GeoVisions Blog

Doctor Who And Volunteer Abroad

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Mon, Jul 08, 2013

I need to publicly thank my daughter, Molly, who provided background for this post.

I assume you chose to take a look at this Post because you're a Whovian?

As if things could not get more weird with this Blog these days, I'm actually writing about volunteers going abroad who come home and say, "I thought I'd have more of an impact on the world by volunteering abroad."  And I'm doing it via an episode of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who's TARDISDoctor Who is a long-running, British science fiction show that follows The Doctor, a time-traveling alien who is actually a Time Lord.  He travels in his TARDIS that looks like a British Police Box from the 1960s.  You'll see it in the video clip below as well as on the right.

People, (like my daughter Molly), who memorize each episode of 50 years the show has been aired are called "whovians."  People like me who watch only to make their son or daughter happy (but secretly like the show) I call "whosters."  We really haven't made it to "whovian" status.

But, back to those volunteers abroad...

Most of the volunteers we send abroad choose a project where they have an interest, but where they also will have a huge impact.  An impact on the community where they are volunteering, or on the people who live there, or both.  They want to make a positive impact on the level of health care, they want to dig another water well, they want to do research on endangered wildlife or clean up a beach.  Whatever it is they want to do, they have paid money to do it and have taken time from their lives to make it happen.  So it goes with volunteering abroad.

But some return from their project disappointed.  Not in the cultural exchange.  Not in the trip itself.  But feeling like they made only a very small difference.  They had expected to show up with a group, dig a well and paint houses, and they returned feeling as though their work had hardly begun.  Not always.  But much of the time we hear these things from returnees.

Watching an episode of Doctor Who with my daughter, (Vincent and The Doctor) made me think about these returnees.  Because truth be told, if you only spend a day're going to make a difference.  You won't find a cure for a disease, but you'll quiet a small child, make a worried parent smile, clean a supply closet that has been unused and dirty for years.

"Vincent and the Doctor" is the tenth episode in the fifth series of BBC One's, Doctor Who.  The episode was first broadcast on June 5, 2010.  (If you're a fan or care, this episode featured an uncredited guest appearance from actor Bill Nighy.)

I digress again.

So we have these volunteers abroad, returning to their home wondering what kind of impact they made when they were at their project.  And we also have this episode of Doctor Who, where Vincent van Gogh wonders if anyone would ever like his paintings.  (van Gogh died, never knowing he would be famous.)

The Doctor travels in the TARDIS with Vincent van Gogh from 1890 to 2010 to the Musée d'Orsay. Van Gogh is stunned at the display of all of his paintings, and becomes emotionally overwhelmed when he overhears art curator Mr. Black, (Bill Nighy) say that van Gogh was "the greatest painter of them all" and "one of the greatest men who ever lived". The Doctor returns an emotionally changed van Gogh back to the past.

Well, go figure.  With all that emotion and the fantastic song "Chances" by the group Athlete (and me hiding some tears) I just naturally thought of all those returnees who might never know the impact their day, their week, their month(s) would have on all those people and communities abroad.  And I was so emotional, I thought if they knew The Doctor...maybe they could get him to use his TARDIS to take them to their project a few years in the future.  I am convinced they would feel exactly like van Gogh from that episode of Doctor Who.  Just bowled over in emotion with the real impact they had from their gift of time and caring.

"The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and ... bad things. The good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant." - The Doctor

If you're at all interested, or if you've ever wondered the impact you have had on others in your this five minute clip from Vincent and The Doctor.  And maybe you'll become a "whoster" for a few minutes.

If we had the chance to go forward, all of us would be impressed with the impact we have had on lives.

Where would you go in the TARDIS?

Tags: Staying Involved, Thank You To Our Volunteers, Working For A Better World, Volunteering Abroad, Randy LeGrant, Connecting

In Voluntourism It's What You Do With What You Do

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Mon, Jan 17, 2011

Over at Social Edge, Saul Garlick wrote a Blog post entitled The Voluntourism Debate.  It's a great post.  And so are the comments, which I highly encourage you to read.  A couple of "super stars" in the world of volunteer abroad have commented there in fact.

Hands holding the worldThe question is framed about the length of time a volunteer spends onsite. The shorter the time spent on the project, the less good a volunteer can a developing country.  There are other nuances, but over all this is the general point.

