True North Magazine

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KPop and Koras: 12 Tracks from International Artists

Down to Earth Vacationing:

From the Caribbean to Thailand:

Agritourism and the WOOFERs

The Coolest Voluntours

TOP 10 Things to Pack for your Voluntour


Beyond Service. Beyond Travel.

The Christian Mission: Refocused Page 42

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magazine for iPad

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More content. Interactive features.


EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Josephine Yurcaba

ASSISTANT EDITORS Andrew Stern Alex Dixon

ART DIRECTOR Ainslie Perlmutt

IPAD DIRECTOR Ariana Rodriguez-Gitler

EDITORIAL STAFF Katharine McAnarney Emily Wiggins Zach Potter Meredith Hamrick Laurie Beth Harris

DESIGN STAFF Mindy Johnson Alexis Balinski Kerry Johnson Jessica Karsner Chantrel Reynolds

SPECIAL THANKS Terence Oliver Linda Brinson Dana McMahan



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TRUE NORTH January 2014 04-17

Letters Editor’s Note Letters to the Editor

Compass Cultural Faux Pas: Gomer Goes Abroad Quiz: Finding your Place 10 Things to Pack Exotic Voluntours

Spotlight The Nations at our Doorstep



Features Down to Earth Vacationing Which Age Group is Most Active A Universal Language Building for the Future Technology Profile: Solar Power The Christian Mission: Refocused

Birds Eye View Globetrotting with True North


Cultured 10 Ways to Stay Safe and Healthy Music & Food: Your Soundtrack to Voluntouring Music & Food: Zhug

Postscript Unforgettable Memories Expert Q&A: Viability Coming Home Technology: Innovative or Insulting

Download True North on iTunes for a more interactive experience.


Editor’s Note Travel is changing. By that I mean not only does the experience of traveling change you, which seems obvious, but also that the act of travel — its intentions, means, and goals — is changing as well. We’re seeing a shift in perspective from pure pleasure travel to more selfless, more morally conscious travel. Now, when people travel, they want to help build houses and churches, teach English to young children, save endangered species, and help stop pollution. This development seems to come from more recent generations’ desire to save the world, and to be guiltfree about spending money while we do it. But this movement, which has taken the name “voluntourism,” seems to go deeper than guilt-free travel. It’s a substitute for graduating students who aren’t ready to begin their permanent careers; it’s a way to get directly involved in local and international problems; and it seems to cultivate a growing need to feel connected to, and see the faces of, those being helped. Voluntourism is the discovery of self and selfless exploration combined into one movement. It realigns our moral and travel compasses so that they become one in the same — addressing real concerns and nourishing our desire for human connection. Our goal at True North is to uncover the true intentions behind voluntourism and to dissect the efficacy of the movement as it grows. We want to indulge in the real cultural immersion


that seems to take place on voluntours when compared with pleasure travel; we hope to show travelers why they might feel more morally fulfilled as voluntourists. Because of the earth’s magnetic field, north on a magnetic traveler’s compass differs from true north. Magnetic north changes both from place to place and over time due to magnetic anomalies. Morality can function in a similar fashion. Some argue that it can be relative to cultural norms, but most agree that there’s a true, morally preferred decision. Voluntourism has created a new ethical frontier within travel, and we believe that when faced with a decision between travel for pleasure and travel for service, the latter is your true north. We are dedicated to keeping travelers informed about this distinction and its legitimacy, their options as voluntourists, and their abilities to grow through travel that expands and strengthens communities. We hope to keep readers’ world compasses aligned with their moral compasses so that they never question what is their true north.

Josephine is a travel enthusiast as a result of 17 years as an Army brat. Her interests in alternative travel and voluntourism were sparked by a trip to Paris, France, in 2012.

Truly, Josephine Yurcaba Editor in Chief

True North Magazine is available on iTunes for a more interactive experience on your iPad


Letters to the Editor

At its core, True North is about stories. Letters to the editor provides an opportunity for our readers to share their voluntourism experiences. Whether your letter is informational, editorial, humorous, or heartfelt we want to hear from you. To submit, send a letter of no more than 300 words and any relevant photos to

Dear Editors, When I try to think of how to best describe my experience in Musanzee, Rwanda, I am tempted to talk about the inspirational rebirth of a troubled country or the incredible students I taught at a genocide survivors’ orphanage. But, in reality, there is only one story that really sums up my cultural experience — cooking fajitas. I know… this might seem trivial, but until you have bartered for a live cow in an open-air market, you simply haven’t lived. The story begins when I was not so happily put in charge of making fajitas for 20 houseguests. Now you may be thinking, “no big deal!” But, take the grocery store, electric oven, and pretty much every modern-day convenience out of your imaginary picture. Prepackaged tortillas do not exist in Rwanda, and beef does not come in a package. I visited the only market in Musanzee four times in order to check on the progress of my frustratingly still-alive dinner before finally being able to barter for my meat. After shoving a number of pushy Rwandans out of my way and haggling for the leanest cuts of meat, I realized that after two months of isolation, I had officially become a local. Needless to say, fajitas were a hit, and all of my guests were blissfully unaware of the preparation involved. But, the next time you enter your local supermarket, kiss the floor in thanks. Sarah Rogala Musanzee, Rwanda 2009 Dear Editors, As with many trends of the millennial generation, “voluntourism” has gained sudden popularity, peaked perhaps prematurely, and finally endured the inevitable

backlash from an opinionated Internet populace. With headlines like, “You’re Better Off Backpacking…” and rhetoric accusing these opportunities of being “expensive ego boosters,” articles and blogs lambaste the voluntourism trend as self-serving, unsustainable, and ultimately counterproductive to its own altruistic mission. While I don’t entirely disagree with these criticisms, I think it’s just as dangerous to generalize a movement that could, with the right approach, fulfill its ambitious potential. A trip to Belize my sophomore year of university embodied voluntourism done well, as it considered and removed the two biggest obstacles to the movement’s success: facelessness and sustainability. As a group of 20 college students poured the concrete foundations for new classrooms and built bus stops in the jungle to protect children from scorching weather conditions, we worked alongside a local company (ProBelize) that connected us with Belizeans who assisted in our projects. We also met with the children who studied at the schools; they enjoyed helping us mix and smooth the cement, as well as challenging us to soccer games during breaks. These interactions put a face to the work we were doing, taking any ego out of what was already fairly unglamorous, arduous, humbling labor. In addition, by teaching the locals the methods and involving them in the process, ProBelize creates sustainability in the event of further need. As they embrace communities and involve local people in their work, the volunteers are equal parts of an altruistic, sustainable process. They and their egos are no longer the focus. Alex Heald San Ignacio, Belize 2009




While traveling, it is important to be aware of the cultural norms that exist from place to place. Between Eastern and Western cultures, these norms can often vary dramatically. Gomer is an American student and voluntourist who wants to travel the world. This month, he visits Asia for the first time. Follow him through his trip as he learns acceptable Asian etiquette.

1 Pointing in Asian cultures Gomer is buying gifts for his friends while in Beijing. He sees an item in the store that is kept in a glass case. He asks the shopkeeper for help with the item. Should Gomer: A. show the shopkeeper the item by pointing at it with his index finger B. make a closed fist with his thumb pointing in the direction of the item

2 Placement of chopsticks While in China, several of Gomer’s friends invite him to dinner. It’s the first time he’s been to a restaurant in Asia, but luckily he knows how to use chopsticks. After three glasses of Oolong tea, a popular drink in China, Gomer gets up from the table to use the restroom. Should Gomer place his chopsticks: A. vertically, in his rice B. horizontally, on or beside his plate

3 Finishing your plate Gomer eats quickly. As he finishes his meal before his friends, he tries to decide whether he should finish the last bit of bitter melon on his plate. He is full, but he doesn’t want to be impolite or seem like he didn’t enjoy the food. Should Gomer: A. finish the bitter melon B. leave it on the plate

4 Chewing/bringing gum to Singapore Gomer leaves China and heads to Singapore. After a lunch of spicy chili crab, a man approaches him and offers to sell him a piece of gum. He imagines how refreshing Wintergreen would be to battle the lingering chili and garlic taste in his mouth.

5 Complimenting the Chinese on their English-speaking skills Gomer is visiting the University of Hong Kong. His friend is a well-traveled Chinese business student who speaks English quite well. “Wow, your English is great!” he says. His friend laughs. Should Gomer: A. apologize for the compliment B. ask his friend when he started learning English

1. B. In the United States, pointing is often an acceptable gesture. However, in Asian cultures it is perceived as rude. Rather than pointing with his index finger, Gomer should make a closed fist with his thumb at the top, pointing subtly in the direction of the object he wants. 2. B. In Chinese culture, resting chopsticks vertically is considered impolite and seen as an omen of death. The sight of two upright chopsticks in a bowl is reminiscent of incense sticks that the Chinese traditionally burn after someone’s death. 3. B. In China and other parts of Asia, finishing your plate is seen as a sign that you’re still hungry or unsatisfied with your meal. It’s a good idea to leave a little bit of food on the plate to avoid insulting your host. 4. A. In 1992, Singapore implemented a chewing gum ban because of a litter problem. In 2004, it partially lifted the ban to allow Nicotine gum into the country, but the penalty for smuggling gum into the country is one year in jail and a 10,000 Singapore dollar, (5,500 USD) fine. If you’re caught chewing gum, the penalties are similar to those for littering. The Singapore littering law requires a fine of 500 to 1,000 USD for first time offenders. 5. A. In China, complimenting businessmen on their English skills is considered rude. Chinese businessmen are often well-traveled, and if you compliment them on their speech, they will believe you do not have any better compliment to give them.

Should Gomer: A. tell the man no thanks. B. purchase the gum, depending on the price.



Finding Your Place in Voluntourism BY ZACH POTTER STAFF WRITER Are you a teacher? A builder? A nature-lover? Perhaps you want to provide health care. Or perhaps you are most at home in the water. No matter what you love, there is sure to be an exciting voluntour opportunity that can change your life and the lives of those you help. Take a look, and see which experience fits you best.

COSTA RICA ARGENTINA Teach English Voluntour with Projects Abroad to help improve the English skills of Argentinian students. Projects Abroad recommends that voluntourists know Spanish to teach in public schools, but if you don’t, don’t worry; there are plenty of private schools where you can still help children hone their English. Many students can write and read well but do not have the time or resources to practice the speaking and listening skills required to master the language — that’s where you come in. Develop fun games and lesson plans that sustain students’ enthusiasm. During the schools’ vacation period, from December through February, you will be able to teach informal sessions at local orphanages and care centers. Find out more at


Care for people with disabilities In Costa Rica, those with disabilities are often marginalized by society. You will be able to work with children and adults, providing education, comfort, and physical and recreational therapy. The goal is to help them integrate into their communities. The only requirements are patience and dedication. Find out more at www.

THAILAND Senior care You can make a difference by voluntouring with organizations like World Endeavors. In Thailand, you will get to experience a unique culture, learn the Thai language, and provide meaningful services to the elderly. Voluntourists also get to work at nursing homes and senior centers. During your service, you will help with daily tasks and spend time with patients, sharing your experiences and learning about theirs. Find out more at

GHANA Improve infrastructure

MADAGASCAR Marine conservation

Rural Ghana, like many areas around the world, can benefit greatly from your help. International Volunteer HQ’s construction projects in Ghana focus on the construction and renovation of orphanages, clinics, community centers, toilet facilities, and schools. You will take part in painting, plastering, carpentry, and so much more. Get involved today and build a better world.

Voluntourists can join the effort with Blue Ventures and have a lot of fun in the process. You will travel to Madagascar and join research scientists and expedition teams in studying the coastal environment. The organization hopes to find ways for the local communities to live sustainably with the ecosystem and works to preserve marine habitats. Blue Ventures will happily provide scuba lessons and help you get your certification so that you can join the expedition team on dives around the coast.

