Mothers around the world

In honor of Mother’s Day, we wanted to take a moment to recognize how our volunteers celebrate and support mothers around the world. From Tanzania to Ecuador, Montana to Greece, volunteers support mothers in developing communities in so many ways: encouragement, time, nutrition, self-sufficiency, recognition, heart, helping hands, peace, mentoring, and camaraderie.

Top 10 Ways You Can Support Mothers Around the World


1. Encouragement

Being a mother is perhaps the hardest job in the world. It’s a job full of joy, but one which also presents many challenges, especially when paired with providing for your family and being in charge of household tasks. Volunteers provide support and encouragement for mothers around the world by spending time with them, listening to their struggles and their hopes, and sharing their own stories.

Recently in Ecuador, a team of four volunteers had the chance to sit down with an Ecuadorian mother, Daniela, in her home. Daniela shared her experience of becoming a mother at the age of 18; her husband’s struggle to find employment where he is paid on time; and her difficulties in dividing her time between working, studying, and being home to take care of her children. Daniela shared with us the progress of her studies to complete her high school diploma and how she hopes to go on to study law, saying there are so many people in her community who need the help of a lawyer who is honest and who won’t steal from them. The volunteers listened intently while Daniela spoke about what she hopes to give back to her community and they offered encouragement and support to this determined mother of two young boys.

Mothers around the world

Volunteers with Ecuadorian mother Gloria with her children, nephews, and nieces

2. Time

One volunteer told the story of a mother and her children on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, who lived on the far end of the tribal land, did not have a car, and had no real consistent access to anyone except each other. That volunteer shared the gift of time and companionship with this woman and both came away from that afternoon more hopeful and more connected.

3. Nutrition

In rural Tanzania where nutritious food is not always readily available, pregnancy can be a stressful time. Volunteers on short-term service programs help ease that stress by helping expectant moms embrace how important it is to get the nutrients their babies need to grow and thrive both through education and by helping distribute micro-nutrient packets to add to their food.

Mothers around the world

Tanzanian mothers drinking tea during a workshop on nutrition

4. Self-sufficiency

In the little village of Anse la Raye on the island of St. Lucia, mothers and their children live in houses that are built one next to the other with no land in between to grow fresh vegetables. Our volunteers work with mothers to establish and grow food in container gardens so that they and their children can get the nutrients they need from fresh vegetables they grow themselves.

Mothers around the world

Volunteer Bill and community leader Marie-Louise planting an EarthBox in St. Lucia

5. Recognition

Team members help recognize and elevate mothers around the world in our partner communities, and many such mothers live in places where resources are scarce and support systems weak. Daycare centers for very disadvantaged families in Ecuador provide young mothers with a safe, nurturing environment where they can leave their children while they go to work each day to provide for their families. This also gives some mothers the opportunity to go back to school.

Because two-thirds of our volunteers are women, and the majority of our volunteers have taught in the classroom, Global Volunteers are natural role models for the equitable treatment of girls. Volunteers demonstrate that women and men can perform any job and be successful in any career.

6. Heart

Greece is in the middle of a refugee crisis, with more than 62,000 refugees in camps throughout the country, and the majority of those refugees are mothers and their children. Most of the refugees are from Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. A volunteer told the story of packing supplies, all donated by Cretan people, to distribute to refugees — primarily mothers and their children — in various camp sites throughout the country.

Mothers around the world

Volunteers Vita and Kathy with Syrian family in Greece

7. Helping hands

Sometimes the most important thing volunteers can provide is more hands to feed and nurture little ones. The caretakers at the daycare centers where Global Volunteers partners in Calderón, Quito in Ecuador have a heavy work load of caring for ten one, two, or three-year-olds each. On top of caring for their charges, they are responsible for lesson planning and cleaning tasks. And most of the caretakers are single mothers themselves, who go home to cook, clean, and care for their own children after a full day’s work. Volunteers in Ecuador help to alleviate the caretakers’ workload a bit, and provide more one-on-one attention to the little ones.

Mothers around the world

Caretaker Anita with volunteer Alyssa and her one-year-old charges in Ecuador

8. Peace

Global Volunteers’ mission is to wage peace and promote justice around the world. In Cuba, you can wage peace and represent the United States in a positive light while getting to know Cuban mothers. Volunteers serve at a sewing circle in Havana where mothers and grandmothers create table runners, bags, and decorations to sell, thereby giving them a source of additional income to provide for their families.

Mothers around the world

Volunteers Susan and Ann at church sewing circle in Havana

9. Mentoring

When you share your own parenting skills and experience, you’re sharing your story by way of your own struggles and triumphs as a parent. For instance, a pregnant woman or new mother in Tanzania can be baffled and fascinated by knowing that a baby in her womb can hear it’s mother’s voice. Stories about the first time you sang to your unborn baby and when you first felt a kick immediately creates a common bond of trust. Volunteers have taught new mothers to sing to their bellies. That’s been a lot of laughs! Talk about the sound of the mother’s heartbeat in her fetus’ ears and how that sound comforts him/her immediately after birth. Even when the infant is in her mother’s sling carrier, the baby can feel her heartbeat at the same time.

