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Voluntourista Amy
The VolunTourist™ is a premium Newsletter for the Travel Trade. For those interested in discovering what is happening in the world of VolunTourism™ and seeking emerging practices, general information, and case studies, this is your Source.

Volume 8 Issue 4 Highlights

 
Voluntourista Project

Wisdom & Insight

"How To Save The World aka. Where Should I Volunteer?"

Amy Evangelista did something not completely irregular in the world in which we live today. She quit her job as a volunteer coordinator for a large NGO in Oregon and "set sail" as a voluntourist into the world. She even incorporates the word into her blog -- "Voluntourista: A Project." The following post appeared on her blog recently and touches on a number of points that are at once relevant and applicable for those considering becoming voluntourists. Enjoy wisdom that is rooted in experience garnered from practicing a "voluntourista life."

Introduction sss

Both societal & personal growth are slow processes, and while a few brave souls can (and do) punctuate human history; they don’t change the entire world and no one expected them to. If you’re anything like me, you think that most things in this world are pretty messed up in one way or another. If you’d like to argue with me on that point, well, I just don’t recommend that. Yes, there are tons of people and organizations doing amazing work, but they need to do that amazing work to counter the failed priorities of our current cultural norms.

In a previous job, and now with my current pursuits, I am often asked questions that I doubt many other people get asked at all. Some beat around the bush and others get straight to the point. Essentially, in more or less words people seem to ask me, “How can I save the world?” I can see all their good intentions oozing out from behind their questions. It’s so sweet it’s sickening.

It seems common to express exasperation at the sheer volume of critical problems that we are collectively facing. Be they political, cultural, personal or environmental, each individual issue could potentially take an entire lifetime of work to make even a minutely visible dent. Wait, is that too discouraging? Well, it shouldn’t be, it just means that you do not need to save the entire world and no one expects you to. Now that’s a relief, isn’t it?

Both societal & personal growth are slow processes, and while a few brave souls can (and do) punctuate human history; they don’t change the entire world and no one expected them to. If you’re anything like me, you think that most things in this world are pretty messed up in one way or another. If you’d like to argue with me on that point, well, I just don’t recommend that. Yes, there are tons of people and organizations doing amazing work, but they need to do that amazing work to counter the failed priorities of our current cultural norms.

Anyway, not here to preach, sorry about that. Since, I am regularly confronted with people looking to help, I’ve devised a way to help people decide what they should do as a volunteer, and in turn, how they can play a role in fixing the problems of the world.

The first step to helping another person become a better more productive & involved individual (i.e volunteer coordinate) is to listen, and since I am encouraging you to become your own volunteer coordinator, I am also encouraging you to have a short little conversation with yourself. I talk to myself all the time, and I can’t see you through the computer screen, so don’t worry about it…

Answer these questions! I’ll wait.


Voluntourista 1

The Questions & Answers sss


The human race has had long experience and a fine tradition in surviving adversity. But we now face a task for which we have little experience, the task of surviving prosperity. ~Alan Gregg

Do you have a job that you love and fulfills your inner do-gooder, or maybe a job that takes most of your free time & makes you tons of money? Then good for you, you are most likely a a philanthropist! Most people in the world do not have the luxury of getting money for doing something that they love. If you are one of these rare people, then perhaps you can use your resources to make a very real impact on the world.

If this applies to you, but it isn’t exactly the answer you were looking for, then my guess is that your answer to this question is not the same as your answer to the next question…


My meaningless office job: they pay me for my body and mind, but my heart gets no paycheck and my soul pays the taxes. ~Carrie Latet

Maybe you’ve always wanted to be a zoologist or an astronaut or something with equal excitement and prestige. Perhaps you’re going to school or working towards your goal in another way. Perfect! This means that you already have a passion in mind and you should probably use your do-gooder volunteer free time to further your resume. How? well, that all depends on what you wish you were doing for money.

Perhaps your should volunteer at the zoo or at space camp? or maybe you have one of those awesome yet generic skills that nearly any non-profit could use, like web-design, photography, event planning or translation skills. If this is the case, I would suggest referring to your answer to Question 5, and getting to know an organization that works in your area of concern. Once you get a better idea of what the organization needs you can offer up your special skill, and see if you can use it to advance their mission. This brings us nicely to the next question.


The twentieth century seems afflicted by a gigantic… power failure. Powerlessness and the sense of powerlessness may be the environmental disease of the age. ~Russell Baker, New York Times, 1 May 1969

Maybe you’re one of those people that has answered the first three questions in the same way. “Duh Amy, I’m a carny. I love being a carny and I’m damn good at it to boot. What should I do to advance the world.”

“Well, my dear, you’re a carny, that loves being a carny AND you’re good at it to boot? hmm. I’d suggest organizing your carny friends to do an annual circus fundraiser for an organization. Or perhaps mentor an up and coming carny? or look into ways to make your carnival greener or something like that.”

