Largest Protected Area on Earth Created – Now What? Volunteer!

underwater shot of endangered Hawaiian monk seal

Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal

Last week, President Obama signed legislation creating the largest protected area anywhere. The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (which was set aside as a protected Pacific ocean space in 2006) was quadrupled in size. The newly expanded marine preserve is now double the size of the state of Texas. Its area, called by some a “Blue Park,” encompasses a large spread of the waters to the NorthWest of the Hawaiian Islands.

Now a hefty 582,578 square miles, the National Monument is larger than all the US National Parks combined. It is now a protected sanctuary for thousands of species, many of them endangered, and many found exclusively in these waters. Its protection will stop any future deep-sea mining and other depleting practices. Commercial fishing is also restricted in these remote seas, though licensed recreational fishing is still permitted.

So here’s the cool part–to celebrate the newest baby park (a huge baby, at that) why not consider getting involved as a volunteer? Some of the Marine National Monument volunteer activities include: Communications and office-based help, habitat restoration on some of the atolls and small islands, wildlife sanctuary work, and wildlife biology volunteers. Some of the volunteer stints are smaller in commitment, some last up to 6 or 7 months living in remote places–a dream for a drop-off-the-grid service-oriented soul.

It sounds pretty dreamy to an island lover like me!

Photo credit: USFWS Headquarters via VisualHunt / CC BY

#BarbieSavior is Funny, But Maybe Damaging Too

Barbie doll behind rose stemsLook, I get it. I think the whole #BarbieSavior meme that has taken Instagram by storm is pretty hilarious–pretty dolls posed in the worst possible ways mocking “savior” voluntourism situations, clearly motivated by the plastic needs of the plastic character to assuage her own guilt and show the world how fabulous she is. (The photo in this blog, BTW, is NOT from BarbieSavior…it’s just Barbie)

I get that it’s all cool to be jaded and superior and above it all. Hell, I know lots of folks who make a living at it with professional snarkiness being their trade.

I also wonder if that route isn’t too easy. I wonder if pissing all over the best intentions of others moves us forward in even the slightest way, or if it, as I suspect, demeans and degrades us all, the critics as much as those they criticize. I think it’s brilliant that Savior Barbie has a tribal tattoo of the African continent, and gives her high heel pumps to tiny dolls of color, and puts dreadlocks in her perfect blonde hair. She is the Queen of cultural appropriation and, by herself (and her very astute creator), serves as a terrific cautionary tale…HOWEVER…what happens when you shame the folks that truly ARE making a difference?

Especially with the political process going on right now, I have a fair bit of cynicism exhaustion.

What happens when the NGOs and charitable organizations around the world doing truly meaningful, progressive, transformative work that is generated from WITHIN the communities (not delivered…or dispensed… from without) cannot survive without volunteer efforts?

What happens when the foundations shutter due to lack of interest and it guts the jobs of the locals who were running the programs? All so we can feel holier than thou pointing out how others feel holier than thou?

It’s pretty messed up that our default setting seems to be resignation and negativity and suspicion when we are faced with stories of people trying to do something positive in the world.

Do I sound defensive? I am quite sure I am. AND I firmly believe we can help educate and uncover the multitude of amazing, effective, non-harming ways that people can volunteer that leaves ALL in a better place than they would be without these programs and initiatives.

We can teach people about how to look for shady companies and avoid them. We can help them know the questions to ask of voluntourism organizers. We can illuminate the way to diagnose if a program is generated by the people served, and if it is their genuine wish to have help and how to discern and avoid like the plague those that are band-aids or put locals out of work or exist mainly as feel-good photo opps that do more harm than good.

One sassy college student’s experience with a crappy couple of volunteer ventures she didn’t vet very well can not be extended to the entire world’s volunteer situation, no matter how many people share her blog. She is WRONG, not about her experience, but about making that mean that her very specific and unfortunate circumstances are somehow universal.

My main question: Is that really where you want to put your energy? Does doubting and damning somehow give you something?

I ask because I want to know.

I ask myself.

