Monday, December 10, 2007

Give the Gift of Hope this Christmas!

It’s not too late to purchase a GVN Foundation gift certificate for one of our sponsorship programs in Kenya, Uganda, Peru, Vietnam or Nepal. By donating $30/$60/$360 USD you will help ensure the cost of one child's food, shelter, education and medical needs are met for one month, 2 months, or a year.

If you are yet to decide whether to purchase a gift certificate, I urge you to do so today.
You will have the satisfaction of knowing your generosity has made an important impact in the life of a disadvantaged youth.

Please visit the following link for more details:

Once you purchase your gift certificate, you can print off a country-specific greeting card to alert your gift recipient of the gift made on their behalf.

Thank you for helping communities in need and we wish you a safe and happy holiday season.

Best Regards

Colin Salisbury

Sunday, December 2, 2007

In GVN’s New Zealand Nature program, you can join a small team of volunteers working to preserve, monitor, and re-establish the natural environment in the Wellington region. If you submit your application and secure your place by paying the Application Fee during the months of December 2007 or January 2008, you will receive $100 off the advertised Program Fee!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Volunteer in Nepal - Price Reduction

Our partner in Nepal needs more volunteers to help with the children’s homes they support across the Kathmandu Valley. If you submit your application and secure your place by paying the Application Fee during the month of November, you will receive $100 off the advertised Program Fee!

The program options available in Nepal are:

- Teaching English
- Children’s Homes
- Health Education
- Environment
- School and Community Maintenance Program
- Home Stay/Cultural Exchange

For more details about the Nepal program:

Sunday, November 4, 2007

'Children Breaking Free' Video Competition

Last year the GVN Foundation ran a photography competition entitled, 'Breaking Free From Poverty'. We received some amazing photographs which dealt with improvements in the lives of children and helped to raise awareness about the issues facing millions of impoverished children around the globe. In the run up to Christmas we are starting a new competition for those of you more at home with your camcorders and editing software.

GVN invite you to get filming/collecting/editing! The title of the film is 'Children Breaking Free' and you can submit your video to our youtube group, 'Children Breaking Free Video Competition'. To add a video to this group you must first have your own youtube account and have uploaded your video to your own page. Then you go to the following link: and join the group. Once you are joined you can then add a video to the group so that you can be in the running to win a Sony MiniDV Handycam camcorder. The top 3 videos with the highest views will be judged by a panel from the Global Volunteer Network office and the winner's video will be featured and publicized on our website and in our newsletter.

Videos must be between 3-5 minutes long and deal with, 'Children Breaking Free'. You may use clips from your own volunteering experiences or from your friends', but you must have full permission to use all footage and contents. Your video must include a short clip offering further info at and also contain the following tags;

"Global Volunteer Network"; "stop child poverty"; "children breaking free"; "hope"; "experience" For an example entry you may like to watch our Stop Child Poverty video at our youtube site:

All videos must be uploaded and in the 'Children Breaking Free Video Competition' group by December 5th and we will begin counting new views from that point. Then we wait 2 weeks: the 3 videos with the most new views by December 19th will be judged, and the winner announced shortly after that.

For an example entry you may like to watch our Stop Child Poverty video at our youtube site;

For more information on volunteering check out:

© 2000-2007 Global Volunteer Network

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trading Home Comforts for Dreamy Mountains in Nepal

Trading Home Comforts for Dreamy Mountains in Nepal by Julie Thompson

'The comforts of the west are definitely lacking in Nepal' says Britta Schroeder, a volunteer from Colorado, U.S. But despite living on rice and sleeping in a straw bed for 4 months, she would not have traded her experiences as a Global Volunteer Network (GVN) volunteer for anything.

Britta Schroeder had always had an obsession with the Himalayas after hearing of her father's time in Nepal as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Britta had volunteered in Ecuador the year before, and this year, chose Nepal, in order to visit a mountain that had been constant in her dreams. It also gave her the opportunity to really connect with the Nepalese people, and help contribute to their struggling community.

Nepal is home to the breathtaking Himalayan mountain range which contains eight of the world's ten highest peaks including Mt Everest, not to mention spectacular scenery and wildlife.

