Volunteer Team Leader Louise Mollick (second from right) began volunteering with Global Volunteers in 2015 and has served as a team member or Volunteer Team Leader four times in Cuba and once each in India, Montana, Tanzania, and Vietnam. In this first-person story Louise describes how she was forever changed when serving on her first service program in Cuba (pictured above) with her sister and husband. She describes each service program she’s participated in and the richness of working with people who are drawn together around a common philosophy of service to make the world a better place.
by Louise Mollick, Volunteer Team Leader
My Upbringing and Background
I live with my husband and our black lab in a first ring suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the same town where my three grown children, their spouses, their dogs, and my four delightful grandchildren live and fill my heart.
I was born in Nebraska and moved from there at a very young age. I spent most of my childhood just outside New York City. I was the middle of three girls. Our parents instilled in us the importance of family, the value of a good education, a love for reading, and an appreciation for music and the arts.
After completing high school, I entered a small liberal arts college in Ohio where I earned a BA in education. During the next ten years I taught every elementary school grade level in a variety of ways (school librarian, reading specialist, classroom teacher, and tutor). I married Carl, had three babies, and moved many times, living in Ohio, California, Nebraska, Virginia, and Minnesota.
I left teaching to attend Trinity Lutheran Seminary where I earned a master’s degree in theology. After five years of study, with more questions than answers, I graduated and was ordained. I served the Church for 25 years as a pastor whose primary work was to build diverse communities of mutual respect, authentic hospitality, social justice, and compassion in a number of different settings.
My life as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, educator, pastor, advocate, and friend has been one of constantly honing my skills, molding my temperament, nourishing relationships, and fueling my passion for making this world a better place for everyone.
Something Inside Me Changed When I First Served With Global Volunteers
And in all of that, travel had become a huge part of my life. I’ve seen a good deal of the U.S. and a bit of Canada. I hitchhiked through Europe staying mostly in youth hostels and sometimes in train stations. I visited Central and South America, canoed on the Amazon, watched the sunrise over Machu Picchu and went horseback riding in the Andes. I spent 35 days covering nearly 6,000 miles in a truck camping my way through seven countries in eastern Africa — from Nairobi to Johannesburg — and I had a wonderful time with friends in Thailand traipsing through as many Buddhist temples as miles I traversed in Africa!
In 2015, my adventures took a turn. I thank my older sister who shared my love for going to different places around the world and who shared a longing for our trips to be more than just seeing historical landmarks and masterpieces, more than simply enjoying sunsets and breathtaking landscapes. She turned to the internet to look for a trip to somewhere where maybe we could make a difference. She discovered Global Volunteers and called me.
When my sister, my husband, and I landed in Cuba for our first Global Volunteers experience, something inside me changed. From the very beginning I was being filled in a whole new way. At the end of the trip, the volunteers were asked to write evaluations. I didn’t. I needed more time to process. When I got home, I called Global Volunteers and asked to meet with someone so that I could do that face to face. I spent more than an hour and a half with a volunteer coordinator who patiently listened to everything that spilled out.
“When my sister, my husband, and I landed in Cuba for our first Global Volunteers experience, something inside me changed.”– Louise Mollick, Volunteer Team Leader
Just a month later, I found myself sitting in a room surrounded by folks who were seasoned travelers, country managers, volunteer coordinators, valued support staff, and fellow team leaders in training. I heard the story of Global Volunteers, its inception, its growing pains, its reason for celebration, its principles, philosophy, values, and vision. I was hooked!
A few months later I was in India, with my sister, playing with little ones, singing songs, and reading stories. I met people who were generous with hugs and hospitality. Stephen, our team leader, and Sheeba, his wife, always seemed to know what we needed before we did. I watched Stephen lead meetings, schedule our workdays, and shepherd us through masses of people, cars, carts, and cattle with skill and efficiency and calmness. (What I learned about team leading from observing Stephen is with me on every trip I take.) At one of our daily meetings, a fellow volunteer lamented over the immense need she saw everywhere in Chennai. How could we possibly make a difference in just two short weeks? Stephen responded. He spoke of the ever-flowing stream of volunteers that meanders through the lives of the people there. When one team leaves the next one follows. We do this all together through the years and we, indeed, do make a difference. As if on cue, three lovely young women arrived – dropping in just to say hello. They told us how their lives were transformed because of volunteers who had come to share their hearts with them. Now college students, they changed our lives as they shared their hearts with us, joy bubbling over, telling us stories, pinning jasmine in our hair, and painting our hands with henna.