Find out more at

Find out more at

Take the quiz in the True North iPad magazine to discover your perfect voluntour opportunity



10Things to Pack When Voluntouring

BY KATHARINE MCANARNEY STAFF WRITER When you’re planning a trip — whether it’s to the far reaches of the world or right outside your backyard — packing is typically that last thing on your mind. You’re worried about transportation and the destination and not about an allpurpose jacket or a universal travel plug. Having a list will help you remember important items and avoid those last-minute meltdowns about where your passport ran off to. Start gathering the essentials beforehand and leave your worries at the front door as you leave home to voluntour.


Water Bottle



1 Backpack While the type of backpack you use will depend on your trip, the one you toted around in high school probably won’t cut it. REI’s Osprey Porter 46 Travel Pack has comfortable shoulder straps, a fabric waistbelt, lockable zippers, and a padded interior.

Want your daily dose of 8 cups of water, but afraid of gulping down germs? Fear no more, for CamelBak has created a Groove Insulated water bottle that purifies water from any source.

And don’t forget to pack a sense of humor when things don’t go the way you planned. Remember to have courage to learn and grow and a sense of adventure for every opportunity that comes your way.

7 Calling Card

Make sure to buy international calling cards to keep in touch with family and friends back home.

2 Clothing

The most important piece of clothing you can bring is an all-purpose jacket. Come rain, wind, sun, or snow, the Patagonia Classic Retro X Jacket protects you from temperamental Mother Nature.


Shoes If you’re a voluntourist, you’re never fully dressed without a pair of Chaco shoes. The unisex Chacos Unaweep Sandal has good traction, a self-cleaning tread design, and adjustable straps.

4 Tools Watch the backpack come alive with our interactive iPad magazine available on iTunes.


If you’re the type of person who can’t tear yourself away from your phone, you’re going to need a universal travel plug when abroad. Remember to also pack locks to protect your belongings.


Passport Holder Though you may not win points with the fashion police, purchase a passport holder to keep all your important information safely around your neck.

9 Food

Remember to pack easily disposable snacks for when you’re on the go and can’t stop for a meal. The Clif Crunch Granola Bars or Lance Peanut Butter Toasty Crackers fit the bill. Pack them in your bag for when you need a comfort fix.

10 First-Aid Kit

Assemble a first-aid kit that has cold and flu pills, antiseptic cream, throat lozenges, motion sickness pills, bug spray, sunscreen, dry shampoo, and lip balm.



If you’re looking to go off the beaten path, check out our most exotic voluntours. Each month, we will introduce you to four unique programs in places all around the world.

Photo courtesy of Atma Seva

Atma Seva - WAT DOI SAKET PROJECT Teach English to boys at a Buddhist temple in Thailand

The majority of the young monks study at the temple to get a free education, not to become lifelong monks. For those who choose not to stay, learning English makes it easier to find jobs later in life. Voluntourists teach English classes, tutor individual students, and immerse themselves in temple life. On weekends, they take group trips to area attractions. Participants may live at the Buddhist temple or in host homes. You must be at least

18 years old and speak fluent English to apply. Fill out the information form at The organization will contact you with further instructions. How much is this going to cost? 1 week= $700 2 weeks= $800 2 months= $1,700


Exotic Voluntours REEF Environmental Education Foundation Scuba dive, snorkel, and collect data about marine life that will be used by scientists and conservationists. Spend a week at the all-inclusive Blackbird Caye Resort in Turneffe Atoll, Belize. Divers must have scuba certification. Learn more at To sign up, email

Photo courtesy of Paul Humann

How much is it going to cost? Cost of trip = $2,270 Program fee= $300 Hotel tax= $31.50

Bike and Build Bike across the United States stopping on certain days to work at construction sites operated by affordable housing organizations. Riders stay in churches, schools, and sometimes tents along the way. Participants cannot be older than 25 years old. To apply, visit www.bikeandbuild. org, or check out BikeAndBuild.

Photo courtesy of Bike and Build

How much is it going to cost? Application fee= $200 Fundraising minimum= $4,500 Cycling equipment: About $600

Project Abroad: Sri Lanka Teach children basic computer skills and help them be more competitive in the job market. Participants work at an IT center in Mawala or at a school in either Panadura or Negombo. They stay with host families or live with other voluntourists from Projects Abroad. Knowledge of Microsoft Office is required. Apply at How much is this going to cost?* 1 week= $1,970 2 weeks= $2,215 10 weeks= $4,175 Photo courtesy of Projects Abroad


*different lengths of time available, see website



This spotlight is a recurring feature on organizations with voluntouring opportunities. Check the next issue for a spotlight on another organization and more voluntours.

Photo courtesy of World Relief Durham

The Nations at our Doorstep BY LAURIE BETH HARRIS STAFF WRITER World Relief Durham pairs voluntourists with refugees to help the refugees adjust to life in the United States.

To learn how to get involved be sure to visit

From the time new refugees to the United States step off the plane from their home country to the moment they are hired for new jobs, volunteers from World Relief Durham are teaching them the skills necessary to become self-sufficient while working to make sure they have everything they need along the way. World Relief Durham is only one branch of the overarching World Relief organization. Based in Baltimore, Maryland, World Relief works within the United States and abroad on issues such as education, agriculture, food security, anti-trafficking, disaster response, and refugee resettlement — the focus of World Relief Durham. World Relief describes its mission as, “to empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable.” In Durham, North Carolina, the organization works with local churches and volunteers to help refugees fleeing ethnic, religious, or political persecution to resettle in the area. World Relief Durham focuses on refugees who have decided to make the

United States their new home. “(The religious connection) can be scary to some people as they think we are forcing religion on newly arriving refugees,” said Elissa Hill, match grant coordinator for World Relief Durham. “But really what it means is that we believe connecting church members with refugees builds long-term relationships that provide stability.” One of the key aspects of World Relief Durham’s work is a program titled “Go:Ethnos.” Volunteers move into neighborhoods where the refugees live, cultivating a relationship with refugees and acting as a form of leadership within the community. Voluntouring opportunities with World Relief range in time spans from a few weeks to up to a year; available both within the United States and internationally. World Relief volunteers do everything from teaching computer skills in Indonesia to fighting human trafficking in Maryland.






Photo courtesy of Pickards Mountain Eco Institute


If venturing to a farm doesn’t sound like an alluring vacation destination to you, think again. The face of tourism is changing. Tourists across the nation are no longer flocking to only glamorous tropical destinations, but also to rural locales. Paying a visit to a farm is called agritourism, and it can give you a communal, down-to-earth, and even low-cost vacation experience.


yatt Fraas, assistant director of opportunities and stewardship at the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska, said agritourism is growing in popularity. He attributes agritourism’s growth to general curiosity about the farming environment. “People are interested in seeing the environment and touring farms to see how it happens, as well as learning about the process,” he said. “There is a growing interest in the public in finding places where farms are clean and well-run — with grass, healthy animals, flowers, and clean water.” There are many ways to participate in agritourism, such as buying products from a farm, participating in farming workshops, or spending time visiting a farm. Agritourism allows consumers to know exactly where their money is going – in this case, right back to the local economy. In addition, travelers can learn where

Photo by Ainslie Perlmutt

their food comes from. Some tourists seek to go beyond this educational experience by getting their hands dirty volunteering on a farm. The U.S. branch of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF, is one organization providing these opportunities. Headquartered in San Francisco, the organization links volunteers to organic farms around the nation. The organization’s mission is to be part of a worldwide effort of farmers to promote educational exchange in the global community for ecological farming practices, according to Sarah Potenza, executive director of WWOOF USA. Potenza says there are 17,000 volunteers in the United States annually. Volunteers — or WWOOFers — choose one of many member farms across the nation. After connecting with the farmer, the WWOOFer lives on the host farm and helps out with activities such as weeding, harvesting

crops, and composting. “WWOOF mostly gets spread through word of mouth,” Potenza said. “Host farms hear about it from a neighbor farm or at a farmer’s market, then they’ll get in touch with us and ask if their farm is a good fit.” Potenza said stays on host farms can vary from volunteer to volunteer and can go on for anywhere between one weekend to a couple of months. She said the average stay on host farms is one to two weeks, and volunteering for the organization is popular among all age groups. “The majority of WWOOFers are college aged,” Potenza said. “But we get WWOOFers all the way up to 75 years old, and sometimes there are families that go and bring their kids.” Volunteering on a farm mutually benefits both volunteers and farmers, Potenza said. “We help farmers by providing interested, enthusiastic visitors to

(Above) Meg Toben gathers native herbs at Pickards Mountain. Photo courtesy of Pickards Mountain Eco Institute. (Left) Donkeys munch hay at Agricola Biologica Nico, a WWOOF farm in Lucca, Italy.


(Below) A John Muir quote welcomes visitors to Pickards Mountain Eco Institute. (Right) Chickens roam freely on the farm.

Photos courtesy of Pickards Mountain Eco Institute

provide helping hands on their farm,” she said. “Farming is a pretty laborintensive activity, and it takes a lot of people to create organic food and products. It’s a way to get everybody excited about agriculture and learning about sustainable farming practices.” Potenza said the organization thinks of itself as one aiming to train the next generation of farmers, but even if people are not looking to start a farm of their own, they can still learn about what it takes to create healthy food by being part of the food production process. WWOOFing also comes with a small price tag — volunteers get free room and board — which makes it even more appealing to voluntourists seeking to gain experience on a farm, often in locales they may have not otherwise visited. Potenza said the only costs to the volunteers are incidental fees, as well as travel to and from the farm. The organization has many farms on the West Coast, with California being the largest host farm state because of its large number of small-scale farms and the diversity of its crops. North Carolina is another popular state for these ventures. Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute is one of


many farms in North Carolina where WWOOFers may volunteer. The farm is nestled on 70 acres of land in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and is surrounded by towering oak trees, an expansive solar panel setup, and a vibrant community garden. The farm was founded by Meg and Tim Toben, who wanted a way to address the issues of global climate change and scarcity of resources. The farm creates a nurturing environment for community members to come together to learn about helping the environment. “It is important to get what we need from the earth without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs,” Meg Toben said. Pickards Mountain employs the help of teachers, interns, and community volunteers to maintain its operations. The farm grows seasonal vegetables and herbs, and even generates its own electricity with the help of the solar panels. WWOOFers and volunteers at Pickards Mountain perform tasks that range from taking care of the farm’s two cows, Daisy and Buttercup, to beekeeping. Much of Pickard Mountain’s focus is centered on the importance of education, so

the farm’s workers are enthusiastic and eager to explain the farm operations to people of all ages. An additional volunteer duty is to help lead tour groups for local elementary, middle, and high schools. Mary Catherine Penn, a volunteer intern from Wilmington, North Carolina, has lived at Pickards Mountain since August and will stay through the winter. Penn, a 25-yearold recent college graduate, said she moved to Toronto after college only to find the city overwhelming and too large. While leading a group of middle schoolers, she snaps pictures of the farm’s horses with her Nikon and points out different varieties of edible flowers and peppers in the garden. After living in Toronto, Penn said, she needed to come back to nature. Working at Pickards Mountain has allowed her to do so. Penn is given room, board, and food grown on the farm in exchange for 25 hours of work a week. She points out that working on a farm has lead to important progress in personal growth. “There’s plenty of farm work here, but there’s also spiritual work,” Penn said. “You find what makes you go here. It’s a supportive incubator.”

“People are interested in seeing the environment and touring farms to see how it happens, as well as learning about the process.” WYATT FRAAS Center for Rural Affairs Assistant Director of Opportunities and Stewardship




3 5 1 1


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oluntouring internationally is a concept most closely connected to young adults, fresh out of college or high school, taking a gap year to see the world while they have the flexibility and freedom to travel without children and jobs tying them down. However, studies from Washington University in St. Louis show that the number of young adults ages 15 to 24 going on voluntouring trips is actually declining, as adults 65 and older are beginning to voluntour at astounding rates. YOUNG ADULTS In his work for Projects Abroad, Program Advisor Christian Clark said most of the voluntourists with Projects Abroad are under the age of 25, most often between the ages of 18 to 25 and either recently out of college or getting ready to enter college. “The majority would


be gap-year students, either before starting college or after graduating, as well as current undergraduates,” Clark said. “They’re looking for an alternative to school, while seeing the world and maintaining a kind of education.” At this point in their lives, these young, educated adults are still figuring out what they will do career wise and have the freedom to travel without families or other responsibilities tying them to one place. And for high school students with volunteering requirements for school, voluntourism provides a way to fulfill their requirements rather than volunteering at home. “Probably a tenth of our summer programs are made up of high school students,” Clark said. Projects Abroad’s programs are available to those at least 16 years old, meaning that students who are juniors in high school and older have the opportunity to voluntour internationally.