Mothers around the world

Mothers and their children with two new hand-washing stations in Tanzania

10. Camaraderie

Through listening, sharing, teaching, and working together, volunteers offer mothers around the world their camaraderie. In singing songs, playing games, doing repairs, caring for children, volunteers and mothers around the world offer each other their camaraderie.

mothers around the world

Volunteers teaching mothers conversational English at daycare center in Ecuador

To learn more about how you can celebrate and support mothers around the world or volunteer with your own children, check out these blog posts:

Click here to learn more about these programs to support mothers:

Cuba | Ecuador | Greece | Montana | St. Lucia | Tanzania 


West Virginia Global Volunteer

Central Michigan University student, Zach, served this past summer in West Virginia. This was his first experience with Global Volunteers. Read his journal entry here:

Journal Entry by West Virginia Global Volunteer, Zach:

August 9, 2017

If you would have told me a year ago that I would be doing the ‘Hillbilly Shuffle’ in West Virginia with a room full of people that I had just met, I probably wouldn’t have believed you, but if I’ve learned anything on this incredible trip with Global Volunteers, it’s that stepping out of your comfort zone every once in a while can lead to friendships, experiences, and memories that are simply impossible to forget.

Through its beauty, charm, and welcoming nature, West Virginia has made this Michigander feel like one of its own, like a friend inviting you into their home and asking you to stay a while. With five days spent here and two more left on the horizon, I can say for certain that I will miss this place when we hit the road.

Photos from Zach’s experience:

Learn more about being a West Virginia Global Volunteer

Global Volunteers has worked deep in the “hollers” since 1999. There are opportunities to work one-on-one with children, teens, and adults in Fayette County. Volunteer projects include: Building repair and rehabilitation, after-school and GED tutoring, summer enrichment program, and housing assistance.

Ample time is provided after the work day to enjoy local cultural and natural attractions: local concerts, museum visits, souvenir shopping, hiking trails, swimming, and participating in community events and celebrations.

“In this community, everyone looks out for one another. They’re more than just neighbors, they’re family. We as volunteers have helped each other, embraced our neighbors, learned new things, had fun, and most of all, we’ve made a difference.”

Baheejah Mahdi, West Virginia Global Volunteer

Learn more on the West Virginia volunteer page.

Teaching Abroad Opportunities in Greece

Global Volunteer in Portugal

Journal by Cisco, Global Volunteer in Portugal:

March 3, 2018

Another day, another morning, I got dressed and ready for breakfast.

I head downstairs, returned my key, and as I walk to catch the school bus, it made me reflect of the time here in Beja and what kind of impressions I have left in the hearts and minds of the many students I have reached out to. I would like to hope that the impressions I left were favourable, even memorable.

I love walking the halls of the school and speaking Portuguese. I can tell those who I connected with often smile as they respond in English or Portuguese. I have made my way to the bus stop and hopped on, said hello to my many students and quickly realized I have to sit for another 50 minutes. It’s amazing how the weather can change the mood in the bus; it’s so calm and quiet while pouring rain so I continue to reflect.

Global Volunteers has assembled a great team of leaders, Joe, Shelley, Jeanne, Cindy, Laurie, Dale, Heidi, Jim, Linda, Sherry, and I to provide opportunity for growth in our students. After various activities and lessons, we, as Global Volunteers and as new teachers, bring a fresh perspective to identify gaps that those within a school can’t see. This can add a lot to a department, school, or even district. Our journey is fresh, and this can help connect with and inspire students.

Having fun with new friends!

The bus trip has now made its way to the gate where I often meet several staff members and students. It has been both wonderful and devastating because the nature of volunteering meant I’ll be there today and gone tomorrow. But one thing is for certain, I begin the day the same way I started – empowering the youth of today and leading them for tomorrow.

Interested in being a future Global Volunteer in Portugal? Visit our Portugal page.

Lakota culture on Rosebud reservation

Rosebud Reservation volunteers share their team journal reflections on opportunities to learn about Lakota culture on a South Dakota service program.

Day 2

Today we arose with anticipation of the work assignment. We headed out and gathered any tools we could find for the day ahead. We worked outside of a home belonging to Danielle, a local single mother. We worked together as a team collecting garbage, mowing around her yard and had a fantastic time interacting with her children, Jasmine, Isaiah, Marissa and D.J.  After we finished, we moved on to another neighbor’s yard to continue our work. Some local boys and girls, Ben, Charles and Bethany helped right alongside with us.

