Posts Tagged ‘elevate destinations’

Travel in the Buy-One-Give-One Mode: Elevate Destinations

Maasai Mara group standing in village settingI’ve blogged before, and likely will again, about companies like Warby Parker glasses and TOMS shoes, who have implemented the business model of buy-one-give-one. They are set up so that for each item a customer purchases, a similar item is donated to a community in need. It’s a good model, and is being more readily adopted by more companies, and provides the opportunity for customer loyalty to extend to cause-based issues, education about a chosen problem that can be addressed, and chance for retail to do well while doing good. Bottom line for a business needn’t be exclusively profit.

Since my normal stomping grounds include the travel industry, I am pleased to see footholds being made with this model in this arena as well. Elevate Destinations has launched a new Buy a Trip, Give a Trip model, where every client trip booked through this philanthropic travel company triggers a parallel experience for a child in a developing world destination. Working with local, on-the-ground NGOs, Elevate sponsors outings for youth groups that would otherwise not have access to the sites (and sights) that draw tourists from around the world. Children of Cape Town communities getting to visit Robben Island, for example, or Peruvian youth finally seeing Machu Picchu…it expands the experiences and understanding of marginalized young people.

For a while now, we’ve been aware of responsible travel practices and tools, like carbon offsets, that counter some of the impact we have on the planet as we engage with it…now, with this new Buy One Give One (#B1G1) model for travel…it could be seen as cultural offset, where your visit to a new community or destination leaves something more than footprints.

Volunteer in Haiti: Leadership Education, Solar/Wind Projects, and Agriculture Infrastructure

photo: Elevate Destinations

photo: Elevate Destinations

I can’t believe how quickly the pages get torn off the calendar! Time races by, and now it has been two years since I was last preparing to lead a volunteer service trip to Haiti. The organization with which I traveled, and am dearly fond of, is Elevate Destinations, and their service trip Elevate Haiti is once again filling up with hearty souls. Be careful if you ask me if you should go–I’ll flat out tell you “YES”

My two trips to post-earthquake Haiti were both with Elevate Destinations, once as client in Jacmel, then as a co-trip leader in Cyvadier. This year’s trip is to an island just off the Southwestern coast, Ile-a-Vache. Every year, the organization teams with on-the-ground community-based organizations–the mandatory key to a successful volunteer program–and this year they will work with the Edem Foundation, extending that group’s commitment to Haitian youth and local community economic development.

As a volunteer, you’ll be spending time in various activities, from teaching English and Leadership classes for kids, installation of new agricultural equipment, and getting a solar/wind energy system up and running. While it sounds like you’ll need lots of expertise for these jobs, you will have everything you need with a willingness to put in sweat equity and keep a great attitude. There is also plenty of time built in for cultural interchange and genuine connection to the community, and some exploration of the island as well as Port-au-Prince upon first arrival, with expert local guides. This is the polar opposite of a touristy, canned experience, and the friends you make—both fellow volunteers and Haitians—will likely be with you for the rest of your life. The two trip leaders this year were clients on my last trip there (and have both been repeatedly and are far more Haiti savvy than I ever hoped to be) so I know you’ll be in excellent hands. Tell Nic and Tess I said HI.

The trip is in July…in Haiti…and yes, it’s gonna be steamy…and this experience will also fire up your heart in ways you cannot imagine. Check it out. If you have any questions, give a holler–but I warned you–my answer will be YES, you should absolutely go!

Elevate Haiti–Summer Service Travel Opportunity

CIMG3411If you’ve lingered a bit around this blog, you know that I have had some earth-shifting service opportunities to travel and volunteer in Haiti. The organization with which I volunteered following the devastating 2010 earthquake, and then returned with last year as a group leader, is Elevate Destinations.

