Create a Better World with Your Time, Talents and Travel

Excavate Your Inner Humanitarian
What’s calling you, pulling you in? What drew you to this book and its message? The Give-Back Solution can make it easier for you to help the world; it can also help you discover more about yourself and what you really want to contribute. It can help you show the world—and yourself—what you’re capable of.Maybe you already know what’s compelling you to give back. Some people say they feel a sense of outrage or restlessness at the state of the world. Students say they’ve heard for years that this is their time to make a difference. Others refer to a moral, spiritual calling or keen sense of destiny, as if their entire lives were leading up to this opportunity to help others.Lots of empty nesters say they’ve always wanted to venture out and give back for years, and now that the kids are gone, it’s time to jet. They say that volunteering with those living on less than two dollars a day is the opportunity—and privilege—of a lifetime. Those who can’t travel, but who are grateful for their good fortune and would like to share it with others, also want to engage right from their kitchens, offices, computers.Chapter oneExcavate Your Inner HumanitarianGive_Back_Revolution
4 THE GIVE-BACk SOLUTIONWhat’s your dream? It costs nothing to dream—and everything not to. This is the time to dream, and dream big.If you didn’t let your fears, money worries, vacation time, or other limitations hold you back, what would you do?Where do you turn when you’re ready to engage for the first time—or again and again?Consult Your Inner CompassAfrica kept calling me—for a long time. I just couldn’t not do something. So by the time I finally arrived there and walked up the rocky, red-clay hillsides perched above kampala, Uganda, and entered the beaders’ ten-by-twenty-foot mud huts to listen to their stunning stories, it felt like coming home. It felt like an honor to witness what the beaders had survived.Some of them barely escaped machete-waving rebels; some of them had walked hundreds of miles to safety, wounded or naked. Some fought to stay alive with AIDS after their families threw them out. These beaders had survived unthinkable torture and abuse, yet struggled with dignity and pride to survive and educate the children, including the orphans.Most days, the unforgiving African sun would stoke the bead-ers’ windowless homes into ovens long before noon. But soon I realized that just as much heat radiated off the women, who were on fire and leaving suffering, AIDS, poverty, and despair far behind. They were luminous with the knowledge that, with their own hard work, they were reaching for a new life and making enough money to feed their children, buy them medicines, and send them to school for the first time.

In two weeks, I got thoroughly hooked on making a difference in the developing world. As each day passed, I felt compelled to throw my notebook and recorders down and just be with the women and with professional storyteller Connie Regan-Blake, with whom I worked. Our stories merged, as sultry breezes moved through orange-blazing mango trees and noisy white cranes dipped and swayed on the wind overhead.The beaders are discovering their place in our increasingly wo-ven, wider world, one necklace and bracelet at a time. At the same time, we’re each discovering our connection to each other.fIGUrING OUT YOUr CONNECTIONTo better help you find your own connection in the wide world of give-back choices, consider these questions.1. Listen to your give-back call. What’s it saying and ask-ing of you? Tune into your inner compass and see where it leads you. Trust your instincts, your hunches for what feels right. Perhaps for years you’ve been drawn to help-ing orphans in Africa or nurturing the sea turtles of Costa Rica. What comes instantly to mind?2. What brings you here now? Why is this the right time to act? Has something happened to galvanize you? Were you shocked by a conversation about Darfur around the water-cooler at work—or do you have a year off before you start college and want to see a piece of the world while doing a bit of good? Are you recently retired or searching for meaning after years in what feels like a dead-end career? Why now?Give_Back_Revolution_6th_Pgs_REV2.indd 51/9/09 11:35:22 AM
6 THE GIVE-BACk SOLUTION3. Are you drawn to a particular part of the country or of the world? Is there an area or region that’s particularly compelling to you? Do you want to build a trail in a national park, ease poverty in Appalachia, or tutor kids down the street? Or is there a continent or culture calling you? Can you narrow down the country or region you’d like to support?4. Do you want to roam? How in-the-trenches and hands-on do you want to be? Do you want to go and volunteer in a developing country for weeks, even months? Are you already feeling the adrenaline rush, knowing an adventure awaits? Do you feel like one foot’s already on the soil of a Brazilian village or hiking in Tibet?5. Do you want to make an impact—right where you are?Is hands-on work in the trenches of Asia or Africa a turnoff for you? Do you feel more concerned about and drawn to helping out your local community or your country? Are you seeing signs of greater poverty, envi-ronmental problems, or educational gaps in your own backyard? Maybe you want to step up your volunteering here before you branch out overseas? Does it feel right to make a powerful contribution by raising your voice, opening your wallet, or working for change, right where you are?

