Frances (Fran) Johansen found Global Volunteers at a time in her life when she says she was dealing with “angst.” Her husband had recently passed away, she had retired and was thinking about what to do with the rest of her life. Fran describes how she found “a new home” with Global Volunteers. Beginning in 2011 with a Peru service program, Fran has served on 13 programs in less than ten years: four in the Cook Islands, three in India, and once each in Nepal, Peru, Poland, St. Lucia, Tanzania, and Vietnam. She says she continues to serve and donate because her world is “richer and bigger” because of her experiences with Global Volunteers. Read more here in her own words.
How did you happen to find Global Volunteers at a pivotal time in your life?
Within months after I retired as an attorney serving the State Bar of Arizona and the Arizona Supreme Court, I lost my loving husband. I felt a great deal of angst as I explored who I was and what I would do with the remaining years of my life to make a difference. My years of purpose serving as a teacher and then as a lawyer were past. At a law school gathering around this time, a couple of Global Volunteers told me about the organization. Because my life had been one of service, as I listened, I knew I could find a new home with Global Volunteers. With its commitment and experience of providing service that is both needed and requested, Global Volunteers actually provides appropriate services by listening to the local people and working along with them. That philosophy is compatible with mine. I continue to serve because it gives purpose to my life, I know that I am providing the right kind of service, and working beside the volunteers and people from other places is rewarding. I’ll continue to serve as a Global Volunteer until it is no longer an option because of health reasons. My world is so much richer and bigger because of Global Volunteers.
“I continue to serve because it gives purpose to my life, I know that I am providing the right kind of service because of Global Volunteers’ philosophy; working beside the volunteers and people from other places is rewarding.”– Fran Johansen
What motivates you to donate to Global Volunteers?
Global Volunteers, as an organization, is a great steward of resources that are donated. I know that they will use any monetary donation wisely and any other gifts will be used to advantage the location where they are delivered. Particularly now – during the pandemic. Groundwork needs to be laid. Things need to be done for people even when we can’t be there and I know those things are important for continuing to help communities. I’m very careful about sending money or giving money to places where I know it’s being used and used wisely because I want my buck to go further. And I know it does with Global Volunteers. I know that if I give a dollar, that dollar is going to be used to make life better for someone in this world. The overhead costs are small. I’ve grown to know members of the family that founded and work at Global Volunteers and I know their dedication. And so it’s a rather personal choice to say, this is where my money needs to go.
What do you feel you receive when you share your skills with people of other cultures?
I feel most fortunate and blessed because there are those not as fortunate to travel to faraway lands to serve the needs of people in other lands. I have discovered that sharing my Global Volunteer experiences with others helps them to understand and creates the desire either to serve by being a volunteer or by contributing funds to the good cause of Global Volunteers. In my mind, it is like serving twice, by providing my own service and by assuring that others also contribute or serve. I not only help others, but my life is richer for learning and experiencing other cultures. For example, the women of Nepal shared the story about their special holiday and invited me to celebrate it with them. Yet, while I received the gift of experiencing their culture, I also knew that these women were so grateful for the service my Global Volunteer partner and I provided that some were moved to tears. How can one not be touched and blessed by the opportunity to be a part of all of that?
“Global Volunteers, as an organization, is a great steward of resources that are donated. I know that they will use any monetary donation wisely and any other gifts will be used to advantage the location where they are delivered.”– Fran Johansen
What can you say about how you felt being received in our host communities around the world?
First of all, Global Volunteers lays the groundwork so beautifully that when you arrive, they are all ready, with open arms to receive you. Of course, on most programs, they have had volunteers there before. They are more than ready to be your friend and to guide you in how they can use your services. I’ve never had anything but wonderful things happen whenever I’ve gone to another country with Global Volunteers.
What was it like volunteering and sharing that experience with your granddaughter in Zakopane, Poland?
It’s just such a special experience to serve with family members. Truly it is. My granddaughter, Betz, had just graduated from high school. We got to Zakopane and met Dorota, who is just magic. We volunteered at a children’s language camp. We had so much fun working with the students there. It was just amazingly wonderful and it was great to share that with Betz. After that, she fell in love with that part of the country. She studied at and graduated from the University of Washington and took part of her studies in that part of Europe for a term. She ended up with a minor in Russian culture and language. She even took breaks to just go back to see people in that part of the world that she grew to love, which she would not have done had she not gone with me. It was incredible because it gave me a chance to spend time with my granddaughter for more time. I live in Arizona and I have no family that lives near me. Having Betz with me for that length of time was very special. I just wish I could do that with more of my grandchildren.
“It was incredible because it gave me a chance to spend time with my granddaughter for more time. I live in Arizona and I have no family that lives near me. Having Betz with me for that length of time was very special. I just wish I could do that with more of my grandchildren.”– Fran Johansen
You’ve also served alone on several programs. How do you advise other people who are considering solo travel with Global Volunteers?
Be not afraid! Go for it! Your life will be a bigger life, and the rewards are indescribable. You will volunteer with some of the finest people on this earth and you will meet interesting people from all over the world. For me it is a better experience than just being the tourist who just experiences the rind of the fruit of travel. If one volunteers, one experiences the fruit. I have traveled with a granddaughter and a daughter as we shared Global Volunteer adventures, one in Tanzania and the other in Poland. Traveling with family is also a big bonus.Traveling solo has given me the opportunity to meet and make friends as I travel from my home to lands far away and when I arrive at the site of my volunteer service in ways that I might never experience if I had a travel companion. Here are just two examples, although I could share many more:
I am waiting to board my plane in a small Asian airport where I meet a remarkable woman. We begin a conversation and I learn she is traveling to a remote war-torn area to provide counseling and support to women who are victims of the strife and violence in the area. She literally heads to places of danger to help women. She and a friend retired from another service and sought a way to serve; they decided they had the courage and the compassion and the training to aid these women victims. WOW! I would not have had the opportunity to have a conversation with this marvelous woman or even known of her experiences had I traveled with a companion.
I awake from drifting off in a short nap in the Dubai airport’s line of “napping chaises” to be greeted by a young man resting next to me. We talk and I learn he is returning to his small village in Afghanistan where his family and friends will celebrate his success in the “outside” world. I learn about his village, his family, and his life. In memory of the occasion, we took selfies of the two of us together. I would not have enjoyed this experience if I were traveling with a companion.
Each solo trip has been filled with delightful experiences that I would not have had if I were traveling with a companion.
“Go for it! Your life will be a bigger life and the rewards are indescribable. You will volunteer with some of the finest people on this earth and you will meet interesting people from all over the world.”– Fran Johansen
Why do you plan to serve with Global Volunteers again?
Because it’s my reason for getting up every day. It is my reason for being. At least one of them.
What are you most looking forward to when resuming travel this year?
I long to be with friends and volunteers, many of whom have become like family. I look forward to providing services with the knowledge that we are accomplishing amazing things because they know me and what I can do and I know the communities and leaders. In addition, I look forward to discovering yet other places to serve. I have already made my deposit to return to the Cook Islands when it is possible to do so. I can hardly wait to go back there because it’s like family there. And I also hope to explore a place I have not yet experienced.
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