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What Kind of Footprint Will You Leave: Travel Perspectives

30 Apr

As I prepare to set off to Puerto Vallarta to the North American Travel Journalists’ Association Conference in a few days, I am reminded that travel is all about how we perceive the experience and how each of us sees our role in those moments we spend where ever we land.

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We do leave footprints where ever we go. Think about it. Our presence at any particular place at any particular moment in time, changes that place — just our presence leaves a mark. It really doesn’t matter whether we consciously set out to make a difference or not, like it or not, we do.

For me, this is the cool part. The tone of the change I make is, for the most part, in my control.

I believe there is a very fine line that separates expectations and entitlement and that can be summed up in how I view my role in the moment.

Do I see myself as a guest or a consumer? If I am willing to remove my own humanity from the situation, I will most certainly remove all human elements from the encounter. What a tremendous loss.

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My latest trip, a volunteer stint with Global Volunteers to work on St. Lucia for a couple weeks, altered my perception of what being immersed in a culture means for me.

It was a volunteer trip and I expected to contribute. At some point in the first few days I made a huge shift in my thinking – a mental pivot from giving to serving.  No sharing of my vast experience. No being the expert.  Just listening and trusting that I would know what to do.

I know that at the NATJA Conference my partner in crime, Lois, and I will learn so much, be treated like royalty, and we will see the cream of what the area has to offer in addition to meeting some pretty amazing travel journalists and magazine publishers. We will be learning about tourism and the role we play as writers in promoting the industry. We are dining at the best local spots, swimming with dolphins, being pampered at the spas, visiting the most amazing historic cultural sites (and YES there is rock art to explore) and so much more.

Yes, we are truly excited and grateful for the opportunity to experience all of this! Here is the thing and why I am so glad we are going…. We both understand the value of tourism to survival in many parts of the world. It provides jobs and self-sufficiency and hope on so many levels. Tourism is the backbone of many economies and supports generations of people both directly and indirectly.

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Communities are about its people and its culture. I am honored to promote people and to be an invited guest.

As I write about the experience and share with you along the way I know I will keep this in the front of my mind:

My actions, my posture, the tone of my voice, and the tenor of my interactions all combine to define the mark I leave on the world. I will leave a mark – what kind of mark is up to me. 

For the record, Lois and I find ways to find light and laughter in the most mundane or even trying situations so this sweet trip should be an absolute riot!

We will both be using #NATJAPV15 if you want to follow us the laughter trail on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. Maybe on Google + if we think of it :)!

All aboard!!!

 

Inspiration, History, Independence, & The Message of One Charismatic Women

16 Mar

This is the third in a series of pieces on how volunteering in Anse la Raye, St. Lucia with Global Volunteers, working toward raising the IQ of a nation, fundamentally changed my husband Dan and me. The two weeks we spent on the island in this village made us reach well beyond where we thought we were capable of going and moved us so far outside our comfort zones that we had to change how we “saw” the world. P1170064 (2)

Each morning of my service program I walked through the gates of the Primary School in Anse la Raye. Each day the students were lined up on the concrete walk leading to their classrooms. Each morning I was greeted by the powerful voices of staff members delivering the messages of the day or honoring students.

In the middle of my first week, one that ended in St. Lucia’s Independence Day, I walked up as the third grade teacher, Ms. Aleen Edward, was delivering the morning messages.  Ms. Edward, by her presence, her posture and her attitude, commands respect like no one I have ever met. When she speaks, everyone in earshot feels compelled to absolutely pay attention.

In her powerful voice she delivered this question: “What does it mean to be independent?”  And then, after the most perfectly timed pause, “Independence does not mean doing your own thing. Independence means doing the right thing, your own way.”

She went on to deliver the most soul stirring summary of the importance of independence from slavery and outside rule.  And then, just when I thought I could not be more moved, Ms. Edward took my breath away.

“Do the right thing, the positive thing, the good thing in your own way.”

This hard driving, young woman went on with such passion. “Learn from those who are working hard to do the right thing. They learn, they study, they respect,” she said.

She took a deep breath and in a calm but firm voice continued, “Be independent thinkers and independent learners.”

Ms. Edward turned up the volume just a bit and repeated, “Independence is not doing your thing. Independence is doing the right thing your own way.”