But its beauty is marred by the huge suffering of the Nepali people. Nepalese children spend their lives living under a veil of politically instability. Maoist rebels have been waging a campaign against the constitutional monarchy in a conflict that has left more than 12,000 people dead since it started in 1996. Nepal is one of the world's poorest countries, and this is often made worse by the Maoist rebellion. 40% of the Nepalese population live under the poverty line, and both young and old suffer from poor healthcare, high pollution levels and inadequate education systems.

The publicity surrounding Nepal's current political unrest worried Britta at first, but she said that she during her experience she never feared for her own safety. Most of the conflict was situated in the East and West, and she was stationed in the middle. 'I definitely think it is safe for volunteers', she says, reflecting on her experience.

'GVN took care of everybody, and always let everyone know what was going on at all times.'
Britta volunteered in Nepal through the Global Volunteer Network (GVN) for 4 months, teaching local schoolchildren about environmental issues and health and digging gardens for a new orphanage. She also helped build a greenhouse, a resource that will benefit many in the community.

'We built a greenhouse, and it didn't seem like that would be used very often, but once the garden started blossoming and the trees started to grow, we realized that everyone was going to use the garden and the trees for food and shade. That was the best part'.

Britta lived with a host family with a mother, father, grandmother and two young boys in lower Bistachaap, a rural Nepali village. One moment in particular that had a massive impact on Britta was the death of her host grandmother of lung cancer and tuberculosis. It was devastating to the family, and Britta was there as the family came to terms with their loss.

'She was diagnosed with lung cancer the day before she died, and I'm sure it had quite a bit to do with the fact that she lived in a mud house, and cooked over a fire twice a day, every day, without a chimney' says Britta the sadness evident in her voice. 'Looking at the ceilings there, you could see the soot on the beams, and the rafters, and on the walls, and just think that the sixty year old woman's lungs probably looked like that'.

'It's really hard to watch that sort of thing happen, and know that you are going to be able to leave this house, and leave the chimneyless room, and go back to fresh air'.

Because the host families who take in volunteers get paid, it provides them with a crucial extra income, in order to help make ends meet, and attempt to better their lives. The Nepali people enjoy having volunteers amongst their rural communities, as they have the opportunity to exchange stories and work on their English. It is also pretty strange seeing a western woman washing her clothes on a rock!

'I know we would provide quite a bit of entertainment, when we would go out and shower, wash our clothes, or do anything Nepali style' laughs Britta.

Working in a unique environment with other volunteers can also provide some humorous situations. One particular instance for Britta was finding a 'potato' while digging a garden.
'It was the very first day of digging, and one of the girls I was with had found a potato. She thought it was a potato, and she was an Agriculture major' says Britta. 'I had just gotten there, so I didn't speak Nepali very well, and I had these dreams that I was going to take this potato and show up to my family, and the mother would be so excited that I brought something up to the table, and then they would eat it, and I would be like 'oh, does everyone like my potato' and they would all say that it was tasty'.

'So, I got out the potato, and handed it to the mother, and she kind of dropped it and screamed, and the grandmother started rambling in Nepali, and the little boy picked it up, and threw my potato across into the field'. Apparently it was not a potato, and was actually a poisonous tuber that if you eat it, your tongue instantly swelled up, and you suffocated and died! Britta was sure they thought that she was either a really stupid foreigner, or that she was trying to poison them.
Either way, 'We had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun', she says.

The final grand moment for Britta on her journey was hiking in the Himalayas, which was something she had wanted to do since she was a little girl. Britta climbed to the top of Kala Pattar, just short of Everest Base Camp, and described the moment in her journal:'I could look all around me and see nothing but snow capped peaks, and the top of the world. I looked across the Khumbu glacier at Mount Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, Pumo Ri and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I had finally made it there, by myself! I had hiked for days up to over 18,000 feet and now I was looking directly at Everest…Literally no one in sight, all the way down the mountain. Nothing but the wind and rocks and me.'

'But, in my desire to prove to myself that I could do this alone, in my strive to prove my independence to myself, I had forgotten something: Who was going to take my picture?'
GVN has a variety of programs in Nepal, including teaching English, working in an orphanage, community health and environmental programs, school and community maintenance, and a home stay/cultural exchange program.