We had lunch at the Senior Center again- tuna sandwiches, tomato soup and cake. It was so fun eating with the elders and hearing their stories.  None of us wanted to leave, but we wanted to finish the work we started in the morning. I felt, as I am sure all of my fellow volunteers did, a good amount of accomplishment looking back at the work we had done today. Danielle was very thankful to all of us and her children were an amazing addition (bonus) to our day. Her neighbor made a point of telling us what a great person Danielle was, and how great it was to help her with her home.
-Dina Bosby

Day 3

Early this morning, a thunderstorm rolled through as has happened just about every morning.  And, just like every morning, it passed and we awoke to the sun. After breakfast, we got to work cleaning and mowing around Shiloh and Lowell’s homes. The sun was hot and the hills were green. We were joined today by Homer’s three grandchildren: John, Rose, and Daniel. Charlie and Ben were there again as well. We continued our work until 3:30, and then packed up and headed back for dinner and a trip to Wounded Knee in two groups.

Lakota culture

Visitors contemplate Lakota history at the Wounded Knee cemetery.

We walked around the white stone marker commemorating the final resting place of hundreds of slaughtered Native Americans—all of them unarmed and most of them women and children.  This is a tragic part of American Indian history, but spotlights the purpose behind some Lakota culture and traditions. Special stones and offerings of tobacco surrounded the base.  Traditional Indian names like Yellow Robe, Red Eagle, Pretty Hawk, Little Water, and Long Bull were etched in the stone surfaces.  The air seemed heavy amidst a panorama of rolling hills, lush pine trees, and dilapidated shacks.  A young woman approached us for donations toward gas to get her 18-month-old daughter chemotherapy in Denver.  Paul thunder Horse, old, wrinkled, pocked, and supremely talented and proud hawked his beaded treasures at a roadside stand.

Although our two groups who went to Wounded Knee didn’t cross paths there, we arrived back at the Rosebud Veterans’ Center at nearly the same time…safe and sound and ready to rest up for another day working, playing, and learning on “the rez.”

– Michelle Godwin

Day 4

After a morning of work, Homer, two grandchildren, John and Daniel – smiling, what with their grandpapa’s happy spirited nature radiating – to view the buffalo. What an honor to sit next to this inspirational man.  Traveling with Homer is like going on a short journey through the Lakota history.  When his pickup truck stops at our destination, that historical journey stops.  You don’t want to stop…instead you want to keep listening.  Such an intelligent, knowledgeable, and passionate man who is so proud of his Lakota blood…so well learned of his Lakota culture.

lakota culture

Buffalo are a central part of Lakota culture.

We arrived at the area where the buffalo roamed. As we stood and observed the buffalo feeding on the grass…and the cute calves feeding from their mothers, we took this moment to take some great shots. We then met Leonard Two Eagle, Buffalo Ranger from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Game, Fish, and Parks.  He spoke of his role as buffalo manager of the two different types of buffalo that were grazing—(1) Catalina, and (2) Dakota Wind Cave.  The meat is used for ceremonies, funerals, local businesses, and to feed the needy.  Leonard spoke respectfully of the buffalo—a sacred animal.  Seeing buffalo grazing on the green hills, surrounded by pine trees on Lakota tribal land was truly a spiritual experience…feeling connected with spirit…with South Dakota.

Back to work!

Yard work and cleaning the Veterans’ Center continued all afternoon.  There was enough support to work on the remaining two properties. After dinner, Homer and Rosalie shared their stories on life as a Lakota Native on the rez.  Whilst listening to these people’s stories, emotions – disbelief and sadness ran high.

Rosalie described life as being a P.O.W. (Prisoner of War) in her youth.  She used the clear plastic sugar bowl as an effective analogy—like being imprisoned in a confined space with those in power watching over them.  Loss of identity and culture was discussed.  She described how difficult it was to change from tepee to a square box divided by rooms with doors to shut. She said the government didn’t want the Natives to be educated, knowledgeable, have good jobs.  It gives them power.  It was sad to see Rosalie expressing her emotions regarding this social issue, so unjust.  In spite of the sadness, Homer and Rosalie radiated love, warmth, and humor.

Lakota words were shared with the team.  Homer and Rosalie are very proud of their Lakota language.  It was evident that they endeavor to have their language continue into the next generations.  They teach their grandchildren Lakota…a must for the language to survive.  One could go on forever.  Unfortunately that is not possible.  However, one last thing to finish this journal entry:  today we definitely learned about the Lakota culture—one of many reasons why we are here.  Words like medicine man and medicine woman demonstrated that their culture continues on.

– Viv Arranz-Boyle

Day 5

Honestly, I have no idea where to start.  The responsibility of writing about this, our last full day in Rosebud, is a great one.  The sheer range and power of the emotions and events experienced today is not only overwhelming, but near impossible to accurately recapture with inadequate written words. Nonetheless, I shall give it a go! Our day began with our well-established pattern.  Those mad enough to be “morning people” woke at an hour still unknown to me, and eventually made too much noise for us “lazies” to rest in peace.  I hauled myself out of my sleeping bag and off my mattress to shuffle across the main community room.