35 75 27


82 21

6 5 19 6 18

MIDDLE-AGE ADULTS For adults ages 35 to 55 with more established responsibilities, voluntouring abroad can be more of a challenge. Taking an extended leave from work isn’t always possible, and longer voluntourism trips are almost certainly out of the question with small children at home. Additionally, the financial aspect of voluntourism isn’t always viable for adults still establishing themselves, especially if they’re raising children and paying for the associated costs. “Parents are focused on paying for education and putting their children in these programs,” Clark said. According to the study, about 16 percent of adults ages 35 to 44 and 20 percent of adults from the ages of 45 and 54 voluntoured abroad from

2004 to 2012. Only about 13 percent of adults 25 to 34 voluntoured abroad in that time period. “For those 25 to 34, they’re still getting married and establishing roots,” said Amanda Moore McBride, Washington University at St. Louis assistant professor, who worked on the study. “After that point, they’re more established financially and are potentially sending their children into these volunteer projects, allowing them to participate at higher rates as well.” Clark emphasized the importance of parents who voluntoured with their children at Projects Abroad. “We see a lot of parents volunteering with their children with our high school programs,” Clark said. “But a lot of the time, they’re just waiting because they don’t have the time or resources to travel to volunteer.” At St. Francis United Methodist Church in Cary, North Carolina, much of the missions program at the church is centered on their youth program for students from sixth to 12th grade. In the summer of 2013, the youth program took a voluntourism trip to Honduras and regularly participates in Appalachia Service Project within the United States. The Director of Youth Ministry, Kristy Hochhalter, said parents are often involved in these trips as their children begin to participate in them as well. ADULTS OVER 55 As the responsibilities of parenthood fade when children grow up, parents retire and schedules free up, many people choose to voluntour abroad as opportunities become more accessible. In 2008, 73,000 adults over the age of 65 voluntoured abroad, according to the study. In 2012, that number was 127,000 — an increase of about 74 percent. Over the same period, those aged 55 to 64 showed a growth of about 58 percent. “There’s a lot of interest coming from that retired age group,” Clark said, “an interest that didn’t exist as much a few years ago. As far as growth goes, the largest growth potential is with older adults.” And since many of these adults have spent the majority of their lives specializing in one field, they

Voluntourism by Age from 2004 to 2012


8, 501, 074 abroad volunteers in the U.S.*

the # of abroad volunteers aged 55-64



From the ages of 15 to 24, 26 percent of young adults voluntour internationally, according to the Washington University study. However, the study also found that young adults in that age group were voluntouring at declining rates from 2004 to 2012, by 40 percent. In 2004, 240,000 adults from 15 to 24 voluntoured abroad; in 2012, that number was only 170,000. At Projects Abroad, Clark emphasized that the number of young adults voluntouring wasn’t necessarily declining. Instead, he said this number is increasing at slower rates. “It’s not increasing as much as it was a decade ago, when this kind of travel was very new for Americans,” Clark said. “This kind of travel was especially popular for college students at that time.” With the emergence of voluntourism as an industry in the early 2000s, Clark said the growth among all ages is beginning to even out as time passes. “There was rapid growth through the early 2000s. That’s beginning to level out a little bit. There’s a lot more voluntouring opportunities now, too.” As voluntourism establishes itself as an industry, students can even tailor opportunities to their studies. Projects Abroad provides internship experience in areas such as medicine, human rights, education and environmental conservation, Clark said.

the # of abroad volunteers aged 65+

INCREASED the # of abroad volunteers aged 15-24




is the age group that voluntours


*Frequency of volunteers may include repeats


bring specialized skills to their voluntourism trips. “If they have a background in a specific field, they’re very well-suited to pass that knowledge on,” Clark said. They might not be building houses for the homeless, but older adults are the ones often volunteering in childcare and teaching, he said. “There’s more opportunities available for those over 65 now,” McBride said. “They’re undoubtedly the age group to watch as far as growth in voluntourism goes.” However, other demographic factors such as household income and education are often stronger indicators of who will voluntour internationally, she said. “Generally, voluntourism is done by those with higher incomes, simply because they have the financial means to do so.” But for those involved with voluntourism, age is not a limiting factor — rather, voluntours see age as a variable that brings different experiences and expertise to their voluntourism experiences. “Babies are the only age group we don’t see voluntouring,” Clark said. “Everyone else has a place in voluntourism.”


A Universal

24 | TRUE NORTH Photos courtesy of Devyn Youmans



or Devyn Youmans, 20, sports and religion have always been intertwined. “What’s funny is that people still do think sports and religion are two different things, and that they don’t have anything in common,” Youmans said. “That’s completely false because for kids, sports are everything to them and for them to have that associated with the gospel is really powerful.” Youmans utilized her love for sports and religion when she voluntoured for Impact South Africa from June to August 2013 prior to her junior year in college. Impact South Africa is a Christian internship based in Stellenbosch, South Africa, that teaches students how to practice international sports ministry and participate in outreaches and camps. The internship lasts for eight weeks and incorporates leadership training for students from experienced sports missionaries and teachers. “The decision to go in the first place was really hard for me because I’ve never been away from my family for that long,” Youmans said. “It was a difficult decision between wanting to stay and wanting to go where God had called me. I had

what (the locals) love to do, and hope they’d see Christ.” Youmans explained that sports ministry effectively reaches children because most of them can better understand a game than they can another language. “The minute you use sports in games as a way to get a message across to children, it immediately becomes more applicable to them and more easily understood for them and more entertaining.”

BECOMING A TEAM The first thing Youmans saw from her airplane window were multiple South African mountains that rose from the ground like skyscrapers. “It was beautiful,” she said. “I was awestruck by the beauty of it, and it was so different from what I expected.” But, she didn’t expect to be so homesick that she wanted to leave the internship within the first week. “I didn’t know any of the 24 people I was living with, they had ridiculous team-building exercises, the food was awful, and I really didn’t think I could make it another seven and a half weeks,” she said. Though Youmans disliked the group activities in the beginning, they eventually helped her find her niche and make lifelong friends. “I formed relationships I never thought were possible, and those people learned more about me than some people have learned about me in years,” she said. “They saw me at my best and worst, and they loved me unconditionally, and I haven’t experienced that much in my life.” She also developed her friendships through the DEVYN YOUMANS program’s themed days. Impact Voluntourist South Africa surprises interns with specific tasks on these days and tests their resolve. “They put us in situations where trouble giving up being in control of my life that summer.” we couldn’t rely on our own strength,” Youmans said. “One day But she knew she had to leave home and learn about was called Solitude Day. We went into the woods by ourselves the effect sports can have on other regions. “In countries for six hours. We had no technology, no watches, no nothing, where we don’t speak the same language, sports allow us to and we had to spend time with God and fast. I had never spent communicate with each other and form relationships that we time with God like that before, and I learned a lot about him wouldn’t be able to otherwise,” she said. “I wanted to share and myself. The activities helped us grow together as a team the gospel and God’s love and go to another country and do

In countries where we don’t speak the same language, sports allow us to communicate with each other and form relationships that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

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and taught us how to depend on God rather than on our own strength.” GOING INTO THE TOWNSHIPS Youmans also learned about God’s faithfulness while helping the local communities. “Sometimes I couldn’t get through it; the kid’s camps were very tiring, and I thought I was going to die, but I got through it, and it taught me a lot about him through that,” she said. Youmans and the other interns helped run sports camps for local children for two weeks of the internship. About 40 children from various townships attended the camps and listened to the interns’ testimonies. There is racial tension among the townships, she said, and the camps taught the children how to tolerate one another through sports and the gospel. “In the very beginning of the week, there was hardly any talking or interaction or team spirit (among the children),” she said. “But by the last day, they were going crazy; they were so united and hugging on each other and giving each other high fives. To see us being able to play a small part in breaking racial segregation that’s over there was cool to be a part of.” The interns also went into the poor townships and partnered with existing ministries to play games with the children and share the gospel. “We gave the kids the attention they wanted,” Youmans said. “It was the hardest for me to leave the townships every day knowing these kids had to go back and live in those houses. To know that is going to be their life

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and their chance of escaping just isn’t going to happen is really sad.” The differences in language made it hard to know how many children understood the gospel and the program’s mission, Youmans said, but she believes sports can help children connect to other people and their own faith. “It is an effective way to open up to the gospel,” she said. “It’s not sitting down and sharing a Bible story — that’s not what they want. They want to be active and playing. Many didn’t speak English, and playing sports bridged that language barrier. “Not many things can do that, but sports are a universal language that brought them closer to us and to seeing God’s love, and seeing it portrayed in a different way.” Youmans said about 17 children made commitments over the summer to follow Christ for the rest of their lives. Community leaders and local ministry will then help mentor the children who made commitments. She said that when children promise to seek Christ during the program, they are verbally acknowledging their faith and asking other people to hold them accountable for the rest of their lives. Children who don’t commit during the summer aren’t penalized. “There are definitely kids who come to the programs who couldn’t care less about the religion, and they just want to play games,” she said. “Those are the kids we want because we just want to love them, and hopefully they get more out of it than they had already anticipated, and if they don’t, that’s fine too.”

Youmans doesn’t think sports ministry is a manipulative way to get people to convert. She sees it more as a way to better connect to people who come from radically different cultures. “We’re not saying that in order to play this sport, you have to believe this message — we aren’t sneaking the gospel in or making them believe something,” she said. “It’s their choice, and we’re just putting it into terms they understand better.” RETURNING HOME On the last day of the program, the interns hiked Table Mountain in Cape Town and had a closing ceremony to celebrate their work and leadership training. “The day I actually left, I was full of tears and confusing emotions of being so excited to come home but dreading leaving everyone and leaving South Africa because I was so attached to it,” she said. “I want to cry every time I see a picture of South Africa now because I just want to go back. I’m attached to it like it’s a person.” Youmans said she hopes to voluntour in South Africa again, and she recommends students sign up for the internship. “You’re actually taking classes and taught how to share the gospel and how sports connect to ministry,” she said. “That same day, you’re getting to put that into practice, and you don’t get that in many mission trips. I feel like my life completely changed through South Africa, and I learned so much about how to share the gospel and how to do ministry. It will stay with me forever.”

Three people stand around a hair salon in a South African township.

more about

IMPACT South Africa Children form a human pyramid on the campgrounds as an intern spots them from behind.

Created in 2011 as a partnership among the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), SportsQuest, and Sports for Christ Action South Africa (SCAS) Organized by Quinn Evans, an international representative for FCA Casper Steenkamp, employee of SportsQuest Hein Reyneke, CEO of SCAS Brings students from around the world to Stellenbosch, South Africa, for an eight-week sports ministry training program Costs $2,625 and does not include airfare Helps local communities and townships understand the gospel through sports and camps Exposes students to the global sports leadership movement Includes training and fitness sessions for students Learn more at http://www.


For Habitat, building a donor is more valuable than building a house. BY MEREDITH HAMRICK STAFF WRITER


abitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, that uses monetary donations and volunteer labor to build houses for families in locations all over the world. The organization requires that recipient families help with the construction effort and that they pay back loans for the value of their homes over a period of time. Unlike many other humanitarian organizations, Habitat focuses a lot of its efforts on recruiting unskilled volunteers, not just collecting money. We wanted to find out what’s behind this strategy and whether it achieves the organization’s goals efficiently.