For more information on volunteering check out:

© 2000-2007 Global Volunteer Network

Monday, October 29, 2007

Teaching through a West African Downpour

Teaching through a West African Downpour By Megan Tady

It was a scene she'd never encountered in her corporate office in Philadelphia: a handful of kindergartners squirming in their chairs while the Ghanaian rains pelted the roof of the school and made a swimming hole out of the path to the bathroom.

"I'm trying to teach a math lesson and the heavens open," said Marianna Allen, who volunteered to teach in Ghana for one month last May. "And one of the kids goes, "Teacher, I go wee wee." So I thought okay, that's me, and they have to pee. I was looking outside at the puddles and made them take off their shoes because I didn't want their one pair of shoes to get ruined."
It wasn't long before the entire class begged Marianna for a bathroom pass.

"I kept thinking that it only takes one of them to wet their pants," Allen said. "It was my second day there and I didn't want it on my conscience. But then their uniforms came up over their heads and they started dancing in the rain. That's when I knew I had been had by a bunch of four and five year olds."

Marianna and her classWhat Marianna would find out later is that, in Ghana, when the rains come, studies are often abandoned; the rain is the only reprieve from the intense heat.
"I'll never forget that sight: the kids sitting at their desks, with their tiny little bodies and their little workbooks and pencils, in their underwear," Marianna said.

In fact, Marianna wouldn't forget much about the month she spent volunteer teaching in Abokobi, a village outside Accra, with the Global Volunteer Network (GVN).
"I'm missing the children now because I'm around these boring adults all the time," Marianna said. "They brought out the best in me."

For more information on volunteering check out:

© 2000-2007 Global Volunteer Network

Thursday, October 25, 2007

An Addiction Worth Keeping

It's an addiction that has no cure, gives heartwarming highs and somber lows, and has people going to the ends of the earth to find it: volunteerism.

Thousands of people leave their homes every year to travel to other countries and volunteer where they're needed most. And while many people return to their normal lives after their trips, others refuse to let the experience end; it seems that once they start volunteering, they just can't stop.

Anna Evely, a resident of York in the UK, first volunteered with the Global Volunteer Network (GVN) to do environmental conservation work in New Zealand. GVN is an organization that helps connect volunteers with communities in need in 19 countries. Her trip was a one-time thing, and she planned to use her experience to further her knowledge as a lecturer. But when she returned home, she found herself saving up for the next time she could leave. Since working in New Zealand, Anna has also volunteered at a wildlife sanctuary in Thailand, at an orphanage in Nepal and at primary schools in China.

"Every time you volunteer, you feel like you've made an impact," Anna said. "Instead of using all the paper in the world, you're planting trees and replacing them. Instead of taking from the country, you're actually giving something back. I felt like I left my mark by the trees I planted. I can go back in however many years time and see how they've grown. As well as going somewhere and taking in all the beautiful scenery, I'm actually helping to make it more beautiful."

Because every program was unique, Anna had trouble picking favorites.
"All of them were absolutely amazing: seeing the maraes in New Zealand was fantastic; in Thailand, there's nothing more amazing then waking up to the sound of gibbons; in Nepal, it's just the whole culture-sitting on the floor, eating with your hands, trying to do you washing in the middle of the village with everyone watching. Every place has given me such an amazing set of memories."

For a woman who had never taken the train into London alone before, eating with her hands in Nepal dressed in a sari was the last thing anyone expected of her.

"I'd never even been away from home before," Anna said. "I didn't even want to live in the university dorm. I never did. I'm so un-brave, it's unbelievable. I don't know what happened. I guess I just thought, if I don't do it now, I don't know when I'll ever do it. It took that leap and shocked everybody, including myself. And now I just feel like I could do anything."
Anna's friends and family weren't just shocked by her boldness, but also questioned her new path.

"They think I'm absolutely insane," she said. "They can't quite understand why I've decided to spend all my money going around and not getting paid for things. My mom was really against it at first. She thought I should be out earning money like normal people. But now she's really proud of me."

Anna's family wasn't the only ones that needed convincing. Natalie Buckler, a student in California, had some explaining to do when she told her family she wanted to volunteer in Vietnam, again.

"At first, they were like, 'What are you doing? Are you crazy?'" Natalie said. "The second time I went back, they said, 'Don't you want to go somewhere else?"

