Am I Making a Difference?

Mingling in hostels you tend to meet many adventurous spirits finding their way in the world. Among those I met a young girl with similar interests in the social work/humanitarian field in Chennai, India. She was nearing the end of her yearlong journey and as we talked we reminisced about the hardships and victories we found along the way. She told me of her 1st day working at an HIV positive orphanage in Bangalore where a child fell and cut herself. My new found friend's immediate reaction was to clean the wound, which she instinctively did, as everyone watched open mouthed, too afraid to say a word. After numerous blood tests she found out she had not contracted HIV, but it was a wake up call. She had forgotten she was in a different place, without the luxury of basic necessities. Finally we got to the point I asked  what she felt her biggest accomplishment was during this trip? She looked me straight in the eye's and said, "I feel like I have accomplished absolutely nothing, I have made no difference in this place." Here was a girl who had been devoting her life for the past year to HIV positive orphans, trafficked girls, and battered women yet she felt like she had accomplished nothing. I was floored and thought if she hasn't made a difference have I? I proceeded to make a list of how I felt when I was impacted by volunteers when I was younger, and what difference they made in my life today. As I thought, I realized we need to look at our small victories. Realize we can't change a country overnight, but we can provide a motherless child with love. We can let these children see what else there is in the world. We can give them the confidence to succeed. We can open their minds. Whether it be for 2 days or 2 years, that child is going to remember the love they felt from you. This is why we started Humanitarian Travel Tips doing medical screenings and vocational training. We can't change a country overnight, but by providing glasses to a child who can't see a chalk board we are changing their opportunities and their life forever.

Without glasses these children can't learn. They are put into the lowest classes of children deemed unfit for learning, given little to no teacher supervision, and leftover books (if there are any). With glasses they are able to move up in school, they won't fall through the cracks, they have the opportunities to reach their full potential. The girls who got the glasses go on to be educated women who as a whole have fewer children and take better care of those children. On the same token teaching women a vocation like sewing gives her the ability to provide for her family, send her children to school, and give the children the nutrition they need to concentrate during school. They raise educated children, thus changing a generation. Too often we underestimate the power of the good we are doing and we shouldn't. Every smile, every friendship, every amount of love you give to a person makes a difference to that person. I have been at orphanages long term and you don't realize how long after you leave those children still talk about you, or the pictures you give them they will hold onto forever. Don't underestimate the power of good in this world you can do. 

 

CHAMBREY WILLIS

@chambreyw

Chambrey is the founder of Humanitarian Travel Tips an organization that raises the standard of living to people in developing countries through health screenings and vocational training. We are excited to announce that we are now welcoming volunteers to join with us on these initiatives this summer. Chambrey is an avid yogi, got her undergrad in Finance and is working on a  guidebook outlining step by step how to best fundraise for your next big adventure. You can find her on facebook or follow her blog.

The Peace Corps in Rwanda, Part 2

A Peace Corps Christmas in Rwanda

A Peace Corps Christmas in Rwanda

In my last update, I talked a bit about the path that led me to the Peace Corps and the basics of the three-month training program that was my day-to-day life. For a while, most of that remained unchanged. After returning from visiting my final site outside Nyungwe National Park, I was back to the grind of daily Kinyarwanda lessons; classroom management sessions, and any other miscellaneous bit of training that the Peace Corps deemed necessary for its education volunteers.

I mentioned in my first post how the community-based training program, while undeniably effective when it comes to integration and language acquisition, can quickly leave you desperate for just a small taste of the familiar. As soon as we had the chance, we all embraced that ideal wholeheartedly with the help of surprise birthday parties, pumpkin carving for Halloween, a massive collaborative Thanksgiving dinner, and most recently coming back together for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

Admittedly, some of the days have felt long and drawn out, but it’s amazing how fast the weeks have flown by. As I write this, my training has finished and I have been officially sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. After three months of training as a group, we are now scattered around the country in the communities that we will be working in for the next two years. The whole transition is a somewhat bittersweet. While I’m experiencing a freedom that I haven’t had for what seems like an eternity, it also means separating myself from the people, both in my host family and training group, that I’ve grown close to over the past months. In addition, as an education volunteer, I was installed on site during the holiday break. This meant that for a while there was little for me to do but hang out in the school offices or walk around and introduce myself (a bit of a challenge since most of the people in the community assume, at first glance, that I’m the same volunteer that has been working here the past two years).

On top of the conflicts that come from simultaneous feelings of freedom, boredom, and missing friends, I’ve been finding that my site is in an unusual limbo of classic Peace Corps life and unexpected luxury. I can start my day with a bucket bath and hand washing a load of laundry, followed by browsing the web in my school’s modern offices. I can then head up a partially eroded hillside staircase past a couple troops of baboons and struggle to light a charcoal stove in order to cook dinner. I can lounge in my tile-floored house and watch a movie, only to be woken up in the middle of night to chase mice out of the room.

