Posts Tagged ‘volunteering’

Traveling with Purpose
Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Why Water? Because unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of diseases and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.

I am revisiting one of my favorite countries from my initial career break – colorful, loud, sense-tingling India. India is a country which was pivotal to leading me on the path to creating Meet Plan Go along with Michaela Potter. It was also a country where I had my first experience of volunteering and giving back to the world for what it gave me during my career break.

One of the most exciting and difficult parts of planning a career break is deciding where to go and what to do. After all, it may be the first time in your life where the world is really your oyster! At Meet Plan Go we talk often about planning itineraries with purpose and your career in mind. How will you decide to enhance your career value while on your career break?

Traveling with a purpose can bring focus to your trip and add new skill sets to your career break resume – for example:

“I spearheaded negotiations with tribal chief and facilitated a young couple’s marriage with the chief’s blessing and a roast goat for the whole village.” –Charlie Grosso

Even though this is a bit tongue and cheek, there are many ways to add purpose to your career break – volunteering, learning a language, enhancing a skill, photography projects, immersion in a country that is important to your career, working in natural disaster areas, teaching, or fundraising for a cause.

I’m in India for a purpose. The aforementioned Charlie Grosso and I are participating in the Rickshaw Run. This is not an actual run, but a transportation adventure in the most massive sense; a two week adventure driving a motorized rickshaw 2000 miles the length of India for two purposes.

To raise $15,000 for charity: water – a charity I believe deeply in and have witnessed the repercussions of contaminated water around the world.
• To experience India close to the ground on a massive adventure that is unique and will test my communication, decision making, and driving skills.

This is a way I can infuse unique adventure into my travel itinerary as well as participate in a worthy career-enhancing cause AND do good.  After traveling the world for 7+ years and starting Meet Plan Go as well as Ottsworld.com – I think it’s important to give something back to this world that we live, travel, and operate in. I’m happy to be taking on this fundraising mission for everything the world and its cultures has given to me.

If Meet Plan Go has ever inspired you to travel, then we’d love your support towards our fundraising mission, but we’d also like to give you something in return – the chance to win a few great travel prizes you can use on your career break travels.

Learn more and enter the contest here

The raffle runs through the time frame of our Rickshaw Run, April 1st through April 22nd. We will choose 4 winners from the entries for the 4 prizes.

Increase your chances of winning by making a donation to charity: water

Here’s the travel prizes you could win by entering:

Urban Adventures Voucher for 2 – The day tour with a difference! In just a few hours you can get under the skin of the city you’re visiting – so you know it like a local. Urban Adventures will open up a whole new dimension on many of your favorite cities around the world. Destinations worldwide – Bangkok, Sydney, Delhi, Hanoi, Rio, Hong Kong, Istanbul and MANY more!

Telecom Square Mobile Internet Voucher – Get reliable, and hassle free internet while you travel abroad! Save money on data while traveling by using TelecomSquare mobile internet hotspot devices for your career break. You’ll enjoy unlimited wireless internet access for up to 5 devices, everywhere you go. We are using our Mifi device to stay connected during the Rickshaw Run!

London’s Small Car Bit City Voucher – smallcarBIGCITY have a fleet of beautifully restored vintage Mini Coopers to take you down all of the little back streets and show off London’s hidden gems for the ultimate guided tour of London!

AFAR Magazine Subscription – Get inspired with beautifully told travel stories and photography in this award winning travel magazine.

You can enter the Rickshaw Run Travel Raffle Here

And if you are considering infusing some adventure into your career break itinerary like the Rickshaw Run or Mongol Rally, you can follow #RickshawRun in Twitter or my Ottsworld social media to follow us live across India and see if it’s something you’d like to do!

No donations or purchases necessary…but of course we’d love it if you do donate something AND it increases your chances of winning by 10 times!

Volunteering in Dangerous Places: Beirut, Lebanon
Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Without a doubt, Lebanon is one of the most complex countries I’ve visited. On one hand, you have the cosmopolitan capital, complete with a seaside Corniche, trendy restaurants, high-end shopping, and colorful street performers. On the other, Lebanon offers a glimpse of an ancient rural life that still exists throughout much of the Middle East.

About a year and a half ago, I was invited to Beirut to work with the nonprofit organization Baladi. The organization is dedicated to preserving and promoting Lebanon’s heritage to youngsters by encouraging students to learn about their country’s cultural diversity and works to foster mutual understanding between communities. Baladi sees Lebanon’s shared culture as one way to peacefully address regional conflict.

For my Lebanon visit, I accompanied my close Egyptian friend Inji, whom I met volunteering in Cairo the year before. She introduced me to her friends and colleagues in the country. I was most grateful for this personal introduction to a fascinating country.

In addition to the diversity of landscapes, I found the people and the cultures of the region incredibly absorbing (justifying Baladi’s great pride in their indigenous communities). Here’s a snapshot of my impressions during my short time spent in this most remarkable country.