Lakota culture

Engaging Lakota children at the Rosebud Reservation pow-wow.

After a day of mowing, weeding, clipping, and watering, we all gathered together – volunteers and local residents – beneath a big shady tree.  This is when the emotions began to run wild.  There was no way to remain unmoved by the generosity heaped upon us.  We received T-shirts from a couple of tribal offices, which were put on by many within mere minutes.  Sharing what you have is a big part of Lakota culture. Tears were shed, both openly and in private.  The depth of the unquestioning welcome, friendliness, acceptance, and perhaps even love, almost short-circuited my cynical soul.  There was too much happiness to express, though it was the most bittersweet sort.  We will leave tomorrow, back to suburbia and routine.  We’ve been made to feel so welcome that it seems we’ve been here forever, though at the same time it feels we haven’t been here long enough.  A realm of contrast, this reservation.

Lakota culture

The round dance is a traditional element of Lakota culture.

We eventually made it out to the powwow in St. Francis.  We were greeted by Meredith (hard-working Ben’s mom), who informed us that we were to take part in the Grand Entry.  Nervous, excited, honored, and a little embarrassed, we lined up behind the color guard, a beautifully dressed fancy dancer, and shawl dancer, and a passel of incredibly precious little girls in both shawl and jingle dresses. Most of us step-shuffled our way through a couple of round dances, demonstrating that lack of rhythm is not synonymous with lack of enthusiasm.  The powwow was the perfect setting for our final evening together.  Everyone mingled, always seeming to return to Homer and Rosalie.

Storm clouds rolled in as the sun lowered, creating perhaps the most breathtaking sunset I have ever witnessed.  I would like to think that the sunset was a last gift to us from Rosebud and South Dakota. Getting into the car was the hardest thing I’ve done all week.  I had no desire to leave the sunset, the hills, the drumming, our friends.  But our time in Rosebud has come to an end—for now.  I feel comforted knowing the Lakota language has no word for “goodbye.”  Instead they say “Until I see you next.”  I don’t know the Lakota phrase for this, but if I did, I would say it in the Lakota way—from my heart.

– Erin K. Smith

Request a South Dakota Service Program Brochure here:

Request a program catalog here or by calling 800-487-1074.

Need assistance with this form?

Working Vacation in Cuba with Global Volunteers

Considering a working vacation in Cuba? Read here as Cuba Global Volunteer Thomasina reflects on her two-week experience in Ciego de Ávila serving and learning from the Cuban people.

A Working Vacation in Cuba

I’ve supported the concept of Global Volunteers for many years, but I didn’t embark on my first trip until just last year, in 2017. There was always a reason to put off a “working vacation”: I didn’t have the funds, too much going on at work, etc… But one day it dawned on me: the stars have aligned and I have no more excuses – let’s do this! Now the question was “which country?” Naturally, I never pick anything easily. For example, when I had to pick a language to learn in college, I knew I could breeze through Spanish since I took it in high school… But no, let’s learn Japanese! When deciding to live abroad, I could have picked a land more suitable to my culture… But again, no, let’s move to Saudi Arabia! So which country posed the most challenge, I thought. CUBA! After all, Americans are discouraged to travel there. I heard horror stories about this country when I lived in Miami. And I’m a devout Capitalist. I’d like to see how communist really live. I had one impression going into this project and a vastly different one coming out.

Thomasina with one of her new friends in Cuba.

“What united us was a love to help others.”

The best part about a volunteer vacation, compared to a normal vacation, is it really gives you a better perspective as to how people live, think, and believe. I learned a lot about Cuban history, a history that goes way beyond Castro’s Revolution, and its rich culture. I met people who love life regardless of their circumstances. I saw great creativity and engineering expressed through their art and everyday appliances. But I not only learned more about the Cuban people, Global Volunteers provided an opportunity to learn more about people from America (and one spicy British lady) who ventured to Cuba to volunteer. Our team was young, old, left, right, believers and non-believers. Our two weeks together allowed us to learn more about opposing viewpoints and grow as people. What united us was a love to help others.

I could go on and on about how wonderful my working vacation in Cuba was, but I’ll let my pictures do the talking. I had an awesome team and team leader. The Cuban people couldn’t have been more hospitable. And I know in the end, we made a difference in the true relationship between Americans and Cubans.

Photos from Thomasina’s Experience in Cuba:

Travel in China

Meet Your Guide to Volunteering While You Travel in China

A native of China, Bao Li Wang is our China Country Manager. Bao Li joined the Global Volunteers team in 2005 and manages and leads all teams in Xi’an and Kunming, China. While on a service program in China, Bao Li will be your guide on everything – volunteering, culture, development, and travel in China.