I have to ask, where do these voluntourists come from?  If they travel abroad with a reputable voluntourism sender, I'm not certain that they arrive in any country, developing or not, with the idea that they are changing the world.  I guess a bevy of receiving organizations are going to have to answer that for me.

A good sender is sending to a project abroad.  Is the premise of this debate that those voluntourists are showing up trying to save the world? Because my next question then has to be, "Where did they get that idea?"  Do voluntourists actually go out on their own and knock on doors asking to save people?  Or is this something writers like to assume?

My friend, Daniela Papi, had an interesting comment.  She said, "We went from offering people one-off voluntourism trips designed to "help people" to edu-tourism trips designed to change the way travelers give, travel, and live."  She also in her comments talked about "service learning" vs. "learning service" and I not only applaud those ideas but stand up applauding them.  And here's a whistle!

Conversation Corps logoWe have a seasoned traveler right now on one of our Conversation Corps projects.  I just noticed a few days ago in her Blog that she wrote, "I would’ve have never found this place on my own. This is what travel is all about to me. More than ever my travel style is changing; it’s not about seeing a ton of places to tick off a list. It’s about slow travel; integrating into the culture and being local."

But I honestly think if people use a reputable sender, the sender has reputable projects on the other end.  The projects have been worked out in advance.  The time-table is set up in advance.  The voluntourist understands the limitations that will be placed upon him or her in advance.  It just seems unlikely that a mis-match is going to be made.  Showing up on your own, however, can be a local problem.

I see so many of these debates.  Non-profit vs. for-profit.  The longer you stay the more help you are locally.  And for me they all boil down to the fact that people equate "development" and "aid" to voluntourism.  But the "tourism" part of the word is the most important.  It isn't "aid-tourism" or "development-tourism."  And so it means the sender and the receiver have to be aligned to make sure expectations on all parts are met.

Here at GeoVisions we are busy creating unique experiences for people.  Making sure expectations are aligned with reality at the other end.  And staying in touch with voluntourists to help keep them aligned with the reality and the experiences they are having.  Lastly, we are more concerned about what they do with what they do, so the return for us is the most important aspect of the experience.

I suspect that last line was a charged powder keg, huh?

Tags: Reasons To Volunteer Abroad, Conversation Corps, Staying Involved, Volunteering Abroad

Volunteer And Choose To Make A Difference With Civic Responsibility

Posted by Alexandra LeGrant on Tue, Jan 11, 2011

KarenGeoVisions is proud to present this guest post by Karen Middleton, President of Emerge America, a premier training program for Democratic women. Karen also served as a Democratic Representative for the state of Colorado and was on three committees - House Education, Business Affairs and Labor, and the Legislative Council.

For as long as I can recall, I have always felt a strong sense of civic responsibility and a commitment to my community.  Interestingly, I do not remember how and where this was instilled in me.  I vividly remember registering to vote on my 18th birthday, and casting my first ballot that same year.  As I have voted and engaged in my community in other ways, it has been both a source of pride and a consistent theme in my life.

While I know I have this gut-level sense of myself, I have spent several years trying to find the best way for us and our society to instill this same sense in our children and students across America.  When I see someone throw trash out their car window, or tell me they don’t vote, I have a strong physical reaction and wonder what we can change and why I have this sense when others don’t?  While I have long felt this way, I don’t know where I learned that lesson and how it was so deeply embedded.  If I knew, I would bottle it to share.  You might ask, how are these acts linked?  To me, it is whether you care about the world around you and whether you participate to make the world better.

I have tried to impact this type of thinking in two ways.  First, I spent several years working with civic education issues – how to teach it, what it should include and how to incorporate it in schools across the country.  I participated in both state and national groups to help affect this policy change.  While there are many splendid examples of how to do this work well, I don’t know how many people have been impacted and if it has worked.  Reports were produced, conferences were held, materials were shared, and websites were developed. 

Second, I taught political science for a couple of years and tried to engage students in this type of thinking myself.  We talked about the impact that just one person, just one voice, and just one vote can make to change the world.  It may be a big problem, or a local issue.  Was I successful?  I am not sure.  I definitely engaged some of my students in some of my classes to think differently about their place in the world.  I can only hope that my continued efforts, through example, and by continuing to engage in other ways.

global handsIn addition, I presented this issue to civic groups who are part of the fabric of community engagement.  Interestingly, they were struggling with how to best reach young people to both offer their guidance, and to support them.  Groups like Rotary or Civitan are equally challenged by how to reach the next generation of young people to engage them both as future members and recipients of community and civic engagement work.

