Bringing awareness to the benefits of service travel

Aid Organizations

Reading Village: Upcoming volunteer travel opportunity in Guatemala

Reading Village is a non-profit organization whose mission is to eradicate illiteracy in impoverished communities and empower youth to lead their communities out of poverty. Each year, volunteer travelers have an opportunity to take a Learning Journey into rural Guatemala and to participate hands-on in this transformational work. We are pleased to share this guest post submitted by Kassia Binkowski, the Director of Development and Communications of Reading Village.


In this day and age, there is no shortage of opportunities to do good. Buy these shoes and we’ll send a pair abroad, purchase fair trade goods and the world will be better, donate to this or that charity and we promise you’ll make a difference. Drill a well, read a book, donate food, build a clinic, save a life. The opportunities are as good as they are endless.

But how often do you get to share a tortilla with the woman whose life you’ve changed? To read a book with the scholar in whose education you’ve invested?

Reading Village - Bringing Literacy to Rural Guatemala

For the past six years, Reading Village has been working to refine an effective model of development that positions communities to thrive under their own resources and creativity. Through education and leadership development, the organization empowers youth to eradicate illiteracy and interrupt the cycle of poverty in their indigenous communities. Time and time again, education is considered to be one of the most effective ways to improve the quality of life in developing countries, and Reading Village’s work is no exception. Where fewer than 10% of students finish high school, our scholars are graduating. Where lack of access to books is the first barrier to literacy, these teens are building libraries that will long outlast our presence.

As the Director of Development and Communications for this small non-profit organization, I was hired to translate these results into donor dollars. The vast majority of my time is spent creating electronic and print materials that convey the impact of our programs to prospective funders who have never left the security of this comfortable life. But the bottom line is: you have to see it to believe it.

That’s why Reading Village leads semi-annual Learning Journeys into rural Guatemala. Bringing together international philanthropists, local staff, and student scholars, the organization has developed a thought provoking experience for international travelers. From exploring colonial towns and Mayan ruins, to contemplating the impact of urbanization and education on rural indigenous communities, the trip has been designed to actively engage current and prospective funders in a conversation about equity, opportunity, and development.

Reading Village - Celebrating Our Learning Journey

For five days our travelers dive full-tilt, whole-heart into our literacy work. With eyes wide open they ride buses, share meals, read stories, meet scholars, greet families, and express gratitude. For five days we ask them to think, feel, act, create, inspire, and be inspired, only to start again at the beginning and think some more. The days are full, the sights hard, the experience thought provoking, and the travel impassioned.

Cultivating donors, engaging action, and inspiring compassion, the Learning Journeys have been designed to be an intense and productive experience. Your heart is thrown wide open, your mind is challenged to understand all we see, and your body endures all the squatting and walking and standing and waiting that is life in Guatemala. In this way, Reading Village aims to close the gap between the have’s and have-nots, between us and them, you and me. When you break open a book and look into the eyes of these kids, I think you’ll agree with me that we’re not so different after all.

Reading Village - Our Scholars

It’s not every day that you get to meet the person whose life you’ve changed; now’s your chance. Join us November 2-9, 2013 for the trip of a lifetime. Registration is open now and spots are first come first serve. Visit our website or email us at to learn more. Are you ready for the adventure?

Volunteer travel in Nepal with Edge of Seven

Please enjoy this guest post from Sarah Andrews, Executive Director at Edge of Seven — a very worth volunteer travel organization that we are pleased to feature.

Building Up Girls in Nepal with Edge of Seven

The laughter of students at recess rang across the schoolyard in the small Himalayan village of Phuleli, as Sarala Rai talked of how she spent her childhood there collecting firewood and grass for her family’s animals while dreaming of one day being able to receive an education. Now 16, this dream of Sarala’s is coming true. She is one of the lucky ones able to attend higher secondary school in her district capital. On this recent visit home to her village, she remarked how many of the younger girls she saw before her could be married by the time they were her age.


At the time of Sarala’s visit home, Edge of Seven was in the process of constructing a secondary school to house students in grades 7 and 8, who currently had a lengthy commute to reach the closest secondary school. Because families in rural Nepal often rely on their daughters to shoulder the responsibilities of most household chores, commute times that take away from time spent working often lead families to keep girls home from school. Edge of Seven’s classrooms, built in the village center, would ensure that more girls in Phuleli were able to receive an education.