Up another notch and, “Read it and say it confidently.”

The whole school – students, teachers, staff, and I – repeated after her:

Independence is not doing your own thing. Independence is doing the right thing your own way.

“Say it again,” she said.

Independence is not doing your own thing. Independence is doing the right thing your own way.

And then louder and louder and louder with each recital.

In the classroom Ms. Edward commands this same respect and moves many of her students to action. She is passionate about teaching and leading and I felt that every time she was near.

Yes, Ms. Edward expects a lot from her students and she drives them very hard but Ms. Edward gets results. I watched student want to perform to get her approval. I watched postures and degree of intensity change simply because Ms. Edward asked a question. That is an amazing and awe-inspiring quality and one that I don’t see, or at least don’t recognize, in my day-to-day life.

As I listened to Ms. Edward that morning, every inch of my body filled with goose bumps, I knew I wanted to write about her and share the story of the impact of one powerful, charismatic woman on this one day on this little school in Anse la Raye.

And I thought about my recurring theme:

One intention, one thought, one action, one moment, one person at a time is the only way to change the status quo.P1170083 (2)

Ms. Edward is moving the needle in a powerful direction. It may not be the right direction for every single child – nothing ever is – but she is a rare, motivating force who inspires those around her to aspire to maximize their personal potential. I remain in awe.

Again….

One intention, one thought, one action, one moment, one person at a time is the only way to change the status quo.

How Channeling a Wise & Passionate Woman Helped Me Serve the Purpose of the Day

9 Mar

This is the second in a series of pieces on how volunteering in Anse la Raye, St. Lucia with Global Volunteers, working toward raising the IQ of a nation, fundamentally changed my husband Dan and me. The two weeks we spent on the island in this village made us reach well beyond where we thought we were capable of going and moved us so far outside our comfort zones that we had to change how we “saw” the world. 

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I walked into Day 2 at the Anse la Raye Primary School with my intention—to take small steps toward mutual understanding and to spread the power of positive – clearly in focus. With each breath I repeated my hope to work toward a genuine connection that might help break the cycle for the man with the power to shape lives at this school, and leave him a bit more open to the possibilities of how volunteers can help. 20150224_091219

I did not know that Day 2 had plans for me – ones I simply did not have anything to say about.

Mid-morning, two young men and I were reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (an outstanding book to work on rhyming words while smiling). I felt them both stiffen as the principal walked in with a man and woman, both professionally dressed and looking official. They just stood there, watching, for a few minutes.

“This is the woman from Global Volunteers,” the principal told his guests. And then he turned to me. “Miss, please tell these people (he pointed at the man) from the Ministry of Education and (he pointed at the women) UNICEF about all of this,” as he swept his arm across the room.

Holy crap…two hours into my first full day and I was making a presentation about the entire Global Volunteers program and involvement in the Primary School? Deep breath, a second of focus, and I heard and felt myself start to “channel” Chemida, the St. Lucia program manager. Chemida not only loves what Global Volunteers is doing for her community in general but also what is happening in this specific school.P1170052

All those things that I knew I loved about the philosophy of the program – all those hopes and dreams and all that passion we heard and felt in orientation – poured out. They questioned me intensely about the effectiveness of short term volunteer efforts. I continued, without hesitation, to explain the foundational communication system set up by Chemida and the international staff that allowed me personally to learn about each child before I set foot in the school and how the learning curve was not that steep because the pieces are all in place to make every team transition as smooth as possible – at least as far as the students were concerned….

Why, on Day 2 as I just started to figure out the hell I was doing, was it on me to carry this message and, more shockingly, how did I know exactly how to answer?

Again…

I made a promise to this program and to this village to observe and not interfere so I needed to shift, oh so quickly, and figure out what purpose my presence might best serve.

Again…

One intention, one thought, one action, one moment, one person at a time is the only way to change the status quo.

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How Living Outside Our Comfort Zone Changed Our Perspective & Opened Our Possibilities

2 Mar

This is the first in a series of pieces on how volunteering in Anse la Raye, St. Lucia with Global Volunteers, working toward raising the IQ of a nation, fundamentally changed my husband Dan and me. The two weeks we spent on the island in this village made us reach well beyond where we thought we were capable of going and moved us so far outside our comfort zones that we had to change how we “saw” the world.

