Volunteering with BAWA (Bali Animal Welfare Association): The town of Ubud in Bali is reputed as a center for yoga, art, and spirituality. I soon discovered it is also home to an incredible charity that helps some of our favorite four-legged friends. One such lucky pooch that I met was Mia, a blind lab mix who was found helpless in the street when she was just a puppy. Now Mia has a wonderful home, warm food, and friends to play with all thanks to her friends from BAWA. The other volunteers at BAWA come from all over the world, and some of them have been volunteering there for over two years. Duties include feeding, cleaning, and walking the dogs. Because I don’t have my rabies vaccination I couldn’t walk the dogs, so instead I collected supplies such as blankets, eggs, and rice (dogs have an interesting diet in this part of the world!). In addition to taking care of dogs on a daily basis, BAWA also has a 24 hour doggie ambulance and vet clinic to rescue sick dogs (and cats too!). One great success story from the clinic is “Yoga”, a puppy who was thrown off of a bridge and was stranded in the middle of a river for five days. Although shivering and suffering from malnutrition, she received all the love and care she could have hoped for at the clinic, and after a full recovery, she was adopted to a loving home! The saints at BAWA also have a spay/neutar program that helps keep the local animal population under control. If you want to help this outstanding organization, please visit http://www.bawabali.com/
Volunteering with The Red Cross Lifegaurds: After the youth training in Balusbos, I volunteered with the Red Cross lifeguards in Boracay. These men and women are amazing, they work every day to keep people safe and save lives. And it is dearly needed too as many people in the area do not know how to swim, yet thankfully there have been many occasions when these heroes have been there to save a life. In addition there is an ambulance to respond to emergency calls and that keeps the crew busy 24 hours a day. In addition to life saving there are a slew of community projects in which the Red Cross is working on, currently we are collecting and distributing children’s books for local schools, so if you have books please send them to our address here at the Red Cross:
Philippine Red Cross Boracay-Malay Chapter
Manocmanoc, Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan, Philippines, 5608
At lunch I would eat a hearty meal of chicken with my Red Cross family and then it was off to our station at the beach (Station #1 across from Epic). Training included some very challenging swimming exercises because the Red Cross team needs to be incredibly physically fit to respond to emergency situations. They’ve already had several successful saves this year, and I was proud to be part of a team that is making such a difference in the community and saving lives. I will miss my Red Cross family, thanks to Joe for taking me on the rounds during beach training, you can swim like a fish and even years ago during my lifeguarding hayday I couldn’t dream of swimming so fast. Also Joe, good luck with the dragon boat race it was an honor to be part of your crew if only for a short time. Thank you also to another lifeguard, Kaine, for taking me around the island and seeing things most visitors never get to experience. Thank you to Janna for all of your tireless work with training the youth in Malay, and making me feel part of the team. And finally thank you to the Red Cross Chapter Administrator Mr. Marlo Schoenenburger for trusting in me to help join with the Red Cross as a volunteer; with Marlo’s vision and outstaning leadership the Red Cross Boracay-Malay is growing into something absolutely extraordinary. Thank you as well to the rest of the team, although I may be gone from the island, none of you will ever be forgotten!
Volunteering with The Philippine Red Cross: There are no words to describe the kindness and warmth of the people of The Philippines: I arrived as a stranger but in the end I felt like I had made friends to last a lifetime. Philippinos are so down-to-earth, quick with a smile or a joke, and always looking to to help. Such was the atmosphere with my new-found family that I met while volunteering with the Philippine Red Cross. The first thing we did was travel to the mainland in Balusbos to run a youth training program. Many of the youngsters on the mainland lack education or job skills, and it was our aim to help restore their confidence and teach them some skills. Our program was extremely rigorous, but in the end, the ones who made it through learned leadership skills, communication skills. In addition, they learned CPR and first aid training. The young people we worked with were so kind and appreciative of our time, and I felt very lucky to have been a part of this amazing experience.