“How could we possibly make a difference in just two short weeks? Stephen responded. He spoke of the ever-flowing stream of volunteers that meanders through the lives of the people there. When one team leaves the next one follows. We do this all together through the years and we, indeed, do make a difference.”– Louise Mollick, Volunteer Team Leader
The first team that I led was on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape, the staggering poverty, and the challenge of creating an effective team out of a group of strangers from California, New York, Australia, and beyond. They were ages nine to 70 something! During orientation we clicked! We worked at the ranch, served meals at the community center, set up a book sale at the library and delivered meals on wheels. I left the reservation having learned a lot and realizing still how little I know about the first peoples of our land and how much they have to teach us about strength, survival, culture, trust, and hope.
I went back to Ciego de Ávila, Cuba, again with my sister and my husband, to reconnect with the people I had met before. This time to lead a team of volunteers into the gardening, the crafting, the English conversations, the games, the music, the dancing, the carriage rides, the rice and beans, the coffee, and the laughter. It was great! I returned to Cuba several more times as team leader, each time falling more deeply in love with the people and their vibrant, proud culture.
When I was a little girl, I dreamed of going to Africa. Literally it was a recurring dream. Not of safaris and big game but of walking on a red clay road into a village where drums could be heard and I could see colorful fabric wrapped around the bodies of Black mamas carrying their babies on their backs. When I arrived in Ipalamwa, Tanzania I felt like I had entered my dream. And so much more – a classroom brimming with youngsters to teach, a field to run and play on, a clinic soon to open, well baby visits to make, EarthBoxes to plant, hand-washing stations to install, and seedlings of hope rising everywhere. How I long to go back!
“When I was a little girl, I dreamt of going to Africa. Literally it was a recurring dream. Not of safaris and big game but of walking on a red clay road into a village where drums could be heard and I could see colorful fabric wrapped around the bodies of Black mamas carrying their babies on their backs. When I arrived in Ipalamwa, Tanzania I felt like I had entered my dream.”– Louise Mollick, Volunteer Team Leader
Next, I led a team in Hanoi, Vietnam, a city where the traffic is daunting, the food is amazing, and the people are curious, polite, hardworking, and happy. Education is a priority, so our presence in the schools is highly valued. The students are eager to learn the English language and the vast differences in American culture. The highlight for me was the spa where people with visual impairment are trained to be massage therapists. The volunteers assisted the therapists and receptionists with English skills to help them with scheduling and conversing with the clients… and the therapists gave the best massages ever.
Ready and Eager to Return to Travel with Purpose
In 2020, I had hoped to return to Cuba and Vietnam and to add Ecuador to my growing list of favorite places in the world. I was looking forward to volunteering with family at Rosebud in South Dakota.
COVID hit. Instead of traveling with a purpose, I had to stay home and find a new purpose in place. I plowed through the books that had been stacked up on my night table, I pored over cookbooks to find new recipes to prepare, I thanked Netflix for all the series and movies I enjoyed. I knitted scarves, prayer shawls, lap blankets, pillow covers, and donations for Hats for the Homeless. I studied Spanish. I learned to draw simple cartoons with my grandchildren (Zoom and ArtHub for kids were a godsend). I exercised each morning with my sisters via the internet, and walked the trails of countless state and county parks.
And now I am excited, renewed, and ready. I have returned to the volunteer work I had done locally before the pandemic – assisting a teacher at Park Spanish Immersion School, leading a circle of prayer at Open Circle Adult Day Care, and ushering at Stages Children’s Theater.
And above all, I look forward to re-engaging with Global Volunteers where people are drawn together, rallying around a common philosophy of service, and living the truth that it is the gift of our diversity that makes us better, richer, wiser, and more respectful of everyone. Yes! I’m ready to move forward on the journey to wage peace and promote justice around the globe! Please join me.
What Volunteers Say about Louise
“Louise is an excellent team leader who is collaborative, friendly, knowledgeable, and extremely effective at ensuring everyone is productive and immersed in the local culture.” – Donny Closson, Cuba volunteer
“Louise was very pleasant and open with our team. She led us through our various highs and lows and was always smiling and comforting. I feel indebted to her for the TLC she provided.” – Susan Christian, Vietnam volunteer
“Louise is professional and compassionate and upheld the integrity of the Global Volunteer’s ethos. She cares about the team, the team members, and truly volunteers from the heart. Louise is very clear on the rules; what should and should not be done; and uses them to guide the team. I have never seen Louise take any liberties with the Global Volunteers guidelines and in a place like central Cuba, this is so crucial. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Louise under her caring guidance. I would totally work with her in Ciego again. I love Louise.” – Gwen Tran, Cuba volunteer
“I cannot say enough about Louise. I cannot say a bad thing about Louise. Anyone would be lucky to get her as a leader.” – Robin Wiles, Cuba volunteer
“And above all, I look forward to re-engaging with Global Volunteers where people are drawn together, rallying around a common philosophy of service, and living the truth that it is the gift of our diversity that makes us better, richer, wiser, and more respectful of everyone.”– Louise Mollick, Volunteer Team Leader