Phuleli School Complete

Edge of Seven is an organization that engages volunteers in its mission to create access to education, economic, and health opportunities for girls and women in the developing world. It does this by providing funding and volunteer support for infrastructure projects – like schools, dormitories, and water supplies – that directly benefit girls and women in rural communities.


For the past three years, Edge of Seven’s efforts have been focused in Nepal, where the organization has completed four school buildings, two community water supplies, and one hostel housing 40 college-bound girls in the Everest Region. Since its founding in 2010, Edge of Seven has helped 455 girls and women attain access to an education, and its projects have directly benefitted close to 900 individuals living in the communities where it works.


Edge of Seven works with community leaders and local partner organizations in Nepal to identify projects that would provide majority benefits to marginalized girls and women, because numerous girls, like Sarala, who are able to achieve a higher education are better positioned to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty. Studies show that girls who receive seven years or more of education marry later and have fewer children, improving economic and health outcomes for their families.

In engaging volunteers and world travelers in its work, Edge of Seven aims to inspire, educate, and empower others to become part of the movement that has been dubbed “The Girl Effect,” to create social change so that more girls like Sarala can receive an education. To learn more about getting involved with Edge of Seven, visit

In October of 2013, Edge of Seven will be running a fundraising trek to Everest Base Camp for individuals looking to combine adventure with social action. All funds raised from the trek will go directly toward Edge of Seven’s educational projects in Nepal. Edge of Seven is also seeking volunteers to join their upcoming school build in the Everest Region this November. For more information, email


Kids and Voluntourism – Kids Giving Back

Young volunteers with Kids Giving Back.

KIDS GIVING BACK (KGB) is a non-profit organization that provides  kids, families, schools and corporations  with volunteering experiences.  Based in Australia, they are committed to creating the “next generation of generosity” by creating opportunities for kids and their families to give back.  Recently, we had a chance to interview Ruth Tofler-Riesel,  Kids Giving Back.  Here is part 2 of her interview. (Part 1 was posted on Nov. 30.) 

What types of projects have you done? 

Overseas Alexander and I have volunteered with the programs teaching English and working with elephants in Thailand through Starfish Volunteers, and we have also volunteered in Guatemala working at a childcare center with children living in desperate circumstances as well as at an indigenous women’s weaving cooperative. We are about to travel to Cambodia and Laos where we’ll be teaching English as well as working at a center that offers street children alternatives to a life of drugs.

Volunteering with elephants in Thailand.

Locally (in Sydney, Australia) Kids Giving Back  has involved kids in more volunteering activities than I have space to mention here. We run Cook for Good at a local community kitchen where 15 kids and an equal number of adults cook up a storm, making meals that they then deliver to homeless shelters as well as individuals in need. Each session turns out around 250 two-course meals, no mean feat. To date over 1500 homeless have enjoyed these meals made by kids and parents.

Cook for Good program.

We run similar programs for kids at risk, and it’s particularly powerful and poignant when these young adults tell us that volunteering has made them realize there are others worse off than themselves.

Other local programs include making meals for asylum seekers who often have only one meal a day; sharing tea parties and games with the elderly in aged care homes – many residents rarely receive visitors and this brings them great joy; playing with kids from refugee communities at community days, participating in bush regeneration programs, tutoring students from indigenous communities to meet their literacy and numeracy needs, and connecting students to volunteer with programs that assist children with special needs. The list goes on, this is only a snapshot.

Young volunteer with Kids Giving Back.

How does volunteering benefit kids, in particular?

Volunteering is incredibly enriching – it immerses our children in real life, helping others, and interacting with people from all walks of life. It gives our children an opportunity to discover their own strengths and qualities, and use these to help others. I also believe it helps balance our children from the materialistic consumer world we live in.

Volunteering helps our kids to understand that everything they do, no matter how small, can make a difference to someone else. Kids love being part of a team, and volunteering gives them this opportunity, with its instant immersion in a new community and another culture. There is something about being part of a group of people, all working toward a common goal that is incredibly rewarding and makes kids and adults alike feel good.

Volunteering, be it at home or abroad, opens our kids’ eyes to just how much they can actually learn from those they are helping – it’s very much a two way street. When children become involved in volunteering with other communities, our world in effect becomes smaller as they become engaged with and build links with communities beyond their own.

