Help me, help them!
January 20, 2006 1:00 AM   Subscribe

Recently I've decided that I would like to take a service trip this summer, and would like opinions and ideas on where to go, who to go through, and who might help fundraise such a trip.

During the month of January I have been taking an eye-opening course that spends a great deal of time discussing poverty; the political, economic, and social instability of the majority of the world; and promotes firsthand activism in helping to change some of the situations studied. It's inspired me to attempt to take a service trip this summer, although I'm lost in deciding where or how to begin.

Primarily, I'm unsure of where to go. There are so many people in the world who need help, I can't even begin to decide what would make for an enjoyable, rewarding trip. I'd highly appreciate any ideas!

A secondary, though equally important, consideration is which organization I would travel with. Safety is a big priority, as is cost. A plus for local organizations (Twin Cities), and the bigger, the better.

Lastly, I'm a poor college student. I'd have to fundraise most of the money to make this idea a reality. I've never had to fundraise a huge amount of money like this before, and I'm a very busy person. Any ideas on who I can talk to to potentially help finance this trip?

Some additional notes that might be useful...
- I will be 20 at the time, and will be between my sophomore and junior years of undergraduate studies.
- I'm a double major in psychology and english, and plan on going to graduate school to get a PhD in developmental psychology immediately after graduating. That being said, any ideas for trips in which I can work with children would earn some serious bonus points.
- I'd prefer to work with the people of the country, at least partially. I'd rather not go there, build a 1-room-schoolhouse, and never interact with the people who will be using it.
- I speak Spanish very well, and can sufficiently communicate with native speakers. It'd be ideal to be immersed (though not stranded) in a Spanish-speaking environment to help sharpen my linguistic abilities.
- I'm from the Twin Cities, so any organizations based in the Twin Cities would be preferred.
- I'm Catholic, although would prefer to avoid religious affliation and missionary work.
- I am doing my research project for the aforementioned class on Cuba, so obviously I would be unable to do any work there. However, I have taken a special interest in Latin America, and have done some in-depth reading about Jamaica, El Salvador, and Columbia. I'm leaning towards a Latin American country, though am open to other suggestions.
- I have an historical fascination with the Incan, Mayan, and Aztec cultures, so anywhere that allows me to visit historical sites (Machu Picchu, etc.) would be excellent.
- I'd like to experience new or unfamiliar cultures, so I would prefer not to go to Mexico.
- I've recently taken an interest in the idea of fair trade consumer products.
- 1.5-2.5 weeks would be an ideal amount of time for the trip. It must start after July 7th, and end before August 10th.

Thanks for the help, Mefites!
posted by charmston to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There are service-learning options where you can get academic credit as well as doing service. This might be useful since you're still in college. Your study abroad office could tell you which ones will get you credit at your specific university.

The University of Michigan's Overseas Opportunities Office has a great list of volunteer and service-learning programs as well as a guide to the different kinds of opportunities on that list.
posted by srah at 3:45 AM on January 20, 2006

First, you're better off attaching yourself to someone else's trip. They'll likely have an organization's backing and can assist in finding a role for you. Chances are, some of your cost might also be subsidized, and joint-fundraising possibilities abound.
posted by cior at 5:40 AM on January 20, 2006

Healing hands for Haiti has a group that goes to Haiti from Minnesota. Not Machu Picchu, but very much needed. I am not sure who they send down there, it may be just physiotherapists and medical people, but it doesn't hurt to ask.
posted by _zed_ at 6:46 AM on January 20, 2006

Best answer: I had an incredible experience through Cross-Cultural Solutions and highly recommend that organization. They have programs in several Spanish speaking countries in Central and South America. I worked at an orphanage and had an amazing experience. The organization also does a fantastic job of making sure the cultural exchange goes both ways. So you're exposed to a lot of cool things while you're in country--history, politics, society, etc. It's not a cheap program, but it's run excellently and they offer lots of help/suggestions/materials for fundraising. The participants cover a very broad age spectrum, but many are college students and raise funds for almost the entire trip.

One of the best parts is that they are tailored to shorter stints. You can go for as little as a week or as long as six months.

