Unearth the World

Volunteering Abroad with Unearth the World

For it is in giving that we receive”. – Francis of Assisi

Volunteering abroad can be an immensely rewarding, transformative experience. My first international volunteer trip was in 2009 to Costa Rica. I spent a week volunteering at a nursing home and it was a wonderful experience that taught me so much and filled me with that missing piece of traveling: Connecting and giving back to the local community. Three more international volunteer trips followed: Rabat, Morocco in 2010, Xela, Guatemala in 2011 and La Ceiba, Honduras in 2012.

It was during that fateful volunteer trip to Honduras that I began to think hard about the ethics and standards of international volunteer organizations. I had volunteered abroad with three different organizations and each one was remarkably different. Some charged exorbitant prices to volunteer abroad selling the experience as a “volunteer vacation”  where you really only volunteered for a few hours each day and truthfully did not make much of an impact. Other organizations charged less for the opportunity, yet clearly they had no idea about the volunteer experiences they were selling. This was the case with my volunteer work in Honduras. I worked at a daycare center that was not the best and ended up reporting them to the US-based volunteer organization.

The silver lining is that my unfortunate experience in Honduras was a wake up call. I realized that not all international volunteer organizations have the most ethical practices or intentions in mind. The good news is that ethical volunteering does exist and when done right can have an enormous impact on both the local community and the volunteer. These experiences can be life-changing at any age either as a young college age student, a mid-career professional or even as a retiree.

It is my goal over the course of the next few months to introduce you to some amazing international volunteer organizations. The first one is Unearth the World.

Unearth the World

One of Unearth the World’s volunteer projects: Working on the farm in Nicaragua

In 2013, Kathryn Pisco and her husband Mike left their corporate jobs and decided to take a trip of a lifetime in an attempt to unearth and discover the world. Over the next 250 days, the pair traveled to over 20 countries and volunteered at 5 different volunteer projects.

It was during their volunteer experiences that they learned the ins and outs of volunteering abroad. Although their time volunteering was meaningful, they were surprised to see how broken the system was. A lot of projects charged tons of money for volunteers, were not exactly beneficial to the host community and were not sustainable. The couple returned home and realized that they had to share their knowledge and experience of what they learned.

In 2014, they launched their social enterprise Unearth the World, an international volunteer organization that strives to improve the international volunteering industry by promoting cross-cultural learning, fostering reciprocal partnerships and elevating social consciousness through responsible international programs.

Today they work with 6 non-profit partners in Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala and Zambia which they have personally visited to ensure that each volunteer experience benefits the local community and provides sustainable change. Since they founded Unearth the World, 200 people have already dedicated 3,500+ hours of service over the past two years in collaboration with their six international nonprofit partners. 

Unearth the World

Harvesting coffee in Guatemala is another project that Unearth the World works with.

I first met Kathryn at the Women in Travel Summit in April and instantly connected. She is a mom like me and has a passion for sustainable travel and a zest for life. I knew I wanted to feature Unearth the World on my blog so I set up a phone interview to learn more. Here is a transcript of our conversation.


GivingWay: Connecting travelers to volunteer opportunities around the world

Looking for a place to find the perfect volunteer opportunity abroad? Check out GivingWay, a new online platform that connects travelers with over 250 international organizations around the world. 


Eight years ago, as a stay-at-home mother of two young children a yearning developed that wouldn’t let me go. I had always been fortunate to travel and I quit my career in business to stay home and raise my kids. Yet after a few years, I felt like something was missing. I wanted to give something back and make a difference in the world, outside of my daily life. I turned to the internet and found an organization that for a fee, provided a short-term international volunteer experience working with elderly in a small town in Costa Rica for a week.

It was such an amazing, life-changing experience that I did it again the following year in Morocco with the same organization. The only downfall was the price was exorbitantly high – over $2,000 for a week that included lodging, food and administrative fees and did not include airfare. As a woman traveling alone I thought it was my only option to find a short-term international volunteer position without going through a church or mission group. I viewed the high fees as my donation to helping others, not realizing that the majority of the money did not go to the non-profit in country.

I was so inspired by my experiences volunteering abroad that I dreamed of making a list on my blog of different international organizations that accepted volunteers. However, I never got around to it. You can imagine my delight when I learned about GivingWay, a new online platform that connects travelers with international volunteer experiences around the world for free.

The organization runs three Wildlife Custody Centres where they tend to over 400 rescued animals.

Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi in Bolivia runs three Wildlife Custody Centres where they tend to over 400 rescued animals.

To view the above volunteering opportunity with Communidad Into Wara Yassi, click here.

Volunteering abroad – also known as Voluntourism – is one of the fastest growing sectors of international travel, with an expected 20 million travelers participating in volunteer activities on a trip by 2020.


Meet Maria, my Honduran host

Author’s note: This post is part of my series on my recent trip to Honduras. To read past posts on Honduras, click here.

Perhaps the best thing about my volunteer trip to Honduras was the home stay. Going into the trip I was a bit worried. I had no idea what to expect. Would the family be nice? Would I be able to communicate enough in Spanish? Would I feel comfortable inside a strangers house for a week? And would I be able to sleep at night?

Memories of barking dogs and restless roosters from a previous home stay in Guatemala swam around my head. I had to be honest. I was nervous.

I also had no idea what to expect of the town I’d be living in for a week. I knew nothing about La Ceiba, a port town along the coast of Honduras. All I knew is what I’d read in Lonely Planet. That it was the third largest town and described as rather ugly. I also understood that it was probably going to be a bit more dangerous than Guatemala and that I probably wouldn’t be doing much exploring if any on my own. Thus, it was even more important that I liked my host family as I would be spending every evening inside the house with them and as we all know, nights can be long.


Looking out across the street from Gloria and Hugo’s house in La Ceiba.