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"The Parent" of VolunTourism.org

Via International (www.viainternational.org) was incorporated in 1974 as a 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization to support the well-being of families and children in the U.S./Mexico Border Region of Northern Baja. Founded as a direct aid and charitable organization, Via International has since altered its programming approach to include service learning (1978) family health & food security (1980), community development initiatives (1988), ecology (1993), micro-finance (1998), and community leadership education for women and men (2000).

In 2003, the organization introduced a more advanced practice of delivering service-based itineraries called VolunTours™ for affinity groups, including alumni associations; collegiate faculty & administrators, corporations, and elected officials from throughout North America.

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The Philosophy

Participatory and asset-based community development practices represent the heart of Via International's operations. Impacting more than 5000 families throughout the “Baja Triangle” – Tijuana, Mexicali, and Ensenada – the organization continues to expand its reach into the burgeoning communities of the region. Fostering economic development for women seeking to attain additional financial support for their families via small home & “cottage-style” enterprises, the micro-credit initiative of Via International. has been tremendously successful. Since its inception, more than 125 women and men have graduated from the two-year community leadership education program run in conjunction with Simon Fraser University (Canada) and Ibero Americana University (Tijuana).


Service & Learning - Cornerstones of VolunTourism

Photo Courtesy Of Robert Kolesar, All Rights Reserved

It is against the backdrop of these highly-acclaimed community development initiatives that Via International hosts guests from throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico to discover how community development that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people” can impact families and support their progression toward self-reliance. Via International has the competitive advantage of offering VolunTourism programs in an unprecedented environment - one of the fastest growing cities on Earth (Tijuana, Baja California). It is in this setting thatVia International delivers educational opportunities that have a lasting impact on visitors.

Annually some 600 visitors from more than 40 high schools, colleges, and universities descend on this section of the 2000-mile U.S./Mexican Border to engage in voluntary service activities coupled with educational experiences in the area that sustains the most heavily-trafficked border crossing in the world (54 million crossings annually). It is in this environment that VolunTourists learn about issues such as social justice, immigration, human trafficking, urban poverty, commerce, and countless other subjects. They can discover what it is like to be educated in a “living laboratory."

With the juxtaposition of two cities demonstrating what may be the most extreme contrast of “developed” versus “developing” in the world, San Diego, one of the wealthiest cities in America, shares its southern border with Tijuana. In between them lies a 63-mile long Border Fence, patrolled by U.S. Homeland Security forces 24 hours a day, featuring surveillance cameras and gun turrets. It is here that visitors may engross themselves in hours of reflection and contemplation as to how and why such things are possible.


Collaborations

In 2004, Via International collaborated with Esperanza International to broaden the VolunTourism footprint in the Border Region. Between the two organizations, nearly 2000 VolunTourists have the opportunity to engage in uniquely blended travel experiences each year. It is the goal of Via International to share its model with other destinations, suppliers, and operators to determine how best to evolve the VolunTourism concept throughout the world. It is for this additional reason that VolunTourism.org was created.

In June 2007, Via International began its work with Share Guatemala to open VolunTourism in this Central American country known for its Mayan people, corn production, and unique landscape. Projects were designed initially for Temple University and the University of San Diego. And in 2009, New Mexico was added to the growing list of locations.

Potential collaborations in Sri Lanka, India, and Costa Rica are possible as NGOs in those destinations are eager to begin customizing programs to support the growth and development of VolunTourism as a social business opportunity and mechanism for establishing more self-reliant communities.

Via International is interested in fostering collaborations with those companies and organizations that desire to share emerging practices and encourage more individuals and groups to engage in this meaningful form of travel.

For inquiries regarding collaborations, please contact Elisa Sabatini, Executive Director of Los Niños, Inc.: elisa[at]losninosintl.org

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