Bao Li holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from Xi’an Northwest University of Political Science and Law. She says she can’t quite explain how she ended up at a law school, but that she always loved English and she is very happy that she is able to use her language skills to do good.

“Bao Li is wonderful. Patient, kind, funny, helpful. She answered countless questions about everything: teaching, Chinese language and etiquette, sightseeing and logistics, Chinese society and culture. She was always tactful and responded to any requests quite promptly. Truly, Bao Li made every aspect of this trip a delight. I cannot imagine a better team leader and am so happy to have spent these two weeks with her.”
– Tracy Harris, teacher

Travel in China

Bao Li with volunteers at a teacher’s home in Xi’an


Bao Li was the first child of her parents’ to go to college and at the time, only 10% of Chinese were able to do so. She was born and grew up in a rural village and only left when she went to study at university. Her parents were extremely proud to send her off to college, hoping that she was saying goodbye to the hard life in the country forever. Bao Li says, “Nevertheless, I went against everyone’s will and married a country boy from a very poor family, Mr. Hao, my husband now, after six years of dating. At first, my family looked at this as a failure of all the education I had. But now, of course, he is accepted and loved by everyone in my family.” Bao Li and Mr. Hao have a seven-year-old son named Jerry.

Bao Li first worked with Global Volunteers as a volunteer when she was a college student. After that, she worked for the Sino-American Society for several years. Then, with Global Volunteers, Bao Li started out as assistant team leader and worked her way up in program management. Now, as China Country Manager, she coordinates all aspects of the programs in both Kunming and Xi’an.

“Hands down of the nine Global Volunteers projects I’ve been on, Bao Li is your star. Her soft spoken manner behest her sharp wit and managerial aptitude plus her sense of humor brings another dimension to her appeal. In my book this young lady is a winner. The project was all the more enjoyable for me because of Bao Li.”
– Anita Verbeke, librarian

Travel in China

Bao Li at Yunnan Dynamic Show

A Short Interview with Bao Li

What compels you to work for Global Volunteers?

“I am inspired by Global Volunteers’ Philosophy of Service, especially the servant-learner concept. No matter how well educated you are or how high a social status you have, when you are a volunteer, you do what you’re asked to do because that’s the priority of the local people in need. What I like about Global Volunteers is also that we do not just hand some money to a community and leave, we work hand in hand with the local people to help with their community projects. This is important because I believe promoting understanding and friendship is as important as — or even more important than — having the community project completed.

“I first encountered Global Volunteers when I was a college student and had been studying English for nine years. I read English well and often scored high in exams, but my listening and speaking skills were poor. It was the Global Volunteers that changed me from a mute English learner to someone who could actually communicate in English. I was amazed and thrilled by the fast improvement I made in the short time of exposure to volunteers. Now I am very proud to be working as a bridge between volunteers and the many Chinese students and teachers who are struggling with listening and speaking English.”

What is one of your favorite parts of your job? 

“The best part of my job is to experience and see with my own eyes that people of two different cultures who meet as strangers with curiosity and uncertainties at first, gradually open up as they spend time together. And they say goodbye as friends at the end of their time in China. It’s such a good feeling to see each team of volunteers and the Chinese students or teachers develop understanding, trust, and friendship in a short time of two or three weeks. And I feel very proud to be a part of that process.”


Why should volunteers spend a week or two in Xi’an or Kunming?

“Why should you travel in China? Why should you come to Xi’an and Kunming? Oh, so many reasons! Both cities are very popular tourist destinations and unique in their own way and represent China differently.

“Let me tell you a bit more about each of our host communities. Along with Athens, Rome, and Cairo, Xi’an is one of the most famous of the ancient cities. It was the capital of 13 ancient Chinese dynasties so there are many historical sites and ancient ruins and tombs in and around the city. It’s basically a live history book. The famous Terracotta Warriors Museum draws many visitors to the city. You can see this and so much more while you volunteer and travel in China.

“What makes Kunming unique is its pleasant climate and colorful Chinese minority cultures. Kunming’s year-round temperature is generally about 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees F) so it’s called the City of Eternal Spring because it doesn’t experience severe cold or a sweltering summer. Kunming is also home to 26 different ethnic groups in China. The charming beauty and diverse ethnic customs and culture make it a hot tourist place among both foreign and national tourists. There is a lot to see in and around Kunming.”

When people think of travel in China, they may not be thinking of volunteer vacations, but a guide like Bao Li is a great reason to do this. She and the eager, dedicated students and teachers who are so eager to learn from you. 

Why do you recommend a Global Volunteers service program in China?

