Posts Tagged ‘service travel’

Happy Birthday Dalai Lama — Volunteer to Celebrate

Dalai Lama quoteJuly 6, is the 84th 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.

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 the Tibetan language, Buddhist philosophy, and receive room and board while volunteering. Check out their needs and opportunities at this link.

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.

Praise vs. Thanks

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I’ve been wondering lately how clearly we hold the distinction between Praise and Thanks. Do we really know the difference? Does one of them, or the anticipation of receiving one, drive us more than another?

I’ve just returned from a 10-day exhausting and overwhelmingly fulfilling volunteer gig working with burn-injured children (Champ Camp of the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation—it’s the largest and longest-running burn camp in the nation—reach out and I’ll tell you every little thing about it—you want to be a part of this, I promise)…and on the long drive home from the hot dusty foothills of Fresno, I reflected back on the week-and-a-half.

Champ-Camp-Counselor

I received a LOT of thanks for my work. I was often embarrassed, because it felt like praise and I, like so many of us, duck and deflect compliments…but I never want to avoid a thank you. A thank you deserves to be heard, received, and responded to (but NOT with that horrific reply “No problem”—Ooof how I want to thwack the head of every damn waiter and barista and service person who replies to “Thank you” with “No problem”…but that’s a rant for another day) with some grace. I also gave a lot of thanks to my fellow volunteers, not to slap them on the back as if to say, “Good on ya” but because I was (am) genuinely thankful for their hard and important work. It gets blurry in my own head which is which, but I know that praise is not important, gratitude expressed IS important.

If we functioned in a vacuum, with no one to witness our good deeds and service as volunteers, how much of this hard work would we still perform? I don’t mean to suggest that we do it selfishly to polish our halos and gain recognition for our selflessness—most of us are legit pretty darned selfless—there are MUCH easier ways to garner praise. If, however, we did a good deed in the forest and no one was there to hear it, might we just walk on by? Probably, at least some of the time. That’s hard for me to wrap my head around for my own self-image, but I think it is authentic.

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I wipe down the public restroom sink because I believe I should, not because someone is watching. I pick up the litter because it offends my sensibility to see it there, not because someone will clap for me. Those are tiny expressions. Will I, however, commit a week and a half to 24-hour-a-day service if I don’t get to humble brag about it on social media? Wow—I sure hope so. I have no sense of an audience for my service when I am in the midst of it all, but if I’m being honest, I sure do want you to notice afterward.

It’s not a peg on which everyone hangs their reputation, but the “being of service” thing is very much a part of who I am and who I say I will always be. How much of that is to feed my ego? I’m not sure. I’m probably being hard on myself with sleep deprivation and laundry and re-entry making my brain swirl. In the long run, what matters is that the good work is done and done well. If you volunteer because a spouse or parent or someone pressures you into it, or so you can include it on a resume or college app, or to get extra credit, does that matter? I say no. Do the work anyway. Sweat the sweat. Cry the tears. Laugh the belly laughs. Hug until it hurts. You might get some praise—big deal—but you WILL get thanks, and that IS a big deal.

If you listen closely, you’ll hear the most important thanks is coming from you.

That seems like a trite statement but it is everything.

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.

On Equal Pay Day Commit to Volunteering for Women

Today is Equal Pay Day, one of those oops-we’re-doing-it-wrong shake your head sorts of days…it is the day each year when a woman’s earnings from the year before would finally catch up to one year of a man’s earnings doing the same work.

Yep, still true, it takes until April for a woman to earn what a guy took home by last December. On average, full-time working women still only make about 79 cents to a dollar for a man (better than the 72 cents of a few years ago, but c’mon…really?)

The wage gap costs the average full-time working woman about $430,000 dollars over her lifetime. Here’s the perplexing other side of the coin, and I know we’re all ramped up about minimum wages and unskilled labor making more than military, and those are entirely separate issues (about which…surprise…I have some very specific views…) but if we CLOSE the wage gap, we could add as much as $4.3 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy by the year 2025.

Since that closing of the gap won’t happen today, in the meantime, while you add your name to this petition to stand up for equal pay, here are a few volunteer opportunities around the world that you might consider that are dedicated to equality for women:

Voluntourism, Killer Whales, and SeaWorld’s Tilikum

adult and young orcas in wild

Photo: Christopher Michel – CC License

You’ve likely seen, or at least heard about the documentary Blackfish, exploring the life and striving times of captive killer whales, or orcas, at SeaWorld marine parks. While SeaWorld has been goaded by the resulting uproar into some changes in planned habitat restructuring and living conditions for their largest resident animals, there are many who feel captive orcas can never be appropriate.