Before we decided to serve on the St. Lucia Project, we agreed to live within the people of Anse la Raye’s cultural norms. We agreed to observe and not interfere. We agreed to not impose our values on the situation and respect the way of the life in the village.P1170045 (2)

I read that there was corporal punishment in the schools. With that fact and the solid knowledge that I have never been very patient with other people’s grade school aged children (so much so that I actually have a name for them – OPCs) in mind, I listed teaching in the Primary School (3rd through 6th grade) as my very last choice assignment.P1170023 (2)

That, however, is where I was most needed and where I was reassigned. So that is where I went.
All the literature from Global Volunteers stresses to “expect the unexpected”.

Unexpected event #1: I was prepared to spend the two weeks digging in the dirt on the Earth Box project and I packed clothes appropriate specifically for that job. There is a dress code in the schools and female volunteers must wear neat looking, professional, loose shirts with sleeves and pants/skirts that come below the knee. So…first thing Monday morning, to move beyond my wardrobe malfunction, the Country Manager took me with her on her trip to the town 20 km away to buy a few shirts suitable for the classroom.

We got back from town and I walked in my room, the one where students would come in and look to me to help them with reading and writing, at 12:30.P1160833 (2)

A young man about 10 years old came in the room as I arrived. He asked if he could be first. Before I could smile or say a word an imposing man with a short belt draped over his shoulder, walked in and snatched the child out of the room. I was stunned. It was so sudden.

From next door: “What are you doing Boy?” And then I heard the crack of the belt.…

That was my introduction to the principal and my cue that 1) this man was solidly in charge; 2) I was, in no uncertain terms, expected to follow his rules; and 3) if I did not someone, in this case a child asking what at the time felt like an innocent question, would pay the price.

Message sent and received. Loudly, clearly, and oh so chillingly. Could I really find the strength to swallow the words, all coated with a thick layer of bile, burning their way up my throat…?

Yes, I’d been told that they used the belt so, I guess that should not have been such a shock. I just did not expect that I would hear the snap as it made contact, feel the children hold their breath to brace themselves, and lose a bit of my soul with each crack.

I’ve been told it is better now. The government has regulated the length of the belt, narrowed significantly who can hand out/authorize punishment, and mercifully restricted contact to the hands (mostly the palms). Small steps and that is good.

I’d agreed to observe and not interfere. I’d agreed to not impose my values and respect the way of life in Anse la Raye. I’d agreed to go where I was needed and asked to serve. This moment was the symbol of the culture that I, like it or not, agreed to live within. I had agreed to do this and be here.P1160816 (2)

Right then I understood that I had to find a way to steel myself so I could figure out what I was supposed to do and how I could, as I knew I needed to do, leave this place better than I found it. My focus needed to remain on sharing a bit of joy with these students through positive interactions.

At the end of the day as I sat with Dan and we both processed the magnitude of the lifetime we had both experienced in one day, I decided to set an intention for the trip and a goal each day. My initial goal was to have a peaceful day with the principal and take a step toward my intention: making a real, mutually respectful connection with him.

I made a promise to this program and to this village to observe and not interfere so I needed to shift, oh so quickly, and figure out what purpose my presence might best serve.P1170068 (2)

To be completely fair, if someone else had written this and I was reading it as you are  now, I would most likely comment that I could not swallow those words and that I would never be able to establish a relationship with such a man. I might even go into a self-righteous speech about human rights and dignity. I might further deliver an impassioned monologue outlining how it is not possible to teach children about how to live peacefully with one another by beating them into submission. Yes, I bet I would…but

I made a promise to this program and to this village to observe and not interfere so I needed to shift, oh so quickly, and figure out what purpose my presence might best serve.P1160956 (2)

So I set that intention – to take small steps toward mutual understanding and to spread the power of positive – and I wrote it in stone. My hope was that working toward a genuine connection would help break the cycle for this man with the power to shape lives, and leave him a bit more open to the possibilities with each new volunteer. My deepest wish was that I could leave a good enough impression, one centered on the power of positive, that I might shift the momentum just a bit – maybe enough for the person to move the needle just a bit more.20150219_080446

One intention, one thought, one action, one moment, one person at a time is the only way to change the status quo.