Young English teacher in Thailand.

What is your hope for the future of your organization?

Volunteering opportunities for kids are often hard to come by, and our hope is to continue to expand the opportunities we can offer to kids, families and schools. Our tag lines are in fact also our hopes: “Creating the next generation of generosity” and “Connecting people, bridging communities”. The more volunteering becomes an integral part of the lives of kids, families, school and community groups, the more long-term, meaningful relationships can be formed between communities and volunteers as they both give and receive and grow together.


Journeys for Good travels to Cambodia with Globe Aware

Cambodia volunteer meets local children.

Journeys for Good is excited to announce our upcoming volunteer trip to Cambodia with Globe Aware.   It will be an amazing adventure and the flagship episode of our television program for public TV, currently in development.   In addition, we will be posting blog entries from the trip, so keep an eye out for upcoming entries at the end of December.  And, of course, upon our return, we will be sharing video content on our You Tube Channel.

We chose to partner with Globe Aware because they are an established leader in voluntourism.  Their mission is to promote cultural awareness and sustainability. They seek projects that are based on community need and designed to be sustainable.  While Globe Aware’s financial assistance benefits the community economically, it is actually the involvement and collaboration between the volunteers and community that is the greatest mutual benefit. Community participation in volunteer work projects is an essential component of Globe Aware’s philosophy.  This is in line with our mission at Journeys for Good, profiling volunteer trips that are sustainable, ethical and mutually beneficial to both the local people and the volunteers themselves.

Volunteers deliver wheelchairs to locals in need.

In anticipation, we interviewed Globe Aware’s director, Kimberly Haley-Coleman.

Tell us about the projects we will be engaged in on this trip?

There are so many needs in Cambodia, and the projects we work on are chosen a couple of weeks ahead of time, depending on how much the prior volunteers finished and any higher priorities that have arisen, what the weather conditions will be, etc. The December program will include assembling and distributing wheelchairs for landmine victims, work with students at a Buddhist school and a couple of visits helping a local orphanage. We usually teach English pronunciation and colloquialisms as this gives a self sustaining job skill for one of the biggest industries in Cambodia.  Its worth taking a moment to comment about orphanages.

Orphanages all over the world have real needs that can be very difficult to meet. In 2005 Globe Aware ceased trying to operate too closely in conjunction with them as many vulnerabilities rose to the surface for which we have not been able to find firm solutions. We do occasionally provide training and services in group settings (like sewing teachers, English lessons) or donations in the form of meals or educational materials. We have a firm policy against any volunteers working one- on-one with any children.  Children should not be treated as an attraction. Understanding the real challenges that needy children face worldwide is important, and we are always seeking the best way to promote such awareness.

Local children in Cambodia.

How do you develop your volunteer projects within Cambodia?

The local community makes requests for projects, and we run those requests through 4 criteria (safety, genuine need to a needy community, etc) and we ensure its something that non-skilled volunteers are in a position to do. As long as the project meets our criteria, we let the locals decide the where and how. We firmly believe that we are not in a position to tell what the greatest needs are. We are always learning from the local community.

What types of people take these kinds of trips?

In the past, most international volunteers were college students, often because they have the amount of free time available that most programs required. Our programs are one week, Saturday to Saturday, to allow the full range of busy folk to find time to volunteer abroad.  We’ve seen the biggest increase in multi-generational families traveling together. It’s a beautiful way to experience something unique and also for everyone to appreciate their own lives.

How do you incorporate cultural exploration and sight-seeing into the experience?

We incorporate 3 to 5 planned but optional excursions that are intended to highlight the true culture of a place, not just the postcard beauty. This can mean cooking classes, attending a local wedding, dance lessons, or experiencing local “attractions” with locals to give a different perspective.

Beautiful Angor Wat temples in Cambodia.

How can someone else join this trip?

Registration is always open by email, phone, fax, or through our website. Our toll free number is 1-877-588-4562 or you can email at

Kids Giving Back – Voluntourism for Kids

Last Sunday, I tuned into one of my favorite programs, CBS’ 60 Minutes.  The top story that evening focused on  “Children Helping Children” — kids who were learning early on in their lives that volunteering can be incredibly rewarding.  I practically lept out of my chair because this is exactly what we are trying to accomplish with Journeys for Good — showing people that volunteer travel is a great way to become engaged as a global citizen and that truly anyone can have a positive impact.  To see this kind of story on one of the top television programs in the US made me believe that voluntourism is truly coming into the mainstream and, conversely, coverage in mainstream  media will help people become more aware of volunteer travel.  Either way, it is an encouraing sign that this kind of forward-thinking is on the rise.