The main storyline of the film focuses on a particular whale named Tilikum. This 35-year-old cetacean over-earned the “killer” moniker by being responsible for the deaths of three people while in captivity for more than two decades. Now, SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida has announced that Tilikum has an infection from which he will not recover, and he is in declining health. It’s a rough life in a cement pool too small for comfort, no matter how attentive the care (and, to be fair, SeaWorld’s staff caretakers and medics are dedicated and skilled animal lovers) and many believe it has been tantamount to torturing the whale for the majority of his life.

The flip side of this difficult coin is the marine study of orcas in their natural habitat, like this brand new volunteer expedition from Earthwatch: Killer Whales and Their Prey in Iceland. The first of several offerings of this 12-day voluntourism service trip is offered in June of 2017, where you will help study the feeding behavior of orcas in Vestmannaeyjar in the Westman Islands in the south of Iceland. Some of your time will be on shore, some on boats, as you scan for whales and take detailed scientific research notes on behavior of individual whales. You’ll be thoroughly trained and also get up close and personal as you assist the scientist research team to collect small (non-harming) skin and blubber samples from whales to biopsy and record diet, pollutant levels, and genetic information. You’ll be living at the research field station in dormitory accommodations, cooking and sharing time and laughs with your fellow volunteers.

This is a leading study of the species, and, like all Earthwatch volunteer opportunities, the work you do actually advances scientific understanding–this work, in particular, will help establish policies to better protect killer whales.

Travelocity Doubles Down to Support Voluntourism

From my second post-earthquake voluntourism trip to Haiti in 2012

From my second post-earthquake voluntourism trip to Haiti in 2012

I loved the news that Travelocity is re-invigorating their commitment to voluntourism, making service travel desirable, and even in some lucky folks’ cases, available and accessible.

The company’s Travel for Good portal is bringing welcome eyeballs to the concept of voluntourism, a travel category that bloggers had been piling on lately, accusing heartfelt service travel seekers of being motivated by wealthy guilt or savior complexes, or just being spoiled rich kids. So misguided, jaded, and wrong—truly frustrating that they don’t recognize what’s going on out there in the real world, where more and more people are making significant differences every day.

With the travel category’s popularity has come the next wave of hucksters trying to rip well meaning folks off or get high fees paid to line their pockets, but that’s not new to the tourism world. I always heartily suggest would-be voluntourists ask lots of questions, talk to previous clients, and have crystal clarity about who initiated the project and why (projects should be generated by the community served, not outside agencies who are not fluent in the nuances of a community’s needs).

The Travel for Good program also brings a web-sticky element of competition into the mix, with a social media contest giving away travel expenses and donations to causes for contest winners.

Go explore. Let your imagination run wild about ways you can help. Enter the contest

and win an amazing voluntourism trip! For just about every cause you can imagine, there is a way to get involved to really help. Every step you make toward creating a more workable world is significant.

Reality Tours Open Eyes Around the World

Haiti Capital 2010

Haitian capital post-quake 2010

This travel company was recently brought to my attention, and I’m loving them: Global Exchange.

Their Reality Tours take clients to rich and intriguing destinations we might not even know we need to add to our bucket lists. North Korea, Afghanistan, Rebuilding Nepal, Iran (all places I would LOVE to go) and so many more, but the genuinely exciting part is the context in which you travel. To explore and discover human rights causes, or sustainability efforts, or post-disaster recovery, or food scarcity programs, women’s rights—it is issue-based travel and connection.

The company’s tag line is: “…an international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic, and environmental justice around the world.” Their experiential education excursions connect deeply to communities and issues, and help make a real difference while fostering true understanding far more deeply than the levels we glean from most media. Over 100 trips a year to 40 destinations means you can absolutely find a trip that is meaningful and supports the issues about which you are passionate.

In addition to travel opportunities, their robust website offers plenty of other ways to get involved (including great “5-Minute Actions“), events, thoughtful blogs from past participants, and other programs. Go explore. Fair warning, you may disappear down the rabbit hole of intrigue the way I did, fantasizing about my next opportunity for impact travel.