We are exploring how to stretch our thinking, expand our world, and keep our brains firing through purposeful travel. 

From the Journal of St. Lucia Project Team 32: Little Things Catching My Attention

25 Feb

My entry from Monday, February 23 recapping my Friday activities as part of St. Lucia Project Team 32.

“Friday was a bit disjointed for both Barbara and me: RCP had planning meetings and the Primary School was pretty consumed with Independence Day activities. When I arrived at the school all of the children were outside, many dressed in the patriotic colors of the St. Lucian flag. The children answered questions, read passages about historical events, and several teachers spoke about national pride and patriotism. It was fascinating and uplifting to hear and feel the depth of the passion behind the words. There was one thing from the morning session that stuck with. One of the teachers asked the students to name patriotic acts—specific things that citizen might do to show they love their country. The first answer? Vote. It felt like the perfect answer and one I wished that every child would give, everywhere, first.Flag_of_Saint_Lucia

Chemida brought Barbara over to help at the Primary School so we got organized and started down our long list of students to see, ready to have a full day of one-on-one sessions in both literacy and math. On the way to meet Dan and Chemida for lunch, I snapped photos of the route we walked, the houses and buildings on the way, and an awesome pile of nuts drying in the sun. The little things continue to catch my attention. The father holding his child’s hand. How warmly people greet each other. The produce on the tables in the street. The detail of the braids and the care placed in the ribbons and clips in the girls’ at the Primary School’s hair. The trusting reception I continue to get from just about everyone I speak to—especially the children at the school.P1160801

When we got back from lunch Barbara and I found out that there was a competition—game show quiz style and all about Independence Day—that started at 1:15 and lasted the rest of the day. We went in and watched for a while as proud students representing the four “houses” in the school answered questions based on facts about St. Lucia.  I just love the national pride and deep understanding of the island’s history that is taught in the schools….

I seem to be on solid ground with the principal and am loving the one-on-one sessions with the students. Dan continues to be an inspirational rock star. And Barbara seems to be feeling more at ease with her role and appreciate the work she is doing with RCP. Bring on week 2 with all its bumps and disruptions! We are ready!”

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From the Journal of St. Lucia Project Team 32: The Inspirational Rock Star

24 Feb

As part of our work on the St. Lucia Project with Global Volunteers we, as a team are keeping a journal. One member per day writes an inspirational message and a different person writes a longer journal entry recapping the previous day. Both are presented at our morning meeting. We have an incredibly small team — there are three of us and I guess the optimum size is 14.P1160797

I have been having a bit of difficulty putting how I feel about my days at the Primary School in Anse la Raye into words and sharing that all with you here. Processing the real life manifestations of a huge cultural differences and easing the cognitive dissonance caused by the gross inequities in the world are going a bit more slowly than I anticipated.  P1160829

My husband Dan has been an inspirational rock star. He is working with a group of young adults in the island’s equivalent of a last chance school. Each one faces serious academic challenges and, for the most part, are not equipped to go out into the world. Here is a piece of his journal entry for Thursday, recapping Wednesday, February 18.

“My message of the day yesterday was about never underestimating your ability to make someone else’s life better and not even knowing it, but how cool is it when you see something happen? A student came in and didn’t think I had anything to offer…. We chatted about day-to-day events and the topic of a job interview came up…. He’s never had one and could I help… and thus began our work.

Barb talked about a good day with lots of working and baby interaction. Ruth had a long day that ended with the knowledge that she did such a good job convincing the principal of her competence that he left her alone…all alone…oops maybe too good a job….”

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It all sounds so routine and everyday but hidden between the lines is the fact that Dan might have changed the course of a young man’s life that day. Absolutely staggering….P1160807

I know the humbling daily lessons will continue and the words will come in their own time.

One day, and in some cases, one life changing moment at a time.

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Changes, Cultural Adjustments, and Wardrobe Malfunctions

18 Feb

First, a couple puzzles from the photos I have taken so far on our volunteer trip to St. Lucia. I am not allowed to take photos in the village where we are working yet — it is essential that we not look like tourists but become part of the community as best we can. Starting on Thursday I will be able to snap a few photos so much more to come!