City Life in Beirut

While staying in Beirut, we shuttled between our apartment in the city’s center to the suburban residence of Joanne, Baladi’s founder and CEO. It was here in Joanne’s home that we did the bulk of our volunteer work of providing philanthropic business development and fundraising advice. (Nonprofit development is my profession in the U.S., and I often provide pro bono consulting during my overseas volunteer stints.)

One of the advantages of meeting in a private home is the ability to see a modern-Lebanese lifestyle up-close. Our friend Joanne lived with her extended family in a stylish apartment with sweeping views of the Mediterranean. I got the chance to meet her charming husband and her children.

I especially enjoyed meeting Joanne’s mother. Our conversation was a bit stilted, with Joanne translating for me, but upon my departure she gave me a blessing to protect me during my onward travels. Looking back, I credit these heart-felt good wishes as one reason I survived my 2-year journey relatively unscathed.

As peaceful as the Beirut suburbs are, the reality of the country’s ongoing political conflict is never far away.  During our city stay, there were three incidents that reminded me I was in a country that continues to experience deep and long-running political tension:

  • – After dinner one night, Inji and I were walking back to our apartment we heard a series of loud shots. We were uncertain if the noise was fireworks or gunshots or an incoming missile. We took cover under an apartment overhang, just to be on the safe side.
  • – Driving to meet a potential donor, we made it through the city in record time. The reason? Traffic was light because there was a bomb scare. (I, of course, was wondering why we were still out and about when everyone else had retreated inside.)
  • – While strolling through the winding streets, Inji pointed out the main headquarters of Hezbollah, a Shi’a Islamic militant group and political party which is based in Lebanon. I kept my head down and eyes averted as we walked past the guards stationed outside.

Road-Trip Lebanon

After a few days of intense work, Joanne arranged for several of her Baladi guides to give us a 2-day tour of northern Lebanon as a thank you gift. This was an extraordinarily generous offer, and I cherished the opportunity to be shown the country by these trained historians and local experts. Highlights included:

  • Bekaa Valley:  Here we visited a Druze temple, came across an itinerant Bedouin family living out of a wagon, and hiked through the fertile valley observing the natural wildlife and beauty of this biblical valley.
  • Baalbek: Formerly known as Heliopolis during the Roman period, Baalbek is an extremely well-preserved example of a temple compound from these ancient Roman times. Baalbek is also a Hezbollah stronghold, as evidence from the black flags and pictures of Syrian President Assad lining the streets, political murals on the walls surrounding the Roman ruins, and loudspeakers blaring revolutionary music outside a Lebanese military base.
  • Mount Lebanon: This mountain range which includes the highest mountain in the Middle East is covered in snow 4-6 months out of the year. I admit, I was dumbfounded to still see traces of snow on the ground in June. The mountains are also the known for their famous groves of cedar, Lebanon’s national symbol.
  • Maronite Village: We spent the night here in a village nestled high on the mountains. In the morning we visited several ornate orthodox churches and observed the caves carved into the rugged mountainscape that were sanctuaries for monks seeking complete solitude. With more than 3 million Maronites (about 22% of the population), Lebanon retains a distinctive Maronite character.
  • Tripoli: The country’s second largest city, Tripoli was founded as long ago at 12th century B.C. and has a large Sunni majority (as evidenced by the preponderance of abayas and head scarves worn by the women).  It was here that I had the best meal of my entire 2-year trip, a hand-made feast of full of lively mint and lemon flavors.

Quintessential Volunteer Experience

Even though the country might be in the midst of fluctuating degrees of conflict and unrest, it still provided me with a wonderful volunteer experience.  In fact, as I look back, my quick trip to Lebanon was the ultimate volunteer experience, affording me the opportunity to:

  • – Do some good by lending my business development skills to a worthwhile nonprofit doing important work on conflict reconciliation in the region.
  • – Visit and learn about a country I wouldn’t have necessarily traveled to on my own.
  • – Benefit from a personal tour of the country to see first-hand the richness of the culture and the physical beauty of the landscape.
  • – Make friends with local Lebanese, providing me with a window into their lives and some insight on the challenges they experience each day.
  • – Push my limits of where I felt comfortable in terms of physical safety and erode some lingering stereotypes about Arab countries.

Volunteering in Lebanon opened up a new frontier for me and helped me put into context the struggles that we hear so much about through the news. I consider myself truly lucky to have had this wonderful volunteer experience.

To read more about volunteering and travel in Lebanon, check out the following articles:

A former finance executive, Erin Michelson is now an “Adventure Philanthropist,” who recently completed a two-year global giving adventure, visiting all 7 continents and exploring 60 countries. Volunteering with global non-profit organizations along the way, Erin helped build a house in the Philippines, a well in rural Uganda, and a library in northern Laos, sponsored secondary school education for a young woman in India and helped provide self-defense training for young girls in Israel.  Read more about her experiences on Go Erin Go or follow her on Twitter @GoErinGo.

