GlobeAware in Cuernava

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It' s Wednesday so we' re updating our voluntourism archives. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, we will be keeping you up to date on the latest ways you can volunteer. Right now, the first way you can help is by donating to the Red Cross (text REDCROSS to 90999 for a $10 donation).

In terms of travel, this week' s Voluntourism Spotlight introduces the Mexico Rediscovered program with Globe Aware. Check back every Wednesday for more voluntourism opportunities and tune into Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio on Saturday for more information.

Volunteers involved in the Mexico Rediscovered program work with staff at a center in Cuernavaca (about 2 hours outside Mexico City) dedicated to providing shelter, food, life-skills, and job training to people with intellectual disabilities. The center' s focus is self- advocacy and providing its residents with the proper support and means to reintegrate into the larger community in a positive, life-affirming way.

Volunteers are involved in any number of projects including helping at the job training center, doing workshops on solid waste recycling, tamale making, organic egg production and engaging in repairs and maintenance of the center such as painting, improvements to the court yards and common areas, and sprucing up the activity center.

GlobeAware develops short-term volunteer programs in international environments that encourage people to immerse themselves in a unique way of giving back. The organization works to promote cultural awareness and sustainability. For Globe Aware the concept of cultural awareness means to recognize and appreciate the beauties and challenges of a culture, but not to change it.

Mexico Rediscovered volunteer opportunities are offered year-round for one week intervals at a cost of $1180 per person, but there is also the option of becoming an "Extended Volunteer" please click here for more details.

By Kari Adwell for



Improve Your Relationship

Elisabeth Joy LaMotte, Psychotherapist; Author, ‘Overcoming Your Parents' Divorce: 5 Steps to a Happy Relationship’ and contibutor to The Huffington Post, suggests a volunteer vacation may help your relationship:

relationshipsAs a couples therapist, I hear a lot about the challenge of finding quality time and the importance of vacations. Many couples are balancing two demanding careers not to mention kids, chores and family demands. It is no wonder that when couples do finally plan some romantic time away, many opt to lie on a beach somewhere — preferably a location accessible through a direct flight — and chill. Many couples and families are getting ready to do just that for the last few days of summer. For sure, unstructured beach time is a wonderful way to de-stress, reconnect and recharge.

However, in terms of building intimacy through shared experiences, lounging on a beach is not necessarily the answer. Through my work with many couples, I notice that planning a brief vacation doing something more meaningful (and less vegetative) can do a lot to enhance a relationship. As a client recently described:

My wife and I plan such luxurious trips to treat ourselves since our work is so demanding. But the volunteer trip we took with our church did more for our marriage than any five-star restaurant or high-end resort. We were helping others together and it was such a welcome change of pace from the rhythm of our daily routine. Sharing a joint purpose and taking the focus off of daily life brought us back to what it was like when we first met.

Whether vacationing as a couple or as a family, there are many options through which your vacation time can be used to make a genuine difference.

GlobeAware, Habitat for Humanity and American Red Cross are a few of the wonderful organizations to consider. Many places of worship also arrange trips to volunteer. Or , since it is election season, consider volunteering on a political campaign.

Pick a candidate you both truly believe in. Spending a weekend with your partner canvassing for a candidate you respect can help make a difference and help your relationship. (Plus, canvassing is good exercise!) No, it is not necessarily relaxing, so take your relaxing holiday this weekend and plan something more meaningful for a weekend (or week) in the fall.

It is not uncommon to feel hesitant about taking a trip to volunteer. The experience will obviously entail breaking out of your routine and going beyond your daily comfort zone. However, try to push through that hesitation and tell yourself that you and your relationship will grow from the experience!




A life-changing experience

Seventeen-year-old Madison Leatherwood took a two-week working vacation in the rainforest of Costa Rica with Globe Aware. She relates her remarkable adventure with the  Morris Daily Herald of Morris, Illinois:

LeatherwoodMINOOKA ' When some people go on vacation, they think of relaxation ' but not 17-year-old Madison Leatherwood of Channahon, a senior at Minooka Community High School.

