Each year my family and I organize a trip to a developing country to do a volunteer vacation. (That’s what Mom and I are doing right now.) People often ask us how we select the countries that we visit. My parents have been putting these trips together for 18 years now, and they sort of have a system. First off, they started out leading trips with Habitat for Humanity, but for reasons that are too numerous to get into here on the blog, they decided to just go do a build in a developing country with some of their friends and not work with any sponsor. Our little group is not a non-profit, and the money we use toward the projects each year are not tax deductible. They decided it would be easier to just do the trips without any strings attached. The base cost of the trip has been the same for eight years with the exception of the airline fare. Everyone chips in a certain amount that pays for room, board, and the project. So far, we have done projects in five continents.
I should give you some background on our group. Usually around 20 of us go, and we are from all over the country. Mom likes to say we are like camp friends who see each other once a year. We just meet up somewhere in the world and work and play for a week or so. Most years someone has to sit out for personal or work reasons, and then a new person or couple will join the group. Over the years, we have had quite a diverse group. We are all religions including Protestant, Catholic, Quaker, Atheist, Jew, Mormon, and Buddhist. We are conservatives and liberals, and we are married, divorced, gay and straight. And we have a pretty broad age range, too. This year Little Miss is coming with me so our age range will go from 3 to 93!!!
The first country we volunteered in on our own was Egypt, and we had an amazing experience there in Cairo. We worked in the neighborhood right beside the city’s garbage heap where people were living. We worked with orphan girls and taught them English, and we helped remodel the apartments of six single mothers and their children. We actually got the children of Christians and Muslims to play together. Even though they lived side by side, they were not allowed to play together until we showed up with a soccer ball. The neighbors thought it was a miracle.
That experience in Cairo was so successful that we decided to do it again on our own in another country. One of the criteria has to be that it is a developing country. So, the following year we selected Laos where we helped build an addition to a school, and we rehabbed the existing classrooms by painting them and repairing their desks and chairs. We also built a playground.
Based on our success, we have certain criteria that we try to follow when we select a country , like Nicaragua, for our projects.
Since we take these trips each February, we need to go to a country that has warm/hot weather that time of year.
We will only go to developing countries because the need is greatest in them.
We always work with an agency/entity within the country where we are going. They serve as our contact and will connect us with a group who needs our help. We have found that we have had excellent success working with nuns because they are so organized, are highly respected in the community where we are going, know people who can help us buy/locate materials we need, and know where the most desperate needs are.
We work hard on these trips, but we also play hard. We try to pick countries that have exceptional sites to visit or are near some. For instance, when were were in Burma (Myanmar) we visited the temples at Bagan; in India we visited the Taj Mahal; after Zambia we went to Victoria Falls; after Colombia we went to the Galapagos Islands, etc. After we do our work in Nicaragua, some of the people will go on to Panama to see the canal.
We selected Nicaragua because our group hasn’t done a project in Central America, and we found a group of nuns who are working with handicapped people to have better lives.
Mom likes to say that this is the answer to world peace. Our little group of people work along side people in need. Those people might have negative thoughts about Americans based on what they see on American movies and on the news. But when you work side by side with someone toward a common goal, you cannot hate that person. Now when they think of America and Americans, they will think of us, and they will think of love.