Photo credits: Lebnen18, all other photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.

Volunteering in Dangerous Places:Lira, Uganda
Monday, January 21st, 2013

As I travel around the world, I often volunteer with global nonprofit organizations. To me, volunteering is a great way to get to know local communities and cultures and I like the idea of giving back while benefiting from the experience.

Before I left on my two-year around-the-world trip, I spoke with several nonprofit organizations and lined up a few volunteer gigs during my first year of travel. One of these opportunities was to work with an American nonprofit organization that is building wells in East Africa, bringing clean drinking water to communities in need.

I was super excited about this opportunity and planned my entire first year of travel around this particular volunteer gig, coordinating my schedule so I could accompany the U.S-based team that was to visit the region in mid-October.

Imprecise Planning

Unfortunately, once I arrived in Uganda’s capital Kampala my pre-trip preparations unraveled fast. It soon became apparent that I would need to make my own way to Lira (a 5-hour drive north of the capital), arrange for transportation to the well site (a further 3-hour drive on dirt roads), and figure out my own accommodations.

Now, traveling in northern Uganda is dangerous by any stretch—Think Joseph Kony 2012, Lord’s Revolutionary Army, child soldiers, mass rape. I had to make the serious decision on whether or not I would go it alone to Lira.

After much reflection and quite a few sleepless nights, I decided to go. Clean water is an issue in which I feel passionately. Also I was already in Uganda and looking forward to meeting the local community. Finally, this was my largest donation to date and I wanted to see the funding in action.

Ensuring Self Safety

After making my decision to move forward, I lined up my resources to ensure my own safety. Here was my 5-point plan of action:

1. Kidnap & Ransom Insurance

Before I left on my worldwide travels I bought Kidnap & Ransom (K&R) insurance. I knew that I’d be traveling alone throughout Africa and the Middle East and so bought the policy for about $1,200 a year. (Individuals can’t buy this type of insurance, but companies can. As president of my own consulting firm, I purchased the policy for myself.)

Along with the policy, you get access to a personal safety team. I called them before I left to introduce myself, thinking that if they have a voice / face with the name, they might try just a little bit harder to find you. Before leaving for Lira, I also sent emails to my contacts to let them know I would be traveling in the area, the dates I was traveling, and the name of the organization I was volunteering with.

2. U.S. State Department Registration

I always register with the U.S. State Department’s STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) before entering a new country. Not only will this alert the government that you are in the country during times of conflict, it also supplies the government with next-of-kin information.  Another advantage is that you’ll receive local travel updates, as well as invitations to parties and consular events.

3. Private Driver / Bodyguard

I decided not to take local buses like I normally do, but instead hired a driver, that could then serve as a sort of bodyguard for me. I wanted someone who spoke the local language, knew the area, and would accompany me into town.

While in Kampala, I contacted another nonprofit organization that I had worked with several years earlier. They arranged for a driver for 5 days, supplying me with his State ID, Driver’s License, and a background check. At about $1,000, this was a significant cost for me, but my driver Fred was the consummate professional, trained in Germany and incredibly serious about his job. This was exactly the person I wanted by my side.

 4. Personal Emergency Procedures

My family and I have a safe word that I can use if I’m in imminent danger. If they receive a call or message with this word, they are instructed to call the K&R team, the U.S. State department, and the local Embassy. I sent a message to my family to be on alert that I was heading into dangerous territory.

5. Self Defense Training

Before I left on my travels, I went through a 3-day self defense training course by a global nonprofit called IMPACT. The classes are taught by women, for women. The training I received was the single most empowering experience of my life. While making my arrangements in Kampala, I took the time to review what I had learned, so my skills were fresh.

Prepared for the Possibilities

In the end, my days visiting the well site in Lira were a highlight of my trip. I met many members of the community, talked with women who lived in the village, gained a greater understanding of the village’s need for clean water, and visited the children attending school in the area.

The children showed me the current well, which is too shallow and now polluted with E.Coli, and we broke ground at their Apache SDA school where the new well was being built. Tears repeated welled in my eyes as the local congregation and school children sang for me in the age-old African tradition.

Was my 5-day trip into northern Uganda worth the extra safety precautions and added expense? Unequivocally yes. I was happy that I visited Lira and got to join in the building the well.

The dedication plaque on the new well reads:  “May your life overflow with possibilities.” The opportunity to travel to northern Uganda to volunteer was a possibility that, despite the risks, I could not pass up. But it was a possibility for which I was well prepared.