one Volunteer’s Journey: Making a Difference at homeAfter graduating from college, Lindsay Saperstone wanted a better way to connect herself to her portland community and to occupy idle time. She started shopping around for a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that met her per-sonal interests, one that was established so she could jump aboard as a volunteer with little experience. “I attended a few community groups’ meetings and came across an ad on Craig’s List asking for a volunteer willing to help orga-nize one nonprofit’s database. I was familiar with the soft-ware they use, so I responded to the ad.”Saperstone decided to volunteer for Voz (, a portland group that deals with im-migrants’ rights. Voz empowers immigrant workers, particularly day laborers, to gain control over their working conditions and to exercise their collectivepower to address the issues they face.The job, which consists of entering names of volun-teers and donors into a database, is a perfect match for her, Saperstone says. “It furthers a cause I feel pas-sionate about. Plus, I have always been extremely in-terested in learning about issues facing immigrants in the United States and have wanted to get involved with a group that is so vastly undersupported by society.”Saperstone also speaks Spanish, so her work allows her to practice the language. She finds it rewarding to Excavate Your Inner Humanitarian 7Give_Back_Revolution_6th_Pgs_REV2.indd 71/9/09 11:35:22 AM
8 THE GIVE-BACk SOLUTIONknow that she’s helping Voz better organize the other volunteers who ask to join them each week. “It doesn’t take much time and it means a lot to me,” she says. “It is something anyone can do if they keep their eyes open.”6. Do you want to get up close and personal? Are you sensing the people and feeling the pull of connection? Is it necessary for you to work closely with the people you’ll support?7. Do you want an ongoing sense of community? Are you looking for a way to give back—and find camaraderie and a sense of community at the same time? Many people en-joy volunteer work for the sense of belonging to some-thing bigger than themselves, plus the chance to connect on a more meaningful level with kindred people in our often isolated, frenzied lives.8. Do you want to find a group or organization with similar values and aims before you make a commitment? Is it im-portant to you that you hold the same ideals and vision? Do you find it more desirable to support a faith-based or religious organization with a stated mission? Or do you prefer a secular one?9. Do you have a particular skill or sensibility you want to offer? Do you want to use your given profession to make a difference or feel you have a talent or gift that will lift up a part of the world? What’s your personality like? There are no accidents in the world. We often possess just the right talents, strengths, and sensibilities to make things happen in the world. Central Asia Institute director Greg Mortenson Give_Back_Revolution_6th_Pgs_REV2.indd 81/9/09 11:35:22 AM
was a six-foot-six, physically active climber, raised by adventurous parents who moved the family to Ethiopia to give back when he was young. He later did trauma nursing in San Francisco ERs and often lived out of his car to save money. So when he felt compelled to rewrite his life to build schools in the rugged, remote mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan, his experience, endurance, skills, and characteristics were invaluable. What uniquely suits you for the work you may choose? What you bring to the table doesn’t have to be grandiose; it just has to feel right to you.