If you’re one of those people that wants to make the biggest impact, and you know that you have a particular skill that is useful, perhaps you need to find a way to use that skill to better humanity. I understand. Maybe you don’t currently make money doing it or don’t even particularly enjoy it, but you know that your inability to smell will make you a great orphan diaper changer or hands on trash sorter. Hey, to each their own! However, no matter the skill you’d like to contribute, make sure you get to know an organization before insisting that you are the best person to reorganize all their closets or rewrite all their speeches.

Voluntourista 2


Most people are awaiting Virtual Reality; I’m awaiting virtuous reality. ~Eli Khamarov

Another way to choose the best volunteering for you is to decide what you would like to learn and pursue that avenue. People might just tell you to go to school and learn said skill, but that isn’t always possible. School takes time, money and commitment that you may not have, but volunteering can give you the room to learn and use a new skill while being community-oriented. Perhaps you want to learn how to build a house, then volunteer with Habitat for Humanity or at a deconstruction/recycled building service. Or maybe you want to learn Spanish so you set up free languages exchanges in a tiny fishing village.

The Humboldt Garden Collective is a great example of a volunteer project focused on learning more and exchanging information on a particular topic. The participants come together because they have a common interest and then teach and show each other their skills to increase garden productivity for their entire community. The benefits are two-fold, if not three or four…


The world is so dreadfully managed, one hardly knows to whom to complain. ~Ronald Firbank

If you’re one of those people that wants to make the biggest impact, and you know that you have a particular skill that is useful, perhaps you need to find a way to use that skill to better humanity. I understand. Maybe you don’t currently make money doing it or don’t even particularly enjoy it, but you know that your inability to smell will make you a great orphan diaper changer or hands on trash sorter. Hey, to each their own! However, no matter the skill you’d like to contribute, make sure you get to know an organization before insisting that you are the best person to reorganize all their closets or rewrite all their speeches.

And finally, we arrive at perhaps the most important question of the bunch. What is your passion? Where do you want to help? If none of the previous questions gave you any ideas about what to do, this is where you will need to spend the most time. Don’t be afraid of not knowing where to dedicate yourself, take time coming up with your answer, you will be a much better volunteer and be more effective overall if you are sure of your goals and know where you want to apply some positive pressure.

Often, when confronted with this question, people will respond with a story from their childhood or elsewhere that illustrates the importance of X, Y and Z. Perhaps growing up you saw an animal at a zoo that was losing its habitat or you read something somewhere about the end of oil, or maybe a friend lost their whole livelihood in a natural disaster, or you had a teacher or mentor that changed your life forever or something of the sort. Listen to that story, tell it to others, analyze what part could be made better or replicated with the help of some honest folks. Find organizations working in that area, organize your own project, do a fundraiser, you get the idea.

Dedicating your spare time to a single focused goal will ensure that you understand the problem, allow you to think outside the box and bring solutions that may not have been thought of before. Don’t rush it, learn from people already working towards your same goal, listen to advice and start by helping in the way that those in the field think would be best. Remember that you are most likely not the first one that wants to cure cancer or bring about world peace, and you’re not going to do it alone. What a relief, eh?

Conclusion

Ultimately, Now I wish that I had devised some sort of point system like the quizzes in all those “magazines for women” that clearly pointed you to where you should volunteer. Two points here, three points there, another five to top it off, “Oh look! I’m supposed to help baby sea turtles in Guatemala! Que bueno! And I should date a Taurus, how convenient!”

Wouldn’t that just be grand? Unfortunately, there is no such test and even if there was, it wouldn’t work. One needs to consider where you live or where you’re spending the majority of your time, whether there is even an organization to join up with, or if you have the resources and the time to start something yourself. Think about your answers to the questions, I’m guessing you can figure out where to apply yourself.

This time, more than any, I’m interested in feedback. Think I’m missing anything? Volunteer to help me figure this one out, that’d be helpful.

About Amy Evangelista, Voluntourista.org

January 2012, I quit my job as a volunteer coordinator to become A Voluntourista. I’m pledging to donate my time to good causes at home and abroad.

I like to get to know places as I go. I’m into slow travel.This is why I am choosing bicycle as my mode of transportation for now. I’m somewhat experienced, don’t worry about it.
Currently, I am spending a quarter in Portland enjoying some unemployed time with my friends and volunteering with random projects around town before my departure in mid-May.

Chronological Personal Facts for Easy Digestion:

  • Born in Orange County, California November of 1985
  • Raised in Iowa by two well-intentioned & still married parents
  • Went to Catholic schools all the way through high school.
  • Devout atheist.
  • Moved to Portland, Oregon in 2004.
  • Graduated from Portland State University in 2007 with a degree in Political Science & Sociology focusing on quantitative research and public opinion.
  • I’ve traveled to: France, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Honduras & The Philippines
  • Don’t own a car. Instead, I ride my bike everywhere. I am convinced that this how I was able to save for this trip.
  • Worked (yes, for money) for nearly four years as a Volunteer Outreach Coordinator for a very large non-profit.
  • I quit my job on January 27th 2012 to become a Voluntourist. This is why I blog.

 

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