Helping in the Colombian Barriio: Leaving Colombia with my heart in my throat. It was really hard to say goodbye to the kids in Oasis Barrio. I’ve been volunteering with Mariposas, a grassroots NGO that tries to help educate the disadvantaged in the barrios of Santa Marta. The Barrio I have volunteering in one of the poorer Barrios called Oasis. On any given day the kids will come to class either dirty, hungry, or thirsty, or all 3 at once. I found it helpful to bring bananas and water for them as Mariposas hasn’t been able to afford to build a bathroom or have a sink with running water. So a little water and bananas go far. I also brought the kids “regalos”, or gifts if they did their best during class. The kids are truly adorable but some of them, since they come from tough backgrounds, can be unpredictable. So I figured any motivation would help. It was incredible to see how such young kids could be so interested in learning English … even when I told them I had no more “regalos” for them. One day I brought in some books for them to learn English, the kids went nuts…. I was never excited to get a book when I was little, but these kids are a different story. So other than learning English the kids are big into art, they love drawing, singing, anything creative. Their other passion is sports day which we do on Thursdays…. The girls play jump rope and the boys play soccer. As the kids got to know me they became really attached, when they saw me walking up the dirt road to greet them in the morning they would all run to give me a hug… and at the end of the day it was the same, some of the little ones didn’t want to let go. Aside from teaching the kids I also met with a group of young women in the Barrio to teach them about issues related to women’s health, family planning, and disease prevention. Health class was my favorite class growing up so it was awesome getting to teach it for the first time! For more information about The Mariposas Foundation please visit http://fmacolombia.weebly.com/
Volunteering with SAVE! in South Africa was atruly epic experience. My day started early in the morning when I would meet the other volunteers to make sandwiches for the kids’ lunch that day. Then some days we would take the kids from the settlement to the pool for swim lessons, other days we would take them to the beach as a reward for staying in school. By the way, some people have asked me, what exactly is a settlement, cuz I use this term all the time to describe who it is we are helping. Well basically it is a small community which is very poor and lacks basic stuff such as sewage or electricity. People in settlements live in shacks made out of either wood, pieces of plastic, or metal. Other days we would work with the children at the outreach center and teach them English, sing songs, play games, and teach them basic skills such as washing hands or brushing teeth. Providing basic living supplies is another important part of the program so we would often head to the settlement and bring them things such as toothbrushes, clothing, and food. The people in the settlements were very kind, and the children were so sweet and really appreciative of every little thing that we sometimes take for granted. I made a lot of great friends in this program, people from all over the world such as USA, Holland, Germany, UK, and Scandinavia. http://www.southafricavolunteerexperiences.org.za/volunteer-projects/settlement-projects.html
Volunteering with lions in Africa: This is an amazing bucket list experience. I’ve dreamed of living with lions but never thought it possible. But here at the Lion Park http://www.lion-park.com/ in South Africa anything is possible. OK, its not all fun and games playing with lions, of course there is lots of work I do as a volunteer to take care of the lions, but trust me it’s so worth it!!! We wake up early, stumble out of our tents and get to the nursery by 8AM. From there we prepare the food, it could be simple things like chopped up meat for the big lions, or for the lion babies it is bit more complicated because we actually have to prepare a formula with milk and eggs that the little guys can drink out of a bottle. Then of course there is the cage cleaning in both the nurseries as well as for the big cubs and juveniles. We work on shifts looking after the lions until either 5PM or 6PM. During breaks its super fun hanging out with the lions, they’re super amazing creatures. For sure lions are a lot more social than I would have imagined, and in fact they are the most social of all cats. Lions build bonds with people and this can take a few days or, more generally, a few weeks. For whatever reason a lot of the lions must think I’m a gazelle,out of all the volunteers I get pounced on, clawed, and chewed on the most. But working with young lions it’s all in good fun, these guys only like to play and don’t mean any harm. Over time the lions have gotten to know me better, they recognize me by both my face as well as my scent. The more they know me, the more they trust me, and its such a great feeling when they see me and come bounding up to give me a giant lion hug and kiss (they do this, it’s amazing what social creatures they are). So where do these lions come from? Sadly our lions were abandoned or rejected at birth by their mothers. It’s part of nature that a percentage of lions will be rejected due to their size or disposition, or possibly the mother’s lack of experience. And that’s why its such a great feeling to know we are here to help these lions, in so many ways be surrogate parents! Over time the bonds these young lions make with people is incredibly strong, it’s something that has to be seen to be believed!!! Of course at the Lion Park there’s more than just lions, we also volunteer with hyenas (yes there is a baby hyena I take care of in the nursery), and also giraffes and giraffe babies, meerkats, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs and ostriches. The cheetahs are super awesome, I wouldn’t have expected it but they can be really social as well with people, although some days with other people I’ve heard they can be a bit moody. The meerkats look small and cute but they can bite your finger off so I’m always careful around them. Sooo, back to the lions, when they get to be adults we move them to another part of the park where they can roam freely with their pride. By the time they get there they are massive, when you first see a full grown lion from a distance it can easily be mistaken for a horse! We mix human-raised lions with wild lions, so it’s best to be on your toes with the big cats.
