Category Archives: Volunteer Stories

Volunteer Voices: Receipts, Receptions, and Perceptions

By | IVPA Members, Volunteer opportunities, Volunteer Stories, Volunteer Voices | One Comment

This week’s #VolunteerVoices comes from Tyrel Nelson a Leader-in-Training for Global Citizens Network.

Receipts, Receptions, and Perceptions

 The young woman behind the counter returns my list. “¿Algo más?” she asks.

I shake my head.

She pulls out a calculator and contemplates the pile of groceries in front of her. While she punches away, the post-trip expense report strikes the forefront of my mind. The girl eventually reveals the total, and I respond with the dreaded question: “¿Me puede dar un recibo?” Can you give me a receipt? 

Her wide eyes are nothing new. I’ve already made several supply runs for our Global Citizens Network team —visiting tiny tiendas in Xecam (Shay-com) and neighboring La Estancia—and every store clerk has had the same confused look. I’ve picked up that no one in the highlands has this expectation, let alone a cash register to do the job for them. So the slips are handwritten, probably another reason why the Guatemalans haven’t offered me a receipt prior to my asking.

Without hesitation, however, the lady slaps a spiral notebook on the glass and opens it to a clean sheet. She begins a detailed bill, pricing out every single product. I tell her she can just write “abarrotes” (groceries), the total due, the date, and her signature. She ignores me. She’s a half page in when I try to end it once again. She smiles. Her autograph reaches the bottom edge a couple minutes later. But before she tears the paper from the notebook, she returns to her calculator, carefully reentering the numbers to ensure the sum hasn’t changed. I finally unfold a wad of quetzals and hand it to her. She hands me my change along with her masterpiece.

“Este es el mejor recibo que he recibido,” I answer, smirking because the phrase sounds funny while I utter it. This is the best receipt that I have received.

I’m not sure if she finds my statement as humorous as I do, but she sports an ear-to-ear grin nonetheless.

As a Leader-in-Training, I had to keep my head on a swivel for twelve days. Therefore, it didn’t take me long to realize that everybody knew each other in Xecam. I actually discovered the next day that the lady in the store was Apolonia, daughter of Nicolasa, whose house in which four of us stayed during our time in the village. And Nicolasa, along with her mother and sisters, graciously prepared the meals for our entire group. But it wasn’t just these women who treated us so kindly. I took in how everyone we met in the community took us in.

GCN

Photo Credit: GCN

Whether it was through exchanging pleasantries with passersby or swapping smiles with a local, our hosts made us—ten foreigners from different parts of the U.S. and Canada—feel welcome. I was reminded that a “community” can extend beyond borders from this experience, an experience I already find myself missing.

Tyrel Nelson

Xecam, Cantel, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

July 17-28, 2015

Volunteer Voices: Apriendo A Vivir – Diabetes Education in the Dominican Republic

By | IVPA Members, Volunteer opportunities, Volunteer Stories, Volunteer Voices | No Comments

This week’s Volunteer Voices comes from Will Epperson, a volunteer with AYUDA.

 

Photo Credit: Will Epperson

By now I have the routine memorized. Measure out the amount of insulin in air in the syringe. Insert air into insulin vial. Withdraw insulin. Inject. Count to 10. Withdraw syringe. But as I run through these steps in my mind while I prepare to give my first insulin shot to someone else in the town of San Pedro, they become much more complicated than a simple checklist. I have been putting my own pump sites in for years, but injecting someone else with insulin—in Spanish—requires a whole new level of diabetes management skills.

My journey to the Dominican Republic with AYUDA Inc. was filled with moments like these. I learned about how to administer insulin injections to other people (in Spanish), how to check others blood sugars (in Spanish), how to navigate Dominican culture, and even how to speak a little Spanish. I was surrounded by smart, motivated people who genuinely wanted to make a change for the good.

The majority of our time in the Dominican Republic was spent in the capitol city of Santo Domingo. We lived here, ate here, taught here, and learned here and by the end I felt I had a very deep knowledge of the city. Many of the kids that we worked with were from Santo Domingo but some were from other towns that were over an hour away. The first week in country was spent planning for camp that weekend and getting to know each other and the local volunteers from  (AAV). We had multiple meetings with Tía Sandra, one of the leaders of AAV to discuss planning activities for camp and the theme of camp: Puedo Ser. In English, this means “I can be” and served as our guiding principle at the camps. We wanted to convey how living with diabetes is only a part of ones life and does not hinder someone from being whatever they want to be.

