First-Time Volunteer Successfully Fundraises for Cuba Service Program
Many volunteers fundraise for their service program contribution by working with Global Volunteers staff to create a fundraising page. It’s easy to do! Volunteers commonly tell us that they were joyfully surprised by how many people in their lives wanted to support their volunteering — and did. Here, Don Diehl shares his story of how he decided to volunteer in Cuba and the wonderful success he had in fundraising his entire service program contribution. Read on for details.
by Don Diehl
Dedication to Service
I am a retired teacher and now a private tutor. Several years ago, Barbara Morris contacted me to help her improve her Spanish skills as a tutor. So, she became my student and she and I still work together several years later.
That first time she called for my help, she was preparing to go to Cuba, I think for the first time. So, that was my first exposure to Global Volunteers. I asked her to put me on her email list because she was planning to send some sort of blog, or updates, and photos of her time in Cuba. She did. And she’s a great writer and her observations and ideas reminded me of myself when I was in my twenties. I’m 55 now.
Back in college, I was a Spanish and International Relations major. My first travel experience abroad was in Mexico when I was 19. I lived with a host family for three weeks and studied at a language school. I was hooked. I returned on my own the following summer and continued to study in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico. I lived with the same family again, and that time I stayed three months. I began traveling through study abroad programs offered by my college: China and England. After college, I joined the Peace Corps. Being fluent in Spanish, I requested a Spanish-speaking country. I ended up in Honduras.
I arrived in Honduras in 1990. After three months of training in the capital, I was assigned to work with the Ministry of Health in the western mountains of Honduras, not far from the El Salvadoran and Guatemalan borders. I lived there for the next three years — in La Esperanza, Intibuca. At that time, AIDS was the pandemic that was killing people. I became an HIV/AIDS prevention worker and that’s what got me into schools and teaching. I ended up training teachers and medical personnel in that area all about how they could teach sex education, STD prevention, and especially HIV/AIDS prevention education to young people. I ended up training a couple of thousand teachers and health workers, not only in my area, but all over the country.
After three years with the Peace Corps, I stayed in Honduras another two years on my own, and moved to the capital city and got a job teaching at a private American school for wealthy families. I taught sixth grade. I much preferred working in the poverty stricken areas like I had in Peace Corps, compared to that time with the super wealthy at the American school.
I returned to the U.S. after those two years of teaching, in 1995, and served as an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer back home in Colorado for another year. I used my Spanish and helped migrant farm worker women get connected with domestic abuse services all over Colorado. That year of volunteering helped me ease back into the U.S. — reverse culture shock coming back home was very difficult to deal with. I found that I needed to use my Spanish every day and work with people in need as a way to readjust to American society. That year helped me by doing more volunteer work.
In 1996, I moved to Detroit, Michigan and got my graduate degree in Elementary Education, while I taught in inner city Detroit for two years. Then I came back to Denver and I’ve been teaching kids in the inner city ever since. I got sick and decided to leave the public education world about eight years ago and I started my own private tutoring business, and that’s how I met Barbara.
I tell you all this because when Barbara went to Cuba that first time and included me in her mailing list, it reminded me of myself. All those years ago, in Honduras, I sent out a monthly newsletter. Back at that time, there was no internet. I hand wrote my monthly letters, mailed them to my parents, who received them three weeks later, then they typed them up on good old typewriters, made Xerox copies, and mailed them out by hand and snail mail to many people. I think maybe over 50 people, if I remember correctly. We did that for the whole three years I was in the Peace Corps. Outreach to others and education of Americans about “Third World” countries is a key part of the mission of the Peace Corps.
So, Barbara brought all those memories back and in the last several years, I’ve continued helping her with her Spanish and she’s included me in all of her adventures with Global Volunteers — South Dakota a couple of times, on the reservations, Ecuador, and Paraguay, and of course, Cuba. Her stories and her experiences working with people in need and Global Volunteers feels like what I’ve done my whole life, but I haven’t gone abroad in quite a while. So, I think it’s high time to give it a go!
Cuban Friends Deepened My Interest in the Island
Why Cuba? Growing up here in Denver, my best friend’s dad is Cuban. He came to the U.S. when he was twelve. He’s now 80. He has shared slides and stories many times with me over the years. I actually connected him to Barbara and her husband, Phil, that first trip she took to Cuba years ago. He had us all over to his house and gave Barbara and Phil a crash course on Cuba before she left. So, I have always wanted to go to Cuba because of Waldemar. He is an amazing human being and has always been interested in my travels and volunteer work. I’ve been all over Latin America, but never to any of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries.