*and by the way…in addition to being truly funny, the folks at have this great statement on their site:

Together we have over a decade of studying, traveling, and working abroad. While this left us cynical and jaded enough to create Barbie Savior, we know full well that this issue – and these conversations – are so much bigger than us.

We don’t have the answers. This site we hope will become a place where we can pose questions, promote conversation, and try to learn together how to best do better.

Photo: horantheworld | CC License

Happy Birthday Dalai Lama — Volunteer to Celebrate

Dalai Lama quoteToday, July 6, is the 81st birthday of His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.

To celebrate, practice what HE preaches and find new ways to express compassion and connection in your world. One of his more famous quotes: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

If you’re particularly inspired by him, here are a couple of Dalai Lama-specific volunteer opportunities to check out.

The Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education, in Vancouver, seeks volunteers for all of its expanding programs, including their renowned “Educating the Heart” program. Find out more here.

Redwood City, California’s Dalai Lama Foundation seeks worldwide volunteers for actions for ethics and peace. Let them know you’re interested in lending a hand by filling out Dalai Lama Foundation volunteer interest form.

Traveling to India? (Lucky you!) The Dalai Lama Institute for Higher Education in Bangalore welcomes volunteers who, in return for their service, are able to learn Tibetan language, Buddhist philosophy, and receive room and board while volunteering. Check out their needs and opportunities at this link.

Volunteers in Dharamsala, India work with refugee Tibetan communities in need of assistance and support in the areas surrounding the palace ad home of His Holiness. Volunteer projects are organized by Volunteer in India.

Dalai Lama Fellows is a global program authorized by him, working with social innovators and those working toward worldwide peace, justice, and ecology. Several fellows of the program have developed and launched programs around the world that need dedicated volunteers. Find your perfect match here.

Volunteer for Homeless Young People: Safe Place for Youth

homeless teen girl one street with backpackIn 2011, in Venice, California, group of dedicated volunteers began driving around a Southern California city and opening their car trunks to offer hot food, clothing, and dry socks to kids on the streets of Venice. Now, SPY (Safe Place for Youth) has grown to a professional team with a headquarters, expanded programs, and much greater impact in creating services (health and wellness, street outreach, employment, education, drop-in services, and more) and safe space for homeless young people.

The goal is to provide an empowering resource bank of services so young people can take control of their lives and not be defined by circumstances — all in a positive, non-judgmental environment. In 2015, nearly 1,000 youth received life saving support from SPY, including nearly 10,000 hot meals served, hundreds of medical consultations, 5,000 drop-in center visits, and 57 young people that exited homelessness and entered stable living situations.

As in the beginning, SPY still relies on the great hearts and work of volunteers. Check out opportunities to get involved in creating an end to youth homelessness, and also to support the deeply important work of Safe Place for Youth.

Photo: “Homeless Teen” from U.S. Department of Agriculture

Good Done Great Manages Your Giving and Volunteering

iPhone in man's hand about to click on app iconGood Done Great is an online platform, and now a mobile app as well, that helps you track and maximize your philanthropic giving and your volunteering efforts.

They are the first mobile giving app to connect users to charities, corporations, and causes, and it streamlines your giving opportunities to a network of over two million non-profit organizations all around the world. You can also set up monthly giving arrangements in the app or GIVING savings accounts that will be tracked for you. You can do all this management yourself, of course, but the app leverages technology that brings lots of features into one place. Additionally, you can follow charities to see their latest programs and projects, search by name or location to find charities, and the app learns your preferences and recommends new non-profits that may interest you based on your history. You can also follow your employer’s impact with their giving and support of charitable causes.

Good Done Great also works directly with Fortune 500 and other corporations to help them maximize their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) efforts so they are able to increase their impact. They are a B Corporation and have, thus far, processed over $500,000,000 for over 28,000 charities globally.

Check out the website, and load the free app on your phone (Apple app store or Google Play) so you can simplify your giving and turbocharge the difference you can make.