“For many Americans, China is still mysterious and threatening. This is not just because of communism, but also its big size and population, its fast development, and the many new actions China’s new leadership is taking. But what you hear is not always the way it is. So, don’t you want to come and see with your own eyes what China looks like? Don’t you want to meet and learn about the average Chinese people’s life and concerns? Maintaining a healthy and peaceful relationship between China and the United States has never been so important as it is today. I strongly feel that, we as individuals, need to help promote understanding among people while the two governments are still trying to establish a stable relationship. So, come! Volunteer and travel in China, a country that’s changing every day, and a country you cannot just ignore with its important role in today’s global community!”

“I strongly feel that, we as individuals, need to help promote understanding among people while the two governments are still trying to establish a stable relationship.”

What Volunteers Have Said About Their China Team Leader

“I don’t think you could find a better team leader than Bao Li. She got along with everyone, was a great team leader, helped us with anything we needed, spoke fluent English, and is generally a charming, efficient, professional person!” – Fran Pilch, professor emeritus of Political Science

“Bao Li is a delightful young woman who makes you feel you are in very capable hands. She has treated us all with great respect for our individual differences. I could not recommend her highly enough.”  – Carol Sullivan, teacher

“Bao Li was a great team leader. She encouraged us to work as a team. She taught us about the Chinese culture; she took good care of us and I will never forget her. Thank you, Bao Li!” – Sophia N., student

Travel in China

Bao Li visiting Flying Tigers Monument with volunteers

Bao Li Off The Clock

In her free time, Bao Li says she tries to spend as much time as she can with her son, before he grows up. She says, “It’s a life-time project to build a good man, you know. We read together, go to movies, and travel in China to at least one place a year. The best time is when our small family is all together on a trip.”

Travel in China

Bao Li with her family while visiting Beijing


Think you’d like to join a service program with Bao Li? Register now for a program in either Xi’an or Kunming, China. Or learn more about our China program here

Melissa, an attorney and mother of four boys aged nine to twelve, from Austin, Texas, was seeking a volunteer opportunity for two of her sons to give them hands-on experience with children and increase their global awareness. She decided on Global Volunteers’ Ecuador service program, where her boys could help take care of very young at-risk children.

While in Ecuador, Melissa, Ferrell (age 11), and Tommy (age 12) volunteered at a daycare center on the outskirts of the beautiful capital city of Quito. Because her boys had studied hand sewing at Montessori school and were learning Spanish, they were able to participate in a wide variety of projects in their one-week volunteering at the center. They worked in a classroom alongside a teacher, helping to take care of the children, do learning activities with them, feed them, wash their hands, and play with them. They also helped with a reading glass campaign in the community, distributing reading glasses to people who needed them. And to Melissa’s surprise, her boys were even eager to help with the sewing project, which was to make new curtains for the daycare center so the children would be protected from the equatorial sun during their afternoon nap.

Global awareness

Ferrell helping David and other children with their afternoon snack

Here’s an excerpt from the team journal entry that Melissa, Tommy, and Ferrell wrote:

“Our first day at Center 2 began with a tour of the facilities including an impressive display of many projects completed by previous teams. It is an honor to be part of this continuum of volunteer projects, all of which improve and enrich the lives of so many darling Ecuadorian children. We jumped right in and were hard at work. Our painting group made great progress on a sea theme mural by the sand box.

“Our eyeglass distribution team held the first day of “Optometry 101” for the local adults and families. We were able to fit several adults with their first pair of reading glasses and allow them to continue reading so they could work at their jobs and accomplish detailed tasks at home. Other groups assisted the busy teachers with childcare; classroom lessons; giving the kids lunch and snacks; and helping with hand washing, tooth brushing, and many other tasks throughout the day. We left with a sense of awe for what the center provides and what previous teams have accomplished. It was a true blessing to be given the opportunity to serve.”

Melissa says that volunteering together was a special family bonding experience for her boys and her, an experience they could not have had back home in Austin. She says she specifically sought out this experience to increase her boys’ global awareness.

“My boys connected with the children on a deep level. They looked forward to every day. My main goal of the trip was to expand their awareness of other cultures and others in need. Mission accomplished!”

During the goodbye celebration at the daycare center on their last day, Melissa spoke to the Ecuadorian teachers while tearing up, saying: “One of my goals for this trip was to show my children other cultures and how to care for other people. You all were the best role models for giving care and love and patience that I could have ever asked for. In addition to impacting a generation of Ecuadorians, you have impacted this generation (my children) in a very positive way. Thank you so much.”

Global awareness

Teacher Blanqi hugging Tommy as proud mother Melissa looks on

Melissa also shared that she was so impressed by her two sons and how willing they were to jump in and help where needed at the daycare center. They looked after the children and had fun with them. They put the children’s needs before their own, making Melissa a very proud mom.

Melissa also said, “This has reminded me how good it feels to connect with others and how rewarding it is to give to others.”

Global awareness

Melissa and her boys with their volunteer team and the daycare center staff in Ecuador

She enthusiastically shared one special moment in which she knew she had increased her sons’ global awareness and they had seen that there is more than one way to look at things:

“Great lessons in how different cultures approach things. My son Ferrell said, “Mom, I used to think everyone thought the same things I do.””

