#19 “A Closer Look”

Be The Change – Episode #19

We know that things are rarely as they first seem.  It’s natural to approach new experiences with expectations of how they might unfold.  But, if we’re truly open-minded, our discoveries can be much greater than we first imagined.

Our storytellers share how this dynamic works on volunteer programs, each with a personal view on taking a closer look.

First, Cindy eloquently relates how volunteers who suspend their assumptions can enrich their volunteer experience. “Those are the people, when at the end of the week, have been moved – have been touched the most.”

Lisa says you might understand a need from your own limited experience, but a closer look often reveals another side. Her hard-hitting example may sound familiar to you.

Being part of a volunteer team is how Julie and her daughters gained valuable perspective. Fast forward – they’re still learning!

Summing up, our Ecuador Country Manager, Maggie, recalls how a high-achieving team member was forced to consider how a simpler solution might be the best course.  This is a lesson for all of us!

Episode storytellers: Cindy, Lisa, Julie, and Maggie

#18 “Taking it In”

Be The Change – Episode #18

Carol, an anthropologist and university professor, relates how the experience of working with local people in a non-assumptive way has reframed her daily life in a positive way.

“Just give me a translator and a stethoscope,” Lisa said when she first landed on a Global Volunteers program. She quickly learned that she had to find her “inner teacher” to help make sense of the service give-and-take for those she served, and for herself.

Jeff says the most important benefit he gains personally by working through Global Volunteers is the sense of accomplishment, visibly from day to day, and also on a “heart and soul” level.

Providing direct service in Cuba captured Mike and Elisa’s imagination in surprising ways, and they quickly learned how that experience lays the foundation for future inner reflection and motivation.

Episode storytellers: Carol, Lisa, Jeff, Mike, and Elisa

#17 “Links in a Chain”

Be The Change – Episode #17

Why do some volunteers return to serve the same community time after time – sometimes several years annually?  What have they discovered about how they can affect change?

Our first story teller says a legacy of service brought her back to Tanzania. “You’re part of a long chain of providing service and hope and community” says Lisa.  Two weeks of your life can have a profound, long-term impact, especially when you’re part of a stream of volunteers returning year after year.  It’s the continuity that makes the difference.

Pam, who has led over 50 volunteer teams has personal experience witnessing the change in a community over time. “When you see what happens, the little, little bit that you do.  And the next person does a little bit, that’s what it is.” She says the work of leading Global Volunteers teams is repaid by experiencing the contributions every team makes.

“What can a short-term volunteer do in just a couple weeks?” Jeff asks. It may not be obvious at first. He retells the story of Liliana and José in Ciego de Ávila, Cuba.  His answer may surprise you, but it’s sure to encourage you.

Mike, our final storyteller, offers a youthful perspective on this question. “We must be doing something right,” he says.  “I can take the first step, and afterwards, someone else will come and carry on our work.” It’s a model he asserts should be followed by every volunteer effort.

Episode storytellers: Lisa, Pam, Jeff, and Mike

#16 “Heart Stories”

Be The Change – Episode #16

Do you ever wonder about your place in the world? Sometimes, we have to take a leap of faith in to discover the true impact we can have. In this episode, our storytellers open up about the moments that brought this reality into focus.  And how it changed them.

Pam tells us about being moved on her first team leading experience in Romania.  She realized how profoundly needy the children were; one baby in particular who had little physical tone or strength. When she returned three months later, she was astonished by the child’s improvement in the meantime – through sustained volunteer care and love.

Daniel talks about what happens AFTER a volunteer team leaves – from the perspective of one who lives inside the community served by Global Volunteers. “I do see the effect the volunteers have over the years.  The children see they keep coming and spend time with them.” Daniel cites how in the children’s home in Lima, the children refer to volunteers as “Hannah” because they remember how caring and attentive this special volunteer was, and the long-term feeling she left in their hearts.

Ken beautifully capsulizes the pure and penetrating human connection possible, as a volunteer caring for a child with hydrocephalus. “He couldn’t react much, but I played him a lot of Joan Baez and Grateful Dead on my Iphone. The first time I saw him he grabbed my heart.”