For Natalie, the answer was no. After volunteering for a month at an orphanage in Dai Loc, Natalie counted down the days until she could return. She originally chose to volunteer in Vietnam after studying the Vietnam War in college and decided she wanted to visit the country, but not as a tourist.

"Leaving the orphanage was the biggest challenge," she said. "And that's why I went back. I felt like I had a responsibility to the children."

It's this feeling of responsibility, and a passion to make a lasting impact on communities, that has volunteers returning. Nooshin Shabani, a resident of Newcastle in the UK, first volunteered in Nepal in 2003 because she wanted to combine humanitarian aid with travel. But Nooshin just couldn't put away her travel pack when the trip was over, and set off to volunteer as a teacher in Ghana and at a preschool in the Philippines.

"After my first volunteer experience, I simply couldn't go home and forget everything I'd seen and done," she said. "You become addicted to travel because when you have done it once, you realize the world is not just the country you live in."

While volunteers are discovering that the world is bigger than their hometowns, they're also surprised to find the similarities between people everywhere they go.

"Everyone is just the same," Anna said. "They just want to get on with life and get on with each other. They're just trying to do the best they can with what they have. It was amazing to learn the language in every country and find yourself having the same conversations with people everywhere you go. In Nepal, we had a beauty day with the women and talked about boys."
As for their addiction, these volunteers won't be seeking treatment any time soon.

"When you volunteer, you will be moved by how much the people appreciate you spending time with them," Nooshin said. "A little piece of your heart, a few weeks of your time, will be an everlasting memory in the lives of many. All I can say is, do it once, and I'm certain you will do it again."

For more information on volunteering check out:

© 2000-2007 Global Volunteer Network

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Re-building homes and lives in Honduras

As Tabitha Boonstra showed the children of La Esperanza in Honduras their picture on her digital camera, she could not believe their reaction.

'They would come running up to you from wherever they were, and they'd be yelling 'photo, photo!' They'd stand there, and you would take their picture, then you'd show them on the back of the digital camera. They would be the happiest kids in the world'.

'It was such a simple thing, yet it made them so happy' she says guessing that there aren't too many mirrors in rural Honduras. It was moments like this, and many others that made volunteering such a memorable experience for Tabitha of Ontario, Canada.

She spent three months helping to build houses and provide aid with sanitation projects in rural Honduras through the Global Volunteer Network (GVN), an organization that helps connect volunteers with communities in need. She had previously volunteered within her own community, working with children and people with special needs, but never anything like this.
'I wanted to do something different' she says, 'and volunteering is a good way to go and learn a different culture'.

Tabitha really enjoyed volunteering, getting amongst the action, and using the opportunity to really make a difference to the lives of the people in Honduras.

'I built houses for the indigenous people using trees, mud and adobe bricks. I feel the living conditions of the people are greatly improved by this effort as less people are crammed into tiny houses and they have less drafty houses with better seals against animals and bugs. Some even got concrete floors put in, which greatly reduces health problems. The work was rewarding and seemed to make a big difference' says Tabitha.

Rural poverty in Honduras is among the most severe in Latin America. Approximately 53% of the population is rural, and it is estimated that 75% of the rural population lives below the poverty line, unable to meet basic needs. The country still has high rates of population growth, infant mortality, child malnutrition and illiteracy. Access to simple healthcare and sanitation is lacking, and it is estimated that over 30 percent of child deaths in Honduras are caused by a common and preventable digestive sickness.

On top of all of this, Honduras was hit severely by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and the results were devastating. At least 5,000 people were killed and 70% of the country's crops were destroyed. This has put more pressure on the already struggling economy, and has been a huge setback to development.

The Honduras building program helps foreign volunteers assist families to build or improve their homes and schools, with work including renovation, making bricks, building walls, painting and building wooden playgrounds for the local children. There are also sanitation programs in place, in order to implement basic plumbing, and to help educate the local children about health and wellbeing.

As there are very few tools, the volunteers do mainly manual work. Because they are often working with mud bricks, they can get pretty dirty, but it is lots of fun, and a great learning experience. You also need to be prepared to use your initiative in Honduras, as Tabitha found out.

'Because you are a foreigner, they treated you in such a manner, that they felt you were above them. If you wanted to work, you had to pick up a shovel and say 'give me something to do', she says.

