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Journeys for Good volunteer travels in Cambodia with Globe Aware – Part 2

Today was Day 2 of our Cambodia volunteer trip with Globe Aware.  The day began with a visit to the Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Center. The center was started by Aki Ra, a former child soldier of the Khmer Rouge who wanted to educate tourists about the history of landmines in Cambodia.   In 1997, Aki Ra began clearing landmines wherever he could find them – eventually working with the Cambodia government and starting the museum.  In 2010, he was named one of CNN’s Heroes and, in addition to the museum, the Relief Center cares for dozens of wounded, handicapped, orphaned and destitute children.

Akie Ra

Aki Ra

The visit put into perspective the incredible challenges that Cambodia has faced in its recent history.  From American bombing during the Vietnam War to the terrifying reign and genocide which took place under Pol Pot, to the estimated 3-6 million land mines and ordinates that still litter the countryside today – Cambodia has much to overcome.  Fortunately, tourism is a tremendous boon, offering many Cambodians better job opportunities.  Slowly things are improving, but the museum reminded us of the incredible resiliency of the Cambodia people.

Globe Aware guide Dine Tuy at the Cambodia Landmine Museum.

Globe Aware guide Dine Tuy at the Cambodia Landmine Museum.

When we returned to the hotel, we scrambled to put the finishing touches on our 28 wheelchairs.  We pumped up the tires and made sure that each chair had its own repair kit attached to the back frame.

Volunteers Laura and Roberto put finishing touches on a wheelchair.

Volunteers Laura and Roberto put finishing touches on a wheelchair.

Several large vans and a pickup truck pulled up.  One by one, the disabled were unloaded from the vehicles and placed into the new chairs.  Each volunteer rolled a chair up and assisted in the process.  There was a wide range of recipients, from small children to middle age men and women.  Some had been victims of landmines, with limbs completely missing.  Others had been stricken with polio and had lost the use of their legs.  Dine explained that, during transport out to the rural villages, the vaccines had become tainted and, as a result, many people contracted the disease instead of being immunized.  Some of the smallest children looked to have developmental disabilities and had little control over their tiny bodies.  Seeing so many disabled at one time was a humbling reminder of the gift of our mobility.

Wheelchair recipient.

Ruth, a warm and caring Australian woman who is traveling with her 11 year-old son Alexander remarked, “How beautiful it is to see our able-bodied children helping in this way.”  It was true.  The young boys were all so excited to deliver the wheelchairs and proud that they could help in such a profound way.  As a parent, there is another layer to these trips, seeing your child blossom with the opportunity to do something important.

Globe Aware wheelchair recipients.

We all sat together and, one by one, we introduced ourselves to the group.  Dine explained how these chairs would enable the recipients to dramatically improve their everyday lives.  Without the chairs, many of them were confined to their beds most of the time, “staring at the ceiling” as he described it.  Now, they would be able to visit relatives and get out to the market.  Just as important, the mobility would enable some of the adults to find work.

Ryan delivers his wheelchairs.

Towards the end, Dine handed out black markers and asked each of us to put our names on the back of chairs.  The idea was for the locals to see that we had come from around the world to help.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about taking “ownership”, but I did understand that the idea was for our connection to live on after we had returned home.  Admittedly, it felt good to be able to offer something so tangible, to assist in a way that produces such an direct impact in the lives of these 28 people.  In this case, the sweat equity from the previous day had a clear and immediate payoff and the group felt a deep sense of satisfaction at our achievement.

 

Up next…..the volunteers teach English at a local orphanage.

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Journeys for Good volunteer travels in Cambodia with Globe Aware

We arrived in Siem Reap to begin our volunteer adventure with Globe Aware.  We met our in-country coordinator, Dine Tuy, along with 14 fellow volunteers.  It’s a wonderfully diverse group — a mix of young professionals and families – 14 of us in all.  We’ve traveled from across the US, Australia and Japan.  Our 9 year-old Ryan is in good company with 3 other young boys on the trip ages 11, 12 and 15.

Ryan and Steve with Globe Aware coordinator, Dine Tuy

This morning Dine led us through a rundown of the week’s activities and it’s going to be packed.  The nice thing about Globe Aware is that, in addition to the volunteer projects, they plan activities to help richen our appreciation and understanding of the Cambodian culture.

Today, we visited Senteurs d’Angkor, a cooperative which trains locals to make, package and sell Khmer arts and crafts.  The program is a social enterprise partnership between the Cambodian and French governments.  Its aim is to teach  skills, provide jobs and enable participants to support their families in rural villages.  They weave baskets and make soaps, candles, lotions and spices.  The sales from the gift shop help to put money back into the program. We were all impressed with the quality of the goods for sale and each of us picked up a few items to take home.