Photo couresy of Claire Mulkey

Photographer Claire Mulkey doesn’t could have donated money to pay other people to build homes have a lot of spare change to throw around — she is in the process of starting for people she would never meet. Perhaps that would have been easier. her own photography company in San Francisco. But at age 29, what she does And, let’s be honest, she had no idea have is a lot of time and an able body. how to build a house. In August 2012, Mulkey spent 10 Habitat for Humanity offers days in Xai Xai, Mozambique, an experience to its building a home in a volunteers — for a hefty price. small community Mulkey’s that had been “If you’re only donating money, then trip to plagued by Mozambique HIV and AIDS. you don’t really get the experience of required She traveled meeting and understanding people.” her to raise with a team CLAIRE MULKEY $2,000 in of about 15 Voluntourist program Americans from Habitat for costs and Humanity’s Global Village another $2,000 program. Global Village builds homes in airfare. for impoverished people in nearly every But she said it was worth it. region of the world — Africa and “If you’re only donating money, then the Middle East, Asia and the you don’t really get the experience of Pacific, Europe and Central meeting and understanding people,” Asia, Latin America and the she said. Mulkey met some people who Caribbean, and within the U.S. really made an impression during her Mulkey, like many 10 days abroad. Americans these days, was in She wrote an article titled “Building search of an experience a House for Eunice” and submitted it outside of herself. to Habitat upon her return to the U.S. In it she describes Eunice, a two-yearSure, she

old girl who would later live in the home that Mulkey and others built. “Many times, while immersed in a task on the house, I would turn around and be unsurprised to see Mozambique Eunice right behind me with extended arms, patiently waiting to be picked up,” Mulkey writes. Mulkey grew to love the affectionate toddler who hung around the project site, and she drew inspiration by knowing that her work would directly benefit the child. Mulkey is just the sort of person that Habitat targets. But Habitat’s travel programs raise the question: Wouldn’t it be more efficient to simply collect donations and pay professional builders instead of letting photographersturned-masons do the work?


By the numbers Global Village trips usually last eight to 10 days, with four or five days devoted to work at the build site. But volunteers spend months raising money for airfare and for program costs. Program costs include the volunteer’s food, housing, transportation, and medical insurance. Part of the program costs also go toward building supplies. Volunteer team leaders supervise all Global Village projects. Charlie Shaffner, 21, has traveled outside of the country on Habitat builds four times. He traveled to El Salvador three times to work on a project that was organized by his church, and spent a week in Honduras in the spring of 2012 with a group from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Shaffner’s church group paid part of the travel costs for him to work in El Salvador, but the trips still cost him about $1,500 to $1,600, including airfare. Without the church’s help, Shaffner would have needed to raise about $2,000 on his own each of the three times he worked on the project. When he later volunteered in Honduras, he did just that. Through group fundraising events, the group of 11 students each raised $2,000 — a total of $22,000 — prior to the spring break trip. He raised much of the required money by writing letters to friends and family, asking them to donate. All the time spent fundraising


El Salvador 30 | TRUE NORTH

Photo courtesy of Charlie Shaffner

makes the voluntour experience that much more meaningful, Shaffner said. “You put in a ton of hours of work throughout the whole year and then you’re in Honduras for like a week; and you really think about all that hard work you put in while you’re there.” Like Mulkey, Shaffner had no prior construction experience. He never worked under a professional builder on any of the trips. Community members had basic building and masonry skills that enabled them to teach volunteers without a professional contractor stepping in. He found it especially rewarding to work alongside those who would soon be living inside the homes.

Shaffner spent the majority of his first weeklong trip to El Salvador digging a hole for a septic tank. He dug 3-foot-deep trenches and poured cement for homes’ foundations during his second and third trips. But is it a waste of money for volunteers to spend $2,000 on a trip when they could simply donate that money and let a professional do the job? Professional builders who are contracted by Habitat in Honduras — called “maestros de obra” — typically make $800 per house built, said Gaby Chavez in an email. Chavez works in fundraising for Habitat for Humanity Honduras.

That means that Shaffner’s individual Honduras trip costs could have paid for the work of a professional builder on 2 ½ houses. In building supplies, $2,000 could pay for the blocks necessary for one home and the Aluzinc sheets used in constructing the home’s roof, Chavez said.

So what’s a volunteer with a hammer worth, anyway? Ryan Froelich is the director of construction and land development for Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County, located in western North Carolina. He serves as the general contractor for all construction sites in the county. He regularly hires sub-contractors to install electricity, plumbing, and air conditioning into the homes. But, he makes use of volunteer labor as much as possible. Though Froelich has no experience working abroad, he understands the challenges facing professional builders who work with unskilled volunteers. “It’s obviously going to take a little bit more time,” Froelich said. “One of the things we have to have as a construction staff is patience.” The staff encourages groups of volunteers to come to its warehouse on a Saturday before the official build date to construct the home’s walls ahead of time. Once volunteers arrive at a site on the day of a build, Froelich closely supervises any work done by volunteers. All structures built by Habitat for Humanity must pass inspections, just like any other buildings. “Our biggest thing is having the correct leadership to match our volunteers,” Froelich said. “People catch onto things pretty quick.” Wherever Habitat builds, there is a need for a good relationship between professionals and volunteers. Ken Popp, who has worked as a volunteer team leader in southern Africa since 2001, stressed the importance of communication. “The local Habitat office always talks to the builder and explains to the builder that it’s important to let volunteers do work — especially if it’s Americans, because Americans like to do work.”

Photos courtesy of Claire Mulkey

Does all this volunteer business make for good business? So why does Habitat focus so much on volunteers if they’re largely inefficient builders? “Volunteers are more of a social change strategy than a construction strategy,” said Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan Reckford in an email. “If we only wanted to build houses, we could probably do it without volunteers.”

The goal of Habitat’s volunteer programs is ultimately to turn volunteers into donors and advocates for affordable housing, Reckford said. So does that strategy really work? Team leader Ken Popp thinks so. In his 12 years with Habitat, Popp has seen first-hand how traveling to work on a build can inspire people to donate more and more of their time to charity. “We’ve seen volunteers become team leaders or become involved in some other local charity,” he said.


Photo courtesy of Claire Mulkey

So volunteers may be more willing to donate future time to Habitat, but does the volunteer experience really create monetary donors like CEO Reckford suggests? Not always. Mulkey left Mozambique with a desire to go on another building trip, but she said she has not increased her monetary donations to Habitat or to charities in general since the trip. After volunteering, Shaffner buys into the Habitat philosophy that experiences create donors in the long run. He said he has donated more money to the organization since traveling than he did before. He admits that allowing inexperienced volunteers to do construction work is less efficient than simply hiring local contractors to do the work themselves. Shaffner

music, and, one time, even a piñata believes some kinds of people would for the volunteers in return for their be more willing to donate their money hard work. Shaffner described the than their time to an organization. “I gatherings as celebrations not only would say that in this day and age, a lot of the work completed, but of the working crowd, a lot of of new friendships the parents I would made between ask to donate, volunteers and they would “Volunteers are more of a locals. just donate social change strategy than “You’re the $1,500,” a construction strategy. ” not just he said. “But leaving certainly JONATHAN RECKFORD right away,” anyone with Habitat for Humanity International CEO Shaffner any past service said. “They experience focus as much on would recognize the relationships the power of the as you do. It’s not just about digging experience itself.” He will never forget the people he trenches.” For Shaffner, that experience met while traveling with Habitat. He has changed the way he thinks about said one of his favorite parts of the donating money. trips he’s taken was the celebration “Maybe 20 years down the road, if held at the completion of each some kid is asking me for money for a project. Local community trip he is going on, I’ll be more likely to members provided food, say, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’”






very day, it seems, we’re told that the dominance technology holds over our lives is crippling us. We cannot be without cell phones for more than a few minutes. We feel the need for constant connection to the Internet. Studies have suggested that individuals growing up with lifetime access to broadband Internet have trouble focusing on information for extended periods of time and cannot retain knowledge as well. We play video games instead of playing sports with friends. We pillage the globe for rare earth materials to make our cellphone and laptop batteries. It seems that every improvement technology offers is coupled with an equal but opposite detriment. These advancements have certainly made life more convenient. They can empower individuals with knowledge. But these detractions raise the question: Are we creating any technologies that can help people’s lives without the downside? In the case of solar photovoltaic power, GRID Alternatives, and Power to the People, the answer is yes.


Photo courtesy of GRID Alternatives


physics 101 In the simplest terms, a PV cell is made out of a semiconductive material (silicon being the most common in today’s applications). When sunlight strikes its surface, a portion of the sun’s energy is absorbed within the semiconductor. That energy, in the form of photons, knocks electrons loose from the silicon atoms, allowing the electrons to flow freely. The PV cells are designed to have one or more electric fields that force those freed electrons to flow in a certain direction; this action creates a current. If you put metal contacts on the top and bottom of the PV cell, you can then draw that current off for external use. This scenario produces a direct current, but all Western electronics run on alternating current. So, the PV module requires an inverter to make that transition. Once it has inverted the power, there are two types of systems for utilizing that electricity — grid-tied and off-grid. Grid-tied implies that the building in question is connected to a central electric grid through which utility providers transmit power. In that case, the electric meter on that building will track how much power the building consumes and subtracts the amount of power the PV module sends back into the grid. This dramatically reduces the resulting electric bill. And, if the building produces more power than it consumes, many states require the utility company to buy the power back from the building owner. Off-grid means that the building is not connected to an electric grid. As such, there’s nowhere to send the power being produced, and you can’t utilize solar power when the sun isn’t shining; so, you must couple the PV system with battery technology. Off-grid PV modules almost always send their power to a battery bank to store the electricity. Then, as the building requires power, it simply draws it from the batteries. This is especially prevalent in rural and/or impoverished areas.


Why does solar power matter to voluntourism? Few would dismiss the need for medical care, education, safety, or financial security within a community, especially if the community lies at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. What is one prerequisite those considerations have in common? The need for electricity. For people living in developed countries, the need for power may not come to mind when thinking of the developing world’s largest problems. As something many of us take for granted, electricity is often overlooked as a vital step in modernizing and empowering impoverished communities. If individuals live in a remote village with no power, they can’t call an ambulance in case of medical emergencies. Hospitals and health centers cannot operate at night. Doctors cannot use modern instrumentation. Students cannot do homework at home unless by kerosene lamp; this is harmful to their eyes and their respiratory systems, and is a huge fire hazard. Individuals have no access to the information

and freedom of the Internet. Many life-saving technologies, like water purification systems, often require power to operate. What good is having that technology if you can’t power it? The increased efficiency of PV cells and the falling cost of panels could be a windfall for the developing world. No other technology offers the ability to generate power for isolated communities on the same scale. According to Engineers Without Borders, at the turn of the century, 70 percent of rural populations in developing nations lacked access to power. Small solar devices, such as rechargeable lamps, enable individuals and households to cook, work, and study at home without damaging their health or endangering their home. Largerscale PV arrays can power hospitals, schools, and community centers without any of the harmful effects of pollution and climate change. But, despite these advantages, solar power systems require engineering expertise and considerable capital to design, purchase, ship, and install in remote areas. Before delving into the ways voluntourists can help overcome those