A former finance executive, Erin Michelson is now an “Adventure Philanthropist,” who recently completed a two-year global giving adventure, visiting all 7 continents and exploring 60 countries. Volunteering with global non-profit organizations along the way, Erin helped build a house in the Philippines, a well in rural Uganda, and a library in northern Laos, sponsored secondary school education for a young woman in India and helped provide self-defense training for young girls in Israel.  Read more about her experiences on GoErinGo.com or follow her on Twitter as @GoErinGo.

Itineraries with Purpose: Serving in Natural Disaster Areas
Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Wise people have said that the highest levels of happiness come from giving back and helping others. This inspired me to add a service component to my world adventure. Not just another trip, not just a long vacation, but more worth, more substance.

I decided I wanted to focus on areas that have been affected by natural disasters, with a few in particular in mind: New Zealand, Japan and Chile. My goal is to serve in at least six regions over my 11-month adventure.

So far, I have served in Christchurch, New Zealand,  and Ishinomaki, Japan.

Christchurch is a city where there used to be a city (as someone there put it), having suffered major damage from the 7.1 and 6.3 magnitude earthquakes that rocked the area on September 4, 2010 and February 22, 2011, respectively.

There I got hooked up with a local organization called Gap Filler, which “aims to temporarily activate vacant sites within Christchurch with creative projects, to make for a more interesting, dynamic and vibrant city.” They do all sorts of different projects, from a temporary movie theater operated by stationary bicycles, to artwork, to music venues. Instead of a vacant lot, there is something there.

The first project I worked on was simple but clever: a life-sized chess board that anyone can stop in and play at their leisure. Most everything was already there, we simply had to remove heaps of recycled glass (broken down and used for filler, like sand) and replace it with gravel (the glass had unfortunately been cutting a few people).

I also spent a couple days helping the staff build and set up the new Gap Filler headquarters, painting a mural and installing solar panels.

Considering the state of the city, a few days’ work felt pretty insignificant, but this outfit now has over a dozen gaps filled throughout the city. And with so many vacant lots, it’s nice to lay eyes on something beautiful, useful or peaceful instead of weeds and rubble.

In the northern hemisphere, Japan was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. This was not one town or city. Miles of coastline were affected, from small fishing villages to moderately large cities, ports and harbors.  Many of these towns were at or slightly below sea level, protected by seawalls sometimes 20 feet high. Most of these places now, especially the small villages, are just flat, open spaces.

I got connected with an organization based in the town of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, a coastal area in northeast Japan that was hit particularly hard. It’s Not Just Mud (INJM) started with one person who went up to Ishinomaki after the tsunami to help in the recovery effort. As he started blogging about his experiences, others began to join him, and the group expanded over time to become an official volunteer non-profit organization.

INJM started with helping people clean up and restore their homes – those that were still standing – that were damaged by the tsunami. In these cases the homes were typically filled with up to 12 inches of mud and muck. INJM would go into a house, remove the debris, walls, floor boards, and completely gut it out, scoop and shovel out all the muck, and slowly rebuild the house. The name of the group alludes to the people who they work with and the lives that have been changed – that it’s really more than just mud. During my first days working with INJM, we finished such a house.

Another day, our team cleaned up trash and debris, separating glass, metal, and other materials. There was no telling what we would find: roof shingles, glassware, silverware, CDs, appliances, clothes, and anything else you can imagine. Picture a giant wave pulverizing your house, crushing everything in a giant washing machine filled with houses and mud, then draining the water out as everything sinks into the earth.

Reflecting on these experiences so far I’ve discovered a few things.

First, the most overwhelmingly positive part of these experiences so far has been the people who I’ve met while volunteering. I connected with people on both projects who I expect to remain friends with for years to come. In fact, of the people I met, I’ve already stayed with two of them while traveling and met another in his home country, two months later.

As great as the connections have been, finding service opportunities in foreign countries has been challenging. You’d think it would be easy; at least I did. There was a major disaster, there is limitless work to be done, there should be plenty of places to get involved, right? Not so much.

There were a few things I found helpful in searching. First, local universities are often home to volunteer student groups, which can be a good place to start. Community centers can usually point you in the right direction as well. There are also several service/outreach organizations that coordinate international volunteer efforts, including All Hands VolunteersGo Abroad.com, Ecoteer, and ReliefWeb.

I feel fortunate to have had these opportunities. It hasn’t been earth-shattering so far – especially considering both locations, where people have been there for a year or longer in the trenches and I’ve only been able to help the effort for a few days – but it’s been great nonetheless. If you’re planning your trip, consider adding some service; you might get more out of it than you expect.

Chris Healy graduated from Fresno State University and spent nearly seven years working for the Sigma Nu Fraternity national headquarters office, traveling extensively throughout the United States for business and leisure. He left in January to embark on an 11-month, 5-continent, 25+ country adventure around the world, focusing on growth, connection, service and fitness. You can read more about Chris’ adventures at www.followchris.me.