This is work we must all continue to think about and continue to work on as we lead by example and share our time and energy to inspire others to join us as voters, volunteers and active members of our society.  It is a journey we take together.

Tags: Reasons To Volunteer Abroad, Volunteer Locally, Staying Involved, Make Something Happen, Working For A Better World, Airfares

Volunteer With Best Friends! Or Simply Strut Your Mutt

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Tue, Aug 31, 2010

After a long hiatus, I'm back.  What a summer.  Hot…that comes to mind first.  Hectic.  I just hadn't planned on being so busy.  I barely saw my kids.  And I've already been filling out my "dance card" for Winter 2010 and well into 2011 and that causes some pause.

So to get things rolling back on the GeoVisions Blog, I'm not writing about Voluntourism or GeoVisions in this first Blog post of the fall.  I'm going to point you to another site, actually.  All about reunions.

Everyone is marking the 5th Anniversary of Katrina.  Anderson Cooper 360 has actually been "keeping them honest" and having the previous administration's emergency response team talking about what they did wrong and what they would do differently today.  The interviews have been refreshing to see so many people own up to their mistakes.

IA boy reunited with his dog.'d never thought of reuniting family pets with owners and what an enormous job that would be.  Most of the volunteering we see in the Gulf consists of building and rebuilding homes, cleaning up, large construction, education and work with the hungry and homeless.  But when I saw the video over at Best Friends Animal Society, I was blown away.  I encourage you to watch their 6 minute video about how hundreds of volunteers showed up to reunite families with their pets who were left behind.  It will warm your heart and it will cause you to think differently about volunteering.

Best Friends logoPlease, first watch the short video that appears below, courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society.  Then if you're so moved, check out their organization using the link above.

Those of us doing this work sometimes forget to call attention to domestic organizations and the incredible work volunteers do in all walks of life.  This is me calling attention to Best Friends Animal Society and the incredible work they do to bring joy to people and animals.  It just doesn't get any better than that.  So enjoy the video:


If you volunteer with adoptable pets, or have stories to share, please use our Comments area below.  We can't wait to hear from you.

Tags: Volunteer Locally, Staying Involved, Wildlife Conservation

Ever Heard Of Voluntourism? Stick A Thousand Needles In My Eye

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Fri, Jul 02, 2010

Where can I go to volunteer abroad?
Who offers voluntourism programs?
What projects are available?
What will it cost?
Are there any pitfalls?

To: Travel Blog Writers, CNN reporters, Wall Street Journal reporters and anyone else covering all-things Voluntourism.

Volunteer and street kids.If anyone who types can go to their favorite search engine and type in "voluntourism" and get 182,000 results or "volunteer abroad" and instantly get 1,220,000 results, (read this slowly):

y o u
a r e
l a t e
t o
t h e
p a r t y.

Everyday an article comes out about volunteering abroad.  Last week The Wall Street Journal ran one.  You can read the whole thing here.

The sections in that article are:

Where To Go
Paying For It
Plan for the Worst
And then the usual suspects in a box called "Helping Hands."  A sample of service travel organizations. ran an entire series of articles on Humanitarian Travel.  Just click on that link and you can see everything they posted on the subject.  The theme of the series was posted like this:

"The idea of volunteering away from home seems like a win-win to many travelers: a way to experience and help another community at the same time. But without a solid, well-designed program and reasonable expectations, volunteer travel can do more harm than good."

CNN even ran a section for iReporters to submit tales about their experiences, photos and videos.  And some did.  Click on My Volunteer Vacation and you can go straight there and read about trips people took.

Volunteer and orphans.But no one seems to be focusing on what happens when the voluntourists return home, the topic of my rant today, if you hadn't figured that out by now.

Searching for a program on a search engine, like going on a program, is the easy bit.  We simply do not need another article or Blog post to tell us where we can go, with whom we can go, when we can go and what we can do once we get there.  That subject has been covered.  Nice job everyone!

Why isn't anyone out there writing about what voluntourists do when they come home?  After the experience?  I'm really interested in "what they do with what they did."

