VT Cast #8: A "Taste" Of VolunTourism
What is it like to spend only a short time volunteering in conjunction with a travel experience? This is what is meant by a "taste" of VolunTourism.
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Christopher Hill, Hands Up Holidays [Bio]; Margaret Jaworski, Freelance Writer [Bio]; and Dina Weinberg, MindLight Global [Bio].
[What is the client response to the blended travel and service experience?]
"well, I guess there's two very important responses: one is the response from the participants and one is the response from the communities. The short answer is that it has been very positive from both - I'll just flesh them out a little bit.
Just touching on the communities first of all, we spent a lot of time, even prior to launch, two and a half years prior to launch, working with local communities, getting their buy in, and consulting with them on what sort of projects would be suitable for people who may not have specific skills but may have a lot of enthusiasm, come in for anything from three to five days at a time and actually be of benefit to that community.
And so clearly a lot of projects aren't suitable, so we, as I say, we had to spend a lot of time, one being acceptance, and secondly establishing what would be of benefit. And so we focused on the projects such as repair and renovation work of orphanages and schools and being a reading partner or some house-building projects, but they tend to be more, other sort of construction projects, which tend to be more long-term projects that people don't actually complete in the four to five days, and, also, environmental conservation projects.
And, so, I think from laying a foundation and a good relationship with the communities from the beginning, having their buy in has set up an excellent foundation for, for the community accepting and benefiting from what we're doing.
Turning to the participants, the feedback has been excellent; and we've always pitched it, in the context of... volunteering, and looking to inspire people to do at least one of three things:
Either to volunteer in a more substantive way... going forward on a separate trip. Or, as important, or even arguably more important, volunteering back in their home communities. And, particularly for the UK clients, we have networks for volunteer projects. For instance, here in London, plugging people into teaching English to migrant communities. Or there are various environmental groups here in the UK that we also plug our volunteers from our trips back into. And thirdly, it is to become an advocate for the projects that our guests get involved in." Christopher Hill
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[In response to a short service term inducing a change or transformation in a traveler]
"Well, I think that, of course, it depends on the individual; but, personally, for me, that was the case. And, I think these moments, what I call these sort of accidental inspirations or moments of epiphany, can come at any time.
Just to tell you a brief story, when I was in West Africa, I went to a village that was far away from the main cities with one of these Peace Corps workers. And I was sitting there interviewing the woman who had been her best friend in the village who was just a beautiful young woman named 'Geeyah' and was probably in her early twenties and had just gotten married and had a baby. And we were sitting in this little hut and it was very hot. The hut had a corrugated tin roof, so it was like a little oven, and the baby was lying on the bed.
I said to her in my Western fashion, 'Well, you've just gotten married, you have a baby, you have a house, are you happy?'
And she kind of looked at me, and she looked at Gabrielle, the Peace Corps worker, and she looked back at me, and said, 'Well, my husband is not too old, he has teeth, he doesn't beat me, my baby is healthy, I have paat, or the spice, the food for tonight, is that what you mean?'
And that was quite a spectacular moment for me because it really illuminated the Western mentality that I was using to approach her. And it made me shift my angle of vision, and that, that was a life-changing moment. And I think that those things can happen in a minute, they can happen in a day, it depends on the person. But in general, I agree with you; I don't think that one has to do it, be a volunteer in a project for two weeks to three weeks. I think that people who can do that, that's a different, maybe a different personality type. I think if you're open to it, a person can gain a lot of insight from one day, or two days, or three days, and there are some people who wouldn't gain an insight from a month. So I think it really depends on the individual.
But I think that VolunTourism trips that allow, or recognize, that people, especially Americans, don't have a lot of vacation time. And therefore, if you only get a week, you may not be as willing to devote that whole week to volunteering. The combination provides the best of both worlds." Margaret Jaworski
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[Regarding a process of how to integrate a life-chaning experience, like VolunTourism, into your life]
"What I actually encourage people to do is, the 'preparation for the reintegration', as I call it, happens before you go. Because oftentimes, as you know, we tend to book vacations and then we book it, and our coming home goes something like this:
'Alright, I'm coming home on Sunday; Monday I'm going to be at work; I'm going to have ten meetings that day, and I have to get my laundry and get the dry cleaning and then Tuesday I'm going to do this and take care of the kids, and there's no space.'
And really, what I encourage people to do first thing before they leave is to set their schedule before you go on the easy side a few days for reintegration. I also highly encourage people to also journal when they're away. I know it sounds very simplistic and a lot of people sometimes have a hard time doing it. But it really does help; because, what I tell clients is when you come home there is a process called the 'art of remembering,' which is that you have to recount your stories and share them with people. It is one of the key ways to reintegrate, because you are different.
