“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” – Mother Teresa
Four years ago, I was finally at the point in my life in which I was able to set a new goal for myself. I made the decision that I would spend one week a year abroad as a global volunteer, giving back to a host community. After years of traveling around the world, I realized how incredibly fortunate I am to be able to see places that most people will never see. Furthermore, I understood how much we truly have in the western world compared to to everyone else who are not so fortunate. Spending time in developing countries opened my eyes even more and I became even more thankful for the fact that I had a more than adequate roof over my head, plenty of food on the table, a loving family, the ability to stay at home with my children and pursue my dreams. All in all, I realized that I had a really great life and that millions of people around the world were just struggling to survive.
It is a rather humbling albeit guilty feeling to see how so many people live in such poverty. It is also something that is quite difficult to explain to people who have never truly traveled outside of the box. The more I visit developing countries, the more I feel the need to give back and help out. It shouldn’t be a matter of where you are born whether you live or die, eat or starve, and live a fulfilling life or suffer. Opening my eyes and my mind to how the world really is and getting outside of the “bubble” of unreality that is middle-class American life, made me realize that I had to do something. I had to give back, even if it was small. I couldn’t live this great life without helping others. I couldn’t travel to these countries without doing anything. Hence, I became a global volunteer.
The very first volunteer trip I took was with a US-based organization called Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS). In April of 2009 I went to Cartago, Costa Rica for a week-long volunteer program called Insight abroad. Although I went solo, I was met at the airport by a CCS van and driven to the home base where me and ten other volunteers would be staying for a week. As a newbie to solo traveling and international volunteering, I wanted to feel safe and have everything organized for me. It ended up being a wonderful experience and I truly felt like I was able to make a difference in only a week’s time. (I have written about my trip extensively on my blog. To see my posts on Costa Rica, click here). With that first volunteer trip, I was hooked.
The following year I decided to go on another volunteer trip with CCS again but this time to Morocco where I could use my French language skills. While I was in Costa Rica, the language barrier was a little tough however some of the workers at the nursing home where we volunteered spoke English and I was able to use my rustic Spanish enough to get by. This time, however, I wanted to put my years of French language to use and also visit a new country and culture.
Morocco was once again a wonderful experience however I was beginning to feel like I didn’t need so much hand-holding on my trips. Instead of going as a group and paying the high administrative costs of the program (which are necessary in order to pay for the local staff, lodging, food, and programming), I felt like I wanted to try something on my own. As an experienced traveler, I felt confident that I could do it alone. I just needed to find the right program.
Almost like a sign of fate, my son’s first grade teacher mentioned that her husband was Guatemalan and that together they ran a Spanish school in Xela, Guatemala for people to learn spanish and volunteer with the local community. Instantly I was interested. It sounded like the perfect opportunity and it ended up being fabulous.
Based on my experience in Guatemala and how much I’d begun to fall in love with the culture and beauty of Central America, I set my heart on doing my next volunteer trip in Honduras. However, finding a program for only a week proved to be a challenge. I wanted to do something on my own again but needed some kind of organization to help me get there since I would be traveling solo and knew that Honduras could be a little dangerous for a solo woman traveler. I had heard horror stories while in Guatemala and realized that I had to be more careful with these trips.
I searched and searched online but had a harder time finding anything that matched my needs. Finally, I found a small organization called A Broader View (ABV) which provides short and long term volunteer opportunities in 22 countries. One country they worked in was Honduras. The price was very reasonable and included a home stay with a host family, three home cooked meals, four hours of intensive Spanish lessons and four hours of volunteer work per day. It sounded perfect and I signed up to go the second week of January. Once again, I was en route to another new country as a global volunteer. The problem is, once you start, it is impossible to stop.
Stay tuned….next post will dive into the details of my program in Honduras.
How wonderful and inspiring your posts are. I was a global volunteer and development worker before becoming a mom four years ago, and since then I haven’t worked or volunteered or done much of anything aside from taking care of my kids. Now that they are older and a little more independent, I’m trying to find ways to give back…without having to jet-set around the world (how do you do it with 2 kids?!). Anyway, I learn new things from your blog and get inspired by your travels and experiences a lot, so thank you!
Thanks so much for your comment! My kids are now 6 and 8 so it is much easier. I am really fortunate to have a very supportive husband and mom who helps take care of the kids while I volunteer. There are organizations that you can bring your kids with you to volunteer but my kids aren’t old enough.
What do you write about on your blog? I should check you out! 🙂
Wow, what an inspirational post. How often do you go on these trips? x
Thank you so much! Normally I do one volunteer trip a year. I am blessed that I have a very supportive husband and family who help out with the kids and I also have the means to do this right now. It really is a great feeling and the more I volunteer, the more I want to keep doing it! 🙂
I wish I’d been brave enough, and grounded enough, to attempt this myself, Nicole. My efforts have been purely financial and who knows how well the money’s spent. The satisfaction from doing this must be immense. I’m so proud of you.
Oh Jo! I don’t know if it is bravery. You take the trips and that is more than a lot of people do! So many people have never left the comforts of their own country. I know I’m blessed as we have the means for me to do this kind of work. I feel so fortunate to be able to do what I love and follow my dreams while I can. 🙂
As I said before Nicole, you are an inspiration! Where’s your next trip?
One is up in the air and hopefully I’ll be able to tell soon! The other is in April. My mom, sister and I are taking a trip to France, girls only! I am really excited as I haven’t traveled alone with my mom or sister in at least 20 years and as you know, I love France! We are going to the two places I lived way back in 1993 and 1994, Paris and Marseille. I can hardly wait! My dad is helping Paul with the kids. He is calling it his “payback” job since he and I usually are the ones to travel and my mom helps with the kids. It was a surprise Christmas present for us all. Pretty nice, isn’t it. 🙂
Wow! Awesome! Lucky you! Can’t wait to hear all about it and see the pics. Have a fantastic time Nicole!
It is amazing how much you learn by leaving your comfort zone. Good for you.
So true! ANd the more you do it, the more you want to continue. I think I’ve found my retirement dream! Good thing my hubbie is on board. 🙂 Then again, this will be awhile but always great to have dreams!
Reblogged this on travelertobe.
What a great goal you set for yourself. We are seriously thinking about some international travel next winter and are looking for volunteer opportunities. You have given me the “kick in the pants” I needed. Thanks Nicole! 🙂
Wonderful LuAnn! I’ve met many retires who have also volunteered abroad on my programs. I would love to do this with my husband someday once the kids are older! 🙂
Lovely photos and a very beautiful and inspirational post.
Thank you! I hope to keep on volunteering every year I can! 🙂
I have been thinking about volunteering abroad and have found some of them to be expensive. I appreciate you sharing your experience and will take it into consideration when I make my decision. They sound like great opportunities!
Yes it can be expensive but I’ve found it not much more expensive than other non-volunteer trips I’ve done overseas. You just need to find the right organization and some are tax-deductible. It is my way of giving back . 🙂