To be clear, none of these are meant as complaints; just the opposite. I was all set to be handling all these things and more, but my assignment here is most definitely not what I was expecting from the Peace Corps (in the best possible way). Just walking around the campus is an experience in itself, with forested hills stretching into the distance as far as the eye can see. 

I cannot wait to get started with my work here, although that still seems to be a long way off. While the semester for the rest of my colleagues started last week, I’m here to teach at a school for conservation and environmental management that has the students completing internships around the country for their first month. As a result, I’ve got a nice, long, and quite possibly cabin fever-inducing chunk of time off before I can begin teaching in February.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to stave off boredom by traveling for the holidays, visiting friends and getting to see a bit more of Rwanda in the process. The festivities made it a little more like home with the help of cheap Christmas decorations bought in the capital, a tiny plastic tree, and a can or two of white foam marketed as ‘fake snow’ (a surprisingly good substitute for a white Christmas, once you get past the lingering soap smell in the air). But now the holidays have come and gone and everyone is getting to work for the New Year, so it’s back to site for me. With any luck I’ll be able to find some projects to pass the time and supply me with some good stories moving forward.

READ SCOTT'S FIRST UPDATE ON THE PEACE CORPS IN RWANDA.

 

SCOTT JENKINS

Scott Jenkins grew up in Ridgewood, NJ and graduated from NYU in 2012 with a degree in Anthropology and Linguistics. His passion for travel, adventure, and helping others led him to apply to the Peace Corps in September of 2012. He was invited to teach in Rwanda, where he is currently serving for the next two years. 

TRIP REVIEW: Bike Across Cambodia for Good

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“We have to learn before we can help,” is the motto behind PEPY Tours, a development education tour company, where the focus is learning rather than volunteering.  PEPY stands for Promoting Education, empowering Youth in line with its mission to inspire people to improve the way we give, travel and live. What Daniela Papi, the founder of PEPY Tours who has been traveling and volunteering for many years, realized is volunteer travel can be problematic. It risks giving the impression that volunteers are superior to those they are helping, and/or fostering that false belief system. At times, it can cause more harm than good. When someone volunteers in another country where they don’t understand the culture, they may be working on what their ‘perceived’ versions of the problem are, rather than the actual problem itself. In Daniela’s case, she spent time building a school in Cambodia, then stuck around after its completion... only to find that the school was not being used, as there was no one to teach in it. Volunteering can risk supplying short term solutions, rather than sustainable aid.

PEPY is unique in that it integrates travel and sightseeing in Cambodia with experiential learning, all the while raising money to support local community development. They offer student study trips, where the students learn about the culture of Cambodia and about sustainable development, and also get to experience it all firsthand. They also offer custom adventures, and social enterprise adventures, that follow a similar structure. Learning about the culture of those you are trying to help can allow you to see what the real problems are, which will lead to effective, long-lasting solutions.

And if you’re into adventure, it’s PEPY Ride that will really get your heart racing. PEPY Ride is their annual cross-Cambodia cycling adventure that introduces bikers to community development projects. It gets you off-the-beaten track, up close and personal with the culture and people while you bike the rural back-roads of Cambodia. As you do so, you focus on learning about development issues and responsible tourism in Cambodia.

You start out in historical Siem Reap in the north, and bike all the way down to beautiful, coastal Kep in the South, with the option of finishing early in the capital city of Phnom Penh. The group size ranges from 5-18 people, with at least three English-speaking trip leaders. You can bring your own trusted bike, or rent one. You’ll be staying in a variety of accommodations, ranging from basic hotels with hot water to mid-range hotels. It’s a strenuous trip, with a medium-high level of physical activity (some days you will travel over 100 km!), but you don’t need to be an experienced cyclist.

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There is also a fundraising requirement that is both a great way to learn, and a great way to give, as it lets you contribute even after you have left. Each biker is matched with a mentor who will provide ideas and resources to help you reach your goal of $1,500. The money is spent on the local groups working on sustainable development programs in Siem Reap, one of Cambodia’s poorest provinces, directly benefiting them.

PEPY believes in a world where “travel offers two-way learning... and a lot of fun,” and PEPY Ride aims for both, which is what makes them so unique. If you’re looking for adventure, cultural immersion and a chance to give back, look no further. Not only will you be making a difference, but because of PEPY’s focus on learning about culture you will know why and how you are making a difference. This is the keystone to PEPY’s philosophy. 

So if you’re interested in PEPY Ride, check it out here

If you’re not a biker, but are still interested in PEPY’s mission, learn about their other trips here.