We have had to do some serious shifting and paying attention to the details has been critical. Before talking about those shifts, here are two Find the Difference so you can work on paying attention to the details.  Can you find the three differences in each of these?

Organizing and unpacking the supplies donated by so many generous people!

Organizing and unpacking the supplies donated by so many generous people!

ANSWER

Find three more differences in this one!

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The Catholic Church in Anse La Raye originally built in 1796 but rebuilt several times over the years.                  They are one of our hosts for this project.

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Now a peak into the first few days our #AdventureInService.

One of the first things stressed in all the material we received from Global Volunteers before leaving for our trip to work on the St. Lucia Project is be prepared to expect the unexpected.

We were ready to shift gears and pace. We were ready to roll with the punches as things came up and were fully prepared to be alert and to be ready to think on our feet.  We were even prepared to accept and work within a whole different set of cultural norms — even those that made us uncomfortable (and there are a few).

We were completely prepared to serve the local community — not teach or lead but do what needed to be done to best support.

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The foundation of Global Volunteers 12 Essential Services project. The idea is that if you take care food and health and support children psychosocially, you can raise the IQ of a nation….

What we did not expect, however, was to change assignments after we arrived in Anse La Raye — especially when that assignment changed required completely different clothes to be appropriate and respectful!

Two weeks before we left, our assignments came via email along with very specific, culturally appropriate clothing requirements. Dan was going to be working in the Primary School and I was assigned to the Earth Box project. There is a dress code for volunteers who work in the schools so we took great pains to prepare Dan’s clothing so he was dressed appropriately.

I was going to be digging in the dirt and working with local mothers setting up Earth Boxes so each could have a variety of fresh vegetables at their own homes and available to them at the Catholic church in a space where the grounds have more than a few square feet to spare. All I needed to worry about was that I had simple clothing, not too tight, and pants that covered my knees.

When we arrived, we found out that the supplies for Earth Boxes were not there…. No seedlings. Not enough peat moss…..  So I was reassigned to…the Primary School!

The amazing project leader helped me fix the wardrobe failure (that is a long story for another day) and we again shifted! We are now better prepared and are expected more unexpected things.

My comfort zone is expanding every day in so many unimaginable ways!!

Great Brains Don’t Just Happen: Dreaming of a World….

29 May

One of my favorite poets died yesterday. Woven in the flurry of memorial and tribute to truly creative and expressive people like Maya Angelou, is a story of life — one where a brain grows, develops, wires, re-wires, and adapts. Lurking beneath the surface we can find those factors that allowed this extraordinary brain to generate the work of this extraordinary person — a body of work that will outlast all of us.

I talk, a lot, about how to maximize well developed brains. Be active, be social, be engaged, and be purposeful and you continue the nourishing cycle that supports long-term brain functioning.

Here is what we don’t talk about enough…. What happens when a brain, from moment one, does not have the needed stimuli and nourishment to grow and develop? How many creators of spectacular written imagery like Maya Angelou or artistic visionaries like Judith Baca, creator of the Great Wall in LA or musicians who paint scenes with words and melody like Joni Mitchell never had the chance to develop because no one helped them nourish their brains?

That happens. A lot. All over the world. I started thinking about a conversation I had a couple months ago with Michele Gran from Global Volunteers.  Her organization is on the ground floor of a movement to change a condition.  The shift is this — create an environment where brains have the opportunity to reach potential and not  “by limiting factors that limit the growing mind.”  Here is that position – in a 100 second video.

As with just about everything else, once the process has started, we all have choices and we all have a path we walk.  What Michele and I spoke about was changing that basic condition and providing the building blocks for choice to take hold and that conversation changed how I viewed my role in all of this.

We can’t all do this kind of life changing work but we can all  find a way help in some small way to ensure that the next Maya Angelou has the building blocks for the brain she needs to make every life she touches better.  Find how you can make your impact.

Leaving Your Mark on the World: Projects Close to Home

13 May

The world is so full of need. Providing a way for people to lift themselves up and empower them to live a healthier, more productive life is so important, and something that helps us all “Be” better.   When I think of volunteer travel, I imagine working in a community in some far off country where people, living in third world conditions, desperately need a helping hand.