Photos courtesy of (Left) Power to the People (Right) GRID Alternatives

obstacles, however, it’s worthwhile to look back at the history of photovoltaic technology and explore how the different solar power systems work. power of the future,,, and our past The shortcomings of fossil fuels are well known to anyone who values science and the health of the planet. Fossil fuels are limited; extracting them is a filthy and dangerous process for workers, the local ecosystem, and nearby residents; and they are the primary driving force behind pollution and climate change. The ability to power the conveniences of modern life comes at a staggering cost when using these dirty power sources. The sun, on the other hand, provides a colossal amount of usable energy that is clean, available, and free. Utilizing the sun for power dates back to the 7th century B.C. At that time, sunlight was simply magnified or concentrated to make fires. Fast forward to the 1950s — solar photovoltaic (PV) modules emerged in the middle part of the decade at Bell Labs and eventually became indispensable to NASA’s space

program during the 1960s as a way to power satellites and space stations. In the 1970s, PV systems were used to power many off-grid applications such as warning lights and horns for lighthouses, railroad crossings, etc. In the 1980s, PV systems had become sophisticated and efficient enough to provide power for residences and commercial buildings. Today, technical advances allow larger PV arrays to provide a small city’s worth of electricity. Boots on the ground Power to the People and GRID Alternatives are two of the forerunners in the non-profit solar industry. GRID, founded in 2001, operates domestically whereas Power to the People, in business since 2008, focuses on Central America, specifically Nicaragua. And while they both install solar power systems as nonprofit corporations, they employ two distinct business models with a corresponding ethos for each. Power to the People Jenean Smith began her career in the solar industry in 2007 as a marketing communications manager

for Mitsubishi Electric. But her desire to help people dated back much further, leading to her enrollment in the Peace Corps in 2001. “After the Peace Corps ended, I realized you don’t need a formal structure like that to keep helping people,” said Smith. “It was a desire to continue helping people that were living in severe poverty on my own” that led her to found Power to the People. Having a background in voluntourism and the solar industry, she started a renewable energy Meetup Group in Los Angeles, California. They attended conventions and tradeshows, but Smith began to feel that itch to work on projects firsthand. So, she floated the idea of traveling to Nicaragua, where she was stationed during her time with the Peace Corps, to install a PV system in a familiar village that lacked power. Five people demonstrated interest, and Power to the People had begun. “We were not a 501(c)(3) at that time, but it was really just an experiment to see if we can even do that. And after that was successful, and we realized that this is really something


G Photo courtesy of GRID Alternatives

we could do, we formed a 501(c)(3) and became a little more formal about how we did things.” Power to the People employs one staff member in the U.S. and two field project managers working in Nicaragua. The field project managers “travel around to potential sites, check them out, and meet the community members... Through visiting a lot of different potential communities, we select the ones we think are the best candidates for us to work in,” Smith said. Power to the People typically sends three trips a year to Nicaragua, but they have four planned for 2014. Each trip has anywhere from five to12 individuals, and participating requires neither solar nor Spanish language experience. Most of the voluntourists are in their late 20s to early 40s, but Power to the People has had participants ranging from teenagers to people in their 60s. The trips last for eight days and cost around $1,600. Of those eight days, four are reserved for travel and cultural immersion while the other four are dedicated to installing the solar systems. “When you’re on the trip, you


can contribute to the solar installation as much or as little as you want,” Smith said. “Some people just want to travel and take pictures, whereas others really want to get involved with the solar aspect of it.” Both are fine with Power to the People; they simply want to help as many people as possible. Sometimes, those in need of help aren’t Nicaraguan, though. “The people we’re helping in Nicaragua are not the only people in need. I would say we, the travelers, are also people in need, and we benefit a tremendous amount from traveling,” said Smith. “Experiencing life in another culture and seeing how people are truly living in poverty helps us have a little bit of perspective. “I’m not interested in having an organization where people just pay money to have professionals install the systems, because a large part of the benefit of doing these projects is the cross-cultural exchange.” Voluntourists stay with host families while in Nicaragua, and Smith wouldn’t have it any other way. “That, to me, is so key. It helps

the community members feel more invested in the project so they are more willing to maintain the systems afterward.” Furthermore, groups like Power to the People “organize opportunities that you would never be able to have on your own. If you just went as a backpacker, you’d never be able to have that four-day stay in a community. That’s so enriching, and it’s so worth it to learn about how other people are living.” Because the villages in which they work are completely off-grid, Power to the People specializes in installing battery-based PV systems — which means those systems are more expensive and more complex. “We train the communities quite a bit to maintain their own systems after we install them,” said Smith. But through that cross-cultural exchange, Power to the People engenders a sense of responsibility within those communities to ensure that they maintain their systems properly. Overall, the ethos of Power to the People falls directly in line with the voluntourism movement. “I think it’s really great when people choose to

do voluntourism vacations, because it’s always a lot of fun to vacation and relax, but I think that when you help other people at the same time, your vacation is so much more fulfilling.” GRID Alternatives Founded by Erica Mackie and Tim Sears in 2001, GRID Alternatives focuses on providing solar power to lowincome families in the U.S. Both Mackie and Sears were employed by for-profit solar companies, whose target audience was, by definition, middle- and upperclass homeowners who could afford the cost of the systems. But, they both saw a need and an opportunity to service lower-income households. In describing their motivations, Bret Carr, volunteer and training coordinator for GRID, said, “lower class people that could use solar probably more than anybody else [were] being left out of the equation. So they thought, ‘hey, how can we get these people access to solar?’, so they fundraised and sponsored a couple of installs that went fairly well. People were into it, so they started pursuing it more aggressively.” Now, GRID boasts eight regional offices — seven in California and one in Colorado (they’re opening a ninth in New Jersey sometime in 2014) — with 11,000 active volunteers and 130 fulltime staff members. Unlike typical voluntourism opportunities, in which the byproduct of your effort is travel, GRID Alternatives takes a different angle: “We basically do job placement for volunteers because we’re not only a nonprofit solar contractor, we’re also work force development,” Carr said. “There’s not a lot of spots for people to get hands-on experience installing solar, so we try to utilize that aspect of the organization to connect people who are looking for jobs in solar to be experienced and learn to do actual jobs.” GRID utilizes a mostly volunteer workforce on the actual installs, and people are clamoring for the opportunity to donate their time. “In the other organizations that I worked for, you have to find the volunteers — they don’t just come to you,” said Carr. “But here, they literally just come to us. And we actually have a problem

where we have more volunteers than “We get a lot of funding from the we can actually take on.” State of California,” Carr said. This focus on acquiring By helping so many families access marketable job skills in lieu of travel solar power, GRID has also received produces a different motivator for the lion’s share of SASH subsidies. In volunteer involvement. 2011, the most recent tax year publicly When he was a volunteer available, GRID raked in $18,597,598 coordinator with the United Way in revenue from SASH alone. and Ashoka, Carr believed the main Contributions and grants, including reason people in-kind donations were volunteering of equipment — like “I’m not interested in was because they solar panels and having an organization wanted to help inverters — added where people just the community. another $2,426,035. pay money to have Whereas with According to the professionals install the GRID, “rarely do SASH website, the I find someone 3,024 previous systems, because a large who is really part of the benefit of doing installations, interested in combined with the these projects is the cross- 567 projects awaiting helping low income installation or under communities access cultural exchange.” JENEAN SMITH review, equal $67 solar. I think all of Founder of Power to the People million in incentive [the volunteers] are money. happy that that’s Carr confirmed that this type an aspect to it. Nobody is against that, of support allows GRID to employ but it’s not the main reason people lobbyists to help enact and/or volunteer. For the most part, it’s all preserve beneficial policies within about getting experience with solar.” the California legislature. SASH was Carr believes that people “will originally set to expire in 2015, but has come and volunteer as long as since been extended to 2021. This will there’s something in it for them.” allow for even more volunteer training, And even though this flies in the face more economic empowerment of voluntourism’s general culture, for low-income homeowners, and who is to say that this is not a better more jobs — both within GRID as involvement model? Business is well as with sub-contractors. But, booming for GRID Alternatives. should we second-guess these more corporate tactics as betraying the SASH spirit of voluntourism, or should we GRID focuses its efforts almost simply concern ourselves with the exclusively on the Single-family total amount of good accomplished, Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) regardless of methods or motives? incentive program within California. SASH provides fully subsidized solar Ends, means and in-betweens systems to qualifying homeowners Power to the People toes the that fall within the service territories voluntourism line and enriches lives by of Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern doing so. But, it has been able to send California Edison, and San Diego Gas only a little over 100 voluntourists and Electric. GRID is the program to Nicaragua over the last six years. manager for the entire state and That’s an impressive accomplishment handles the process from application in and of itself. But on the flip side, through to collection. by using a more business-minded “We put up the money for the approach to voluntourism, GRID system, and we help [the homeowners] Alternatives maintains an active with the application,” Carr said. “We volunteer corps of 11,000 individuals actually submit the paperwork for that have installed over 3,000 them… they don’t have to work with the systems. Even though it’s easier to do state.” Once their application has been a weekend installation project within submitted and approved, GRID installs a couple hours’ drive rather than fly to the system and collects the subsidy.


Photos courtesy of Power to the People

Nicaragua, that’s still a large disparity. the lives of low-income Americans. What does that say about whether Who are we to judge the motives of the voluntourists actually care about helping volunteers so long as the end is good? others? Does the corporate nature of GRID seems to have tapped into a GRID and its volunteers tarnish the basic human characteristic and leveraged results of their efforts? At what point do it to accomplish something positive — motivations matter? Or, should the ends people generally act in self-interest. It’s simply justify the means? difficult to get people to sacrifice their Carr, coming from a background time, effort, or money for something within more traditional volunteer from which they expect no tangible organizations, return. But, if you can “The main reason people pair a self-interested voiced similar apprehension: get involved is for getting act with a desirable “The main reason social, economic, or experience with solar... people get environmental output, I’m not sure how I feel involved is for then you can leverage a getting experience about it.” self-serving action into BRET CARR a greater good. with solar, which GRID Training Coordinator makes us really In the end, each unique and puts us organization could in an interesting spot. I’m not sure how learn something from the other. GRID I feel about it.” could work harder to engender a sense of On the one hand, you are straying service and altruism among its volunteer from the altruistic volunteering model. corps — put a face on who you’re You could almost classify GRID’s helping and augment your recruitment volunteer corps as unpaid interns messaging to highlight project results as simply putting in the prerequisite time opposed to individual marketability. to earn a job in a burgeoning industry. Likewise, Power to the People could Does that really matter, though? The look into expanding its operations and volunteers are ostensibly improving scope by marketing its trips as being their career opportunities while, at the more than just altruism, but also giving same time, enriching and empowering individuals marketable skills in the


renewable energy industry. People would still be working with Power to the People to improve lives, but Power to the People could recruit more voluntourists and do more good overall. There can be little doubt as to the opportunity solar power presents for improving, empowering, and enriching lives. Capital costs are still high, and it requires field expertise to execute, but few technological advancements hold as much promise as solar photovoltaic systems. As can be seen via Power to the People and GRID Alternatives, though, there are numerous paths to adoption and implementation. In the same way that technology brings both positive and negative effects, so too are there organizations implementing these solutions in different ways. We must figure out how to harness the opportunities technology present without having to endure any equal but opposite side effects. Likewise, there should be a middle ground between the corporate ethos of GRID Alternatives and the purely voluntouristic ethos of Power to the People. By finding that path and treading it, an organization would be able to help the most people and do so for the right reasons.

is it financially sustainable? does anyone need this? can it be done?

these questions and more answered each semester at R E E S E N E W S L A B . O R G






n the summer of 2007, Taylor Smith, then 15, was lying in a field on the outskirts of Los Cedros, Nicaragua. The only light was coming from above — the stars — because the government turned off the city’s power every night in an effort to save money. When he recalls the scene, his voice gets hoarse as he’s fighting the emotion of the memory. This was the trip that changed his group of friends, the way he saw the world, and his future. He didn’t like the people he had been hanging out with or the person he was becoming. This first trip to Nicaragua made him realize what kind of person he wanted to be and established friendships that he keeps today. “Once I came back, I could take what I had learned about not only the world around me, but also the world within me. My own world, myself. And I could make the two align more,” Smith said. “I find I was just being myself a lot more.” Smith’s 2007 trip to Nicaragua was the second of five religious mission trips he took with his church between the ages of 14 and 18. In the summer of 2006, he visited Gulfport, Mississippi, to do reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina; second, he went to Jinotega, Nicaragua, in 2007 to work at an orphanage for 10 days; the third trip was to Beaufort, South Carolina, after a tropical storm; the fourth was a five-day “trip” in his native Pitt County around Greenville, North Carolina; the fifth was a second trip to Nicaragua to work at the same orphanage. Smith’s mission trips are indicative of a larger trend in the U.S. Young people, and some older people, are traveling domestically and abroad with their churches or ministries for “short-term mission trips.” Money for the trip is raised ahead of time, people receive little training, and they usually perform tasks ranging from construction work — the most popular — to medical help or simple evangelism


for a few days or a couple of weeks. Though many people believe that mission trips are worthwhile as long as they aim to help someone, others believe that if this aim is wrongly focused there will be problems, especially in cases where trips are poorly planned and overly evangelistic. Evangelism may be pointless in countries that don’t follow a Christian faith or where people don’t speak English as the first language. Today, few people advocate for mission trips whose only goal is evangelism or conversion. But even as mission trips have evolved over the years, a few questions have persisted: The mission team members are usually untrained, so can they make a difference? Is evangelism in foreign countries even a good idea? What are the best and worst case scenarios for mission and service trips? Do those being helped receive what they need? A GROWING TREND, A GROWING PROBLEM Noel Becchetti, 58, of El Cajon, California, has been involved with mission trips for 30 years. He grew up Roman Catholic and joined an organization started by one of his friends in 1988 called the Center for Student Missions. The group, originally in the San Diego area, did a lot of work around the impoverished Mexican border. Becchetti started as a volunteer for CSM, became a charter board member, and then took over the organization with his wife Kyle in 1996. They were in charge until 2008. In 1997 Becchetti wrote an article titled, “Why Most Mission Trips Are A Waste Of Time (And How To Make Sure Yours Isn’t)” for CSM’s website. He said that things have improved some, but not enough, in the past 16 years. People still tend to approach these trips with their own perspective, and an idea that they are going to get to do what they want. They also expect to see major


