelchairs for landmine victims in Cambodia.

All of our volunteer programs are designed to be safe, culturally interesting, genuinely beneficial to a needy community, and involve significant interaction with the host community. Globe Aware is not a foundation that focuses on giving out charity, but rather an organization which focuses on creating self reliance.

2.  How do you define Responsible Travel?

Responsible travel, for us, means ensuring that volunteers are engaged in empowering the host communities and ensuring they are involved in project implementation so that they know how to do them.  It also means letting the local community identify where they think they need help and what kind of solution they want. While Globe Aware’s direct, financial assistance benefits the community economically, it is the the actual involvement and collaboration between the volunteers and the community that is of the greatest mutual benefit.

Responsible travel also means respecting the culture and heritage of the community in which you are traveling. A volunteer’s goal should not be to change the host community, but rather to work side by side on projects the community finds meaningful.

3.  What does your company do to make sure it travels responsibly?

We promote responsible travel by ensuring that the communities in which we work are the ones choosing which projects and initiatives our volunteer work on. We do have set requirements for potential projects – that they be safe, culturally interesting, and genuinely beneficial, but beyond that we let the host communities, the experts on their own culture and needs, tell us how we can help them.

Additionally, Globe Aware offsets its carbon emissions with Carbonfund.org, the country’s leading carbon offset organization. Our carbon footprint is estimated at less than 70 tons annually, and we have chosen to support carbon-reducing projects in renewable energy to offset the CO2 that is produced in running our offices worldwide, from powering our offices to the transportation used to get to and from our work sites. This commitment places Globe Aware as an environmental leader in the volunteer abroad community and demonstrates proactive steps being taken in the fight against global climate change.

4.    Tell us about a successful initiative.  And an unsuccessful one – what did you learn?

A few of our most recent successful initiatives have been the construction of school buildings in rural Ghana. These children in this community did not have good access to education because of lack of facilities. These school buildings have changed that and now these kids are poised to pursue an education and work skills and break free from the cycle of poverty.

Less successful has been promoting projects in communities that are more than 6 hours from the airport of entry. Our primary volunteers tend to be working professionals and they normally only have about a week to take off to participate in a program. Our experience has been that project sites that are too far from the airport of entry tend to be harder to promote to short term volunteers, even if it is a really great project in a needy community.

5.   What’s some advice you can offer to travelers wanting to travel responsibly?

Travelers wanting to travel responsibly should learn about the culture of the community they are going to visit before they set off for the airport. When contemplating bringing additional donations, think about just bringing some extra funds with you and buying supplies at a local shop. This helps the community in a number of ways – they get needed supplies and local businesses are generating revenue.

Another thing to consider is watching your waste. Use a refillable water bottle and the like. Trash has to go somewhere and in developing communities there is a lack of sanitation services to responsibly remove waste. Outside of volunteering, travelers should opt to stay at locally run hotels and eat at locally owned restaurants. By helping locally owned businesses you are directly supporting the community and not large international conglomerates that overrun popular tourist destinations. In essence, put your bucks where they count. However, avoid handing out direct monetary donations. You don’t want to create dependency or reliance on handouts.

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