Chicago Healthcare Software Salesman and Globe Aware Volunteer Vacationer Named Chief of Ghana Village

Special ceremony held to make Peter Sheehan a chief of Mafi-Wudukpo, a rural community located within the North Tongu District of the Volta region of Ghana.

On July 8, 2010, Peter Sheehan, 34, of Chicago IL., was officially made chief of Mafi-Wudukpo, a village in Ghana. Peter accepted the new moniker Torgbui Nubueke I (New Dawn) from Torgbui Torbo Dakpui III and an assortment of Ghanaian elders, welcoming him as a chief of the agrarian village located in south eastern Ghana.

Peter, and his wife Colleen Sheehan, 29, a senior associate producer at Oprah Winfrey Show, were in Ghana with Globe Aware ( on a one-week volunteer vacation, July 3-9, 2010. Colleen taught in the village while Peter helped construct sanitation facilities, including digging trenches, laying conduits, drainage, and mixing concrete.

"I tried my best to be the first to the job site every day and I always tried to keep busy in order to quickly earn the trust and respect of the people since verbal communication was difficult," explains Peter. "Chief Torgbui Torbo Dakpui III and the elders would be at the worksite all day, observing the progress. The chief eventually invited me to sit and talk and we discussed a wide variety of topics. He is a very interesting man because he is only 30 years old but he has been chief for 12 years."
On July 8 and the day before Peter and Colleen were to leave, their Globe Aware guide notified Peter that the chief had decided to make him a chief. A formal ceremony was held that day.
Peter was dressed in a traditional robe, provided special beads, special sandals and two girls were assigned to follow and fan Peter as he made a formal entrance before the entire village.
"I quickly realized that this was not simple gesture. This was no joke and this was real," relates Peter." I remember thinking to myself that I had better be attentive, very present in the moment and pay attention to every detail."
The video of the ceremony can be viewed on Globe Aware' s website ( and blog (
"During the ceremony my translator was explaining that the chief felt that the fact two Americans came all this way to help his village marked a new era for the region, hence, " new dawn' became my honorary name." Adds Peter, "The chief explained that my wife would be crowned " Queen Mother' on our next visit since tradition dictates both ceremonies cannot be held on the same day."
Peter received a plot of land to build on and he also received a ram during the ceremony.
"Living in the village we were able to overcome the language barrier by communicating through active participation and working within their environment," says Peter. "While I am proud of what were able to accomplish, we are now absolutely committed to ensure that this is just the very beginning of the work we will do for our new family in Mafi-Wudukpo."
If you would like more information about taking a volunteer vacation to Costa Rica, Romania, Peru, China, India, or you are interested in voluntourism in another country or on another continent, please visit Globe Aware’s Destinations Gallery for program and trip descriptions, dates and Minimum Contribution Fees.


Voluntourism's impact in Northern California

There is a great article in Northern California' s Times-Standard newspaper. The author explains the origins and evolution of the "voluntourism" concept, how volunteer vacations have made their mark in California and the importance of working with reputable, established firms such as Globe Aware:

Voluntourism is an exhilarating and satisfying adventure that appeals to people of all ages; there are meaningful experiences out there for everyone," writes Todd Metcalf, Volunteer Services Manager at the Volunteer Center of the Redwoods. "Typically, agencies such as "Globe Aware" and "Handsup Holidays" coordinate vacations, which are expertly planned and led by committed, knowledgeable professionals. Voluntourists are not required to have any special skills or speak a foreign language. The coordinating agencies prepare the destination prior to arrival and then accompany and work alongside voluntourists during their volunteer vacation."

Metcalf goes on to explain the origins and importance of voluntourism to the Eureka, California community:

Good news on the North Coast — the rains have stopped and summer is officially here. And it’s not too late to plan a summer getaway. Even in these interesting economic times, vacation bargains can be found and they are in the form of something called "voluntourism."

The first organization to introduce that term and concept was the Nevada Board of Tourism in 1998. The board was attempting to attract local residents to volunteering in support of the development of rural tourism in remote locations of Nevada.

Although this is quite different from what the term is currently being used to describe, it is an interesting bit of trivia nonetheless. As the word implies, voluntourism combines the best intentions of the nonprofit sector with the excitement of a tourist’s experience to create stimulating, service-oriented vacations that are becoming popular vacation options.

A Travelocity poll taken in December 2008 found that 38 percent of the 1,000 respondents had added volunteering to their 2007 vacation planning options.

Meanwhile, Travel Industry of America statistics indicate that 55 million people had volunteered during a trip with more than twice that number making plans to do so in the near future. The idea of combining voluntary service with travel is not a new concept. It can be traced back for many thousands of years in various cultures and religious orders throughout the world. Missionaries, healers and medical practitioners, sailors, explorers and countless others have rendered service in conjunction with their travels.

But what about modern-day voluntourism? In its current form, voluntourism received a big boost from the founding of Volunteer Service Overseas in 1958 by Alec and Mora Dickson, and from the creation of the U.S. Peace Corps, established in 1961 during the John F. Kennedy administration.

Subsequent opportunities include Service Learning, established in 1965; Study Abroad Programs, formed in the 1970s; the ecotourism vacations that became popular in the 1980s; and the Volunteer Vacations program developed in the 1990s. Voluntouring can take you almost anywhere.

You can:

  • Repair trails and roads in Nepal;
  • Build hospitals in Eastern Europe;
  • Work on irrigation projects in Southeast Asia;
  • Construct efficient ovens in Central America; or
  • Build schools in the Andes mountains.

For those a little less adventurous, here are some opportunities closer to home:

  • Friends of the Dunes in Manila are always seeking volunteers.
  • Serve as a mentor and counsellor for girls at North Star Quest Camp on the beautiful Mattole River.
  • Attend Humboldt "trail stewards" training for Hammond Trail and Cooper Gulch (volunteers help with trail maintenance, repair and construction).
If you would like more information about taking a volunteer vacation to Costa Rica, Romania, Peru, China, India, or you are interested in voluntourism in another country or on another continent, please visit Globe Aware’s Destinations Gallery for program and trip descriptions, dates and Minimum Contribution Fees.


Globe Aware Volunteer Vacations in the Spotlight

Globe Aware continues to reach out to parties, partners and individuals interested in travel that makes a difference. Kimberly Haley-Coleman, Executive Director, Globe Aware was recently featured in a profile series at, 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, 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.

If you would like more information about taking a volunteer vacation to Costa Rica, Romania, Peru, China, India, or you are interested in voluntourism in another country or on another continent, please visit Globe Aware’s Destinations Gallery for program and trip descriptions, dates and Minimum Contribution Fees.