When describing this moment with her son, Melissa said she was just glowing. Mission accomplished!

Learn more more about family volunteering and global awareness in these blog posts:

While it’s never cited as the major motivation for joining a Global Volunteers Tanzania service program, a weekend trip to Ruaha National Park and Game Reserve can’t be topped.  This Tanzania safari destination is East Africa’s largest park and game reserve, about 40 miles from Iringa. It’s home to 10,000 elephants and over 500 species of birds, plus giraffes, lions, buffalo, cheetahs, leopards, hippos, baboons, zebras and antelope. And best yet – as compared to $2,500 up to $10,000 charged by commercial operators – the costs for this two-day Tanzania Safari is between $300 and $400. And, team members enjoy it just as much as so-called “luxury safaris.”

“When I applied, you didn’t tell me how much fun I was going to have!”
– Jim Colburn, Tanzania Volunteer

Tanzania Safari “Bonus:” A Volunteer’s Story

Team member Alyssa Kornowa writes about her Tanzania safari with seven other Global Volunteers at Ruaha National Park  – after a week of working with children and mothers in Ipalamwa.

Tanzania safari weekend trip

The landscape around Ipalama is green and vast.

“Our weekend guides Darrel and Joseph (driver) arrived and off we went! As we left Ipalamwa in daylight, we were able to see what we’d missed on our arrival in the dark. The landscape of the region is breathtaking – soaring mountains covered in countless shades of green; deep valleys where we see groves of fragrant eucalyptus and hillsides of farmed pine trees. The air is scented and cool. The rust red dirt adds to the beauty of the area. The road is bumpy, but the scenery and sense of adventure make the trip into Iringa. A short stop to take a “rest” and we head in a new undiscovered direction.

weekend tanzania safari road

The journey to a weekend away is bumpy, but scenic.

As we head to Ruaha we notice a dramatic change in the landscape. We leave the lush green and head into a flat, dry, monochromatic land of leafless trees some with the wildest Suessical shapes, especially the Baobab. More unpaved roads but the trick on the flat stretches is speed to minimize the jarring. It works!!

Tanzania safari trip to the savana

a drastic change in landscape – the baobabs are characteristic of the lowlands.

Our destination overlooks the Rift Valley!! The views from the lodge were amazing, stretching out from our individual cabins was a vast sea of grey leafless trees, the flat landscape was accentuated by mountains either singular or with a range. It looks so much like the high desert of California – once a seabed, is this the same geographic history? It’s also the same with Ipalamwa which to me looks like the mid-coast of California around San Simeon. I imagine this is what California might have looked like 200 years ago.

Tanzania safari lodge

The Ruaha Hill Top lodge is indeed on top of a hill!

The lodge is rustic and comfortable and the staff great us warmly. Dinner is buffet style and very good. After dinner, we are treated to the most wonderful night “star-vies.” The Milky Way and so many constellations which for a city dweller like me was a beautiful experience. We are off to sleep with open windows and nice breezes. We have an early start tomorrow for the safari.

A Full Safari Day – Saturday, September 9, 2017

We awoke this morning with the air blowing fresh through the barren trees as we anticipated the sun’s rise over the eastern mountains. A splash of golden color, and our day had begun. Ezra served us eggs, of course, along with cinnamon bread, fruit and some type of savory pancake. And juice of a mix of passionfruit and avocado. It was pretty delicious. We gathered up our things and left the lodge for our Tanzania safari, and a day of ADVENTURE it was! The number of animals we saw was unbelievable!

Impalas on tanzania safari

Impalas on our Tanzania safari adventure.

The large group split into two, with an open-air safari jeep and another jeep with a pop-up roof for 360 degree viewing. Park entries were paid by us, Joseph (our driver) and our guides Moses and Darrell and then we were on our way. Not even a few minutes into Ruaha National Park we were greeted by beautiful impala with their tan coats, stunning black and white markings, and spiked horns. Then came the kudu (greater and lesser), for which the park is known. As we rolled down the dusty road, we caught glimpses of the baboons and had our first encounters with giraffes, their long, black tongues plucking the red brush-like flowers from all that remains on the burning bush. During the dry season, this shrub is one of the only plants that sustains some of the animals. The bare trees left more opportunity to see the animals, but I think we all wondered what exactly it would be like during the rainy season when all the vegetation remained and varying shades of green quilted the landscape.