Volunteering Vision
Monday, January 30th, 2012

Bart SkorupaAfter an epic five-day journey including 4×4, bus, truck, ox cart, wading through rivers, trudging through bogs, and a blissful speedboat, I finally arrived in Andavaodak, Madagascar. I would spend my next three months here, diving, researching, and working in a remote paradise. This was the farthest point on the planet I have ever been, away from civilization and, as I was soon to find out, far away from proper medical care. The trip started out wonderful, diving or boat marshaling in the morning, studying in the early afternoon, capped off by football games on the sandy white beaches.

It was that trip though that changed my life. While I was enjoying that paradise, I was diagnosed with a corneal ulcer, I was to be administered antibiotic eye drops and given Codeine for the pain. However, things got worse, much worse, very quickly. Faced with the very real possibility of going blind, I had to orchestrate an emergency evacuation – in the middle of a hurricane.

Nothing prepares you for watching your own eye be cut open.

Nothing prepares you for an operation in a dinghy room in the third world.

And nothing prepares you for having it done by a doctor partially paralyzed by a stroke.

The only unfortunate thing in all this is that it took the loss of my vision to begin to see this more clearly.

Bart Skorupa recovered from the third world surgery and can now see fine, but that experience changed the trajectory of Bart’s life and career. He had to rely upon locals and missionaries for help. He only had the supplies that the locals had available and from that experience he decided that he wanted to help communities like the one that helped him.

He and Kyle Maclaren Miller founded a 501c3 charity working to create a world beyond poverty by investing in groundbreaking ideas, empowering local leaders, and engaging communities.

Groundwork Opportunities (GO) identifies and partners with local leaders in the developing world who have designed sustainable programs to address community-based issues, such as a lack of clean water, healthcare, or education. Once a partnership is established, GO provides the community with the start-up capital and guidance needed to turn their vision for a better world into a reality that will scale across multiple countries.

We first learned of GO thanks to a friend introducing us to GO’s volunteering opportunities in Africa. Then we found out that not only were Bart and Kyle offering some great opportunities for people to help and get involved, but they were offering volunteering for free. This is rare, and we are very excited to introduce GO to our Meet, Plan, Go! audience.

GO’s No Volunteer Fees

In Rwanda, there is a parable that says “You give what you have”. Our partners on the ground give their time and ideas. You can help them by giving your support as a volunteer. In fact we want to make it so easy for you to give your support that we don’t charge for volunteering. Not even a cent. Our partnerships with grassroots healthcare, education, and environmental projects are open to people of all ages of all backgrounds. All we ask is that you pay your own travel expenses and our partners will welcome you with open arms. Just like mom and dad.

Volunteer Voices

We asked some of GO’s past volunteers to tell us about their experiences, and how it changed their perspective as well as how it made them stand out from a career standpoint.

Heather Grabowski
raised enough money to fund 50 beehives for the Uganda Project. She will be traveling there this summer to see the impact of her project. Read more about how volunteering has been a rewarding experience both socially and professionally for Heather.

Peter Prato, a professional photographer, traveled to Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania during early summer 2011. As a fundraiser for many years, it was the first time he’d be visiting the people whose lives he’s helped change. Read more about his visit here.

Volunteer Meetups

Volunteering is one of the most rewarding and important things you can do as part of your career break travels. It teaches you skills, it gives a trip meaning, it gives you perspective, and it can even help your career. It’s so important that we are focusing on volunteering during our local meetups in February and March. We want people to get access to volunteering resources and meet people who have volunteered as part of their career break travels.

We are kicking off volunteering meet-ups with Bart and the Groundwork Opportunities team, including some of their past volunteers, in San Francisco on Feb. 7th. Spencer Spellman, Kristin Zielbel, and Sherry Ott will be hosting this free event and Sports Basement is once again providing a great, comfortable space, drinks, food, and shopping discounts to prepare for your upcoming travels and volunteering.

Be sure to check in as other cities schedule volunteer-themed meetups. And feel free to share your volunteering experiences and outcomes by submitting your story to us.

Listen to Bart’s complete eye ulcer story in full in this NPR interview – Blood and Faith.

And don’t find yourself in a situation like Bart’s without insurance. See how World Nomads can get you covered.

Heather Grabowski – GO Volunteer
Monday, January 30th, 2012

Learn more about Groundwork Opportunities and volunteering in our post “Volunteering Vision“.

I have been an avid supporter of Groundwork Opportunities (GO) since it was founded in 2008. I had just moved to San Francisco and I wanted to get involved in the community by volunteering for a local non-profit. I was first introduced to GO because a close friend of mine, Jennifer O’Connor, had just started working as their Development Director.