And sometimes... I've found, I mean all joking aside, I came home one day from a trip and stared at how I flushed the toilet because if there are places I'm going to that don't have plumbing or clean running water; I mean, all joking aside, then where I live is a palace. And as Chris was saying, I didn't appreciate any of it.
So part of it that I take people through is how you actually remember and reintegrate the experience into your work, your home, and your life." Dina Weinberg
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Christopher Hill, Founder, Hands Up Holidays
I founded Hands Up Holidays to give travellers the opportunity to not only see amazing sights, but also to have authentic interaction with local people and give something back in a “hands on” way to local communities.
In my life I have been blessed to have had some incredible travel experiences in over 50 countries, from African sunsets on safari, to swimming with dolphins, to hiking up volcanoes and even gasping for breath at the top of the Himalayas.
But as amazing as those experiences are, the ones that have stuck with me most clearly is the times when I have engaged in meaningful ways with the local people: becoming the official photographer at a village wedding in a remote section of North-East Vietnam, sharing chai with Indian farmers, sheeshah with Touareg nomads or copious brandys with gracious Serbian hosts are memories I cherish.
And yet, when these interactions are overlaid with me giving back to the communities through volunteering, they became incredibly fulfilling, enriching, inspiring...and life changing. Experiences such as helping build a house in South Africa and teaching English to my host family in a home-stay in Guatemala are great examples, and the lifelong friends I have made as a result and lives changed were the catalyst for leaving my job in corporate finance in London and setting up Hands Up Holidays.
I set up Hands Up Holidays to make it easy for you, fellow travellers, to have incredible sightseeing experiences and dig a little deeper into a community and give back in ways that enable you to make a positive impact in 3-5 days.
I am passionate about you having superb travel experiences through Hands Up Holidays. Expect to have an amazing holiday with us, while at the same time being challenged to look at the world in a new light.
That’s why we are Hands Up Holidays – Adventures That Count…for you, and the community.
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Margaret Jaworski - Freelance Journalist
By the age of four, Margaret Jaworski had lived in three countries on two continents. Her childhood globe trotting kick started her continuing fascination with diverse cultures and peoples and her travel lust. As Senior and Articles Editor at Family Circle, she assigned, edited, and wrote prize-winning articles. Now a full-time freelance writer, Margaret has written for Crain’s New York Business, ForbesTraveler.com, Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, CNN Traveler, Longevity, Getting Fit, Swissair Gazette, Travel Agent, Business and Incentive Strategies, Family PC, Endless Vacations, Transitions Abroad, Brides’ Bridal Guide, Reader’s Digest, Natural Health and Medizine's Healthy Living and carepages.com.
She was the editorial consultant for “Final Take: Where’s the Cure?” a Lifetime TV special about breast cancer and has worked on several other television documentaries. As a writer for the Polish magazine, Twoj Styl, she helped that publication establish breast cancer awareness month in Poland.
Favorite last line from a book: "Wouldn't it be pretty to think so?" The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway
Favorite books, recently read: “The Zanzibar Chest” by Aidan Hartley; “An Ordinary Man” by Paul Rusesabagina with Tom Zoellner
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Dina Weinberg, CEO & Founder, MindLight Global
MindLight Global CEO and founder Dina Weinberg draws on more than 17 years experience and expertise as a professional speaker, trainer, and consultant to educate, activate and mobilize leaders around the world.
Dina is deeply committed to international development. She speaks publicly to raise awareness of the genocide in the Darfur region of the Sudan. She is creating an organizational assessment and training and development program for the global children's organization "Spirituality for Kids."
Dina traveled to Israel to volunteer for the "Women's International Zionist Organization" for their most renowned youth village, Hadassim. There she helped to create a communication bridge between the social workers and management.
She also was in Botswana, where she created a one-day team building program for the Department of Geological Survey's sampling team on the front lines in the Kalahari Desert. The program infused greater camaraderie and a heightened sense of "team." Additionally, Dina worked with the Bana ba Keletso Orphan Day Care for Children, helping to write marketing materials, brainstorm on staffing issues, and teach English and basic math.
MindLight Global is deeply committed to the organizations it supports, including Spirituality for Kids, Save Darfur Coalition, and Jewish World Watch, among others.
Expertise and Experience
Dina has more than 17 years experience in communications and marketing in 12 industries. With her guidance and support, clients create more effective communications strategies with better focus, they catapult awareness of causes and initiatives, increase tactical planning to bolster revenue, learn to lead more effectively with limited resources, keep employees focused and motivated during times of change, manage and delegate more effectively in rapid-paced environments, and are better able to grow and develop their next level of leadership.
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