This summer, Leatherwood took a two-week working vacation in the rainforest of Costa Rica. She could have opted for working with turtles on the beach in Guatemala or a surfing vacation.

Instead she chose a remote village, high up in the mountains, with only 60 residents scattered around a tiny "town" called El Sur.

The residents of El Sur originally lived deeper in the rainforest, but were forced to relocate as part of a movement to preserve the land.

"A lot of people left (the community) because they didn' t want to re-establish their lives," Leatherwood said. "They are very poor."

As they try to rebuild in a different area, residents are aided by volunteers through an organization called Globe Aware.

Leatherwood used the opportunity to work with Globe Aware so that she could travel. In this way, she can satisfy her travel bug and help people around the world at the same time.

"I really wanted to experience a different culture and felt like this was the best option for me," she said.

There is only one phone, a pay phone, in El Sur. Just five years ago, they got flush toilets; seven of them serve the community. They have electricity, even some TVs, but the power goes off and on.

The town has a church, a store that doubles as a tavern with an adjacent make-shift pool hall, a one-room school and a town hall building used for community dinners and meetings. The library inside the town hall is a single shelf lined with books.

Leatherwood stayed the first week in a large (by El Sur standards), one-bedroom cabin built for Globe Aware volunteers, along with a small group from three different states. The bathroom and shower, sans hot water, were underneath the raised living area.

The other volunteers went home during Leatherwood' s second week, so she stayed in the home of Gilda, a resident and representative for Globe Aware. Because she is underage, Gilda and Leatherwood' s guide Mario worried for her safety.

Gilda' s home was much smaller and more run down than the volunteer cabin. An opening between the walls and roof allowed air to circulate, but it also made it easy for critters to get inside. A huge spider didn' t faze Gilda as she swatted it off Leatherwood' s bed, saying it was nothing.

Two of the nights she was visited by a vampire bat while she was in bed. She had to keep shining a flashlight on it to startle it away.

"I didn' t sleep much," she said.

The work Leatherwood did to aid the people of El Sur was varied. She milk cows and learned to make cheese from it. She worked at the town sugar mill, helping to prod along the oxen as they walked in a circle, turning gears that ran rollers to pulverize the sugar cane.

Some days she worked directly with the cane, straining it as it liquefied or stirring it as it turned to a consistency of syrup.

She dug shallow drainage ditches alongside the roads and helped construct small wood boxes that were used as frames and filled with cement. The cement squares were then embedded with water pipes to use in homes, protecting the pipes from swelling and bursting.

"I tried pretty much all the jobs," Leatherwood said.

Every bit of supplies were used and re-used, she said.

"We took all the nails out of the wood, scraped the cement off and reused it," Leatherwood said. "We also reused all the nails. That' s how limited they are."

Leatherwood learned an entirely different way of life in El Sur. She awoke at 5 a.m. to get her work done before the rains set in around noon. During the down time, residents did a lot of relaxing, she said.

By late afternoon, the sun came back out and it was time for dinner and a little fun, like a community soccer game most nights.

Leatherwood often went horseback riding when she had free time. One day her group followed a stream through the rainforest to a waterfall. They jumped into the lake below and swam.

The locals chose a specific horse for Leatherwood to ride ' white with black spots.

"They said it was like me because it had freckles," she said.

The best part of her adventure was the many people she met and came to care about. Like her guide Mario, who did much of the construction around town; and Robert, the town carpenter who built amazing pieces of furniture with not much more than an electric saw and a few hand tools.

Gilda taught her to make cheese, peel cocoa beans for hot chocolate and strain fruit from the rainforest into delicious juices.

"Everyone was so nice. I met friends I would like to go back and see again," she said. "(But) there' s also places like Australia. Someday I want to go to Ireland or New Zealand. I want to see how different it is from here, in as many places I can afford to go."