The first weekend we only had camp one day for Día de la Familia, or family day. We did different activities like freeze tag with blood sugar ranges or a role reversal where the kids checked their parents’ blood sugars. We were surprised that many of the kids already had exposure to much of what we were teaching them but they were all eager to learn more and refine their knowledge. After activities and before lunch we would gather the campers to check blood sugars or glicemias and do insulin injections. I was working in Grupo Verde so we had the youngest campers. At first I though that it would be easier to communicate with the youngest kids since my Spanish is probably most on par with that of a 3rd grader. However, this proved not to be the case. Despite our communication barrier, I loved getting to know the campers both at this first weekend of camp and the second weekend. They particularly loved when we would give them piggy back rides and then race back and forth on the basketball court.

The Monday after our first camp day we were able to take a day trip to the beach to relax after camp the day before. The rest of the week was spent planning for camp and doing outreach. Our first outreach day was to San Cristobol, a mountainous town about 45 minutes away from Santo Domingo. The town has dirt roads and mostly tin houses. We were traveling there to meet the locals with diabetes and to introduce ourselves. It was incredible how excited everyone was to meet us. Many of the locals had been waiting at the clinic all morning for our arrival. Once there, we checked glicemias and then got to know each of the locals. The next day, we went to San Pedro to do another day of outreach. At San Pedro, we set up in the parking lot of a local hospital to host a workshop about diabetes with some of the local patients. I was in the exercise group so we taught about the benefits of exercise for maintaining healthy glucose levels. It was a refreshing change of pace from working with the kids the weekend before. After we finished with outreach we spent the rest of the week planning for camp, making posters, and learning the camp dances.

The second weekend is when we had our big camp session, with camp on both Saturday and Sunday. It was a fun-filled weekend full of water balloons, dancing, chaos, and learning. One of the most memorable experiences of the program was at the end of the day on Sunday as camp was drawing to a close. All of the volunteers lined up in a big semi-circle and the campers and their families came up and thanked each of us. I was thanked by some people who I had never seen before nor spoken to. It really showed me how much it meant to the campers that we were there to help teach them about how to live with diabetes.

AYUDA has positively impacted my life on numerous levels. It has given me the opportunity to help others learn about a condition that I have personally lived with for numerous years and create positive change in their lives. It has given me the opportunity to immerse myself in a foreign culture with incredible people. And it has allowed me to connect with smart, driven, and cool people from across the country. AYUDA had been a very memorable experience and I hope to stay involved with the organization for many years to come.

Lastly, thank you to everyone that donated to my fundraising for AYUDA! Thank you for making this opportunity possible for me and it is thanks to you that AYUDA can continue doing the work that we do.

To learn more about AYUDA click here.

Thank you,

Will Epperson

Book Review: The Voluntourist

By | Amal El bakhar, Book Review, Volunteer Stories | No Comments

Ken Budd: The Voluntourist

 

The opening pages of Ken Budd “The Voluntourist: A Six-Country Tale of Love, Loss, Fatherhood, Fate and Singing Bon Jovi Bethlehem” are thought provoking. It provides a unique perspective into a traveler’s world as he seeks to help others while defining his own life purpose and answering, what am I doing that matters?

The memoir begins with Ken Budd, an award-winning writer and editor, trying to determine how he can pursue a life with meaning while constantly defining parts of his journey and what meaning they hold. Through his journey, he volunteers in various roles, in various countries – including Costa Rica and China.

In a recent interview, he said, “In the past year, there have been a few studies that suggest that volunteer work is as healthy for the aging body and brain as exercise and right diet.” This statement is further validated by his own testament and volunteering. In his book, Ken asserts that he was constantly challenged – mentally, spiritually, and emotionally – and he always felt outside of this comfort zone. In fact, in his book, he describes how his volunteer work in China – where he worked with disabled children – forced his brain to work in a different way.

For advice to future volunteers, Ken says, “look for an organization that has ties to the local community: you want an organization that’s creating partnerships rather than dependencies.”

To read more about Ken Budd’s book and his adventures, click here

International Volunteering for Teens

By | Amal El bakhar, IVPA Members, Tips for Volunteering Abroad, Volunteer opportunities, Volunteer Stories | No Comments

Volunteering abroad is a thought provoking, challenging and stimulating experience. For teens, the experience provides a new perspective on life, allowing them to perform activities in a new culture, with meaning and value.

Volunteering abroad can give a teen the opportunity to shadow people in different professions, gain insight to diverse cultures and  have a life-changing experience.

According to Simone A. Bernstein, Co-Founder and President of VolunteenNation.org, students need to volunteer abroad in order to gain skills that will help them succeed in their future. For example, Shannon McNamara, began volunteering at age fifteen in Tanzania, and thus far, has donated 33,000 children’s books to girls in Africa. Her work has impacted more than 8,000 students and teachers in Africa, and has earned her numerous awards and recognitions.