Heather's fundraising supported building beehives for a Ugandan village

She invited me to attend their first fundraising event and I instantly was attracted to their mission to create a world beyond poverty by investing in groundbreaking ideas, empowering local leaders, and engaging communities. The more I learned about GO’s mission and all of the diverse community led projects they were involved in, the more passionate I became about this organization. GO’s 100% to cause donation model and transparency was so inspiring that I wanted to do more than just donate or attend their events; I wanted to volunteer, fundraise, engage my network of friends/colleagues, and leverage my professional skills to increase the scope of its operations.

This past June, I joined GO’s racing team and became a GO champion. I chose to run the San Francisco Half Marathon on July 31, 2011 (my first race to date) and individually fundraise on behalf of GO. GO supports a model development farm in Masaka, Uganda that teaches other farmers and communities how to bring lasting food security to their homes, businesses and organizations. The model farm is used both as a training center and a community center for all program participants and gives farmers the skills they need to get out of poverty PERMANENTLY.

In an effort to build 30 beehives that would help 10 farmers to grow honey and get out of poverty forever, I focused my campaign to raise $1,000 to do just that. The support I received during my fundraising was remarkable! I was so humbled by everyone’s generosity and I ended up raising over $2,100, which ended up being enough to build 50+ beehives. Despite a foot injury during my training, I was able to cross the finish line with a smile on my face and know that I specifically ran those miles for the lives in Uganda that would be impacted forever.

Volunteers helped construct the beehives

Volunteering for GO has been an amazing and rewarding experience on both a social and professional level. I have strengthened my communication, negotiation, marketing and event planning skills. Volunteering has enabled me to be more connected with the local San Francisco philanthropic community and various business networks, while building lasting relationships that share my positivity and passion with my coworkers and customers.

As a result of my philanthropy efforts, I was recognized by many of my colleagues at Thomson Reuters, as well as the CEO, who presented me with a company Community Champion Award this past October. The best part was the award was a grant donation for GO! Through my ongoing volunteer work at GO, I have learned the phrase “You Give What You Have” which, in my view, means that whether someone only has a $1 to spare, advice to give, or volunteers their time, it all really makes a difference in helping those in need. With GO, I have learned we can demonstrate the power of how just one person can make a difference and help change the world.

Heather will be visiting Uganda this summer to see the impact of her project

Peter Prato – GO Volunteer
Monday, January 30th, 2012

Learn more about Groundwork Opportunities and volunteering in our post “Volunteering Vision“.

I first started fundraising with Groundwork Opportunities (GO) in the summer of 2008. The first fundraiser, actually. Over a beer and a couple of bar napkins, Bart showed me his and Kyle’s idea for what they were trying to accomplish. It wasn’t going to take much to convince me. I’d come from a background of organizing, was working in education, and was just getting my photography career going. We decided to throw a party at One Rincon Hill. Our goal was a few thousand dollars. It was going to change people’s lives.

Over the years I helped coordinate events. Throw more fundraisers. I auctioned off photos to help raise money and it gave me confidence to continue to work at building this career while working a full-time job. I watched Bart give himself to this thing entirely and that helped me keep going when I had no idea where I was headed.

We talked about my going into the field at some point. I really wanted to make that happen. Not just because I love to shoot and travel, but because I thought I was missing something fundamental by living my life on this side of the planet and helping to change someone else’s life on the other side. I believed whole-heartedly in what GO was doing, and what I was helping them to do, but it felt unfinished for me, personally. I knew that I was never going to truly understand what kept these people going day after day after day if I didn’t go out there into the world to see what this is really about. And to see who it’s about.

It was in a conversation about something unrelated that Kyle made a passing comment about making a trip to East Africa. That was in the spring of 2011. He ended up not making that trip. But, after eight weeks of planning, I had enough gear and enough time off to do it.

To explain what it was like to arrive in places that are war torn and filled with joy, it just doesn’t work in formats like this. Imagine the most moving moments of your life. The times when you realized that there was simply no way you could possibly exist, the you who you are, without other people. It was something like that. When I arrived home I had a difficult time understanding what was happening, or how the streets could be so clean, and calm, or how they could even exist at all.

I found myself in awe of what, before I left, was common-place. Literally staring, blank-faced, in the middle of streets. I also found myself in elevators with people not talking, or looking at one another. I found myself slipping back into craving things. The best that I can sum up volunteering in the field is that I think of my life now in two pieces. I think of my life before I went into the field with GO, and I think of everything I want it to be after that experience.

 

 

Top Career Break Experiences for 2012
Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Don’t know what to do on your career break? We asked our event hosts for their top experiences for 2012 and hopefully they will inspire you.

Go Local

From Lisa Lubin of LLWorld Tour
The one must do or experience I would recommend is getting local! This was truly the one thing that made my travels great and allowed me to meet so many. How? Try things like working, volunteering, taking an occasional tour, meeting friends of friends, and even easier, Couchsurfing. I made some great connections and friends for life this way.

