08 Feb The Beginning
I’d like to start this blog at the very beginning. To drop a pin on the point where it all began, and draw a straight line from there to here.
I’ll drop that pin on one day – about five years ago – when a traveling companion suggested that we take a day out of our vacation in South Africa to visit a nonprofit community center where he had a friend. Time stands still when I recall that day. It was eye opening: harrowing and inspiring, and it eclipsed everything else I had ever experienced on the regular circuit of tourist attractions in all my years of traveling. From that day on I was changed; in the next few years I became an avid international volunteer, devoting all of my vacation time to service.
I must have earned a reputation among my peers as the go-to volunteer person, because when my friend Courtney was headed on vacation to Brazil, she dropped me a line: “Hey – do you know an organization that can help me figure out where to volunteer for a day while I’m in Rio?” she penned.
“I don’t think a one day international volunteer hub exists,” I replied. “But it should.” In fact, I had been mulling over this very idea since my experience in South Africa.
“We should start it!” was her response.
Months later, when we ran into each again, she observed, “You know, I never was able to find a way to volunteer for a day during my trip. We really should start this thing. How about meeting for coffee next week?”
As we began brainstorming, we bounced our ideas off as many friends as could bear to listen. At some point I jotted off a note to my friend Kathleen, knowing she had served in the Peace Corps and had recently returned home from volunteering in Rwanda. What I didn’t know was that the morning I was plunking out an email to her she was talking to a friend about her future plans. “I want to do something that combines traveling and volunteering and fostering connections,” she told her friend. She didn’t have a name for her idea yet, but there it was in her inbox later that day.
The rest, as they say, was history.
We began on the simple premise that there was a big missed opportunity. Tons of people travel to developing countries and want to have a positive impact, but they don’t know how. More travelers would volunteer if vetted opportunities were easy to schedule and could be integrated into their plans. And local communities could benefit from access to global networks of advocates, supporters, and resources. A win-win.
Of course it’s not always that simple. The “voluntourism” industry is rife with examples of self-congratulatory tokenism that does more to reinforce the status quo than ignite positive change. This has required careful consideration. Furthermore, starting a nonprofit is w-a-y more work than we anticipated – easily by a factor of ten.
So we’ve learned it’s not simple, and it’s definitely not easy, but it is possible. The problems facing our planet are vast, and many people can mutually benefit by sharing skills and perspectives, just one day of time. And we know that small contributions can aggregate to have large cumulative impact. We hope to set those wheels in motion.
So today we drop a pin on another point; a new start for Give A Day Global. We are beginning our beta phase and we are ready to start working with volunteers. And someday we hope to draw a straight line from here to innumerable dots on the globe.