The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.
- St. Augustine.

Monday, May 31, 2010


Woohoo, I got the long term volunteer stint in the San Cristobal Islands of the Galapagos! I think I will commit to three months. I am really excited to live in a rural community and teach English, especially since I just returned from a rural town outside of Cusco called Pisac and wished that I could have stayed longer. I have never lived in a small village before, so I want to challenge myself and also help people who do not have all the opportunities that cities can offer.

The organization in the San Cristobal Islands is called New Era Galapagos Foundation and it is very simple to apply to be a volunteer. It is free to volunteer with them, and they can arrange host families to live with or you can live with other volunteers for free. At least intermediate ability in Spanish is required, and a long term commitment is preferred. In just two days, the volunteer coordinator responded to me by email and asked me when I would arrive, how long would I volunteer for, and attached a welcome letter to volunteers.

I am not sure yet of my dates - since I haven't bought plane tickets and I would really like to find a good deal - but I think that I would like to volunteer during their summer, from January to March. Time to put Quito and Guayaquil on my FareCompare ticker!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I rather felt like crying today at Colobri. I have been volunteering in the US for two years since my experience in Ecuador, and I had forgotten how difficult donations and government support can be to procure. A fraternity fundraiser easily raises thousands of dollars for the Red Cross. Celebrities in LA publicize 826LA. Trader Joes and the Food Bank of Boston donate too much food for all of the homeless and disadvantaged at the First Church of Cambridge to even consume in one sitting; Thursday nights in Cambridge are basically free trips to a supermarket in addition to hot three-course meals.

I found out that one of the volunteers had been buying bread for lunch/dinner for these kids the past few days. I had just assumed that a bakery donated old bread or that the center used some of their funds to buy bread, but in actuality, this volunteer spent 8 soles everyday to buy bread for 30 or so kids. 8 soles is about $2.50. The center does not have a spare 8 soles every day to buy bread to accompany the maté the kids receive on a daily basis.

Colobri has bigger issues than daily bread. The director has been going to meetings with the local authorities, and they are trying to find a new location for Colobri - perhaps one that is larger and with more facilities, such as bathrooms, but perhaps also one that is in a worse location (Colobri is very close to the heart of Cusco and a restaurant or hostal would likely be more profitable for the city as a whole). The director is trying to make a case for the center and only half-joked about us storming the city government and staging a protest. Apparently, the director had actually gathered up a bunch of police and volunteers (Colobri was started by local policemen in Cusco) and held a protest a couple of years back.

I am so awed by the director´s and other policemens´ efforts. Colobri is more than an educational development center for working kids. It is also a second home for some of them. Children who cannot otherwise shower, eat a proper lunch, or receive basic medical treatment come to Colobri and the director and volunteers try to take care of them. The director told us that he goes around Cusco door to door asking for money or whatever people can donate so that the center can provide for children besides a 3.30 to 7.00 basis. Essentially, this man works two jobs:  policeman by day and volunteer director at Colobri in the afternoon and night.

I talked with one volunteer from Germany after we left the center for a long time. Both of us actually wanted different opportunities; I was looking forward to volunteering in a town still suffering from the 2007 earthquake, and he wanted a long term stint with a German NGO. In comparison, Colobri is rather soft and flexible volunteering, requiring only 3 or 4 hours a day. Both of us are just trying to keep the kids focused on homework and educational activities, since we know that this is their way out. We talked about our efforts, if we were making a difference, and the incredible lifelong dedication of some people like the director of Colobri. Both of us wish we could help more, but know that emptying our coffers is not necessarily the answer. I think that if we could somehow utilize our particular talents to publicize this project, that would be more effective and benefit the center for a longer time. He is thinking about re-vamping the website, which looks very 90s, and I really want to make a video for Colobri. I rather enjoy making short videos now, even though they are incredibly time intensive.

He had been at Colobri for about two weeks now, and told me how surreal it all felt. How can we explain that the price of one beer can buy bread for these kids for two days or so? How can we explain that being born in one country instead of another either opens doors or shuts them? I told him that yes, state societies feature extreme inequality, but that people all over the world care for one another, whether it be family or strangers. I have met very poor Peruvians here who volunteer without second doubts. It may not seem common, but it is not the exception to care for strangers, even if one does not have the means or luxury to do so. There are many ways to volunteer, and not everybody does it publicly or keeps a blog about it. I still firmly believe in the human capacity to care for those seemingly completely different.

The director told us, you just have to keep going. Keep working and keep fighting. Advanza.

Like my role model Angelina Jolie says (you must admit, she is smart, strong, beautiful and dedicated), you can cry at first. But if you want to do anything positive, you have to get indignant, angry, and start pushing for what should and must happen. The director is a wonderfully sweet middle aged man, but I could read the indignance all over his face and the hint of anger in his voice. Obviously he is sad about the troubles Colobri has in obtaining school materials, food and more, but you can see that he believes that these kids have rights, and that they deserve more care and opportunities in life.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Since Mayten never responded to my email, and it was not necessarily a good idea to just show up in Chincha without a cell phone or a contact, I ended up in Cusco, Peru and found an amazing organization that I can freely volunteer for my second day! It wasnt all luck though; I had been talking to tons of people ever since I arrived to try to find the most worthwhile, free volunteer opportunities.