Resources to help you go local:
Tripping
Couchsurfing

Volunteer in France

From Jane Stanfield of Where Is She Heading
For volunteers, I recommend La Sabranenque in France. For one to two weeks between April and October, you can immerse yourself into French culture while helping rebuild medieval structures near Avignon.

Don’t know a thing about building stone walls? Not to worry as there is on the job training. Not 100% fluent in French? Again no worries as English is spoken on the work site (but it is an excellent way to practice your French at the same time!).

Contact Sabranenque for dates and cost for 2012.

Volunteer in Ghana

From Lillie Marshall of Around the World L
I spent three months during my year-long career-break volunteering at a local youth center in a small town in Ghana, and it was such an important part of my trip… probably THE most important! I highly recommend that you check it out, too.

Why Ghana? After extensive research, Ghana emerged as one of the friendliest, safest, most interesting places in Africa to spend time. I loved spending time in such a different place, and always felt welcomed and happy. Though I never did get the knack of balancing large objects on my head for transportation, I did get 5 beautiful dresses custom-made for $10 to $15 each!

Why volunteering? If you’re just traveling through a place, you can only get so deep and understand so much. When you settle down and volunteer for at least two weeks, however, you gain true friends and such a wonderful new understanding of the culture! And Ghana is a particularly excellent place to volunteer because of its friendliness and its focus on education.

For more information on Ghana volunteering, check out Lillie’s 100+ articles.

Adventure Activities

From Olivia Raymer of BootsnAll
One of my must-dos was experiencing the epic beauty of New Zealand by hiking, surfing, biking, sky diving, kayaking, dolphin-spotting, surfing, microbrew-sampling, wine-tasting, train-riding, or just wandering about.

Unplug

From Sarah Lavender Smith of The Runner’s Trip
When you start your long journey, give yourself about a week to unplug and escape to a natural environment completely different from your work environment, where you can begin to transition into a slower, more mindfully aware state of living that will make you better prepared to appreciate your travels. Get offline, ditch your devices and do nothing productive for several days.

Our family did this by starting our year of round-the-world travel with a rafting trip down the Colorado River. We hit the road to stay with extended family in a rural setting for several weeks in Colorado, and a couple of days later we found ourselves on the river near Moab, Utah. The prior months had been so incredibly stressful, as my husband resigned his law firm partnership so we could travel for the year and we packed up our house to rent it out. That stress began to melt away as we floated through those red rock canyons and set up camp on the sandy banks to fall asleep under brilliant starry skies. We sang, we played, we worked with our hands–and in the process, we began to rediscover ourselves.

Drive Cross Country

From Rainer Jenss
We drove from New York to San Francisco in seven weeks. Sure, it’s quite a long time to be on the road under ordinary circumstances and we covered tons of miles, but the U.S. was pretty easy to navigate, even though we had no experience with many of the places we visited. And that was precisely our intention when we mapped out the itinerary – start with what’s familiar to ease us into “life on the road” before venturing off to Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America. There’s also no dealing with different languages, going through immigration and customs, sampling new and strange foods, or driving on the other side of the road. That would come later . . . We also drove our car and not an RV, because it gave us greater flexibility on where we could stay/overnight.

What experiences do you plan to tackle?

If Not Now…When?
Monday, September 12th, 2011

In 2004 I discovered an idea for an extended international trip that had me totally entranced. At the same time, I learned that when you ask a question and are serious about finding the answer, the universe complies.

I came on the topic of volunteer travel from an article entitled VIRTUOUS VACATIONS. As an avid volunteer and international traveler, it sounded like a perfect fit for me. The dilemma was I had no idea how to do it. As I focused on the trip, a little voice in my head kept chanting “if not now, when?”

When taking a class – Volunteer Vacations – Traveling on Purpose at Colorado Free University, I MET someone who had some of the answers. Next I began reading Transitions Abroad, a magazine about living, teaching, and volunteering abroad. Then I attended a local Earthwatch event about international volunteering. Now it was time to narrow down my options and figure out how to pay for it.

By the end of the year, I received a legacy of money that would allow me to make my volunteer trip a reality. I selected three “must-do” projects, but ended up adding nine more for an even dozen for my yearlong trip around the world. As a single woman in my mid-40’s, I had some trepidations, but I kept hearing, “if not now, when?”

During my PLANning year of 2005, I went from exhilaration to sweat-inducing fear. I wisely enlisted four people who kept me grounded and on task. When I spiraled into panic, they simply said, “Oh no! I see you out there. Will you just leave already so you can come back and tell us what it was like?” I was nervous but committed, and it benefited me to be organized. A planner at heart, I would just tick things off my to do list as I moved closer to departure.

