How to Volunteer with Global Volunteers – And make a Difference World-wide and in the U.S.

One of the most inspiring, helpful, enjoyable, and worthwhile things to do in one’s life is to become a volunteer in some activity—there are many avenues.  One such avenue is an organization, Global Volunteers, which has for several decades offered such uplifting—and downright personally satisfying—opportunities.

Brief background:  a young couple—two lawyers—were getting married, and the wife-to-be was given the task of planning the two-week honeymoon.  The husband was dreaming of lolling on a beach somewhere; the wife had slightly different ideas.  “One week for “lolling” she said, the second week “for helping other people who needed help”—but she allowed it could be in a foreign country.

Years later, their fulfilled dream is Global Volunteers, sending volunteers of all ages to countries around the world and to places in the U.S. where help is needed.  Not an easy task.  You will recognize places as holiday travel for many of us, but China, Hungary, Honduras, Mexico, among many other countries, now became a two-week, a three-week, or a month home for Americans eager to help with farming, schools and colleges, orphanages, clinics, hospitals, foreign government agencies… wherever a need is, GV wants to be there.  Today, there are new programs to Vietnam and Cuba! (I am so tempted with the latter!)

Age is never a factor.  Teams with high school students, (Mexico), teams with an 81-year-old woman, (Hungary), teams with the wide variety of ages between those two, and with a similar variety of skills, and of interesting cultural or business backgrounds to share in the evenings over dinner.

Even the training program in Minnesota was fun.  The wife, mentioned earlier, demonstrated something by using a large black frying pan and an egg.  I now don’t remember what the scene meant, but laughed at her energetic abuse of that egg.  And we learned! (I didn’t want to be hit with the frying pan!)

A fellow Hungarian volunteer at least a decade ago, is still a good . . . no, a great . . . friend of mine today. A fellow volunteer in Mexico, now a retired special education teacher, is still a wonderful friend. We’re talking many years. Besides the children and the others we met—and fell in love with—we grew to appreciate the happy energy of our American colleagues.

Let’s talk cost.  A volunteer pays:  program cost depending on length of program which includes all housing and meals and in-country needed transportation. Volunteer pays the cost of transport to and from home to volunteer site, and personal incidentals, of course.  (The transport cost may…may…be deductible.  It used to be, but always check with your tax person….maybe today even part of the program cost is deductible. Note use of “may.”)

An attractive new catalog has just been published, which has great pictures of the places included for the upcoming year.  As you browse it, think—besides of the great good you could do—of the cultural, historic, and visuals that you will learn and see—no cost for that!

I could talk forever about GV.  Also, they do not know that I’m writing this, nor have they asked that I do any “recruiting” for them.  This is just my own experience with the 8 programs I’ve been on with them.   Their address:  Global Volunteers 375 E. Little Canada Road, St. Paul, MN, 55117-1628     Think about it!  Chloe  

Chloe digging with Global Volunteers

Chloe digging with Global Volunteers




Be Sure to Visit Hungary!

We were an odd lot of people to be the first team into Hungary, ranging in age from an admitted 79 years to early 20’s people. One volunteer couple who owned a winery in California looked forward to learning about famous Hungarian wines. What Sally Swartz and I knew about wine was that we enjoyed drinking it, but we were assigned to a high school.

What a delight the students were. Eager, smiling, welcoming, with enough mischief to make them fun…..but they were also smart, Hungary - 2003 008well-behaved, and open to learning, unlike my then-current clutch of U.S. high school students. One morning the Hungarian students came into my classroom, all excited. (In this small European country, everyone knew “stuff” in the news, far exceeding typical U.S. interests, unfortunately.) What had excited them today? The election of a governor in a state in the U.S……yes, in California and it was Arnold Schwarzenegger—who they instantly claimed was of Hungarian descent. Now, what U.S. student would know where Hungary is located, much less who the leader of that country was? I was learning more than I was teaching.

Hungary - 2003 003The teachers took us on weekend day trips, visiting small towns with big histories—walking through cemeteries with centuries-old dates of burial, the fallen in some long-forgotten war; visiting fabled churches with soaring vaulted ceilings and walls showcasing Hungarian artistic talent; strolling past statues, some funny, some respectful of people in Hungary’s past. That past included a cruel Nazi invasion before the U.S. was involved in WWII, but we felt the anger and sorrow shown by our Hungarian friends as they told stories of unbelievable German brutality, particularly as it focused on the large Jewish population of the country.

Hungary - 2003 005But we had time to visit the markets, filled with food and other items that we didn’tHungary - 2003 004 even recognize. We walked the streets, admiring all those statues that showed the talent of Hungarian artists. And, we happily ate the plethora of food—especially the mashed potatoes one young lady ladled onto my plate. And, Irish or not, I couldn’t possibly eat all those potatoes.

If you haven’t been to Hungary—put it on your visitor list. Food, festivals, friends….and then to top it with a visit to Budapest, the two-pronged city divided by a lovely river.Hungary - 2003 006

Hungarian Goulash

Hungary - 2003 007There’s a country that few Americans visit, but a student of history and culture should include it.  That country is Hungary, a small nation which warring armies of many countries crossed and nearly destroyed on their way to somewhere else.  It’s a European history book in one small, amazing nation.

Sally Schwartz from Las Vegas and I were privileged to spend several weeks in Hungary a few years ago as part of a Global Volunteer opening effort to “help” a school in a small town, the name of which I still can’t pronounce.  We were the first team into this country from GV, and it was a privilege to “open” it to future teams.

Sally and I were assigned to a high school—warned we were not there to “tell themHungarian classroom how to run their school”…..but it took a bit of tongue-biting for me to keep my mouth shut, even concerning such simple things as the layout of the classrooms and stairs.  But all that faded in our appreciation of the welcome mat that the teachers laid out before us.  They invited us to their parties; took us on “field trips” to famous sites; and nodded agreement when I raised an eyebrow at some aspect of the school’s operation.