Jeff reflects on the realization that volunteers have throughout the world: “There’s more to be seen…there’s more to be taken in…  The people are anxious to become friends, and accept what you have to offer.” That’s how you experience the true heart and soul of a community.

Episode storytellers: Pam, Daniel, Ken, and Jeff


#15 “Flying High”

Be The Change – Episode #15

Being asked to stretch outside our comfort zones can be exhilarating and intimidating. The “can-do” spirit arising from a team of devoted volunteers can gently push individuals to apply themselves in unexpected new ways. Our storytellers report that contributing personal skills and talents in a new setting can feel like “flying high in service.”

Carol describes how, as a team leader, she helped community leaders engage volunteers in a wide variety of unplanned ways to maximize their contributions to children and families.

Lynn recalls the highlight of her Cuba program was the opportunity to use some of her marketing skills to teach a Cuban tour operator how to sell his service to English-speaking tourists.

Pam gained new skills she never thought she’d need – carrying rocks on her head for a mile from a riverbed to a road in Ipalamwa, Tanzania!

Our new storyteller is a professional trainer. Donna explains how she provided business consulting to Chinese entrepreneurs in Xi’an.

Episode storytellers: Carol, Lynn, Pam, and Donna

#14 “Philosophy of Service Part One”

Be The Change – Episode #14

The most important question you can ask about your own volunteer service is: What impact do I hope to make? Global Volunteers’ co-founder Michele Gran and board member Carol Conzelman explain how to truly help others, wage peace, and promote justice directly and appropriately.

The “magic happens,” says Michele, “when you wholeheartedly serve others. You can be significant in ways you’ve never imagined.” You can truly change the world!

Episode storytellers: Carol and Michele

#13 “Hand in Hand”

Be The Change – Episode #13

In this episode, our storytellers talk about the transformative power of person-to-person service within their relationships as couples. They express in different ways how service strengthened their bond by allowing them to witness how they each care for and learn from others.

Greg is clear about the value he derives from teamwork with his wife, Marcia. “Serving together as a couple affirms our belief in each other…we work well together.  Just sitting across the room from her and teaching…I really enjoy watching her work with children.”

Carol and Dean have extended their love of volunteering to groups of friends and couples to join them on their service programs. Together, the added perspectives expand their experience and deepens their understanding of local people, the culture and the joy of service.  “When we came home, we could share the experience over and over and over,” says Dean.

Even the “hard” lessons enhance understanding between a couple. Barbara, a physician describes a time she and her husband, also a physician, examined children living in Quito’s poverty.  “We had never worked together, and this was new for us. We learned something about each other’s strengths and challenges.” Visiting a family on the fringes was “eye-opening,” she said. Witnessing the children’s home life together was an important experience for them as a couple, Barbara says.

Episode storytellers: Greg and Marcia, Carol and Dean, and Barbara

#12 “The Gift”

Be The Change – Episode #12

Service to others is at its core is a selfless act. So many unexpected gifts stream from this one act – reciprocal benefits to the giver and receiver. Our storytellers address this dynamic head-on, describing how giving and receiving the gift of service has changed their lives. It’s important to understand the true meaning of “gift” in this context. A gift, by definition, is “something given voluntarily without expectation of payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance; a present.”

Michele Gran, Global Volunteers co-founder, sets the focus of the conversation: “There’s so much richness, knowledge, and innovation in the communities where we work,” she says. Describing community leaders as “Some of the most intelligent, resourceful, gifted people I’ve ever met in my life,” she continues; “It’s here you can observe how people can accomplish so much with so little,” and have so much to give volunteers.

In describing a celebration in Ecuador, Barbara said the greatest gift – hands down – of that program for her husband and her together, was the gratitude, in the form of hugs and kisses from the children, that so clearly summed up the elevated mutual regard they had achieved through service.

A retired couple, Marcia and Greg, say they revere the gifts of understanding and insight every host community has given them. “The love the people share with you….and learning about other cultures and religions is a great gift,” says Greg. Marcia adds she’s learned that yearning for basic needs the world over – safety for our families, clean water and good food, for example – is the gift inside our common humanity.