What was it like to GO round the world for one year as a volunteer? Absolutely fantastic! The main reason my 2006-year abroad was such a success is I picked countries, locations and projects that I could not wait to experience. I chose seven species of wildlife that I had seen and I learned a lot about them and myself. A wombat named Wiggles taught me to appreciate the unexpected. From a baboon named Nigel, I was reminded to be myself always. Purdy, a timid yet lovely giraffe, showed me the benefits of patience and quietness.

In addition to animals, I did things I never dreamed I could do including archaeology and working with the Red Cross. Lastly, I was privileged to experience the joy and wonder of meeting and working with orphans, school children, and over 100 volunteers from other nations.

Your goal may not be to volunteer around the world. But for your sabbatical, these three questions still apply:

WHAT DO I WANT TO DO ON MY SABBATICAL?
WHERE CAN I DO IT?
IF NOT NOW, WHEN?

After her volunteer sabbatical, Jane Stanfield was inspired to help others plan their own. She wrote the workbook “Mapping Your Volunteer Vacation” and offers consulting services. She is also the host of Meet, Plan, Go! Denver.

Join Jane on September 20 for a local meetup with a special presentation on traveling with pets.  And get your ticket to the October 18 event now!

Traveling With A Purpose: The Happy Nomad Tour
Monday, May 30th, 2011

Adam Pervez in JapanAdam Pervez is no stranger to traveling. He’s been to 47 countries and has lived in six. “I am a master at hit and run travel. I arrive, run around like a madman for three days, see the museums and monuments, and leave feeling like I know the place. Yet I often don’t get a chance to talk to a local person!”

“After college I took a job with an oil services company in the Middle East that allowed me to travel extensively. I then did an MBA in Spain and ‘redeemed’ myself by working for a wind power company in Denmark. By all accounts, it was the perfect job in the happiest country in the world. It really was exactly what I thought I wanted – a comfortable life with stability and nothing to worry about. But it didn’t take long for me to start questioning, well, everything!”

“My job was a good post-MBA position, but I felt utterly purposeless. I get no satisfaction from making PowerPoint presentations or Excel spreadsheets. In business school we talked ad nauseam about creating value. I was creating value for my company, but I felt that as a person I was losing value every day I went to the office.”

That’s about to change as he is in the process of transitioning from corporate tool to nomadic fool and heading out on his The Happy Nomad Tour in August.

How I Developed The Happiness Plunge

I realized I was not alone and many of my friends and colleagues felt the same way. Many feel trapped by debt, societal/family pressures, or other reasons that prevent us from pursuing the life we actually want. Such desires for change are dismissed as fleeting thoughts since you can’t change the system – but you can create your own system!

I started at the most basic level and asked myself what my goals are in life and what my passions are. I found it sad, yet telling, that I had never had such an important conversation with myself before!

I “discovered” my passions are writing, traveling, learning and teaching, telling stories, and helping others. I let this ferment in my mind for a few days and then I started preparing for my Happiness Plunge into a life I designed to give me the fulfillment, challenge, and purpose no corporate job ever could. The Happy Nomad Tour was born.

Adam Pervez in Morocco

The Happy Nomad Tour

I will backpack throughout Central and South America, Southeast and South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa staying off the beaten path living in rural, traditional communities. I won’t be traveling only to discover myself. My main purpose for the trip is to understand happiness among the world’s underprivileged and share these ideas, philosophies, and lessons learned with the wealthy West. I will act as a bridge between these two worlds since I believe that many of the solutions to this rampant dissatisfaction with modern life are found in simpler, traditional lifestyles.

I know the hospitality and generosity I will encounter during my trip will far outweigh what I can offer, but I plan to volunteer at local organizations everywhere I go. I will also draw upon my engineering and MBA background to look for ways to sustainably improve quality of life in these communities.

I will share my story at local schools and universities along the way, impressing upon the students the importance of pursuing their passions, and show them that it’s ok to take the path less traveled.

Happy_Chinese_Boy

Preparation

This is the easy part. I’m not doing much preparation at all! When I lived in the Middle East I would often get vacation time without prior notice due to unexpected problems on the oil rig. I am used to arriving in a city or country knowing nothing about it and figuring everything out from scratch. And I prefer that, to be honest. The more you prepare for a trip, the less room there is for the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings to really impact you and create an impression.

Instead, I will do something I have not been good at – going with the flow. I have friends in many countries thanks to graduate school and my work experience, so when possible I will rely on them for advice, opportunities, and a couch for a night or two. I’ll also use CouchSurfing forums to ask locals where I could volunteer and stay in upcoming destinations.

The Case Study

I don’t advocate anyone take the same plunge I am, but I do advocate the process I went through to find your passions in life and to design the life right for you. I’m my own guinea pig for the theory, so let’s see how it goes. But one thing is for sure – I’m in for the challenge and experience of a lifetime!

You can follow Adam’s tour on his blog, Happiness Plunge, and on Twitter @HappinessPlunge.

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