But it’s Hungary itself that is worth a visit.  It’s that history book already mentioned. Hungary - 2003 001 The Crusaders passed through Hungary on their way to the Holy Land; centuries later Adolph Hitler made Hungary the #1 country in his aim of European conquest.  Today, the country is peppered with amazing statues, building structures, and markets that entice and intrigue a visitor.  I’ll be writing more about Hungary and what it offers to the world.  Such a small country; such a wealth of beauty, art, and friendship.

From Digging in the Dirt to Celebrating the Result with Global Volunteers

We were in An Wei’s hometown, a small village really.  An Wei had brought this group of Global Volunteers for a working project—a new elementary school.  It was to be built on the hard ground that we checked out on this first day in the village.  Eager children sang a welcome to us as we climbed off the bus bringing us from Xian, a wonderfully historic city which should be on everyone’s China “must visit” list.

When we walked into the house where our group would stay, both Kay and I sniffed, immediately noticing a smell.  It was fresh, light-blue paint on the walls. Our twin beds sported fluffy new coverlets and plump pillows.  Someone, and we suspected the village women, had worked hard to make our accommodations the best that much elbow grease could provide.  The living room/kitchen area also exhibited fresh care in anticipation of our arrival.  Several youngsters stood, one with her thumb in her mouth, to gauge our reactions.  Their smiles told us they were pleased that their efforts were so well-recognized.

From the very start we felt at home, despite the two pigs in a small enclosure just outside the front door.  But the school was our project, and a day later, after we ate a light breakfast, we were looking at a large hole in the ground, the rough circumference of the future school. A large, hopeful group of families watched us.

Several of us worked in the older elementary school which our efforts would replace.  We were there primarily to help Chinese teachers develop better skill in the English language, particularly with pronunciation.  I chose to work with children in the 4th year.  It would be eye-opening to me—a teacher by profession in the U.S.  The first thing I noticed was the silence in the room of about 30 students.  As the weeks went by, my major task was getting them to make a sound.  They sat straightly still, obedient, with eyes that showed an eagerness to learn. I almost checked to make certain they were still breathing.

But I learned something else this first week.

Each day after school we walked around town to learn more about the people—and for them to learn about us. Classes lasted an intensive half-day, so we also were involved with the construction of the new school.Chloe Digging with Global Volunteers 001

The men in our group poured cement on a flat stone, added water to it, and transferred it to our  volunteer women who then walked it over to the where the walls for the basement would be.  No one dared to apply a math test to this lengthy effort.  The cement-on-stone hand-mixing process operated just beneath a cement mixer lashed to a tall pole.  Several of us questioned why the cement mixer wasn’t running.

“No electricity,” was the answer, accompanied by a shrug.  Meanwhile, I was hoeing bushes,  shrubs, and weeds, sometimes shoveling dirt.  One day, a little boy came up to me, took the shovel away and said, “Grandmothers should not be doing this kind of work.”

While I talked with him, I noted three black stretch cars coming full steam ahead up the dirt road, heading our way.  I quickly took the shovel back, and yelled at my fellow volunteers.  “Get busy.”

I knew who the men were that crowded into the cars.  The Party men.

They carefully got out of their cars, carefully walked over to peer into the hole in the ground, carefully looked at each of us—me with sweat rolling down my face, a shovel in my hand.  Then they left.

The next day, we were told we didn’t have to go to work, and would instead be bused to visit a major historical site some miles away, which would take at least five hours. I was surprised; this was contrary to the usual Chinese work ethic, but I didn’t complain.  We took the trip, enjoyed a visit to the site, had a fine lunch, and returned to our village.

As we drove down the main street, we all noticed the new addition to that street—a 3- or 4-foot-wide, 5- or 6-foot-deep trench that ran the entire length of the village—and out to the new school site.  None of us knew what it was until the next morning.

Work Site of Chinese SchoolWhen we arrived at our work, the cement mixer was running, and our work became not only faster, but easier.  I looked at the wires coming from the pole to the mixer, and recalled the ditch through the town.  It didn’t take a math genius to add two and two.

The Party men had “lost face” in front of Americans.  The people of the village didn’t care who or what had made electricity happen for their homes and jobs.  They knew the reason; we quietly became instant heroes.

School Children

To China with Global Volunteers

My next trip to China was with Global Volunteers (a terrific travel/work group in MN) whose local contact was a wonderful man named An Wei, founder of a Chinese-American society to build bridges between the people of the U.S. and China.  We were to be placed in classrooms or businesses to help students and employees to better understand us, and we them.

Schoolkids in China

The chalkboard in our initial meeting room listed elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and a hotel, with the number needed for each group.  We were to select where we wanted to be placed.  As we muttered and murmured, I heard someone say: in the elementary schools’ restrooms, the kids peer over the low walls to “be sociable” as we are using the restroom.  I have no idea if that was true or not, but I could “picture” it—so my eyes focused on the hotel—but only one person was needed.  When we broke to sign up for our choice, I made such a beeline for the hotel, that I may have actually been “pushy”….not my usual self.

At the hotel, a lovely one, of course, I “talked” with desk clerks, “talked” with people who cleaned the hotel rooms, and “talked” with the stiff men in black suits who supervised the lobby. One of the questions I kept getting—you’ll never believe it—was about the behavior of men guests—and their habit of throwing their shoes about their rooms.  How could I explain something I’d never observed happening—even at home.  I was not successful, but kept smiling and nodding.  And I received some jealous comments from other volunteers, especially at the party “my” hotel put on at the end of that three week session.