hippos on Tanzania safari

Our first stop was over the Ruaha River where we could view hippos and crocodiles from above. Many of us struggled to see the hippos as they appeared right before our eyes but blended in so well with the rocks. The crocodiles were very inactive as they sunbathed on the shore or slowly swam with their heads just above the surface. The birds we saw in the park often took a backseat to all the other animals but were impressive to watch in flight or when we could catch a glimpse of their colors. The birds included kingfishers, palm swifts, red-billed and ground hornbills, social weavers- who made nearly perfect round and golden grass nests- Guinea fowl- which frustrated Maynard to no end as he could never get a good photo before they scattered- tawny, batura, brown snake, and fish eagles, vultures, starlings, hammerkops, and saddle-billed storks, whose huge black and white wingspan and red markings and bill could be seen from a great distance. And these are just the birds that were pointed out to us. There were so many more.

lion on Tanzania safari

As we made our way through the 22,000 square kilometer park, we came upon zebras, water bucks, elephants, warthogs, mongoose, and finally gazelles and jackals. But some of the most impressive were the lions and leopards. Earlier this morning, Ezra said we were going to have a very good Tanzania safari day because we had the good fortune of seeing the baboon below us in the trees while eating breakfast. And he was right! While we were driving along the road, Moses had his eyes peeled for all animals and there he found, lying under a tree on a rock, a female leopard sitting perfectly still. She didn’t hardly move as we pulled right up alongside her. With her tail twitching slightly, she seemed to be unaffected by our presence. Whether this is good or bad, I don’t know. Moses was very excited to tell Darrel in the other vehicle and word was passed around to the other guides about the leopard’s location, since they are so rare to find.

Elephants on Tanzania safari

Our group stopped for a packed lunch near the dried riverbed where we could view some elephants who were digging their trunks in the sand to obtain any moisture that might remain below the ground. It was getting pretty hot so after lunch it didn’t seem like we saw as many animals out. They were probably trying to protect themselves from the heat. You could tell that the guides were looking for something special though, and it felt like we were in habitat where some lions might be. Suddenly, one of the guides spotted an area with a ton of vultures in the trees, and where there are vultures, there is most likely something dead for them to feed on. And where there is a fresh kill, there is oftentimes a lion. And this was exactly the case. Under the vultures lay a fairly fresh giraffe carcass, probably taken down by one of the 3 lions we found lying beneath a bush in the shade. It’s not a Tanzania safari without seeing lions feeding on a fresh kill. Again, the lions hardly noticed us as we pulled right up next to them. At this point, our day had pretty much been complete but not without seeing hundreds of impalas as we headed back to the entrance of the park.

Jeeps for Tanzania safari

But our day got even better with another type of adventure! We had to cross the dried riverbed once again before leaving the park so our guides told us to “hold on tight, always” as the big safari jeep tried to keep up its speed as it sunk into the sand. Joseph pressed on getting some magical traction from somewhere, leaving the smaller jeep with the other volunteers in the dust, now stuck in the hot sand. After crossing, our guide was able to connect with another vehicle that had a massive chain to tow the jeep. After about 20 minutes, we were again on our way. It’s hard to imagine what might happen without trusty guides and vehicles! It’s a long way to the park entrance!

As we ended our Tanzania safari, we passed through an “elephant graveyard”- not the type with skulls and bones but one with dead and fallen trees. We learned that the elephants strip the bark from mostly the massive baobab trees to obtain the calcium, nutrients, and moisture during the dry season. As the elephants strip the bark down low, they try to reach up further and further, even standing on their hind legs to get as much bark as they can. The stress this puts on the trees weakens it until eventually it becomes so deprived of its nutrients that it can topple down with the tug of an elephant’s trunk. The elephant, and then even some other animals, finish stripping the bark and remaining leaves, if any, and what’s left is a very blackened, dead-looking forest of downed trees. Driving through the “elephant graveyard” left an indescribable eerie feeling.

Somehow, we left the park feeling exhausted. It could be riding in the heat, but more likely it was just the fact that our senses were on overload all day as we tried to take in everything we could. Just after turning off the main road to head up to the lodge we saw yet another surprise! No, not a cheetah or water buffalo like we were hoping for to complete our Big 5 list, but the other jeep with a flat tire! One of the volunteers ironically had just asked Darrell how long tires last on a vehicle that puts up with so much abuse from the rough terrain – and not a minute or so later, bam… a flat tire! Thankfully these guys know what they are doing, and can have a flat fixed within minutes. How long would it take us since I’d bet most of us are either out of practice or have never even had to change a tire? It wasn’t long at all before the rest of the group joined us in receiving a  sweet cold towel from the lodge staff to wipe all the sweat and sand from our faces. Since we had some time before dinner we all freshened up and rested a little. Delicious peanut soup and salad, along with fish, vegetables, and potatoes were served for dinner. We reminisced about our day and soon everyone retired to their cottages, too tired from our Tanzania safari of a lifetime.”

Want a true humanitarian trip – helping mothers and children – and enjoy a Tanzania safari as a bonus?  Talk with a volunteer coordinator:

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Volunteer Voice: Read more about serving as a Global Volunteer in Ipalamwa, Tanzania from Tanzania volunteer alum Ruth Curran.