Channeling Your passion
Now you likely have a keener sense of what makes your humani-tarian heart tick and how you might want to dive in and vol-unteer, whether that means getting malaria nets to mothers in kenya or reaching out to at-risk kids in San Diego. As you think about what part you can play in making a better world, take a look at this overview of the kinds of organizations and give-back campaigns out there.As you’ll see, you can engage with any of them from home by volunteering locally, virtually, or domestically. You can impact the globe from your computer—or you can go and give back anywhere in the world.Finally, the resource section at the end of the book offers a representative listing of organizations from all of these arenas, which will embrace your passion, service, and idealism. Also, at any point in your search for the right volunteering or service op-portunity, check out a great online resource, Idealist, created in 1995 by Action Without Borders ( This online clearinghouse helps you find volunteer opportunities, service and THE GIVE-BACk SOLUTIONcommunity-action events—and paid service positions—around the world. You can create a profile with your interests, and Idealist will match you with existing volunteer opportunities.Idealist also offers global volunteering fairs and online re-source centers to help individuals make informed decisions about service. A resource center specifically focused on international service is just coming online, says Erin Barnhart, Action Without Borders/Idealist manager of volunteerism initiatives.Nonprofits, Nongovernmental Organizations, and Not-for-profitsFrom small family foundations to large international nonprofits, from the growing Without Borders groups to social organiza-tions like kiwanis and Rotary International, a growing number of nonprofits are addressing humanitarian issues and serving the public good. Family foundations alone have spiked 77 percent in the past ten years, according to the Foundation Center. If you have a cause you want to champion, there’s sure to be a slew of nonprofits leading the way, many of which are in your own com-munity. (Many volunteer-vacation groups featured in this book are also nonprofits, but not all are.)for-profit CompaniesCorporate giving and volunteering programs are on the rise, as are for-profit companies that offer humanitarian services or products, including volunteer vacations. Ten years ago, international corporate volunteering didn’t really exist. Now, two out of every five major companies support employees’ volunteer activities around the world. Many businesses make a difference in their own communities and support employees’ give-back choices. Doing good is now an expected—and exciting—business strategy.Government AgenciesThe U.S. government offers both domestic and international volunteering opportunities through well-known organizations like the National Park Service, the Peace Corps, United Nations Volunteers, and other groups. You could also help the growing number of disabled veterans by serving at a veterans adminis-tration hospital.Volunteer-Vacation providersVolunteer vacations are offered by both nonprofits and for-profit companies. According to the Building Bridges Coalition (see box, p. 24), at least eighty thousand Americans are choosing a volun-teer vacation or excursion abroad as their passport to joy, fueling what’s called “voluntourism.”Voluntourism combines a vacation or trip with volunteering on local projects that immerse you in the local culture. Interest in and opportunities for voluntourism, both domestically and inter-nationally, are getting hotter all the time. On many of the trips, you’ll give back and then have time to adventure and play, mix-ing service and relaxation in gorgeous parts of the world. Other volunteer stints, both domestically and abroad, are much more focused on the volunteering, with little time to roam and relax.Nearly a quarter of Americans are interested in taking a volunteer vacation, says the Travel Industry Association of America.

How to Navigate Volunteering in the Developing world
At this point, you may be pumped to join the rising tide of volun-tourists rushing overseas to give back and make a difference.Many believe voluntourism is gaining traction because celebri-ties, including Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, Bono, and so many others, have focused laser light on the power of philanthro-py in resource-poor nations. Travel and Leisure’s take: “The rise of volunteer vacations seems to be the product of a serendipitous alignment: 10 to 15 years ago, at the same time that trips abroad became easier and less expensive and better-traveled Americans be-gan to seek out more unusual travel experiences, volunteering also became the stuff of national conversation.” The magazine cites the nonprofit organization Independent Sector, which found that 70 percent of volunteers do it to gain a new perspective on things.Virginia Tech professor Nancy McGehee studied voluntourists’ motives and found four major drives: They really want to “see real people, their lives, and their everyday living environment,”THE GIVE-BACk SOLUTIONand they have a healthy curiosity about other people and places. They also want to “reach out to the less privileged. Many par-ticipants felt they had done well in life and wanted to give back” via a “trip with a purpose,” McGehee reports. Third, voluntour-ists seek camaraderie with people who share the same interests and values.Finally, volunteer vacationers also appear to be motivated by the “education and family-bonding opportunities” presented by volun-teer vacations. Globe Aware’s Catherine McMillan says her family’s volunteer trip to a small Mexican village, Chalcatzingo, where they helped construct a house and build a water cistern, gave them a genuine appreciation for how the rest of the world lives. “One of the special things we did was to offer the community dental care. There were tons of people with rotten teeth, unable to eat and in severe pain,” McMillan says. “I served as the interpreter for the dentist, and my five-year-old son, Elijah, and I were holding a patient’s hand. He was a little boy about the same age as my son.“When the dentist triumphantly pulled out a rotten tooth with an ‘aha!’ my son looked up at me and said, ‘Mommy? Can I go and brush my teeth?’ I haven’t had to fight him on brushing his teeth ever since.”My fourteen-year-old son, Evan, and I were on board to do a volunteer vacation in Thailand for all these reasons and more. And when we heard that we could help people in villages as we meandered through the country, swam under waterfalls, and visited ancient Buddhist temples, we found ourselves doing the happy dance, knowing we’d soon be in the “Land of Smiles.”Every day blew our minds.
One day, we and the six other volunteers were swaying back and forth on the back of an old, rusty truck as it forded streams and lumbered up dense Thai hillsides, where tigers, barking deer, monkeys, snakes, peacocks, and many tropical birds make their home.Our assignment: cook a meal over an open fire for remote hill tribes struggling to make it day by day. This was day nine of our fourteen-day volunteer vacation in Thailand, via the Uk-based organization i-to-i (, which was taking us across much of the country, ending in the islands off the southern coast.Straining and grinding its gears one more time, the truck finally lurched over the crest of the hill, revealing the village in front of us. Many little feet running in the dust stopped; many faces turned, curious. Women looked out from behind simple bam-boo buildings or leaned to look from a few taller, stilted homes set back in the trees. Clusters of kids, including two little girls dressed in brightly embroidered red and blue dresses, stared at us and drew closer. These were some of the karang tribespeople who had fled across the border from Burma, their birthplace, fleeing conflict with the Burmese military government.Eventually, Tong, our guide, herded us all back to start cooking the meal. As I chopped vegetables, I was startled by a dull “thunk thunk” and looked up to see Evan. Up to this point, he’d had an aversion to even my puniest cooking knives. Now he was raising what looked like a massive machete above his head and forcefully pulverizing chicken pieces on a crude, wooden chopping block, all the while laughing and joking with another volunteer, Patrick.THE GIVE-BACk SOLUTIONSoon, we started cooking the chicken in an ingenious, three-chambered cooking pot. Tong showed us how to make broth, add pork balls and packets of amazing spices, and stir in the chicken, vegetables, lemongrass, and onion. It turned out to be one of the best soups we tasted on the trip. The hungry kids drew closer.