Local artisan uses palm leaves to weave baskets used for gift wrap.

Local artisan uses palm leaves to weave baskets used for gift wrap.

After a traditional Khmer lunch of fish and chicken dishes with rice (quite similar to Thai food), we headed over to pick up the assembly kits for our first volunteer project.  We were to make 28 wheelchairs for the disabled.   The kits themselves are donated by Freewheelchairmission.org but the cost of shipping for each wheelchair is $250 US dollars.

Despite the blazing heat, the group kicked into high gear to unload all of the materials – plastic chairs with pre-drilled holes, metal frames, and large boxes loaded with the wheels, hardware and assembly instructions.  The four boys were particularly high energy, each one moving quickly back and forth from the storage area to the van to load them in.  I have to say, I was incredibly proud of my son Ryan’s work ethic. Though only 9, he worked steadily and with incredible focus, even in the incredible heat.

Steve Wynn covers the action as Globe Aware volunteers load up wheelchair assembly kits.

Steve Wynn covers the action as Globe Aware volunteers load up wheelchair assembly kits.

When we arrived back at the hotel, we unloaded everything, cleaned off all of the chairs (which were dirty from storage) and got to work in the cement courtyard.  I don’t consider myself to be mechanically inclined, but even the handy folks didn’t find the assembly intuitive or easy.  Luckily, we had our guide Dine and two other gentlemen as resident experts and assistants.

I struggled through the first one, getting the wheel hardware on backwards before Dine came over to rescue me.  For the second one, I found it easier to let one of the experts get it going as I played assistant – preparing the hardware, handing him parts, tightening up the nuts and putting on the finishing touches.  The man I worked with didn’t speak English, but we worked seamlessly side by side.  He would direct me or say, “No, no” and point me towards the right spot.  There was something so satisfying about getting into a groove with a complete stranger and we quickly assembled 2 additional chairs.

It was incredibly ambitious to try to make 28 wheelchairs.  Dine had figured 2 for each of the 14 volunteers, but there were many mitigating factors.  First of all, many of us couldn’t really accomplish it on our own or we struggled through it extremely slowly.  The younger kids worked alongside adults as they could, but much of what was required was too difficult.  Steve and Frank were shooting for the documentary, so they were “out”.  Lastly, 2 of our volunteers had not yet arrived.  So the goal of 2 per person really boiled down to 3 or 4 per person.  Starting at 3pm, it was going to be a “beat the clock” before the sun set.

Greg and Alexander assemble a wheelchair.

Greg and Alexander assemble a wheelchair.

I looked around and the rest of the group was working steadily, struggling as I had with various aspects of the assembly.  We bent over and sweated over the instructions, quite literally, as the afternoon temperature had climbed above 90 degrees. Everyone started out working solo but before long little clusters had formed of people working together.  Not surprisingly, Greg, a 30 year old Boeing engineer, was particularly adept.  I was also impressed with 15 year-old Quentin, working intently, only stopping occasionally to check the playlist on his iPod.  Quentin’s dad, Ben, also had the knack.  At one point, Ryan stepped over to ask Ben if he could help and Ben kindly welcomed his assistance.  Later, though, he quietly admitted that it was infinitely easier to get the job done without the “extra help”.

Ryan makes a wheelchair.

It started to get dark and there were still a handful of wheelchairs to be made.  This is a defining moment, I thought.  Will we have the right stuff?  We all dug in for the final push.  At that point, Steve and Frank had finished shooting and came in to help for the final drive.  Literally, the last bolts were being tightened in semi-darkness.  It was incredibly satisfying to look over and see those 28 chairs, all lined up along the side of the courtyard.

But beyond the 28 chairs, our group had accomplished something else.  We’d bonded over the struggle and had proven ourselves to one another.  The newness had worn off and we were becoming a cohesive unit.  All this, and it was only the first day of our adventure.

 

Coming up next……Day 2, Delivering the wheelchairs.  Sorry for the delayed initial posting.  The internet connection is slow and the days are incredibly packed, but I will post again as soon as possible.

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Journeys for Good Sends Holiday Wishes

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Hi All,

This year, we will ring in the New Year in Journeys for Good style — volunteering with Globe Aware in Cambodia.  Please check back starting Dec. 30th for blog updates from the field.  We are excited to share this, our most recent adventure, with all of you.

 

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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.

 

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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 office@Globeaware.com