Colobri (which means hummingbird in Spanish) is a center for working kids, and everyday from 4.30 to 7.00 pm, volunteers help kids with their homework, or engage them in learning activities if they dont go to school, and then help administrate the snack-dinner. I found the work enormously gratifying, since I was helping kids to read and write. I also re-discovered my drawing ability! Finally, there was a sizable number of kids, around 30 or so, so the center truly does need volunteers and I felt very useful as a Spanish speaking volunteer (some speak little, which is alright as well).

I cant decide what is better - the kids, the directors, or the other volunteers. I truly enjoyed my first day at Colobri and I cant wait to volunteer there for about 2 and a half more weeks! If you are coming to Cusco to go to Macchu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, I would highly recommend adding some volunteer work to your vacation. It is free to volunteer at Colobri, and I can promise that the work is worthwhile.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Getting over it may be the best thing that's ever happened to me

So, I didn't get in. And since Barnard is the only school I want to go to, I'm going to take a year off school to travel and volunteer, and then re-apply. It might be a long shot because they told me straight up that their endowment was affected by the financial crisis, but I cant help but want to hold out for my dream school. I also finally have an opportunity to take a gap year again.

I'm mentally and physically ready for this trip. I think I'm experiencing academic burn-out, and I really want to work on a long-term project, perhaps even several of them. I have all these hopes and dreams for my future, which might include the Peace Corps, so this is going to be the test year - let's see if I actually, truly am committed to this travel/service/exchange lifestye.

I'll update with more specific ideas and possibilities soon.

I am looking at two opportunities at the moment.
I sorely miss Ecuador and regret that I could not go to the Galapagos when I was in the country, so I found this organization called New Era Galapagos Foundation. Their mission is as follows: NEGF was also founded with the commitment to a more inclusive and therefore effective conservation that provides the necessary skills, knowledge, and awareness to the least well-known, but undoubtedly most important species in the Galapagos, humans. The New Era Galapagos Foundation operates year-round, and includes three trimesters (April-June, July-September, October-December) and a summer camp (February-March), offering programs that focus on issues of tourism and conservation within the community of San Cristobal and the Galapagos Islands. NEGF’s programs aim to raise public awareness of the value of biodiversity, get local people, primarily youth, involved in protecting their natural resources, and endow local residents with the skills and awareness for non-resource extractive employment in industries such as ecotourism, science, and conservation.

Looks good right?
The other thing that I am applying for is a volunteer grant. Travelocity has a grant called the Change Ambassador Grant, which is $5000 towards an international volunteer program. This grant would erase the expenses that I would occur even while independently volunteering, such as airfare, lodging and food. Finally, I must admit that volunteer programs are at least more convenient even if they are pretty commercial these days. I poked around Travelocity´s partners, and Cross-Cultural Solutions interests me the most. I am currently deciding between Morocco, Ghana and Thailand.

The last thing that I am considering is an internship with Blue Kitabu. Blue Kitabu is an educational NGO building and operating schools in Kenya and Ghana. My political science professor´s student started the NGO, so I have a good connection.

I´ll let you all know which ones I get accepted into and what I decide!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The only constant in life...

 It's finals here at USC, and I'm waiting to hear back from Barnard College. I've wanted to attend this school since high school, and I've changed so much since the first time I applied so I hope that the third time's the charm! Academic. Stress.

Also, my plans in Peru have changed. I had really invested in La Casa de Mayten - I sent Mayten two super enthusiastic emails with lots of information about myself - but I never heard a response from her, so I assume that I cannot volunteer in Chincha after all. The project sounds amazing, but alas, such is life. I did, however get accepted to be a Karikuy volunteer researcher for the Perupedia. However, I realized that my heart is not really into this project. I had a similar stint last summer where I researched and wrote for a guide to New York City called Inside New York. This summer, I want to truly challenge myself and give all my possible skills to people that need them a bit more. So, I turned to my beloved and trusty Couchsurfing website and contacted Juan in Cusco, Peru. Juan runs Peru 109, a volunteer organization based in multiple cities throughout Peru, featuring multiple projects. I would likely help out in the women's shelter or teach English, plus Juan would put me up for free since that's the whole nature of Couchsurfing. The most hilarious thing about this whole change of events is that Peru 109 is actually one of those organizations that I am set against; it creates volunteer opportunities, plus adds touristic side trips, for foreigners for a relatively high amount that I can't afford. However, I don't need to pay the fee because I approached Juan from Couchsurfing. This entire thing is leaving me shaking my head a little bit, but hey, I understand that people have to make a living and the most important thing for me is to be able to contribute to a meaningful project in Peru without paying a fee. Anyway, Juan is currently organizing details for me, but I am well aware that things may change once I actually arrive.

As for Paris, I have yet to find a family, but that is because I have only really just started trying. FUSAC is frustratingly only displaying ads from families who either want school-year au pairs, or part-time au pairs. I have therefore enlisted the help of my friend in Paris; Jason will put up ads for me and also screen ads at the American Church of Paris, which is the hub for anglophone au-pair opportunities.I also just have to trust that if I don't find work before I arrive, then I will find work once I'm there.

All in all, I am incredibly optimistic about this summer, but I am trying hard not to have any expectations. The only thing that I know is that..... things will change.

I'll leave you all with this wonderful book. I just purchased  The Underground Guide to International Volunteering from Nerdy Nomad (a brave and inspiring independent volunteer!) and I must say that my travel/volunteer philosophy is exactly the same. Her book is well written, clear, and insightful. I actually am now inspired to write and publish my own book about my experiences - obviously in the future, after lots of more experiences around the world. Anyway, Nerdy Nomad is donating half of the book's price to a disaster relief charity, so buy away! Read and get hungry to be an indievolunteer!