I know that traveling to Cuba is not always that easy on your own. When Barbara asked if I wanted to go to Cuba with her, I immediately said YES! I knew the cost of the whole thing would not be in my budget and when I investigated further and found out that fundraising for the costs was possible, I was in for sure!
Because of Cuba’s isolation due to political reasons, it’s a bit of a time capsule in a way. I’ll see architecture, cars, lifestyles that are throwbacks to the 1940s/50s/60s that you just don’t see anywhere else in the world. I’m excited about that. I love Cuban food, because of my friend Waldemar, and I look forward to eating the real thing, IN CUBA!
“I know that traveling to Cuba is not always that easy on your own. When Barbara asked if I wanted to go to Cuba with her, I immediately said YES! I knew the cost of the whole thing would not be in my budget and when I investigated further and found out that fundraising for the costs was possible, I was in for sure!”– Don Diehl, volunteer who will be serving in Cuba in June 2022
Fundraising & Finding Overwhelming Support for my Service
I’m excited to serve with Barbara, and I guess Phil is going along, too now! That will make a HUGE difference! We are almost like family, she and I, after all these years of Spanish learning and practice. She’ll be the team leader and I’m anxious to get to see her Spanish in action! The trip will be much more meaningful, I’m sure, because I’ll be with friends.
I can’t believe how fast my fundraising went! In less than a month I raised like $3,700! One family in particular did make a large donation of $1,200. At first, I thought that was a mistake, but then I called them and spoke to them. Kadi, one of my students’ moms, told me how my story of volunteering with the Peace Corps and VISTA reminded her of when she had gone on mission trips with her church when she was a teenager. I’ve tutored her son for a few years now. He has a lot of struggles with school and since COVID, I’ve met with him three days a week, so I have built a deeper bond with their family. They wanted to do something for me and they made a large donation.
I sent out my donation requests by email to over 100 people. All my family friends from long ago, as well as personal friends, but also to all of my previous and current clients in tutoring. I also sent it to several old Peace Corps contacts. Yay! I told people about my past volunteering. Many of them didn’t know my story until I sent out the link that Angie Swanson (Global Volunteers Development Director) helped me create. She helped me create a link to the donation page and I included that in my email and sent it to everyone — and within five minutes, the first donation came in from Barbara herself! Ha!
“I can’t believe how fast my fundraising went!”– Don Diehl, first-time volunteer who fundraised his complete service program contribution
I was at first surprised by how many donations I received. The big one from Kadi and her husband, Mike, astounded me. But, it made sense once she shared her connections. It’s shown me how many people want to support me in my service adventures. Learning about my past volunteer work was key to getting so much buy in, I think. I have been so blessed and lucky with all of my adventures. Now, 30 years later, I’ve got the itch again! I’m ready!
When you volunteer, as part of international travel, you really get to know the local people and customs at a deep level. When I travel as a tourist, I am in my own world as a tourist, doing touristy things, but never getting to build relationships with people, getting to share experiences with local people, sharing food and time together, sweating and working together, sharing pieces of each other’s cultures, communicating, laughing, making mistakes with language together. Those experiences can form incredible bonds and in a very short time!
Service work has been a key part to my becoming who I am today. It’s been a long time since I’ve traveled for service work, but I’ve never stopped being of service. I do it every day in my teaching. I’m blessed to have a career that has service as its foundation. I learned that from my parents who were amazing teachers! They have served the Denver community in many ways over the decades. They’re now 80. My mom has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t remember all the incredible work she did for decades helping children and families in Denver. I was raised watching Mom and Dad serve their community. I, too, have tried to do the same thing. The difference is that I’ve taken it beyond Denver and done the work internationally.
“I was at first surprised by how many donations I received. It’s shown me how many people want to support me in my service adventures.”– Don Diehl
The key to all of my volunteering comes from the Peace Corps idea that I need to educate other people (here at home) as much as I can about the world and the people in it. Sharing my experiences with others is one of the most important aspects of volunteering! I’ve already got lots of people who donated to my trip asking me for info and details about what I’ll be doing. I’ve got my new “newsletter” mailing list ready!
I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be doing this again after 30 years! I went through my old stuff the other day and found all of the old newsletters that my parents and I sent out to people 30 years ago about my adventures in Honduras! I’m enjoying reading them again all these years later. Yay! I’m ready to do the same thing in Cuba now!
Don will be serving on the service program in Cuba starting on June 11, 2022. Stay tuned to our blog and social media for updates on this first team to resume our program in Cuba.
Fundraising for a service program is easy! Contact Development Director Angie Swanson today to get started on your own fundraising page:
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