Gila quickly adds: “You come back with so, so, so much more than you gave.”

Episode storytellers: Michele, Barbara, Marcia and Greg, and Gila

#11 “The Ripple Effect”

Be The Change – Episode #11

We continue our conversations with Cindy, Lynn and Jeff:  What service projects impacted them the most, and how did those efforts ripple out across the community?  Jeff helped build a wall in a poverty-stricken family’s home, and through his work, obtained insight unavailable to tourists and “average” travelers to Cuba.

Cindy recalls four volunteers from Maui on her team on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation who joined to connect with other indigenous Americans.  To highlight their own culture, the group of four performed a traditional dance for elders at an assisted living center.

Lynn connected her English-language student, whose dream is to fly airplanes, with a retired airline pilot on her volunteer team- widening the young man’s vision of future possibilities.

Episode storytellers: Jeff, Cindy, and Lynn

#10 “Volunteering in Vietnam”

Be The Change – Episode #10

Three volunteers tell their own personal stories about what compelled them to serve in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Pam, a long-time Vietnam team leader, is drawn to a particular service project more than others – helping young blind adults learn English to improve their limited future career opportunities.  Her motivation is close to her heart – and her story will make you reflect on the pivotal role we can each play in others’ lives.

Julie was most impressed by how the Vietnamese she worked with, living in poverty, welcomed her with joy and acceptance. She says: “I never expected the graciousness and the warmth” emanating toward team members from the local people. She came to realize that in their richness of spirit, that “they had everything and I had nothing.”

Joe reads the journal of his service program roommate, John, a Vietnam veteran who returned to Vietnam for the first time since he left in 1970 during the war.  “I needed to see it first-hand,” says John. “I came back to do something, however small, to help rebuild a developing country I helped to destroy; to show the Vietnamese that there are Americans who care about them; that there are veterans…who care.” He continues:  “I’m going home knowing that the war in Vietnam, and the war in me, is finally over.”

Episode storytellers: Pam, Julie, and Joe

#9 “Farther Reach”

Be The Change – Episode #9

The world has gotten a lot “smaller” for most of us through technology, media and international tourism.  But, to truly achieve a global perspective, one must walk a more erstwhile path. It may sound contradictory, but often, slowing down can speed up learning.

This episode explores the payback for taking time to reach out farther.  Giving back to the world in an intentional, relaxed way is a common draw for each of our storytellers.  The “call” for most Global Volunteers is to reach out farther – and demonstrate authentic care, intense interest, and an optimistic view of life.

For Joe, the most compelling aspect of reaching out is the team dynamic around a common purpose.  He says “the most profound sense is… like you’ve known (team members) forever.  They’re called to come together in this new place where you are.”

Mike says overcoming his introversion by “pushing on for two hours of small talk and conversion” through English lessons in Cuba created a comfortable commonality with a local surgeon – someone he was surprised to connect with.

Tim talks about how Global Volunteers’ Philosophy of Service enables individuals “promote positive change” among people who want and appreciate their support. This can bring a world divided to a place of understanding.

Gila concludes: It’s “life changing, life altering” to return with “so, so much more than you gave.”  The urge is to take an inventory of your own life – and in the context of all you have, and all you have to give, to embrace the world wholeheartedly.

Episode storytellers: Joe, Mike, Tim, and Gila

#8 “Get to know Mexico”

Be The Change – Episode Eight

You might be surprised by all that awaits south of the U.S. border. Mexico is a magnetic tourist destination – but more, the country draws volunteers motivated to make a difference in the lives of young adults preparing for a productive career. Seen from a humanitarian perspective, the small, hospitable town Global Volunteers serves is an enclave of dreamers and strivers alike.

Senior and student volunteers especially are passionate about teaching conversational English on university campuses. Experienced Mexico travelers are gratified to engage the colorful culture through eager students.  Those who haven’t travelled to Mexico before are charmed by historic Querétaro, a safe and engaging destination.