It might surprise you that you don’t need a passport to find a worthwhile, life changing volunteer vacation that will help you lift up others, travel, develop a deep appreciation for another culture, and experience new ways of looking at life while you find and serve your purpose. Yes, there are places in the US that lack essential services for their residents, particularly their children, to thrive, and those communities need our help as well.

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There are many volunteer vacation options and projects in the US. It is so important to find the right match for you, your interest, your travel needs, and your health status.  Check out JustGive.org for an extensive listing and to match what you are looking for and what you need with a project.

My interests revolve around brain development and Global Volunteers, a US based nonprofit I discovered while exploring volunteer vacations, shares that passion.  This organization just gets it that if we create an environment for people to grow and thrive, that, by itself will allow more brains to reach their potential and people to contribute to the world on a deeper level.  Brains need good nutrition, stimulation, social interaction, and purpose to feed the chemical and electrical systems that fuel neuron growth.

global volunteers logoGlobal Volunteers crafts projects that focus on helping fill areas of need – in particular those that help lift the community as a whole and build healthier, more productive community members.  When I spoke the founder Michele Grand, last month, we talked about how each of their projects around the world, zeroes in on those essential services people need to thrive.  That is a concept and focus that I believe will enable us all to leave our positive lasting mark.

Let’s look at a project on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation in Montana facilitated by Global Volunteers.  This is an isolated community with huge holes in essential services needed to build strong, productive brains.  Global Volunteers, under the guidance of community leaders, created an immersive program that allows small groups to spend a week working in the early childhood center or the assisted living facility or the community college or the care center or other areas where the need is great.   Mentor, build, share knowledge, and enhance your own brain health by serving your purpose in a challenging, fulfilling, social environment…. How great is it that you can contribute on such a meaningful level using all those skills that you have accumulated over the years?  DIGITAL CAMERA

The fact that Global Volunteers understands that Baby Boomers are the both the now and the future of meaningful volunteering just seals the deal for me.  Looking for a meaningful way to spending some time leaving your mark on the world?  Check out the Global Volunteers projects all over the world!

I have not been compensated by Global Volunteers in any way — just given the gift of one of the co-founder’s time to talk about building better brains globally!

Picture Yourself as a Purposeful Volunteer: Citizen Science

16 Apr

My husband and I, still buzzing from our recent experience with Citizen Science in Belize, are looking for our next meaningful adventure and a way to challenge ourselves to learn and serve our purpose as part of our leisure time. That means a volunteer vacation where we can contribute to the world in general, and scientific understanding of the planet in particular.

As I started looking, I discovered that there are many Citizen Science Projects out there and some are part of volunteer vacations. Unlike many people our age however, we have not accumulated tons of vacation time — we are both serial entrepreneurs and have been working for companies we owned and operated since the late 1980’s and that means no paid vacations – nor are we in even semi-retirement so we need to find a trip that fits in our lives. With that in mind, we decided to go back to what we knew worked for us before see what else PoD Volunteer – the company that coordinated our trip to the Reef Preservation Project in Belize with ReefCI – had to offer.

Libby's crew

New friends from so many places. Yeah, we did lots of laughing :)!

On PoD’s site I found the section that described the type of volunteering we could do. Within that drop-down, I found a selection called Short Projects (1 to 3 weeks). No sense falling in love with a project that requires more than a 2 week commitment…. I found 21 projects, all over the world, that were 1 to 3 weeks stay…. Pretty cool.

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Now to choose the type of volunteering: Animals, Conservation, Child Care, Teaching, or Community. As I dug in more I found a wide variety of tasks and purposes for each of the trips ranging from sports coaching to habitat restoration to construction to teaching to animal reintroduction!

Next choice is location. What an amazing variety of locations. After much consideration and a conversation on Twitter with Gemma from PoD (follow them on Twitter @PoDVolunteer) we are looking seriously at a conservation project in Peru. This is a 2 to 4 week project that involves learning about and collecting data in the Amazon rain forest and includes so many cool activities – all based out of an award winning eco-lodge….

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Time to do a little more exploring and a bit of comparing! More to come!

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