TRIP INFO: Dates: PEPY Ride begins on December 24th, 2012, and ends on January 12th, 2013, lasting a total of 20 days, with the option of finishing early in Phnom Penh. Prices: $1,650 for the full 20 days.$1,425 for two weeks, if you leave early in Phnom Penh. Price includes accommodations, entrance tickets, in-country transport, instructors and guides, donations to the NGOs you will visit, and most meals. Airfare not included. The fundraising portion of the trip is spent on the sustainable development programs in Siem Reap.

CONNECT WITH FIND YOUR MISSION for more change-the-world experiences

Chantal Stein can never reply to the question “where are you from?” because there are too many answers. She has traveled extensively and now lives in New York City. Her favorite place (so far!) is Easter Island, and her dream is to one day visit Antarctica.

TRIP REVIEW: Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and Build a Farm Along the Way

We read the news and we learn what’s wrong with the world. I honestly couldn’t care less. Yes, there is war, there is starvation and death. People cheat, organizations lie and the international economy is in need of a stimulus package from God. Now you know everything you need to know about our global shortcomings. Let’s do something to help. There is an ancient Greek proverb that says, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” With the amazing amount of interconnectivity and social complexity these days, it’s easy to view Earth as one, big society and I think it’s time we began planting a couple more trees. It’s organizations like Roadmonkey Adventure Philanthropy that are making it easier for us do so.

It started with a passionate New York Times correspondent with an extremely manly name, Paul von Zielbauer. After making a career out of reporting on topics such as the Iraq war, the privatization of prison medical care, state government and more, Paul founded Roadmonkey. Driven by a desire to “give motivated people the chance to dive deep into a foreign culture and work hard for people in need,” Roadmonkey Adventure Philanthropy was born in 2008. The term “adventure philanthropy” now stands as the keystone to Roadmonkey’s philosophy. What is so unique about this organization is that the volunteers are given a chance to help those in need, but they are also getting to explore and get off of the beaten path at the same time.

Roadmonkey’s take on philanthropy is evident in their upcoming Tanzania trip. First off, let’s point out that only 6% of Tanzanians living in rural areas have access to modern electricity services. These people live off of the land and any help offered would probably be appreciated. Participants will fly out to Tanzania and lend a hand in building an organic farm for one of the local communities. A pretty standard, run-of-the-mill volunteer trip, right? Oh, I forgot to mention that the volunteers will also be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. The trip starts off with a seven-day trek up and down the mountain, don’t forget to bring your tent. The Participants will literally learn about the country from the ground up, so when it comes time to contribute to the community they will actually have a stake in what is being built. They will have experienced the culture, experienced the people and they will know that they are actually making a change.

There is only one roadblock for this Roadmonkey trip and it’s a particularly common one as well. Money. The best deal is to sign up for the trip with 8-10 other people, which cuts the price down to $5499 per person, not including airfare. No small chunk of change. This limits the trip to the privileged or to those with rigorous budget control. For those of you who are looking to volunteer international without planting your wallet in the community garden, this trip might not be for you. However, if you have the time and the money and are looking to add some spice to your life while bringing change to those less fortunate than you, look no further.

Roadmonkey Adventure Philanthropy is breaking down the border between volunteer work and adventure. If you can afford it, this company will send you all over the world and you can be sure of a good time. For those of you who are enticed by the opportunity, but can’t afford it, check back with Mission.tv for more trip reviews.

LEARN MORE ABOUT ROADMONKEY.NET

Kino Crooke spent the last three years juggling school and travel. He most recently spent the last two months traveling across Spain before moving to New York to work with CATALYST.

TRIP REVIEW: Surfing South Africa to Help Out

The downfall of many volunteer organizations is cost. All too often there will be a $1000+ price tag on a trip that lasts only a week or two, not included airfare. This isn’t news, so it should come as no surprise that there are people out there who are working to fix this. One of these people is Daniel Radcliffe (no, not the actor). After collecting a Masters of Business, Daniel decided that it was time to give back to the world. He began to research volunteer trips. He too ran into this roadblock, but unlike someone like me who will simple notice the problem and then write about it, Daniel decided to do something. International Volunteer HQ was founded upon his return to New Zealand in 2007. “IVHQ was born with the goal of providing safe, affordable and high quality placements in areas where there is a real need for volunteers.” One of these places is South Africa.

It’s easy to read a statistic or to watch a documentary and think that we understand. Sure, we have problems here in the United States, there’s inequality and poverty everywhere, but, honestly, we cannot imagine what some citizens of the world live through. In South Africa the average life expectancy of a white South African is 71 years. The average life expectancy for the black population is 48 years. In 2005 it was estimated that 31% of the female population was infected with HIV, most of them black. There are 1,200,000 orphans. These are numbers and statistics, I could throw them onto a graph and you would see the vast differences, but you still wouldn’t know, you would still be using your imagination. Over there, it’s a reality. South Africa needs help and, if you feel so inclined, you can give it.