But once you do get amongst it, the people are very grateful for the assistance the volunteers give. It really has a positive effect on a community to know that a volunteer has given up time, money and comfort to help them.

'It's just natural for them to think that foreigners don't care about third word countries or people who have a poor life. But when they see volunteers, they realize that some people in the world, no matter how rich they are or what their status, they do care about others, and that people are willing to help', says Tabitha.

The program is not all hard work though, and there is lots of time to get to know your host family, or to explore the country and mingle with the locals. Tabitha loved being around the local children, and took any chance she could get to hang out with them.

'Playing soccer with the kids was definitely the most fun. There are wide open spaces everywhere and you are playing on a dirt road. If you would kick a ball too far, it would go way down this mountainous hill, and all the kids would run down to go get it for you, clambering down it. They were so eager to help you out'. The memory of their smiling faces will be something that will stay with Tabitha for a long time.

Building in Honduras enables volunteers from more developed countries to use their skills and enthusiasm to assist in providing these people with a better life. Tabitha believes that the organization really does make a difference, and it is because of the volunteers that this happens.
'I do feel like I have helped, because we built the houses. These people now have safer shelters and a more sanitary place to live in'.

Volunteering in a foreign country is such a unique experience, and quite different from being a tourist. Not only does the community benefit, but the volunteer also gets an opportunity of a lifetime.

'You actually get to hang out with the locals, get to know them, become friends with them, and get an idea of what life is like there. When you travel you get to see the scenery and eat the food, but you don't experience what life is actually like in that country'.

'I could have just traveled for four months and maybe seen some cool things, but not bettered myself or anyone else. Because I volunteered with my time, it helped other people too, and I think that is just a great thing'.

By Julie Thompson

For more information on volunteering check out:

© 2000-2007 Global Volunteer Network

Monday, October 22, 2007

Discovering The Chinese Way

Discovering The Chinese Way By Julie Thompson

This article has been published at The World Volunteer Web, Grown Ups, Mosaic Minds, and Buzzle.

"The ancient building is renovating. Excuse me for bringing trouble to you" read the apologetic sign on a building in the centre of Beijing. For Faith Withnell, aged 66, of GinGin, Western Australia, it was just yet another example of the gentle manner of the Chinese way.

Faith and her sister Lyn, also in her 60s, from Baulkham Hills, New South Wales, spent two months as volunteer teachers in China with the Global Volunteer Network at Fushan No. 1 Senior Middle School, near Yantai in the Shandong Province. The school has about 4000 students, aged between 16 and 20, almost half of this number being boarders. Lyn and Faith worked with 14 classes of Grade 1 students, aged around 16 - 18 years old, teaching conversational English. And what a time they had.

"As my sister and I were both nearing retirement at the end of busy working years, we talked about finding a different and interesting challenge whilst we were both physically able, and which would be like nothing we had done previously. Overseas volunteering appealed to us both," said Faith.

"Although we had previously travelled overseas, to UK, Europe and Asia, we could not have foreseen the adventure we were to experience when we enquired about the Global Volunteer Network opportunity to spend time on their project in China," said Faith.

Volunteering is a travel experience like no other, because by spending time with the Chinese students, Faith and Lyn were able to develop strong bonds with people they would never have usually come into contact with, and found out what it is really like to live the 'Chinese way'.

"I consider tourism to be all about seeing places and taking photos," says Faith. "It is a short term, though most enjoyable, journey. [But] volunteering is a real life experience, understanding the culture, history and religion of others, explaining our differences, cementing goals and giving encouragement and praise for [the student's] hard work and the discipline which is their way of life."

And the way of life in a Chinese boarding school is quite different from schools in Western countries. Students are required to attend school six to seven days a week, and students begin their day with a 6am exercise program every morning. After breakfast, lessons commence - and continue until 8.40 at night, with a two hour lunch break in the middle. Students are also responsible for chores within the school. These include cleaning blackboards and replacing drinking water supplies in the classrooms, sweeping walkways, cleaning toilet areas, and sometimes the windows in the accommodation blocks. Also, as well as normal school hours, there are monthly exams, which the students need to study hard for.

"There is much pressure put on students in China, and education is seen as very important. The problem with this, however, is that there aren't enough teachers to go around," says Faith.