Recently, we had a chance to interview Ruth Tofler-Riesel, of Kids Giving Back.  She knows firsthand the benefits and rewards of involving kids in volunteering at an early age.  Below is Part 1 of our interview.

Ruth, what inspired you to get involved with volunteer travel?

My son Alexander is 11 years old, and like all parents of young children we want to find things for him to do that are fun and at the same time meaningful. I’ve always loved travel and in November 2010 I read an article about volunteering abroad. My brain started ticking as I realized this would be a fantastic thing to do with my active and engaging then 9-year old son. I soon became obsessed with the idea of volunteering in Thailand. I dug around the ‘net, and despite finding numerous organisations offering volunteering opportunities, none accepted children under 18. That was, until I found Starfish Volunteers.  Within a month Alexander and I headed off to Thailand for what was to be an incredibly rich and life altering experience.

Alexander helps out with elephants in Thailand.

We taught English to primary school kids in the poorest region of Thailand, we rode and cared for elephants and stayed in a village in the house of the head mahout. After work each day Alexander played with the local village children. One day after a day of teaching together, Alexander turned to me and said “Mum, why don’t we create something so that all kids can do the same volunteering that we’ve just done”.  It was his excitement that made me know that I needed to do something more, not just for Alexander but to make a difference to others.

This was the spark that ignited Kids Giving Back and I can honestly say that it was the elephants and teaching that changed my son’s life and his way of looking at the world.

Kids teaching English to kids in Thailand.

What is your organization about (their mission)?

Kids Giving Back is a recently formed non-profit founded by myself and my friend Carole Schlessinger. Our mission is to instill in children and their family unit the beauty of giving to others, not just of material things but of time, through real life experiences.

This is particularly pertinent at a time where many of our children are loaded with material goods, when what they really need (and as a recent UN study shows), is “time, not stuff”. Volunteering with children gives families time together as well as giving children the opportunity to develop new relationships, both with other volunteers as well as with members of the community with whom they are working.

Our tag line says it all: Creating the Next Generation of Generosity. We provide kids, families, schools and corporations with volunteering experiences locally, nationally, and internationally. We believe that when kids volunteer, we are developing our next generation of leaders and creating a culture of generosity and civic responsibility.

We are passionate about volunteer travel, and Kids Giving Back now has a partner relationship with Starfish Volunteers so families and school groups can book their Thailand volunteering trips directly through our Kids Giving Back travel agent.

We do however feel strongly that volunteering starts at home, and to this end we are linking kids, families and schools with a huge variety of volunteering opportunities with numerous non-profit organisations on home turf.

Kids prepare meals for the homeless in Australia.

What positive effects have you seen in your work?

Lots! Starting with the effects on the recipients – I know the difference that we and other volunteers with children have made in Thailand, teaching children whose only opportunity to learn English from native speakers is from volunteers, as well as supporting the ability of a tiny village living in poverty to live with the elephants that are a part of its culture. Locally in Australia our kids and families are making a difference every day, helping a wide range of communities. When Alexander and I volunteer, or when Kids Giving Back connects a school group with a community, the assistance these kids give is tangible, and they really do make a difference. And then there’s a whole other level on which kids touch the hearts of those they’re helping.

In terms of the effects on the kids, it’s great seeing them embracing real life, away from the cyber worlds so many of them get stuck in for many hours of the day. You can really see the kids’ focus shift as they become aware of others beyond themselves, and learn the value of empathy. It’s great when kids work side by side with their parents or teachers who, while acting as role models, also get to enjoy the children in a new way, partnering with them as together they help others. It’s a very powerful shift in dynamics.

Alexander will at times express his gratitude for the fact that he is receiving a great education, that he has a warm bed, that we have running water and electricity, and that he can eat nutritious food. This is the sort of awareness and empathy that comes from first hand experience, and I can see how volunteering has really informed Alexander’s perspective on our world.

Please check back next week for Part 2 of our interview.