However, before letting your teen volunteer abroad, it’s important for parents to ask certain basic essential questions when they contact the organization directly. These questions include:

  • Who should I email/contact in your organization to obtain more information about the volunteer program?
  • Who licenses your organization?
  • Do you have any counselors at the volunteer site? If so, whom are they licensed by?
  • What will my child be doing in the community? What are the expected tasks that my child will have to perform?
  • Where will my child be volunteering? (ask for specific location and address)
  • Is my child responsible for planning their own meals, travels and any other logistics?
  • I am concerned about my child’s safety. What policies are in place to assure that my child is safe?
  • Where and with whom will my child be residing?

Additionally, not all volunteer abroad programs provide volunteer opportunities for teens who are younger than 18 unless accompanied by a parent. But here are some international community service programs that are members of IVPA that do:

Design with the Other 90% – Cities Exhibit

By | Book Review, Volunteer Stories | No Comments

While attending the UN – Year of the Volunteer +10 I had the chance to see the Design with the Other 90% – Cities exhibit in the lobby of the UN. The exhibit is full of examples of creative design innovations to help those living in slums, favelas, or informal settlements. It is a fascinating installation that ends Jan 9, 2012. I highly recommend visiting if you are able but for those who are unable to, you can check out their website, Design for the 90% or their book (more information below).

Almost one billion people live in informal settlements, or slums around the world. The problem is exacerbated not just by a growing population but also a migrant one. More than half the world’s population lives in cities and around 200,000 people move to cities each day. People move to cities for better access to resources, jobs, school. Living in slums does not necessarily give them that access, though it might get them closer. The innovations featured in the exhibit focuses on adaptive solutions to gain access to adequate housing, resources and infrastructure.

Some of the example that I found most interesting were the housing solutions. The picture below is from an incremental housing project in Chile. A large portion of the house was built with government subsidies that the residents could never afford on their own but then the residents are required to complete the house with their own funds. Some other creative housing projects included sandbag houses, “molding” a house with a plastic framework, and modular homeless shelters.

The exhibit is the second of a series by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and also has a book out, Design with the Other 90% – Cities. The book basically covers what is in the exhibit and includes a chapter by the curator, Cynthia Smith, some chapter prefaces, and facts and background to the projects. A majority of the book are short profiles that contain really only a paragraph or two for each example included in the exhibit but the book is a nice reference to remember the installation or give someone a chance to “view” the exhibit through the book.

What’s it Really Like to Volunteer Abroad?

By | Tips for Volunteering Abroad, Volunteer opportunities, Volunteer Stories | No Comments

If you’ve never been abroad to volunteer, you may be wondering what it is like and the truth is no one volunteer experience is the same. But reading through volunteer stories, first hand descriptions of volunteers’ own experiences can be enlightening.

I’ve compiled a list of out IVPA members’ blogs where they feature volunteer accounts or other news about their programs.

Global Service Corps I love the photography of GSC’s blog!

Amigos de las Americas This is a recent update from an Amigos Project Director in Nicaragua

Child Family Health International News and information about Global Immersion Programs

Cross-Cultural Solutions A whole list of individual CCS volunteer blogs!

Global Citizens Network Some great information on GCN programs

Habitat For Humanity This links to some of Habitat’s Global Village volunteer stories

Projects Abroad A blog that posts on a variety of experiences of Projects Abroad staff and volunteers

I love Theresa Ball’s description as a novice traveler about her experience in Romania taken from Projects Abroad’s post

“I have been trying for almost a year now to describe to others what my time in Romania was like. I’m sure there are many flowery adjectives and humorous anecdotes that I could used to describe my experiences there. Yes, it was beautiful. Yes, the experience changed my life. Yes, I recommend that you all go there. Mostly though, it was the right place for me at the right time. I came back a different person, ready to take on anything and knowing that if I really wanted something, I could achieve it. I found a part of myself that I didn’t know existed.”

I think everyone can have a life changing experience but, like Theresa, volunteers need to find the right fit and follow what “calls” to them.

Ever Thought of Volunteering in Coral Reef Conservation?

By | Genevieve Brown, IVPA Executive Director, IVPA Members, Volunteer Stories | No Comments

One of the opportunities I had while in Thailand recently was to go with some Projects Abroad conservation volunteers on a reef dive. These volunteers work on projects like mangroove reforestation, beach clean up and reef conservation. The day I went scuba diving with them there were two groups. One group was composed of newer volunteers taking the first steps in conservation like learning about identifying coral and other life under the water. The second more experienced group was working on a reef nursery to help rebuild part of a reef that has experienced a lot of damage.