With up to 85 students in each class in a school of 4000, students benefit hugely from the help of overseas volunteers. In China education is seen as the way to become successful in life, and in a country with a population of over one billion people, good grades are very important.

Faith and Lyn were each teaching classes of 85 students, with only a copy of the current English textbook as a guide. They had to prepare their own lessons, which was a little overwhelming at first, but was less difficult than they first thought.

"We found the students to be so friendly. They showed extreme interest in what was discussed, and were most willing to participate in lessons, and had a wonderful sense of humour," said Faith. "I feel that our students enjoyed our classes, our company and our friendship."

The students were fascinated to learn that Lyn and Faith had come all the way from Australia.

"Most of our students were amazed and excited that Lyn and I had come so far," she said. "We had taken to China some coloured wildlife pictures, family photos etc. - but the items in which the students were most intrigued were the Australian stamps, coins and notes we had with us. Some of these were eventually left with our students at the school and I'm sure they are looked on as treasures by our young friends."

Both Lyn and Faith had weekends for exploring, and on unrostered afternoons, they would explore the streets of Fushan, and were amazed at the friendliness of the Chinese people they met.

"We made a particular effort to be very approachable, at the school, in the street and whilst travelling. Many complete strangers would ask to practice their (very minimal) English with us, and were absolutely delighted with our responses," said Faith.

"We became quite familiar to the stall holders in the marketplace, the girls in the cake shop and supermarket, and people in the street who were keen to identify with the two 'Adalian' ladies from the school."

Faith jokes that their departure will undoubtedly affect the local Fushan community economy. "Both the strawberry seller in the market lane and the cake shop proprietor will not go ahead with the planned extensions to their homes," she joked.

And when it came time to leave after the two months, both Lyn and Faith found it very difficult.

"The biggest challenge for me as a volunteer was overcoming the emotion of becoming so attached to the students. Some of these young people are so genuinely friendly, and with our maternal instincts, when the time came it was extremely difficult for us to leave."

But halfway through packing, Faith and Lyn received an unexpected summons to a meeting in the school boardroom.

"We thought perhaps we were to be thanked and wished a safe and enjoyable trip home," says Faith. "Unbeknown to us a team from the Yantai TV network had been assembled to make a documentary and we were the 'stars'." Yantai TV is the local television station, and broadcasts to millions of Chinese viewers!

Faith and Lyn were introduced to a young TV producer, 2 journalists, 2 cameramen, 2 soundmen - and were asked all sorts of questions - how old they were, where they came from, how they had enjoyed being at the school etc etc. Then with the whole crew in tow, they walked around the school, joined by their favourite students Wang Kai (Tim) and Ziang Xiao (Shyna) and many others. There was also the re-enactment of a classroom lesson.

"Needless to say with cameras rolling, the involvement and conduct of my class 5 was nothing short of perfect," said Faith. "Then it was signing of autographs, writing some words of encouragement to students about their future, then a farewell speech - all for the camera and all without preparation."

The crew then filmed them getting ready to leave. Both sisters found the experience very exciting, not to mention the humour of two fifty-year-old women walking up four flights of stairs with a full TV crew and six excited students trailing behind to inspect their apartment, with the sisters only halfway through washing, cleaning and packing.

Volunteering in China was an experience like no other for Faith and Lyn, and it has cemented a special bond between sisters, who in their retirement, are using their time to make a real difference to the lives of others.

"The biggest rewards for us both were the enjoyment we had together as sisters and the ongoing friendships we made with complete strangers in such a faraway place that no-one at home can completely understand," said Faith.

Lyn and Faith Withnell are two very adventurous women, and they are part of a growing trend for older travellers seeking to step outside their comfort zone by visiting a foreign country. They enjoyed their time so much that they decided to volunteer again in October this year.

Both are looking forward to meeting again with the Chinese friends they have made, and no doubt, the local strawberry stall will be pleased with the return of the extra business!