I can't recommend this organization enough!
posted by lilybeane at 6:53 AM on January 20, 2006

P.S. You can see Machu Picchu if you go to the Cross-Cultural Exchange program in Lima. Weekends are entirely free to do your own regional travel, and MP is amazing. Or, you can see Mayan ruins if you do the Guatemala program.
posted by lilybeane at 6:54 AM on January 20, 2006

Why not help out in New Orleans? Sure, it's not a third world nation, but it just happens to be right next door and in a very vulnerable state. Plus, working in this area will minimize costs for a struggling student like yourself.
posted by jne1813 at 9:20 AM on January 20, 2006

Best answer: **MASSIVELY MASSIVE BABBLE ALERT** I second lilybeane's recommendation of Cross-Cultural Solutions. Everything she said is right on the money. I personally can vouch for their Guatemala program being AMAZING - plenty of opportunity to flex those spanish-speaking muscles of yours! Plus Tikal (think Survivor: Guatemala) can easily be done in a weekend trip, and there are other historical ruins a weekend trip away as well (I didn't make it myself, but I've heard Coban in Honduras is even more impressive than Tikal?). Cross-Cultural Solutions also does a great job of matching up your interests and skills with the right project. They want you working someplace that not only interests you, but where you can actually be of most service to the community, which is a pretty cool combination if you ask me. I was there with a total of twelve other volunteers, for example, and we were spread out between seven different projects - something for everybody! Most of those projects were working with kids, by the way - Special Needs orphanage for me, others in baby orphanages, others in schools, etc. As far as your interest in Central/South America goes, CCS has programs in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Brazil and Peru. Haven't been to the latter three (yet!), but I've heard good things first-hand from people who've taken the Costa Rica and Peru trips.

An obvious choice if you're wanting to stay with a local organization is Global Volunteers. They're based in the St. Paul suburbs, and I actually visited the office myself and witnessed that "Minnesota Nice" in person! I've been to Romania with them three times, and like CCS it's a good, reputable organization. Their Central/South American programs are in Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru. Don't know anyone first-hand who's done Costa Rica or Peru through them, but I've heard good things about the Ecuador program. One slight difference with Global Volunteers, though, is that it tends to be more of the whole team of volunteers going to the same place to volunteer, or maybe spread out between two projects. You'll know ahead of time what your options are (in Romania, for example, working with babies in a clinic or teaching English at a grade school). So if the only project in Ghana is a building project (I'm making that up, haven't looked!) and you don't really have any interest in swinging a hammer, you'd probably want to pick a different country (or organization that has more options available). One other difference: As lilybeane said, CCS volunteers stay from 1 - 12+ weeks, whereas GV is strictly 1-3 week programs. That said, GV really tries to cram a lot of cultural activities and other such goodies in to make sure you get the most out of your short time there. CCS does as well, but GV is more tailored to the short-term volunteers like you.

One last blurb about fundraising. I was just talking to a guy from my first Romania trip last night who had managed to fundraise the entire amount by writing letters to everyone he knew. He said he got to the penny what he needed. And I've encountered literally dozens of people who have also fundraised the entire amount, so it's definitely doable! One plus is that with either of these organizations, since they're registered non-profits your entire fee (including any donations people to make) is 100% tax deductible. That's a big selling point when asking people to open their wallets! Here's a fundraising link from Cross-Cultural Solution's site that has lots of ideas and maybe will help you, whatever organization you decide to go with. Obviously there are plenty of other organizations you can travel with - just wanted to vouch for these two because my trips with them have had such an impact on my life and I want to share the joy!

Wherever you decide to go and whoever you decide to go with, you're sure to have an amazing time, brighten the lives of some needy kids, and inevitably get back a million times more than you give. Holler if you have any other questions (and I'll try to be more concise next time :)
posted by globetrotter30 at 9:42 AM on January 20, 2006

Too bad Mexico's out, because this group seems like what you're looking for.
posted by scratch at 9:42 AM on January 20, 2006

One other quick fundraising tip. Assuming the organization you decide to go with has a tax-deductible program fee, ask any donors if their company has a Matching Gift program. Lots of the big compaies do. If so, them filling out a quick little form at the office will usually get their donation matched dollar-for-dollar!
posted by globetrotter30 at 9:53 AM on January 20, 2006

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