ways to Change the world and Change Yourself
The next six chapters present a full spectrum of exciting ways you can become more engaged and energized—ways you can make a real difference for people now and for generations to come. This section discusses opportunities, vacations, and trips for volunteer-ing abroad and in the United States in education, global health, the environment, microfinance, and peace and conflict resolution. And it showcases the momentum, scope, and humanitarian reach that ordinary volunteers can really have. Through the eyes and impres-sions of ordinary volunteers and change agents like you, it’s clear that one person really can make all the difference.At the end of each section, you will read about the endless ways you can give back, right where you are.

Channel Your Inner Oprah
Denver restaurateur Noel Cunningham is accustomed to satis-fying the hunger of the political, sports, and media stars who line up at his upscale eatery. When Bill Clinton and an entourage walked through the door one evening, Cunningham, an electric Irishman, was in his element.But the hunger of two thousand Ethiopian kids lining up to beg for one of only 160 spots in their first-ever school? That still really gets to him. “I saw older kids hunkering down behind the school’s fence to look small enough to enroll in the beginning classes,” Cunningham recalls of a trip to Yetebon, Ethiopia.Cunningham and his wife, Tammy, have helped put up a li-brary, dormitory, and school for a thousand students in Yetebon by supporting humanitarian powerhouse Project Mercy ( “Some of the kids were orphaned by AIDS and were living in a cowshed. They were grateful, because they at least had a cow to keep them warm. But now, every time we go there, we see such an improvement in the kids. They’re getting healthier and stronger,” Cunningham says.The Cunninghams have tapped their own savings—and those of their patrons—and rallied thousands of Colorado high school-ers to give back to Ethiopia. Tammy and friend Betsy Wiersma, both beaders, also created the HOPE bracelet project. Beaders from across the United States donate specialty and sterling sil-ver beads, which are made into limited-edition HOPE bracelets. More than $200,000 in bracelet proceeds have streamed back to Yetebon. Project Mercy is run by Ethiopia’s first woman senator, Marta Gabre-Tsadick, and her husband, Demeke.The Cunninghams now have their own foundation, the Cun-ningham Foundation (, and a new dream: high-school students everywhere participating in a new give-back venture called Quarters for kids, in which stu-dents pool their quarters to help Ethiopian kids. “A quarter buys breakfast. A quarter buys lunch,” says Cunningham. “We have a responsibility to show teens this is a road they can go down. They can feel good, have fun, and make a difference.” The Cunninghams often bring high-school kids along on their visits to Ethiopia.Members of the swelling “giving while living” crowd, the Cun-ninghams believe in gifting their favorite causes while they’re still around to enjoy it. They also throw their philanthropic weight behind lots of Colorado give-back projects, including homeless shelters and kids’ food programs. On Mother’s Day, they close their restaurant to the public and instead fete elderly women who’ve nowhere else to go. “How cool is that? We see them eat-ing brunch and feeling the love of volunteers. I can’t enjoy that when I’m dead,” Cunningham says.They may be helping African kids find their place in the world, say the Cunninghams, sitting in their light-filled, elegant restaurant, the snowcapped Rockies in the distance, as diners tuck into plates of blackened swordfish. But they’ve found their place, as well. “I’ve gone from being a shopaholic to a worka-holic to do what I can for people who can’t do for themselves. More shoes don’t matter. More clothes don’t matter. This mat-ters,” Tammy says.