Photo courtesy of Feed My Starving Children via the Creative Commons


Photos courtesy of Erik Torner, Paul Ancheta, and McKay Savage via the Creative Commons

THERE’S NO WAY YOU CAN DO IT ALL AS A SINGLE PERSON, BUT THE FACT THAT YOU CAN DO SOMETHING SHOULD OFFER SOME INSPIRATION. TAYLOR SMITH Voluntourist results from their work — whether in terms of people converted or houses built, when in reality only so much can be done during a two-week period. “You’ve got people with virtually no experience on any level — they don’t have language experience, cultural experience,” he said. “What was being seen was these really dramatic life-changing experiences with a lot of built-in problems, like not even knowing what you were doing and not even being able to be of much help or, frankly, sometimes being a real pain to the people who might accommodate you for any number of reasons.” Becchetti said that the focus of mission trips has changed. He referenced a book by Paul Borthwick, “Western Christians in Global Missions.” Borthwick says that 200 years ago, people signed up for missions knowing that within the first two years, about 75 percent of them would be dead. “Diseases were going to take most of them out, and they went presuming that would be the case,” Becchetti said. “Now, you all wear the same colored T-shirts, you take a jet somewhere, you kind of call the terms of what you’re going to be willing to do or not do and you call it ‘building relationships.’” Mission team members from the U.S. think they’re going to build meaningful relationships with non-Westerners in just a few hours, but that rarely happens. Becchetti said Borthwick highlights the glaring problem found in mission trips today — they’ve become about us, the mission team, and not about the people we’re trying to serve. This seems true, Becchetti said, because ministries tell parents, “Well, this experience will change your kids’ lives,” instead of citing the importance of the work they will be doing. Smith, for example, repeatedly cited examples of how the trip changed him as a person, but couldn’t recall more than a few times when the people he did work for thanked him or taught

him something. Becchetti describes the experience as “an adventurous trip under the guise of mission work.” THE PREACHING PART: AN ADDITIONAL PROBLEM? The “all-about-me” mindset isn’t the only problem with mission trips today. Evangelism can be problematic in an increasingly open-minded world. Evangelical mission members believe they can go abroad for a few weeks and build strong enough relationships with local people to discuss religion meaningfully. Smith, who no longer defines himself as religious, said on each of his mission trips he and his team members would do physical labor in the form of building a house or a fence, fixing a kitchen, or painting rooms. But they would also host time for prayer and reflection. In Nicaragua, they held a daily vacation Bible school for local children, and they walked around with a translator to invite people to events. Smith, whose church was Methodist, said they wanted to educate the children about God, but didn’t aim to convert them. Still, even as a teenager, he worried about forcing his religion on children with whom he didn’t even share a language. He worked on construction projects rather than the Bible school. “In hindsight, I don’t necessarily agree to going from door to door to invite kids to a vacation Bible school run by well-off American white kids,” Smith said. “That’s why I was much more inclined to help out in a way that was more physical and hands on and had less religious interference.” Smith said that in Nicaragua, the children’s parents were religious and agreed to or were happy about their children learning basic Christian principles. But his church had to use translators to help children understand the Bible school lessons linguistically, and there was no guarantee they understood the lessons fundamentally.

Dennis Horton, associate professor of ministry at Baylor University, said ministries must build strong relationships over time before preaching religion in foreign countries. Christians today are less likely to lock foreigners in a room and force them to learn about religion. Horton said that kind of evangelism is rare today and obviously the wrong approach to mission work. If evangelism takes place on mission trips it should be a reprieve from any violence in the area, not an addition to it. “Like-minded Christians are going to want to share about (their faith), especially in areas where you see religion can be so oppressive,” Horton said. “But you should do that through ways where relationships are built, not just standing out on street corners and preaching and not being sensitive to what’s appropriate for the culture.” Smith said that for his trip, religion played an integral part, but not in the way he would have thought. He didn’t have a “coming to Jesus” moment, but rather had a moment where he saw the importance of the principles taught in religion that also drive mission work — these principles didn’t include the need to spread the word of God. “It was funded by my church, it was inspired by my church, it was inspired by my own faith, and so I would have never had those experiences to begin with without religiosity,” Smith said. “This trip was funded by people who believed that we were doing good things for the world in the name of religion. So, whether or not I agree with that personally is kind of beside the point.” “The point that I think a lot of people are missing from what Jesus Christ as a religious figure and even as an individual was pushing for was not transformation in the next life, but transformation within our own existence, within life, here and now,” Smith said. “A lot of people see the end game of Christianity as getting into heaven, as finding salvation, as having the afterlife – in a basic sense, getting into heaven. And I think a lot of Jesus’ teachings were more geared toward giving people the platform and initiative to bring that


heaven to here and now. The point of missionary work should be to go out and for people to have that basic end of suffering and to more or less make heaven on earth – which is clichéd, but it shouldn’t be just about going out and spreading the word.” A RIGHTEOUS SOLUTION Becchetti said there are a few things that ministries and their members should do to solve the “all-about-me” problem, so that mission members get a life-changing experience while adequately addressing the needs of the people. Ministries must be willing to devote time to building real relationships in communities so that they get an undoctored look at the most important issues. “You have to go in presuming this is going to take time and it’s going to be difficult, and generally people (in the foreign country) are only going to want to tell us what they think we want to hear,” Becchetti said. Becchetti said Westerners must approach mission trips without the assumption that they are going

Photos courtesy of Feed My Starving Children and Shawn via the Creative Commons

WE COULD FEEL WHAT WE TANGIBLY DID IN ONE PLACE, BUT THEN COULD SEE HOW SO VERY MUCH NEEDED TO BE DONE ELSEWHERE. TAYLOR SMITH Voluntourist to be the wealthy, more educated people helping the poor, uneducated foreigners; and rather, with a mindset that they have something to learn. The people being helped have just as much to offer as those doing the helping. “If we can keep working at those two things: positioning our groups where they are of some benefit … and also position our friends in the city to say, ‘Look, you really have some things to teach here, you have some things to offer,’ because again, like it or not, people in disadvantaged situations feel disadvantaged,” he said. “Like it or not, they will approach outsiders as ‘Well, you’re smart, you’re rich, you know everything, we don’t,’ but we want to say that’s not really true. If you can view yourselves as teachers and not just recipients, you have some things to bring to the table.” A BEST CASE SCENARIO Smith said the experience that hit him hardest from his five mission trips came during his first trip to Nicaragua, when they visited the city’s dump. It was a dump for trash, but it was also where the poorest people lived. “There were people living in houses made out of cardboard boxes, children on the ground naked and digging through trash to find food, and burning trash everywhere and the smell was horrible,” Smith said. “There were starving cattle walking around everywhere. It was pretty much like every documentary you’ve seen about the worst of the worst world poverty. We were in it.” For a 15-year-old boy, he said, the experience was emotional and frightening. He said that he came to realize that his problems weren’t that bad. “You see

UNICEF commercials on TV and you see a little African child walking around in nothing but a diaper, and it’s like, ‘oh that’s so sad,’ but when you’re there and you see it with your eyes and you smell the smells and you see the look on these people’s faces – it made it real and it made that notion of underdeveloped countries and poverty real and tangible and something that I have a memory for,” Smith said. He said that he had two kinds of realizations on his trips: those that were physically affirming, where he could see the physical progress of his work, and those that were spiritually affirming, where he learned something that contributed to his maturity. The spiritually affirming realizations were grounded in religion. “The spiritually reaffirming ones were like, in Nicaragua, the day that we climbed the mountain in the backyard of the orphanage and looked out and you can literally see for miles of just beautiful rolling landscape,” Smith said. “It was moments like that where you could take in the vastness of what is the world and what is life. And it kind of puts you in a situation where you can step outside of yourself and realize that this world is pretty big and there are much more important things going on other than what’s going on in your own personal life. What helped me mature as a person over the years was having these moments where I could step outside of myself, and for that, I thank my religion.” Such life-altering changes can blossom as a result of mission trips when people are acting selflessly and the concerns of those helped are adequately addressed. Horton, the professor of ministry at Baylor, has recorded some of these in a study about what college-age students get out of mission trips.

He wrote about the study in a blog post for The Huffington Post. “Of the 32 students interviewed after their trips, 29 said the experience had changed the way they see other cultures, with 17 mentioning increased respect and concern,” the article stated. “Almost half said they were less likely to see their culture as inherently superior. Most who had been exposed to poverty on their trips said they had a greater appreciation for what they have — or even disgust for American greed — but only a few mentioned concrete steps they had taken to lessen their materialism.” Some of those statistics seem reaffirming, but some are shocking: Not even half said they were less likely to see their culture as inherently superior? Horton said that this study was given to students who had been on only one domestic or foreign mission trip, and that the stats get higher the more trips a student takes. The study also found that the impact on students is greater and lasts longer if trip leaders hold follow-up meetings to solidify what students learned on the trips. “Multiple trips and longer trips have much greater impacts than just taking one trip. And it also depends on a couple other factors: how the students and team members are trained before they go on the trip, how they’re mentored on that trip, and then any of the formation that takes place after they get back home,” Horton said. “To really have good formation when it comes to materialism and ethnocentrism and just care and concern for others, you’ve got to have good preparation beforehand, some really strong mentoring while the students or team members are on that trip, and then the followup when they get back to the city, so they can say, ‘Yeah, we did that down in Mexico, but now what are we doing for the Hispanic community in our own city?’” The more teams try to take what they did on a trip and apply it in their lives, Horton said, the more the experience will be transforming.

WHAT ABOUT THEM? In a follow-up study focused on the people being helped, Horton found that mission trips are generally effective and wanted by those they are sent to. For the second study, Horton said he and his research team interviewed 100 long-term missionaries, host partners, and nationals who worked with short-term mission groups. They asked them about pitfalls and whether the short-term teams contributed to the ministry, or general goal, of the host partners. “Fifty percent said absolutely, the teams helped us advance our ministry, helped us make new contacts, and we saw a lot of advantages to having short-term teams come in,” Horton said. “Thirty percent had some reservations, but said that as long as the teams are run well and the host partners are the leaders in setting the agenda, it has a tremendous impact on their ministry. But they weren’t quite as enthusiastic. That’s 80 percent saying as long as the teams are appropriately trained, and you have a good selection of team members, you have the host partner setting the agenda, they are happy to receive teams as long as it’s not too many teams. But only 20 percent — 10 said they never want to see another short-term mission team again and the other 10 percent said they weren’t that helpful to our particular kind of ministry that we’re doing, so it was not beneficial to them.” Overall, when mission trips are done in the right way and with the right goals in mind, Horton found that those we hope to help are being helped. When embarking on a mission trip, team members should focus on what they can learn from and accomplish with the people in that country — often, that

(Left) Smith said the orphanage’s hammocks allowed his team to enjoy the cool weather. (Right) Smith is holding Daisy, a child at the Jinotega orphanage. Daisy, though not an orphan, lived at the orphanage with her family because her single mother had only one leg, and they were too poor to afford housing. Photos courtesy of Taylor Smith

may not include overt evangelism. Culturally aware and open-minded mission teams can create stronger cross-cultural experiences. Smith said the only problem is that the high missionaries get from helping others usually won’t last for long. “You are left feeling with, a lot of times, with this sense of accomplishment but at the same time, it’s paired with this sense of not accomplishing anything, which can be really tough to contend with, especially when you’re an idealistic little teenager,” Smith said. “We could feel what we tangibly did in one place, but then could see how so very much needed to be done elsewhere. It’s a matter of perspective with that sort of sentiment because in a way that sentiment can be inspiring, but also defeating … There’s no way you can do it all as a single person, but the fact that you can do something should offer some inspiration, which for me it did – that’s why I keep doing things. That’s why I went back.”