I'm drawing a line in the virtual sand with this post.  To any Travel Blogger out there, and to any reporter thinking about an article or series of articles (makes me ill to think about it) on voluntourism--please reconsider.  I think I'd rather stick a thousand needles in my eyes than read another "where you can go", "what you can do," "what you have to look out for" article.  And the usual suspects listed out, as if these golden nuggets were just discovered in a vast wasteland for the very first time.

Get a clue:  Voluntourism has been around for a long time.  If I can type in voluntourism and get over a million results on Google…you are not reporting the news or anything newsworthy.

What I don't see is people and writers focused on what happens when a volunteer comes home.

Can you PLEASE report on these burning questions?  When a voluntourist returns from his or her experience abroad: Graphic of a back  pack

  1. Does he start up his own non-profit?
  2. Does she start up a volunteer project locally?
  3. Does the family join a community project and help out each week or each month?
  4. Does the returnee tell others?
  5. How involved in humanity is the experienced voluntourist, when she is now going about her normal everyday life, safely back at home?
  6. Can you provide examples that will move me to volunteer abroad too?
  7. Do you have a place these people can tell about what they are doing now?  (What a great iReport.)
  8. How many had such a moving experience, they have gone again?  And again...

Isn't that the story?  No one wants to look at vacation travel slides.  No one needs to read your article about how to do it and who to do it with.  The real story, for me, is what a voluntourist does after that experience and I really would sit down and watch those slides and video.

How do I know?  Because GeoVisions has this amazing group of returnees and we follow them and realize the overseas experience was just the start of the real journey many can take.  We see everyday that the journey continues and becomes so much more exciting after the trip ends.

How about the rest of you?  Am I alone here?  Please use our Comments section and let me know.  And while you're at it, if you volunteered abroad and you're reading this post, please tell us what you've done since you've returned. What have you done with what you did?

Tags: Staying Involved, Volunteering Abroad, Randy LeGrant

Volunteer Abroad Returnees: Coming Home or Going to Volunteer Again?

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Tue, Jan 12, 2010

Medical volunteers in PeruA few days ago I wrote a Blog post about a volunteer (Daniel Jackson) who returned home only to start up his own non-profit and find new ways to assist the medical clinic where he volunteered for with GeoVisions in Peru.

This Blog post is about a volunteer who is returning to GeoVisions for a second time.  Shannon Anderson first went to Peru with GeoVisions.  Now she's headed to Italy. I hope you will go back toShannon's Blog and follow her as she makes her plans, takes her Italian language courses, gets her host family and prepares to tutor.

Two things quickly come to mind:

  • It is a rare opportunity when people share the intimate details of their decisions, their process and the ups and downs in preparing to volunteer abroad.  I hope you'll subscribe toShannon's Blog and be a part of all that.  It will serve you well if you are in the same position or hope to be.
  • Collage of RomeGeoVisions is far more interested in what people do after the volunteer abroad experience than we are in trying to get you to go.  Newspaper articles and magazine articles are full of stories about Voluntourism, how great it is and then listing a few organizations you can choose to help you with your experience. We're more about showing people what happens after the experience has taken place.  In this case...Shannon is returning for another experience.  And we want to share that with you and so does Shannon.

So enjoy Shannon's Blog, Part Due.  Comment on her Blog and help her along and ask her for some advice if you're planning your own volunteer program.  In the meantime, let us know what you're doing if you are a volunteer abroad returnee.  We want to hear about your experience and follow up what you're doing now.

Tags: Peru, Conversation Corps-Italy, Staying Involved, Volunteer Blogs, Volunteering Abroad

Volunteer Abroad And Start Up Your Own Project!

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Tue, Jan 05, 2010

Photo of a volunteer and children.One of the best feelings in our work is to see volunteers provide assistance to a community or a medical outpost or teaching kids to read in rural Ghana.  If I were to ask my friends who also do this kind of work, more than likely they would say the same thing.  Watching our volunteers and watching the smiles of the recipients of that volunteer's efforts.

I am always asked, "What is your favorite city in the world?"  Or, "What is your favorite country in the world?"  To be quite honest, it depends on the time of day someone asks.  Too many favorites I have.

One thing is clear, however.  When I am asked the best part of my job the answer is always the same.  It's watching what happens when our volunteers return from their project.  I've become obsessed with finding out what each GeoVisions' volunteer, tutor and teacher are doing.  More times than not, it is special, as you can see with Daniel Jackson.