As a volunteer team leader, Pam leads individuals of all ages and walks of life on two-week journeys of service to Querétaro, Mexico with Global Volunteers.  It’s a passion she’s cultivated for over 17 years.  In fact, most of her volunteers return year after year, simply for the pleasure of teaching university students under Pam’s management. And, over these years, she’s found a place in the hearts of those she and her teams serve.  One story, taking place at the airport, epitomizes the impact that “the Globals” have.  “I think you begin to see the spirit and the hope the people have,” Pam says.

Episode storyteller: Pam

#7 “Letting Go”

Be The Change – Episode #7

Some of the greatest experiences in life occur when we let go of our pressing concerns and free our minds.  It’s not easy to do – especially after you’ve paid thousands of dollars to travel to a new place to make a difference.

But, experience tells us that both volunteers and local people benefit the most when they allow the natural rhythms of the service program to take over – and see the “magic” that occurs!

In this episode, we listen to four storytellers describe experiences completely unique to them while serving others.  Cindy says “the opportunities to connect and volunteer alongside local people are so rich…there’s nothing like getting to know someone,” getting to know one another’s families and finding common ground.

Mike says unplugging from technology and daily life is unfamiliar at his age.  When he returned home, he missed this freedom from the business of life.

The intensity of sharing a common goal brings about an intimacy that may not be possible without letting go of expectations. Elisa shares a moment when this became clear to her.

Pam came to this realization, almost by accident on a beach. Without much further thought, she was on her way to Tanzania after deciding a “volunteer vacation” was what she longed for.  Despite her friends’ and family’s questions, she boldly set off for Ipalamwa – to unplug – and hasn’t looked back!

Episode storytellers: Cindy, Mike, Elisa, and Pam


#6 “Personal Connections”

Be The Change – Episode #6

Sometimes, “going home” isn’t literal.  Connections between people within families – or across oceans – is what makes us feel accepted and comfortable.  Traveling with an open mind and heart can bring us “home” in many parts of the world.

Our first storyteller, Mike, brings a youthful perspective on the impact of making a connection on an alternative spring break.  “Everyone has all these stories,” he says.  To be able to hear them first-hand is a privilege.

Elisa, another student, builds on this concept, but adds a deeper layer.  She served, she said, to experience her mother’s and grandparents’ homeland from the “inside” – a richer experience than a tourist trip. Seeing her ancestral family’s house closed the loop in better understanding her culture.

Marek returns to illustrate how some volunteers become “family” in his community by teaching English. “This is a very important part of my life, not only for me, but for my children and my wife.”  Many, many families have benefitted, he said. Sharing these skills transforms peoples’ futures.

Jeff sums up by explaining how making new friends through service was a balm after losing his wife to cancer.  In this way, the world became an important part of his extended family, and those communities now feel like “home” to him.

Episode storytellers: Mike, Elisa, Marek, and Jeff

#5 “Changing Expectations”

Be The Change – Episode #5

We might not always be aware of our expectations when they become integrated into our way of living life.  But, they certainly enhance or detract how we assess the lessons awaiting us.

Our first storyteller, Gila, talks about serving in St. Lucia to celebrate a milestone birthday – “in honor and gratitude for her family.”  To do so, she traveled with an open mind and heart to help teach mothers and their babies to relate better to each other.  She found that suspending her expectations provided her with “a perspective of gratitude” that helped her accomplish her goal for the trip!

Lisa returns to explain how she employed a “beginner’s mind” to approach each new experience – and allow the local students to guide her in sharing her teaching skills in the most productive way.

Cindy relates one special time as she was preparing for her first Global Volunteers experience.  “I remember a sense of letting go,” she said. “I was jumping into ambiguity.” This, she says, is exhilarating, and brings her “to who I am at the core of being a person.”

Our Poland community partner, Marek Błaszczyk, reflects on the experience of hosting 3,000 volunteers over 26 years, and how these teams have “shifted the expectations” of all the people Global Volunteers serves in Siedlce, Poland.  The impact of “thousands and thousands of lessons and thousands of students” is difficult to believe, he says. “I think the most important part we get from them is to share the heart and the friendship.”

Episode storytellers: Gila, Lisa, Cindy, and Marek