Organizations, like the voluntour opportunities they offer, come in a variety of missions and sizes. Some offer trips to a select number of countries while others send voluntourists all around the world. Take a closer look at a few of the more prominent organizations to see where they’re sending voluntourists internationally.






g n i t t o r t e th b r o o l N G with True TE






Projects Abroad

With more than 28 international destinations available, Projects Abroad takes a big-picture approach to voluntourism. Projects Abroad began in 1992 when it sent a group of students to

teach English in Romania. Until 1997, it operated on a small scale, with just two part-time staff responsible for sending university students to Eastern Europe to teach English. Now, 20 years later, such opportunities are still available along with a wide spectrum of other options. Projects Abroad sends about 10,000 voluntourists abroad every year and has sent more than 60,000 to date. It has offices in each country to which it sends voluntourists and more than 600 full-time staff worldwide. Ghana

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(GHA) is PA’s biggest destination; the organization has five offices in Ghana alone. India (IND), Peru (PER), Argentina (ARG), Tanzania (TZA), South Africa (ZAF), and Nepal (NPL) also compete for large portions of PA’s voluntourists. Projects Abroad works on projects ranging from teaching and orphan care to environmental conservation and farming. There are even opportunities to coach sports and teach students about the performing arts.

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Data compiled from The World Bank


International Student Volunteers International Student Volunteers operates on six continents and has sent upward of 30,000 voluntourists on ISV programs from 2002 through 2013. Working in fields such as education and sustainable development, ISV teams have contributed almost 2.5 million hours to international projects. ISV has come a long way since its pilot program of 80 students and now has established programs in Australia (AUS), South Africa (ZAF), Costa

Rica (CRI), Thailand (THA), and the Dominican Republic (DOM). ISV is dedicated to working with grassroots organizations, local communities, and researchers to ensure that the projects it offers are safe, meaningful, sustainable, and achievable. ISV wants voluntourists to contribute in a way that is both fun and educational. Project goals are oriented around the priorities of the host community and vary from program to program. From

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environmental management in Australia to working with children’s programs in South Africa, ISV provides many opportunities for voluntourists to make a difference.

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GeoVisions GeoVisions has been sending voluntourists abroad since 2006. During that time, about 4,000 students have taken trips to countries such as Spain (ESP), Italy (ITA), Jordan (JOR), Lebanon (LBN), Turkey (TUR), Ghana (GHA), and France (FRA). GeoVisions prides itself in its focus on language. Voluntourists live with host families, tutoring the families in English while improving their own understanding

of the native language. Whether they are helping parents with career advancement or helping children with English homework, students with GeoVisions work in a number of ways to broaden their horizons and those of their host families. GeoVisions sent almost 1,000 voluntourists abroad this year, falling just short of its goal. Citing students’ inability to take time off from work, GeoVisions has begun reaching out to an older population that includes

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retired teachers and professors. Though language is the priority, GeoVisions also offers opportunities in child safety, conservation, and clinical work. GDP (billions of USD as of 2012)










GoEco Since its first project in 2006 at the Israeli Sea Turtle Rescue Center on the Mediterranean Sea, GoEco has worked to promote ecological and humanitarian programs to as wide an audience as possible. Now, GoEco has projects worldwide in countries such as Israel (ISR), Zimbabwe (ZWE), Sri Lanka (LKA), and China (CHN). At each

project, GoEco closely monitors the number of voluntourists to ensure that there is no detrimental impact to the local environment. Marine conservation, teaching at Buddhist monasteries, and caring for giant pandas in China are a few of the programs offered. GoEco ensures that voluntourists will have time to travel, sightsee, and take in the local culture. On-site

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coordinators even help those in the program plan activities that interest them. GDP (billions of USD as of 2012)









Global Citizen Year One of the smaller voluntourist agencies, Global Citizen Year, currently has programs in Ecuador (ECU), Brazil (BRA), and Senegal (SEN). In 2009, GCY launched a pilot program with 11 voluntourists from across the United States. During its four-year history, GCY has graduated almost 200 alumni. Currently, it has 91 citizens abroad, and it hopes to see that number increase as time goes on. GCY focuses on the areas of education, public health, conservation, and small

business development. Its largest program is in Ecuador, where it has 47 voluntourists at present. There are 21 voluntourists in Brazil and 23 in Senegal. GCY is not just concerned with the successful completion of projects but also with the experience of its alumni. It wants those who follow through with the program to discover things about other cultures, as well as about themselves. GCY operates through the idea that everyone has potential, regardless of where and with what resources he or she is

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GDP (billions of USD as of 2012) 17




born. Roughly 80 percent of GCY alumni went through the program with need-based financial aid from GCY’s Fellowship Fund, with nearly 30 percent participating on fully funded fellowships.






10 Ways to Stay Safe and Healthy on your Trip to Honduras BY MEREDITH HAMRICK STAFF WRITER So you’ve decided to venture into Honduras. The country has the highest murder rate in the world. A 2011 United Nations study reported 86 murders for every 100,000 people living in the country. San Pedro Sula — Honduras’ second largest city — holds the title of the world’s most dangerous city, according to a Mexican think tank. The country’s violence stems from its huge cocaine market and



If you find yourself in an emergency situation, call “199” for the police or “198” for firefighters.

6 Visit your doctor and get vaccines for hepatitis A, typhoid, and hepatitis B before your trip. Hepatitis A and typhoid can be present in food and water in Honduras. Hepatitis B is spread through the blood. Ask your doctor whether you should take any preventive measures against malaria or rabies.

If you encounter a political demonstration, leave the area immediately. It is illegal for foreigners to participate, and police may use tear gas and other harmful tactics to suppress protests.

7 Stick to bottled water and drinks served hot like coffee and tea. Tap water or ice that comes from tap water may contain harmful bacteria. Avoid unpasteurized milk products. Eat cooked foods only when they’re served hot. Wash and peel any fruits and vegetables before eating.

3 Never drive at night. Even during the day, drive with your doors locked and windows up. Carjacking and robbery of motorists are common.

8 Officials declared a state of emergency in July 2013 because of a dengue fever epidemic. The disease is spread by mosquitoes and causes flu-like symptoms. No vaccine currently exists. Children are especially susceptible. If you suspect dengue fever, seek medical attention immediately.

gang conflicts. Even Honduran police are not always above the gangs’ pervasive influence. The government has largely failed to keep up with cases of violent crime -- rape and murder regularly go unpunished. Tourists to Honduras will also find themselves at an elevated risk of foodborne and insect-carried illness. Read these precautions to keep yourself safe while voluntouring in this high-risk area.

4 Never ride economy buses. First-class buses are much safer.

9 Hide valuables while walking around in public. Displaying items like jewelry, iPods, or cell phones makes you much more attractive to robbers. Carry a small amount of cash to give away in case you become the victim of a robbery. Armed robbery is common in Honduras.

5 Walk with others everywhere you go. It is especially important to avoid walking alone on isolated beaches and trails.

10 Visit https://step.state. gov/step/, and register for STEP — the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. The U.S. Department of State will have a record of your trip and send you safety alerts should any dangerous situations arise.






Your Soundtrack to Voluntouring




Few things set the stage for a new adventure quite like music. A language of its own, music often adds to the sensory experience of traveling. Whether you are venturing to Asia, South America, Africa, or Europe, music provides insight into cultural differences before you even arrive at your destination. Here are suggestions of artists to create a unique soundtrack for travels abroad.



1. No Me Digas Adios Los Yetis 2. Sabor a Mi Monsieur Periné

9 5

3. Stone Flower Antonio Carlos Jobim


4. Copenhague Vetusta Morla 5. Amore ai Tempi Dell’Ikea Lo Stato Sociale


6. Donne-Moi Une Vie Yannick Noah


7. Dancing in Madness Anoushka Shankar 8. Idan Raichel Mi’Ma’amakim 9. Brightness Wang Feng


10. Sherlock SHINee 11. Famaden Ke Madou Sidiki Diabaté 12. Ye Nan Lon An Orchestre SuperJheevs des Paillotes


11 1 2. 12 South America




Zhug BY ALEX DIXON STAFF WRITER Zhug, a versatile Yemenite hot sauce, can be found throughout homes, food carts, and restaurants in Israel. However, it’s not popular in the U.S. The green chilies, cilantro, garlic, and lime juice provide familiar flavors of Latin and Mexican cuisine, while cardamom, caraway seeds, and cumin add a Mediterranean depth to the sauce.

Zhug can be spooned over everything from grilled fish to beer-braised carnitas, or added to soup. If you have underripe avocados, it can even be added to soften and spice up traditional guacamole. Recipe provided by Jane Lerner, a food and travel writer from Brooklyn, New York. She adapted the recipe from Aglaia Kremezi’s “Mediterranean Hot and Spicy.”



1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1. Toast the whole spices on the stovetop or in a toaster oven. De-seed the toasted cardamom pods and grind all of the seeds in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

1 teaspoon cumin seeds 1 teaspoon coriander seeds 6 cardamom pods 12 small/medium green chilies (serranos or jalapeños) 6 garlic cloves 1 cup cilantro ½ cup parsley leaves 1 teaspoon sea salt 1 teaspoon ground black pepper ¼ cup lime juice

2. Roughly chop the chilies (de-seeded, if you prefer), garlic, cilantro, and parsley and place in a food processor, blender, or a wide-enough container to use with an immersion blender. Add in salt and pepper, lime juice, and the ground spice mix. 3. Blend until you get a smooth paste. Add a little more lime juice, or olive oil, if it’s too thick to blend. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. 4. Pack in a jar and store in the refrigerator. Zhug will keep for about two weeks.



@#%&! 58 | TRUE NORTH


Melanie Sasser Student Life

Dillon Jones School Voluntourist

From climbing boulders in Colorado to riding horses at a ranch in Texas, spending a summer voluntouring with the organization Student Life allowed Melanie Sasser to collect a summer’s worth of crazy memories she wouldn’t have gotten at home. Sasser worked for Student Life in the summer of 2013. She spent most of her summer voluntouring as a counselor for Student Life in Orange Beach, Alabama, where she led high school students, but she was also given the opportunity to travel to Texas, Colorado, and New York with the organization. For Sasser, one of the best parts of her voluntouring experience was being able to hike the Colorado Trail and have experiences she couldn’t have at home. “While we were hiking the trail, we got to go bouldering,” Sasser said. “But my favorite part was jumping off a waterfall. It was crazy scary and so much fun, but it was incredible because it’s something you just can’t do at home. There aren’t waterfalls like that in North Carolina.”

For a lot of people, voluntouring away from home and experiencing new things lead to situations that may seem terrifying at the time but end up being funny in retrospect. Dillon Jones spent part of his fall 2012 semester voluntouring in elementary schools in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he says the craziest thing that happened to him was almost losing a student. “I picked up the kids in the science club from the lunchroom,” Jones said. “We got to the classroom, and it was locked, so I went to go find a key while someone else watched the kids.” Jones said when he finally got into the classroom, there were only 12 kids there, instead of 13. “I go around the whole school searching for this kid, Daymeon, and I just can’t find him,” Jones said. “They call his name over the loudspeaker and everything. Finally, after probably half an hour, the principal finds him in the bathroom.” But Jones said the worst part of that afternoon wasn’t even the terror of almost losing a child. “He missed the whole science club, poor kid.”