Educational Outreach in New Delhi: It’s been a blast working with the Vidya Grants crew. I’ve seen them work tirelessly to make sure 9th and 10th grade kids are able to afford an education in India. And affording an education in India is not as easy as it sounds. In fact most kids drop out of school before 9th grade! The government schools lack funding so they don’t have chairs or textbooks. Also there is family pressure on kids to leave school and work to support the family. One option is private school which delivers a much better education but is out of reach to most kids because of the cost. But Vidya grants finds the kids who are really motivated to succeed in school and gives them a scholarship which can be used to pay for tuition or books. One of the Vidya scholars I met is named Akash. His dad drives a rickshaw and the family makes less than $10 dollars a day. His entire family lives in one tiny bedroom. But thanks to Vidya Grants, Akash can afford an amazing private school. All these Vidya scholar winners were so kind and motivated to succeed despite their tough economic circumstances. I also met their parents who are incredibly proud of them, and rightfully so. Meeting these Vidya scholars was inspiring, and I am proud I had a chance to work with Vidya Grants to do outreach to local schools in Delhi’s impoverished neighborhoods. For more information about this incredible NGO that is really making a difference visit http://vidyagrants.org/
A Visit to the Red Cross: I visited The District Red Cross in Faridabad with Dr. Chatterjee, the C.E.O. of “Action in Community and Training”. The officials at the Red Cross agreed to give us a letter pledging their support in order to make the Vidya Grant scholarships available to public school students. This was a breakthrough because without this letter, we would not be allowed access to the public schools, and those students most in need would never learn about the amazing scholarship opportunity. I told Dr. Chatterjee that this letter was a homerun, and he looked at me blankly ( I’m going to have to remember to use a cricket reference instead). After we left the Red Cross, Dr. Chatterjee was kind enough to take me to visit some of the local public schools. The classrooms were quite barren so the children studied outside in the field amongst the goats. These kids were terrific, hopefully some of them will be future Vidya grant scholars one day! For more information about these awesome NGO’s please visit Vidya Grants http://vidyagrants.org/ and Action in Community http://www.act-ngo.org
Prague was crazy, a land of many extremes. Chaotic yet refined, it is city of of great culture. At the Prague Castle, saw the changing of the guard, and the views of the Vltava river canals blew me away. Tradition has it that if young lovers secure a lock to the bridge and throw the key in the river their love will last forever. The best part of Prague was heading the outside of the city center to volunteer at a local orphanage. The kids there were awesome, so sweet, full of life and smiles. I worked with Thais who I know from the student volunteer group AIESEC in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We taught the kids English and played soccer. For the ones who weren’t so jazzed about learning English, I whipped out my iphone and showed them English learning video-game apps: One of their favorites was a game where you had to listen for the word for a color and then pop that color of balloon on the screen. They freaked over this!!! One of the little girls wouldn’t stop playing, each time I wanted my phone back I had to distract here with a toy. She had never spoken a word of English before, and in the end she started saying words for colors all by herself.