Reef conservation is not something I knew a lot about but I am learning more. I just read an article in the Guardian about the economic importance of saving our reefs

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/mar/07/case-for-saving-coral-reefs-is-economic

I had a great experience diving with the volunteers. We may not have seen the most beautiful parts of the reef but for anyone who enjoys diving, conservation should be a big issue. The experience had me wishing that more aspects of  conservation could be incorporated into diving and tourism.

It’s About the Exchange

By | Genevieve Brown, IVPA Executive Director, Volunteer Stories | No Comments

If you are familiar with voluntourism and volunteering abroad then I am sure you are familiar with some of the controversy and debate about the effectiveness of volunteers, often young and inexperienced, going abroad.

This post is not to delve into all aspects of that debate. To summarize my thoughts: yes, there are concerns but when done thoughtfully and with respect and partnership, volunteer organizations (including IVPA members) can get it right.

I wanted to highlight one of the positive aspects of volunteering that doesn’t get as much attention, cross-cultural exchange. The exchange that occurs through volunteering can build understanding and respect between people, communities and cultures.

Stan Pletcher, MD, founder of Mission Eyes Network, recently said in a speech to the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery,

“It’s not about you, it’s not about me, it’s not about how many cataract surgeries we did this week, but it’s about fostering an exchange and interchange.”

That is a powerful statement considering the importance of their of work in restoring sight.

If you ask a volunteer about her experience the number one thing you will hear her say is that the experience “changed my life”. The experience of volunteering leaves a lasting affect perhaps because the volunteer’s eyes are opened to a new culture, she experiences new things but mostly because the volunteer grows to love the people she interacts with.

I recently spoke with Creative Learning about their work in supporting and promoting international volunteering in Muslim majority countries as a way to build bridges of understanding and foster better relations. They believe that this cross-cultural exchange is so important and effective that they have a who initiative called the Unofficial Ambassadors to help increase the number of volunteers in Muslim counties.

Cross-cultural exchange is an important part of volunteering. It builds understanding, compassion and respect, something this world could use a little more of.

International Women’s Day – Women Hold Up Half the Sky

By | Book Review, Genevieve Brown, IVPA Executive Director, Uncategorized, Volunteer opportunities, Volunteer Stories | No Comments

A few years ago Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn published a book titled Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

Half the Sky is a stunning book with gripping stories of women around the world and their plight for freedom. Issues summarized in the book include maternal mortality, sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, education and workforce participation.

The book also highlights grassroots action and the impact that individuals can have. There is the story of Harper McConnell a young university graduate who volunteers in the Congo and ends up staying and running a school. The authors also encourages volunteering often throughout the book.

Some of the alarming facts stated in the book include:

“It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century.”

“The World Health Organization estimates that 536,000 women perished in pregnancy or childbirth in 2005, a toll that has barely budged in thirty years. Child mortality has plunged, longevity has increased but childbirth remains almost as deadly as ever, with one maternal death every minute.”

“One of the most cost-effective ways to increase school attendance is to deworm students… “The average American spends fifty dollars a year to deworm a dog; in Africa, you can deworm a child for fifty cents.””

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Interested in volunteering to help the plight of women around the world? Below is just a sampling of some of IVPA’s member programs.

Education: Spend a year teaching with WorldTeach or if you only have a week to volunteer, look at Globe Aware‘s programs

Health: Volunteer to help improve women’s reproductive health with  Child Family Health International or work on one of Global Service Corps global health programs.

Women’s Empowerment: ProWorld and Projects Abroad has a number of opportunities in human rights and women’s empowerment.

Microcredit: Assist micro-credit organizations with Cross-Cultural Solutions

Community Development: work with indigenous communities with Global Citizens Network or work to promote education and community based solutions with Amigos de las Americas.

 

 

Volunteer Experiences in Thailand

By | Genevieve Brown, IVPA Executive Director, IVPA Members, Uncategorized, Volunteer Stories | No Comments

My apologies for the delays in posting. I’ve been traveling in Asia and while traveling I had the opportunity to visit some fantastic volunteer sites. These visits got me excited again about the cultural connections and person-to-person impact one can have as a volunteer.

Currently 8 of IVPA member organizations offer projects in Thailand including WorldTeach, ProWorld, Projects Abroad, Habitat for Humanity International, Globe Aware, Global Service Corps, Global Citizens Network, and Cross-Cultural Solutions. They offer programs located from the northern hilly region to the southern peninsula and range from a few weeks to over a year. Programs also offer a variety of projects like volunteering with beach and reef conservation or teaching English in a school.  So take a look and maybe this year you might find yourself volunteering in Thailand.