IVHQ sends volunteers to South Africa on the first and third Monday of each month. They normally arrive in groups of twenty to fifty people and the assist the community in an astounding variety of ways. Participants can involve themselves in a teaching project, in childcare, computer training, sports development and, an organization after my own heart, a surf outreach program.

Maybe you’re wondering what good a surf outreach program would do for children when they could be receiving extra medical attention or extra food and shelter. In the words of Ellen Varoy, Marketing and Media Coordinator for IVHQ, “The Surf Outreach program is designed to provide these children with an after school activity, keeping them off the streets of Cape Town and placing them in a safe and encouraging environment. Through the program, these children have the opportunity to learn new skills, take up new challenges, gain confidence and interact with our international volunteers, who the children look up to as role models.” It’s not about whether or not these kids learn to surf. It’s about showing them that there are people who care. It’s about being a ray of light on an otherwise bleak horizon. As a surfer would say, it’s about sharing the stoke. Would these children benefit more from help that focused on their health and nourishment? On the spreadsheet, probably, but where would they go after that? I say give them role models, give them hope and teach them that they can overcome. That, in my opinion, will last much longer than a loaf of bread.

The cost of IVHQ trips is one of the things that makes this organization so great. Prospective volunteers for the surf outreach program only have to pay $320 for one week. Longer periods of time require more money, being capped off at six months for $4580. This does not included airfare or visas or spending money. Also, if you want to participate in the surf outreach program you must know how to swim. I just thought I would point that out. If you are interested in any of the other programs offered for South Africa, you can find more information here

IVHQ is a fantastic option for people who want to volunteer for an affordable price. A full range of trips can be found at their website, http://www.volunteerhq.org/. As usual, if you were interested in the trip, but don’t think it’s for you, check back with Mission.tv next week for the next article in our series of trip reviews.

For testimonials by volunteers who completed the surf outreach program, check out: Testimonials  

To check out a video from the trip click here.

LEARN MORE ABOUT IVHQ

KINO CROOKE spent the last three years juggling school and travel. He most recently spent the last two months traveling across Spain before moving to New York to work with CATALYST.

The Serial Volunteer

Looking back, the majority of my most clairvoyant, my most grandiose and my most sincere moments have occurred when I’m flying 30,000 feet in the air. Darting through wispy white clouds, soaring over cerulean blue, and marveling at just how many parking lots we as a species require; also very quickly becomes a time of self-reflection and truth (granted, this is all provided you have a window seat).  On August 7th, 2011 flying home to New York City from the Dominican Republic, my partner had one of these moments. 

“I don’t want to be a serial volunteer,” she said after a particularly long spell spent looking out that magical aperture.  

Unsure of whether she was stating her resolution to never work at a breakfast food production company, I asked what she meant.

“I don’t want to continue jumping from volunteer organization to volunteer organization, never donating more than a few moments of my time,” she said. “How can we truly have a lasting positive impact if we never spend the time getting to know the nuances of an organization and the community that it works with?”

We’d spent the better half of two years volunteering with different organizations, always managing to find something wrong with each—something that would push us to continue our search for the perfect place, the perfect spot, the perfect fit.  At this rate, we were set to continue jumping around the globe merely dipping our toes in the humanitarian aid world.  And, for some people this is fine.  This can actually be an economical way to travel with the added benefit of supporting good organizations.  However our goal from the beginning was to find somewhere that we could help to create lasting and empowering change. 

Remembering this, I realized she was right. If we were serious about helping to create that lasting change, we would need to stop trying to find the perfect organization, because the perfect organization doesn’t exist—they change and evolve the same way people do. The same way our thought process of volunteering was evolving those 30,000 feet above the earth. Maybe if we invested ourselves in one organization and truly took the time to get to know the people of the community we were trying to help; maybe then we would find what we were looking for—impact.  But that wouldn’t happen if we kept jumping around.     

“I don’t want to be a serial volunteer either,” I said. 

And alive with the excitement that comes from life changing realizations, we talked all the way back home of our now imminent return to the Dominican Republic.

 

Adam Salvitti Gucwa is a seasoned traveler, entrepreneur and student whose volunteer focus centers around education and the Dominican Republic

Nothing is Impossible

Challenge your concept of impossible. Meet Joel Runyon, he did. Laid off from his part-time UPS job and fed up with living in his parents basement, Joel decided to "start living a life worth writing about." Last summer, Joel joined Pencils of Promise's program The Impossible Ones. He took on a challenge that previously seemed impossible, to run an Ultra Marathon, 50k in one day, and raise $25,000 to build a Pencils for Promise school. Joel will run this weekend in Chicago.