Globe Aware was featured in a June, 2011 spotlight in the International Herald Tribune:
For students longing to take time off before starting college or university or working people who would like a complete change from their daily occupation, taking a ‘‘gap year’’ can be a rewarding, lifechanging experience, especially if the time is spent volunteering.
Teaching English, for example, is a huge help in poor communities in Asia and requires little training. Other projects may include sports coaching, community building projects and working with handicapped children.
According to studies by such leading universities as Harvard, students who take a year off before college are more focused and motivated when they begin their studies than those who don’t.
Globe Aware, a nonprofit organization based in Texas, organizes volunteer programs around the world.
‘‘Gap-year volunteering broadens horizons, strengthens résumés and brings the kind of perspective that can change lives,’’ says Catherine Greenberg, its vice president of volunteer communications. ‘‘Kids who volunteer internationally realize how fortunate they are and gain insight into what’s truly important in life — not money or greed or luxury items, but community, compassion and hard work.’’ Each project aims to promote cultural awareness and/or sustainability. Cultural awareness, explain the organizers, means learning to appreciate a culture but not changing it.
‘‘By promoting volunteerism,’’ says Greenberg, ‘‘we’re promoting active civic engagement in disadvantaged communities in an exciting and different way.’’ Combining travel with volunteering has become popular enough that a conference on ‘‘voluntourism’’ will be held June 28 in Denver, Colorado.
‘‘This is the first time there has been a conference held that focuses solely on voluntourism,’’ says its organizer, Alexia Nestora.
Subject matter for the conference will include the economic impact of voluntourism, how it has evolved and how to create sustainable projects, as well as industry sessions on subjects such as the marketing of volunteer travel.
Nestora is a consultant on the industry Though the company is American, Asian students participate, too.
WLS International is a London-based organizer of volunteer-abroad projects that focuses on Asia, specifically Cambodia, China, Nepal, India, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Volunteering abroad, says the company, is a way to make travel meaningful and have a simple, affordable vacation. Many of its projects attract those taking a gap year.
Ben Mattress, a young volunteer from Australia, says his weeklong project teaching English to young children in Siem Reap, Cambodia, was a life-changing experience.
The children are ‘‘so happy and eager to learn, and very smart,’’ says Mattress, adding that he is eager to volunteer there again. An added benefit of this project is its location at the gateway to the ancient Angkor Wat temple complex, a Unesco World Heritage site.
Young people may spend several weeks or months abroad, but will certainly return with experiences that will last a lifetime.
Says Greenberg of Global Aware: ‘‘If our local young people can benefit from this experience, it’s one vital step toward reshaping our culture to be more green, more responsible and more caring.’’ and writes the blog Voluntourism Gal. She says that the industry has been very competitive and that conference participants ‘‘are showing their willingness to move into an era of cooperation that can only better serve the sometimes-at-risk and always needy populations where our collective projects are concentrated.’’ In Globe Aware’s Laos program, volunteers have the opportunity to work with orphans and schoolchildren in Luang Prabang.
In a weeklong program, participants work with local monks and perform such tasks as teaching English, assembling wheelchairs from recycled parts and distributing them to the needy, distributing books and helping to repair schools. There is also free time to visit the temples, Buddhist caves and waterfalls of this charming Unesco World Heritage site.
Adventures Cross-Country, a Californiabased youth-travel company, has been leading volunteer programs for gap-year students for nearly 30 years. Its Asia Gap Semester, for example, takes students to China, Thailand and Tibet, and includes such activities as helping mahouts and biologists rehabilitate elephants at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, and teaching English to Chinese and Thai students, some of whom have never met Westerners.