If you’ve ever had the itch to get to Haiti and get busy, they have a new trip going this summer, July 28-August 5 (If you are super dedicated, there is a potential extension for a second week of service work). “Elevate Haiti” puts a particular focus on sustainability and supporting local organizations on the ground–this way the mistake is never made (as too many voluntourism groups do) of providing “top down” charity. Nope, with Elevate, you are in service to the local partners–even when they do things in very different ways than you might. It is folly to try and impose our sensibilities–we actually don’t know better–and on this trip you are fully immersed, living and laughing and sweating (oh boy the sweating–you’ll love it. Your Bikram yoga class ain’t got nuthin’ on Haiti in July) with the local community. Your work will be largely youth-focused, working on education programs with the kids of the area (this year’s trip takes place on Ile-la-Vache, a small island off Haiti’s coast) and there is also a community-generated program, requested by the local community, that you will assist with (probably a construction or ecosystem project). There is plenty of downtime to see the slice of the world you are bettering, amazing Caribbean beaches being a highlight, and most importantly, bond with the Haitian kids and adults who are welcoming you. You start and finish your travels in Port-au-Prince, so you’ll get a tour and chance to see some of the capital as well. The earthquake was back in the beginning of 2010, and yet there are still so many displaced people living in tent villages–so much infrastructure has so far to go, but you’ll be overwhelmed with the inspiration you discover among your new friends.

Seriously–explore the website and try it on in your mind–see if it feels like a fit. If you have questions, don’t hesitate getting in touch with me directly, and reaching out to the folks at Elevate. They are Boston-based, so their time schedule likely aligns at least somewhat with yours for a call or call back. I had two great friends join me last year, plus all the friends I’ve made there (always a small group of a dozen or so, so you’ll get to know people and establish lifelong bonds with your fellow volunteers, too), and we can all tell you that you will not come home the same. That’s a promise. You want that change.

Go Overseas Interview

This is a quick interview I did for the good people of Go Overseas ( about “a day in the life” of the volunteer project I recently did in Haiti with Elevate Destinations. Go to the Go Overseas website to see it properly formatted and much nicer than the cut-n-paste version here…and while you’re there, find yourself a trip!


Day in the Life of a Volunteer in Haiti

Day in the Life of Andrew Mersmann - Volunteer in Haiti

Andrew Mersmann – Volunteer Alum in Haiti

Andrew Mersmann is a Los Angeles-based travel writer and author (Frommer’s “500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference). He was a client on the Elevate Destinations “Urgent Service” trip to southern Haiti in 2010 after the earthquake, and returned this year as a volunteer team leader. Andrew’s blog, Change By Doing focuses on volunteering and service around the world.

Where: Haiti
What: Volunteering with Elevate Destinations

kids in Haiti

Volunteer with children in Haiti

Morning: We were sleeping in either tents outside or under mosquito netting in a large, dirt-floored classroom…and it was July in Haiti, so I generally woke in a puddle of sweat. 15 of us shared a bathroom with no running water, just a large barrel of cistern water to use for bucket baths and flushing the toilet, and we had a jug of drinking water to brush our teeth, drink, etc. Breakfast, like every meal, was lovingly prepared for us, and we scarfed down peanut butter for protein and lots of carbs for energy.

The morning work detail was transporting sand, gravel, and bags of concrete, bucket brigade-style, up the precipitous side of the rocky hill, to build the kitchen and depot for Let Haiti Live headquarters. Grueling physical labor in intense heat, passing plastic buckets to the next volunteer up the hill, and passing empties back down to be refilled, we made games of staying hydrated, sang songs, shared life stories, and laughed until our sides ached.

Afternoon: The afternoon work was based in education for 40 young people, ages 5-25, in the requested areas of English and Leadership Skills. There were two age-divided classes going simultaneously for three sessions each afternoon, for a total of six lessons a day. We had a lesson plan and general direction for each class, some stood alone as individual lessons, some as continuation on the work of the previous day. Each volunteer taught at least once, then assisted other volunteer class leaders in other sessions. We exchanged cultural experiences (describe foods, sing national anthem and other common songs, share stories everyone learns as a child) and more practical advice (first aid training, entrepreneurship, even yoga) with the help of English translators. At the end of the week, the kids had prepared a program of dance and song and cultural presentation for us when we all shared a day at the beach.

Volunteers working hard in Haiti

Volunteers hard at work in Haiti

Evening: The young people we were there to serve went home to their families in the evening, so this was when we had time to really bond as a volunteer team. We’d stare down the hill at the waning light over the ocean before we had to grab up flashlights. One evening we joined our hosts at a highly competitive and celebratory community soccer match, another night we pooled a small amount of money so a local resto/pub owner could hire a band and we danced with lots of locals deep into the night. Other evenings we hung out in camp, headlamps as our only light, wishing for a cooling breeze, and dodging tarantulas on our way to the bathroom or eventually to bed/tent. Again, the laughter was always the most prominent sound.