& : Viability



Velvet Gaston began working with her local Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter in Raleigh, North Carolina, three years ago. She has developed extensive voluntourism experience as well as technical expertise. She lived in Sierra Leone in the summer of 2013 while voluntouring for the LemonAid Fund and is a senior environmental engineering major at North Carolina State University.

Download the magazine to your iPad to listen to audio of the interviews.


What is your role in Engineers Without Borders? I’m the president of the chapter. I oversee the running of our international projects as well as all of our local outreach fundraising and public relations.

How does EWB implement projects? It’s completely volunteer-based, and it focuses on admitted project proposals from communities internationally. So, it’s leaders in communities who recognize a need, identify that need, and have a proposed solution. Then, they submit that proposal, and a member chapter will partner with that community and make a commitment of at least five years to find the solution with them.

What are the most important areas that voluntourists can help with? In a lot of situations, help is being provided that hasn’t been asked for. I think voluntourists can be most effective in developing real relationships with communities and being able to provide direct resources in a very equilateral transfer, instead of it being programmatic development. The other area is capital development. Giving people the power to actually initiate and change something is usually more effective than providing something that they could accomplish for themselves if they simply had the ability to interact with their government.

Is there a specialized group of skills that voluntourists should have? I think it’s really simple — they just need to be able to listen, and not just listen, but watch. Being able to let go of paradigms like, “This is how infrastructure should be built, this is how communities should be run, this is how education should be done.” It is being able to let go of all these assumptions based on a Western upbringing and being able to look at what was actually there and what was functioning.

Do you think voluntourism as a movement is viable? I wouldn’t necessarily call it a fad, but I would call it a product of our unique place in Western society. People are seeking more meaning in their life because they’re very disconnected from any challenge that might define their character or their person. So, I think it’s going to last because people still look for meaning in some way; right now, it just happens to be that voluntourism is something that people can use as a venue for self-discovery and to see what’s actually going on in the world.



W WHAT WHERE WHEN WHYHOW HOW WHAT WHERE WHE Each month, we feature a Q&A with two individuals regarding the issue at hand. Readers can send in topics EN WHY HOWpertaining WHEN HOW offering knowledge to some aspect of WHERE or questions that theyWHY would like addressed to qatopics@ HOW WHAT HOW W voluntourism. Their views might not be opposing, but Readers will be notified if their topics or W WHAT WHERE WHEN WHYHOW HOW WHAT WHERE WHE each respondent will come from a different perspective questions will appear in an upcoming issue. EN WHYHOWHOW WHAT WHERE WHEN WHYHOWHOW W UBELONG What is your role in UBELONG? I co-founded UBELONG with Raul Roman, a friend from when we were both students at Cornell. Together, we run all facets of the organization. We have projects throughout Africa, Asia, and South America. To offer these programs, we’ve built and manage a network of over 100 organizations — like schools, clinics, biological reserves, NGOs, etc., as well as great logistics people like drivers, host families, and hostels. What are the most important areas that volunteers can help with, locally or abroad? We work in education, we work in care-giving, we work in health, we work in conservation, human rights, so there are a ton of different areas where volunteers can be engaged. You have to know how to engage a volunteer though.

How does UBELONG implement projects? We have three programs — a volunteer abroad program, the expedition program, and we’re about to launch our corporate program, [which is] getting companies to build up their talent in their employees through international service.

Is there a specialized group of skills that volunteers should have? Attitude is definitely the most important thing. That sentiment of being really open, of being proactive, and understanding that a volunteer is completely different than a tourist. Everything kind of starts with that. But it depends on the project. We have health projects, and obviously if you’re going to be on a health project, then we’re only looking for nurses and doctors. If we feel that you have the right attitude, then it’s just basically matching up skills.

Do you think voluntourism as a movement is viable? Volunteering done right, absolutely, is here to stay because it really does make a difference on the community and also in the volunteers themselves. As for the voluntourism movement, I don’t think it’s sustainable or viable in any way just because it’s not real. You’re promising people the opportunity to make a difference, but they get there, and they really can’t. As time goes on, I think real organizations... are basically going to rise above the rest, and all these voluntourism outlets are going to just become the tourism companies that they really are.

Cedric Hodgeman and Raul Roman co-founded UBELONG, a social venture for international volunteering based in Washington, D.C., in 2009. Hodgeman was interested in the project after years of international volunteer work, and Roman had connections across the world as a result of his work with the United Nations and the World Bank. The two have worked, volunteered, and traveled in more than 40 countries, and between the two, they are fluent in English, French, and Spanish.





V How to Adjust After You Volunteer


oluntourists may think the hardest part of their trip will be leaving their homes and adapting to a completely different culture, but it’s actually coming home that proves the most difficult task. Voluntourists can experience reverse culture shock when returning home, and they might not know how to re-adjust. They can feel purposeless and isolated, but they don’t have to feel this way. If voluntourists prepare for their eventual return and find coping mechanisms to help them adjust, they can acclimate to home and utilize their voluntour trips to move forward in their lives.

simply tell their stories. “Some do PowerPoint presentations and some do story slams,” she said. “Peace Corps volunteers have incredible adventure stories about living in a third-world country. It depends on the volunteers, but they share their story for the rest of their life in some fashion.” McCormack advises voluntourists to expect that some people won’t want to listen to their stories for long periods of time. “It depends on who you’re talking to because some people sit down for hours to hear your stories, and other people only want to hear the top line of what happened,” she said.

“Get that food you miss, whether it’s a Slurpee or a hamburger, and get the things you haven’t had in a few years.” KELLY MCCORMACK Peace Corps public affairs specialist

She said sometimes friends and family members don’t understand what voluntourists have experienced, and because of this, returning voluntourists should also keep in contact with the friends they made on their trip. “With Facebook or a call on Skype, it’s a lot easier to connect with people,” she said. “It’s a little bit less shocking, but it’s still hard because you just don’t know when you’re going to go back, and the people there are sad you’re leaving. The hardest thing you’ll do is leave.” McCormack, who spent two years in Guatemala as a Peace Corps volunteer, said returning voluntourists should take it slow and surround themselves with people who love, understand, and support them. “The first two weeks home are really shocking,” she said. “Friends and family can really help and support you. Get that food you miss, whether it’s a Slurpee or a hamburger, and get the things you haven’t had in a few years. Relish where you are.”


Kelly McCormack, a public affairs specialist for the Peace Corps, said most voluntourists find it easier to integrate into their new host countries because everything is new and exciting, and they want to learn more about the region. “As soon as Peace Corps volunteers step out of their houses, they are learning something new. You’re interacting with someone different from you, trying new foods, just seeing new animals. Everything is different and new, and it is hard to replicate that back in the states.” Returning home, voluntourists can be overwhelmed by everything they’ve missed, from new technology to family developments. “Falling back into the routine of the U.S. can be overwhelming,” McCormack said. “There are so many decisions — you can stand in a grocery store for an hour looking at 50 different options for salad dressing.” In the Peace Corps’s handbook, “On the Home Front,” the organization advises voluntourists to not construct an ideal vision of home in their minds. They should expect to feel slightly disconnected from their home life at first. McCormack said returning voluntourists should realize their foreign destinations have become a huge part of their lives and that their previous homes feel incomplete. “It becomes your second home, probably for the rest of your life,” she said. “You’ve integrated into the culture and understand the people and had this experience. We try to help volunteers adjust back to the states by saying, ‘Hey, it’s going to be more difficult than you expect.’” The Peace Corps offers an end-of-service conference for all of its voluntourists as well as career services to help them find jobs. McCormack said people can find support groups in their area, talk to local schools about their experiences, reach out to media to talk about their work, and volunteer locally to maintain the spark they felt on their trip. She also said voluntourists should

Traci Carver | Belize Praying Pelican Missions

“One thing that helped me adjust coming back home was during the week, while we were there, we had a website where our friends and family could put their thoughts and prayers for us to read during the week. That kind of helped to stay in touch with them and realize that we still had a home to go back to.”

Lindsay Stewart | Uruguay UNC-CH Study Abroad Program

“A piece of recommendation or a recommendation I would have for someone going through a similar sort of transition would be … don’t let yourself have the expectation that you will be able to transition and debrief within a short amount of time. But, rather let it happen naturally. Let the stories come naturally as things happen in your home life that remind you of something that happened in your life while abroad.”



Essay on...


Innovative or Insulting? BY ZACH POTTER STAFF WRITER


hen Furqan Burgos traveled to Kenya in 2012 with the World Overcomers Christian Church in Durham, North Carolina, he had plans to construct a library for the Kinyogori Primary School. He did just that. He also helped to install gutters on the town’s water tower. The locals were grateful for these additions and appreciated the efforts of Burgos and his fellow voluntourists. But with one construction project, Burgos, 44, went too far.



Unsatisfied with the outhouse the what is best for people, it is important people of the village used, Burgos to take the time to ask them what built a simple stall using two-by-fours they want. Burgos worked hard on so that the people would not have to building a library and filling it with squat. “They just had an outhouse with books for the students. In that project, a hole,” Burgos said. “We didn’t feel he consulted with the village, and they real comfortable squatting. Everybody told him of their lack of basic school was hoping for something better.” supplies such as books. As a result, Burgos’ stall, though built with he gave the community something good intentions, was an affront to the it needed, and the community community. The school officials found responded with appreciation. out about it and told Burgos it was The same goes for the water insulting and offensive. “It sent the tower: The gutters Burgos installed message that, ‘Our bathrooms aren’t allow rainwater to add to the good enough?’” Burgos said. “It was community’s water reserves. On a sensitive subject. They were really these projects, Burgos and his beat up about it.” The experience teammates talked to the community served as a wake-up call for Burgos, and discovered what was needed so and he removed the stall immediately. that they could provide it. When we voluntour, we must be When it comes to voluntouring, very careful in technology is a dealing with new and tricky subject. “He just looked at me different cultures. Even something and said, ‘What poverty? as innocuous as a Things that seem commonplace to This isn’t poverty. This is rudimentary toilet can us — like toilets — offend. The focus of how we live.’” can seem wasteful voluntourism is not to FURQAN BURGOS convert other peoples and inefficient to a Voluntourist and cultures to our community that has been going to the own, but to offer aid bathroom successfully for years using a and service in any way we can. We are different method. there to embrace their culture while Imagine inviting a friend to immersing ourselves in it. your house. When she arrives, she “We’re so focused on poverty,” immediately begins rearranging the Burgos said. “We overemphasize it.” furniture because it makes it easier When he spoke to one of the local to navigate the space. That may very carpenters he was working with, Burgos well be true, but you have set up the asked him his thoughts on the poverty furniture in a way that suits you, and in the village. “He just looked at me and you have had no trouble getting from said, ‘What poverty? This isn’t poverty. the living room to the kitchen and back. This is how we live,’” Burgos said. Instead of assuming that we know Technology brings us opportunities

Photos courtesy of Eric Marsh


Furqan Burgos

we otherwise would not have, but it brings many consequences that often go unnoticed. The constant barrage of information stresses our minds and hurts our focus. The constant Facebook updates, texts, and emails keep us tied to our smartphones. We believe that this is the best way to live. We get the latest news. We find out about all the great deals at whatever store we frequent. But there is something to be said for a simple life. The Kenyan children Burgos worked with walked to school every morning, chanting and singing their prayers. They are not glued to TV screens. “It moved me,” Burgos said. “That was my tear-jerking moment. They live so humble and so peaceful.” Diving into cultures with new ways of doing things may seem strange. It may take us out of our comfort zone. But getting out of our comfort zone is a huge piece of voluntourism. Sometimes we need to be uncomfortable. Sometimes we need to think past the ways we are used to doing things. Sometimes, we just need to squat.