Whole Foods 365 and Volunteering

Whole Planet Foundation logo orange

Whole Foods Market powers-that-be have long had their hearts in the right place regarding food quality and the environment, helping shoppers find healthier food and grocery choices all under one wood-paneled roof…but clearly they would grow weary of the nickname their chain has: “Whole Paycheck.” Sure, prices are head-and-shoulders, overall, above the average grocery store, but it’s not just because there are artisanal cheeses and cut-your-own soap bars. Many of the products they sell, with the intention or at least bold claim of being healthy options, are from smaller companies with higher price points. That means you gasp a little when the friendly and seemingly pretty-darn-happy-to-work-there team member rings up your total.

Well, now there is a new initiative from Whole Foods. They are launching a new market aimed at millennials, called 365. Getting their prices competitive with Trader Joe’s and Kroger on a still-healthy collection of in-store groceries needed to happen. Since they made organic and healthy so cool for shoppers, (Wal-Mart offers an impressive array of organic products now!) the other stores caught on and offer a large overlap of the exact same products…so the unique business proposition of Whole Foods had grown far less unique.

So, with this agile pivot in their business model, I, of course wonder what their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs are like, particularly in relation to volunteering and social good causes…

The Whole Planet Foundation is the philanthropic and pro-social arm of the company, a 501(c)3 focused on alleviating world poverty and hunger. The foundation provides microfinance loan programs with community lending partners in 68 countries in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the Middle East. Additionally, they support programs for training and support for the self-employed poor. Because the parent company is so stable, WPF is able to put 100% of donated dollars toward their impact mission–few charitable organizations can claim the same. The entirety of their overhead is covered by Whole Foods Markets.

OK, cool…so what can I (and you, too) do to support their mission? There isn’t yet a volunteer opportunity for shoppers and unaffiliated supporters, but employees, always called “Team Members,” have opportunities to travel and meet the microcredit clients funded by the organization and contribute effort to community service. Thus far, since their 2007 inception, 612 Team Members have volunteered in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Peru, South Africa, Thailand, and the United States. The videos about some of the trips (watch 2013 Volunteer Program in Kenya video below) place heavy weight on cultural immersion and visits with a service component (which will undoubtedly piss off the recently jaded bloggers who want to slam volunteering) but there is big progress on community projects as well (and not in the bad, taking jobs away from locals way). I’m certain it has a big impact on the visited communities, the entrepreneurs that are supported by micro lending, and the volunteers who come home as activists and advocates, spreading awareness.

World Turtle Day – You Can Help

pexels-photo-38452Today, May 23, is World Turtle Day, so give some love to the shelled wonders of the world. More than one species of sea turtle is endangered, and all of them need us to be caretakers of the seas to better protect the environment they share with so many species. Saving the integrity of oceans saves land masses as well.

As a kid, visiting touristy places with my family, I had an unshakable fascination with the tiny box turtles with shells painted with pictures of attractions as living souvenirs (Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, etc–better to buy a postcard or shot glass or thimble or license plate with your name on it). It was undoubtedly an unhappy, and unnaturally short life for the turtles as they scrambled over one another in plastic tanks outside a shop, next to the wind chimes and seashell picture frames. My own reaction shifted to revulsion and my activist blood began to boil when my folks told me that the paint would cause harm and probably kill the turtles. From that point forward, I would refuse to even cross the threshold of any store selling them (care of the tiny turtles is also a fair bit trickier than the tourists of the 1970s likely realized, also guaranteeing an unnecessarily short life for most).

Toward a much better life for turtles, and trying to improve aqua environments, Clean Ocean Access is championing work for cleaner oceans and marine debris solutions. Consider volunteering with their Rhode Island-based projects, not just on World Turtle Day, but any day.

On the opposite coast, in California, Heal the Bay works tirelessly to protect and improve the Pacific oceanscape, and their work has been accomplished with the help of over 100,000 volunteers just like you. Check out opportunities.

Before you book your next volunteering gig with these turtle champions or one of so very many others near you (an internet search for “Turtle Volunteer” yields loads of results), surf over to the website for Greenpeace and send an S.O.S. to world leaders on behalf of turtles everywhere, and all their aquatic neighbors, to protect their homes…and lives.

I’ve been blessed enough to snorkel among honu (the Hawaiian for green sea turtle) and it is simply magical and meditative to glide in the water with them. Making sure next generations can also see them (from a safe and unobtrusive distance, of course) is so important.