Highlights: The highlight for me was after some circumstances waylaid or final day of lessons and we had to skip presentations of student projects (the older group had divided into small groups to create original “campaigns” for Haiti, developing posters, logos, radio commercial scripts, etc about a topic they were passionate about: the environment, education for all, better roads and infrastructure for the country, agriculture/food/hunger)…all of the kids voted to come back to class Saturday morning to finish, even though that had not been scheduled. Them seeing, and valuing, the benefit in what we were all doing together, made it all resonate so forcefully for me.

Quiet time with a 5-year-old growing sleepy as she sat in my lap, or helping clean and bandage a girl’s cut toe as she bravely squeezed my shoulder instead of crying, or a group of teen boys making necklaces for each of us to say goodbye, are subtle memories I’ll have forever.

Home From Haiti

The most amazing experience–working with Let Haiti Live in Cyvadier on the southern coast of Haiti with an amazing group of volunteers and the local community that welcomed us more warmly than we could have ever hoped.

Here is how we spent our mornings, bucket after bucket, day after day…




Take Part in Directly Affecting Haitian-led Solutions

I am fundraising for project dollars that go directly to the organization I am partnering with for a July Volunteer Service Trip to Haiti to support Let Haiti Live‘s locally-initiated goals of education, reforestation, and advocacy. I hope you’ll consider a much needed donation (click this link to go to my personal fundraising page).


So many friends and family opened their hearts and wallets when I volunteered in Haiti in 2010 after the earthquake. I’m headed back, to lead a group of volunteers this time (I wish you were coming with us!) I am again working with the same travel company, Elevate Destinations, on this award-winning example of their brilliantly conceived Urgent Service trips.

In July, I will be co-leading a volunteer service team in Cyvadier, Haiti for a week to support Let Haiti Live, a non-profit organization investing in Haitian-led initiatives that strengthen the people’s ability to become more self-sufficient economically, socially, and environmentally.

Our group will be working with 40 youths that are part of the JADPE program (Youth in Action for Development and Protection of the Environment). We will conduct a week-long Summer Camp teaching kids ranging from ages 5-25 English language skills and leadership development (among other relevant topics). We are also doing a construction project: building a kitchen to feed the kids of this community, and storage space that will support the expansion of the group’s reforestation efforts in the region. Our work will help empower youth leaders, help families grow food, and support Haiti’s environment.

Youth empowerment is CRUCIAL to helping Haitians rebuild their country. 100% of your donation will directly support our project that was initiated by the Haitian leaders of the organization. I know how frustrating it has been for many who think so much money has gone to Haiti, but seemed to disappear before making a difference. Here is a way to reach out and know exactly where your dollars are going.

Thank you for your support – even $10 helps!

Your support will:

*Provide hot lunches for 40 kids for the camp (for many, this might be their only hot meal for that day).
* Help provide the educational materials they need for the summer camp.
* Enable us to work on the construction project to expand Let Haiti Live’s capacity.

Please help me exceed my goal of raising $600 for Let Haiti Live by July 15th!

Your donation means a lot to me and to the youth at the JADPE project.

My sincere thanks,

Andrew Mersmann


Join Me on a Service Vacation In Haiti This Summer!

One of my favorite friends from my last trip to Jacmel, Haiti.

Hey Everyone–I am co-leading a volunteer/service trip to Haiti this summer. Join us! The trip is with Elevate Destinations, the same organization I was lucky enough to travel with to volunteer after the earthquake. There is a one-week and a two-week option (July 22-30 or July 22-August 5) and we will be teaching/leading a summer camp/leadership academy for youth ages 5-25 in the afternoons, while our mornings are spent on reforestation and construction programs. It takes place in Cyvadier, on the southern coast, not far from Jacmel. I would be thrilled to answer questions and give you more information if you want to chew on the idea of coming along–I promise you will come home a different person and will be so deeply moved by this experience.

The in-country project partner is Let Haiti Live, working to strengthen Haitian independence and self-determination, with a focus on alternative media, education, and community mobilization; reforestation; and international advocacy. It is an honor to work with such a dedicated organization.

If you’ve ever considered service travel, see if this feels like a fit. Feel free to ask questions or add comments here, or email me directly at: More details of the trip can be found here (1-week trip details) and here (2-week trip). Come on–this will be unlike any summer you’ve known!