Global Health
We love epic stories in which achievements overcome adversity and hope transforms desperation. These stories are our North Star, our confirmation that all’s well in the world.Many such stories light the earth right now, as legions, from global health pioneers to newbie volunteers, go head-to-head with AIDS, malaria, polluted water, and other global health challenges.Is it because Bill and Melinda Gates are investing half of their tremendous wealth in everything from finding a vaccine for ma-laria to making it easier to access lifesaving AIDS medicines? Or is it because we just plain feel the urgency to rise up and act and ex-ercise our power to make a difference, knowing that from sunrise to sundown, millions are dying from preventable conditions?
For whatever reason, ordinary volunteers are setting in motion an unprecedented rollout of antiretroviral medications, immuniza-tions, clean water systems, anti-malaria bed nets, and other aid.Blinders are coming off; awareness is exploding; and every-day activists are responding as our world collides with the world where six million people still die of tuberculosis, malaria, and AIDS each year, and 1.2 billion people still live on less than one dollar a day. What could be your piece of this?
Big Thinking—Bold Actions
People are thinking big, really big, and daring us to go there, too. This “possibility thinking” is shifting the world community and consciousness to a more humane place. Just one example: When Bill Clinton launched his HIV/AIDS initiative in 2002, only 135,000 people in the developing world were able to access the antiretroviral medicines (ARVs) that could save their lives. The cost of the lifesaving ARVs was just too high for many people. The Clinton Foundation says that, today, 2.5 million people in the developing world receive ARV treatment, and over 750,000 of them are receiving lower cost ARV medicines purchased under agreements forged by the foundation. “Private citizens have more opportunity to do good than at any time in American history,” Clinton says.I find this as exciting as anything I’ve experienced in my life-time. The ways you and I can be part of this massively hopeful effort are rising daily, literally. A humanitarian tipping point has begun, and the passion for global health has never been higher, hotter, or more ripe for engagement.

Touch the world
“I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love with a wonderful wallaby!” Jane Stanfield gushed on her blog after waking at 6:00 a.m. to bot-tle feed the animals, rake their prodigious poo pellets by day, and sleep in a metal shed with mosquito netting by night. It’s another day of poo patrol, and Stanfield makes a game of it: “I tell myself I’m on an extensive Easter egg hunt. Other days, I tell the walla-bies I am their cleaning woman coming in after their party.”Over a two-week stay in the Australian outback through an i-to-i volunteer stint, Stanfield mucked, fed, and nurtured wal-labies, koalas, flying squirrels, and wombats. Getting peed on or being ankle-deep in waste was all part of the adventure. In fact, she adores animals so much, she went on to volunteer with lions, penguins, and baboons in South Africa—which she de-scribes as “physically exhausting yet so rewarding. They are so humanlike. And after four weeks, I had really developed rela-tionships with them.”Do you swoon over animals and love the outdoors? Is there more than a bit of Stanfield in you? Do you worship the ground Jane Goodall walks on? Watch Animal Planet and the Nature Channel religiously?Stanfield actually spent an entire year traveling and giving back, calling it her “year of living generously.” The creatures of the jungles, oceans, and other natural ecosystems are like a magnet for many volunteers. If you’re one of them, pay attention to that call of the wild: it easily could be your entry point to giving back. Many people find they aren’t all that interested in serving people all day long, but the thought of spending days helping penguins, macaws, or rare, red-faced monkeys makes them howl with joy.Ecotourism, or environmentally focused volunteer vacations or trips, can combine conservation, environmental protection, and research. These kinds of volunteer stints are on the rise and range from communing with iguanas in the Galapagos to planting trees on the slopes of Mount kilimanjaro to curb massive deforestation.Typically, you can assume that some of these offerings will be more rugged and physically strenuous than standard volunteer trips—and take you off the beaten path, for sure. You may have to (get to!) sleep in tents or tree platforms or hammocks in the wild, wake in the middle of the night to record nocturnal animal behavior, or carry buckets from rivers to water new saplings.

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