Photo of Daniel JacksonDaniel went to Cusco, Peru with GeoVisions last June (2009) to work in the Medical Center there we support.  He was able to volunteer for six weeks.

Daniel is a photographer and you can see his work on his website.  But once Daniel returned to the U.S. he started Friends of Belempampa.  Daniel was so taken with Cusco, and with Belempampa, that he organized a group of international volunteers and staff who have worked at the Belempampa Health Center in Cusco and then put together the "Friends" website to help provide support to the medical center.

Please consider supporting Daniel, his group and his new non-profit group, which will

  • Cusco clinic provide much-needed ambulance equipment;
  • train everyone at the center for gentler treatment of patients;
  • fund new triage equipment;
  • buy new devices for doctors to listen to babies' heartbeats;
  • provide food for patients;
  • a larger supply of sanitary protections;
  • install a warm water line to obstetrics' staff shower;
  • provide a stomach pump for newborns;
  • and provide warm water for wash basins for newborns.

Volunteer in CuscoAlready, the Friends of Belempampa have donated digital thermometers and put together research on handling and preparation of dangerous meeds.  If you check out the website you will see a list of projects completed and their cost (in U.S. $ and volunteer-hours) and then click a link on that page to see a list of projects they hope to accomplish and that cost in funds and hours.

Please support the Friends of Belempampa.  How can you do that?  Well, it could be as simple as making a comment below and we'll pass it on.

You could reach out and email anyone there.  You'll find a lot of information on each person who belongs and has something to do with the group.  Even an email to voice your support for what they are doing would be encouraging to them.

You can donate. There is even a link to the group's financial records.

Photo of DanielLook…this is the real deal.  This is Daniel deciding to leave his photography for awhile and volunteer in Peru for six weeks.  It's Daniel helping children being born, taking temperatures, taking weights and making sure the medical records were updated.  This is Daniel making a difference in Peru.  And this is Daniel coming home and making a difference.

Daniel votes with his wallet and he votes with his feet.  He is literally where the rubber meets the road.  Please support Daniels' group by reaching out and encouraging them to keep going.  Or donating.  Or volunteering your time.

This is volunteer abroad.  This is the definition of voluntourism.

If you can take away something useful from this post, please consider leaving a comment (below) or subscribing to the feed (above) to have future posts delivered to your feed reader. You can also subscribe via email (in the upper right corner).



Tags: Reasons To Volunteer Abroad, Peru, Medical/Health Projects, Staying Involved, Volunteer Blogs, Volunteering Abroad

Breast Cancer Awareness-Be Involved When You Volunteer Abroad

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Wed, Dec 02, 2009

You have probably seen this great video in other posts or on ABC News, November 30.  It is just impossible to watch without smiling.  Congratulations to the staff at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon for showing us "The Pink Glove Dance" for Breast Cancer Awareness.

My baby sister is a survivor and my entire family is grateful but also very proud of her and the care she received and continues to receive. So I'm going to add to the viral circulation and hope you enjoy the video as much as I did.

Interested in Provicence St. Vincent Medical Center?  They also have the video embedded in their Home Page.  Good for them.

The CDC says, "Each year, in the United States, about 210,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Many fewer women, around 40,000 each year, die from Breast Cancer."  The Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade reports that a new diagnosis is made every 3 minutes and a life lost from Breast Cancer every 14 minutes.  And the World Health Organization says breast cancer is responsible for 502,000 deaths per year worldwide.

The Avon Walk Around the World for Breast Cancer has brought nearly a half a million people together all over the world.  They have participated in raising more than $5.8 million for the breast cancer cause.

Avon Walk for Breast Cancer logoWhen you go to Avon's page, just click on the country of your choice to see the events going on. We think it is something you can do in your home country of course.  And when you're volunteering abroad with can also join in on an event locally and be connected.  It's a great site and a cause you can be involved in here and abroad.

The Avon Walk for Breast Cancer 2010 dates in the U.S. have been announced.  Over two days journey 39 miles if you are in it to end it. 

If you can take away something useful from this post, please consider leaving a comment (below) or subscribing to the feed (above) to have future posts delivered to your feed reader. You can also subscribe via email (over on the right).  You can also follow us on Twitter.


Tags: Medical/Health Projects, Staying Involved, Volunteering Abroad