Elevate the Gulf–It is Out of the News, but the Crisis Persists

Our world is in constant flux, and sometimes change happens in dramatic ways, in the form of disasters, natural or human-generated. Because we’ve all grown used to 24-hour news cycles and are immersed in everything from contentious election rhetoric to award season gowns and shenanigans, it is understandable how our collective memory might be challenged to hold on to priorities and perspective. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has been reduced for many of us to the occasional BP television commercial addressing the work they are committed to doing to continue cleanup. For the folks living in the area who lost livelihood, and the ecosystem that lost life, the challenges in the aftermath have not gone away. Quite the contrary–there is still so much to do to help the region heal.

Elevate the Gulf is a fantastic “urgent service” volunteer trip from Elevate Destinations. This organization helped me get to Haiti post-earthquake, and is deeply committed to the same kind of direct service for the Gulf. The trip is April 9-14, and signing up needs to happen quickly (shooting for next week–March 5 deadline). In addition to the expert team leaders and local partner organizations, you’ll be learning from and working alongside Mark Spalding, the Executive Director of the OceanFoundation. Each of the six days you’ll work with scientists and researchers from the Alabama Coastal Foundation and The Nature Conservancy to restore oyster reefs, seagrass beds, and coastal marsh habitats. The planet has always done a pretty good job at restoring itself, but we made this mess, we ought to be dedicated to the cause of cleaning it up. We have lost probably an entire generation of sea turtles and fish, and the shrimp and oyster population, on which so many locals depend for income, was slammed in a way that won’t bounce back for several seasons of natural renewal.

Trust me on this one–if you are looking for a volunteer vacation opportunity, here is a great option. Domestic destination so you needn’t mess with international airfare, springtime in the South=gorgeous, and a host (Andrea Atkinson) and host organization I know and adore, and promise will take care of you in ways more professional and efficient than you likely would take care of yourself…and the planet needs your help and your effort.

Mountains for Water—New Trip with Elevate Destinations

The severe, debilitating drought that struck Kenya at the end of the last century is still being felt, and causing suffering, today. Communities, livestock, and wild animals struggle for water, leading to entire communities—human and other animals—fighting dehydration and its attendant health issues. On example is the prevalence of trachoma, which can lead to painful blindness. A relatively simple reservoir system can make all the difference to people living in the area…and YOU can make all the difference by participating in this trip of a lifetime from Elevate Destinations.

You and your fellow intrepid travelers will climb Mount Kilimanjaro (I’ve been aching to do this for YEARS! I dream about Kili!) to raise funds and awareness. The money raised from this educational trip will build a rainwater reservoir for a rural community in Northern Kenya. This is a 7-day ascent of the highest free standing mountain in the world, on one of the most scenic routes, with the support of professional guides and support staff. Cross a huge entry off your bucket list, and make a lasting change for a community in need. Your efforts can literally save lives and certainly improve the health of the region. There are still a few slots left for this January journey.

I have traveled with this terrific company before (to volunteer in Haiti) and I can promise you I will travel with them again–I recommend them so highly. When you’re there, at the summit of Kili, tell the Mountain I hope to see it soon!

Flight of Friendship—Volunteering in Japan

AP photo/The Yomiuri Shimbun, Reiri Kurihara

Disaster relief volunteering is always a delicate measure with timing. The quick arrival of skilled volunteers for emergency medical relief or shelter work is one thing, but when it can be effective and productive for the rest of us, as dedicated but lay volunteers, always takes a little longer. Elevate Destinations, with whom I did my post-earthquake volunteering in Haiti, has an inspiring focus on “Urgent Service” volunteer trips (including continuing work in Haiti as well as cleanup in the Gulf from the BP oil spill), and with their partner network of in-country NGOs, truly understands the timing.

Flight of Friendship is an Oregon-based organization that previously brought volunteers to projects in post-tsunami Thailand and post-hurricane New Orleans…and they are ready to get volunteers into the earthquake and tsunami-ravaged communities of Japan. Their humanitarian excursion is May 29-June 4, and while brief, is designed to have a definite impact (and like all volunteering, the person doing the volunteer work always comes away with more than the person or community being served. We truly help ourselves when helping others). The first days are in Tokyo to be briefed on conditions and expectations, then the group moves on to Sendai to assist at shelters, orphanages, and schools. It would be a huge thing to take on while the situation is still so raw.

Are you ready? They are definitely ready for you.