For more information on volunteering, check out:

© 2000-2007 Global Volunteer Network

Paper into Pearls

Paper into Pearls by Erina Khanakwa

Some come out to volunteer to see what the tourists never get to or simply don't want to. Others dig in to join in the chorus that is singing Jeffrey Sachs' line, 'The End of Poverty,' and yet for a few others volunteering goes so deep they turn their lives inside out to work for months on end. New Zealander, Malcolm Trevena is one of those long-term volunteering veterans. Malcolm was so inspired by the tough spirit of Uganda's local women that he went on to found, the people-friendly organisation and website that empowers African women with the chance to make beaded jewellery, join the international market and make a much needed living. "My big idea was to help the women of Africa; to build them an online presence,, from where they could sell their goods. This will help them to reach markets that have been traditionally well out of their reach."

I joined Malcolm and his trusted craft teacher, Rose Ochwo, when they travelled to the village of Buvunya, a small, gentle village deep off Jinja road. The reason for visiting Buvunya was to teach a group of willing ladies how to make beads from sheets of old calendar paper. The bead making technique that Rose uses was originally taught to her by an American Mission group to provide skills and employment for the displaced women of Northern Uganda. The group called this craft, 'Paper into Pearls', an extremely fitting name once you see the long, thin strips of paper rolled tightly into beads. Thankfully unlike many of her peers, Rose was willing to share her trade with another group of women who have as little chance of financial freedom and independence as those in the North.

In the late morning ladies start trickling into Vincent, our host's, house. They're shy, and quiet, whispering between themselves, shifting their small babes to their backs in colourful Chentenges (sarong like wraparounds). It's only when Vincent translates what they will be taught today and they learn they will be employed and earning an income, do they finally open up. That all the profits from the sale of their jewellery will go right back to them, is no small achievement in a culture where women once married are usually solely dependent on their husbands for any money at all.

And that's the crux of, it takes on huge problems like unemployment, inequality and complicated trade relations and simplifies them with a 'One Woman One Product' ideology. Instead of being overwhelmed by poverty's sheer numbers,, offers web shoppers the chance to 'meet' the ladies who create the paper jewels with a short biography and photograph. There the ladies can share their stories and situation providing the shopper with a face, a connection, a real person.

Throughout the day we get a chance to talk to the ladies and suddenly I see why Malcolm has worked through unearthly hours building the website. Zaina Nalubanga is the petite 22-year-old mother of three beautiful girls. After finishing P7, the last year of primary school, she has been a housewife, mother, nurse and farmer. She tells us her husband works as a bodaboda rider (Moped taxi driver) and earns around US$1.50 per day for his work. This low wage can barely cover all the family needs from Malaria prevention to the medical care needed to get her hernia seen to. She looks around us or at the ground as she tells us, "I would use the money to pay the school fees for my children to go to school…with this I could buy clothes and milk." When asked what making these beads means to her she smiles shyly, holding her youngest on her hip and says, "It makes me happy and gives me hope that I will improve myself."

Jane Mbabazi's story is riddled with the same cultural limitations found with Zaina and women all over Uganda. Having moved to the village after her husband chased her away when she was five months pregnant; she now lives with and looks after her mother, a heart patient at Mulago Heart Institute. She smiles even as she tells us that she has lost everything; her business, her home and her traditional African marriage and becomes amazingly quiet when we ask her what her personal wish would be if she could do or change anything about life in Buvunya, "I would open shops to sell children's wear," she begins, "It would make me proud if someone bought the necklaces, it cures the boredom and we get paid."

It's varnishing time the next morning, and the ladies' delight is genuine and contagious as the beads hang on the washing line out back to dry in the sun. But more than the excitement that they've made necklaces is the new sense of hope amongst them. Hope for the family to have a little more money, for school fees to be paid or maybe even open that shop one day.
Sometime that afternoon when we are sitting down watching the ladies smile as they make another delicately wrapped rainbow bead, Malcolm says quietly, "It's finally happening." And as they collect their beads into small piles of achievement it's easy to see that even here, in a village that most people have never heard of, something special and promising is happening.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bill Gates on Volunteering

This month, Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder and leading philanthropist, suggested GVN as a first port of call for young people who are wanting to make a difference in the world. Mr Gates said “I’d love to see more young people taking action to help the poor and disadvantaged - whether that’s in your own backyard or anywhere in the world. If you decide to choose public service as a career, that’s phenomenal - but you can also make a big difference by volunteering… Two places to get started are Network for Good and Global Volunteer Network.”

Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder and leading philanthropistNewsweek Web Exclusive, Oct 10, 2007. Check out:
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