Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Milk of Human Kindness

Check out this awesome article about Queen’s University student Carolyn Maskens, who volunteered with GVN in 2008 in our Kenya program. The article featured in the Queen’s Alumni Review, and Carolyn’s story has also been highlighted in a CHEX TV newswatch segment

We love your work Carolyn!

As Carolyn Maskens explains, when she set out to raise a bit of money to help improve the lives of the children at an orphanage in the East African nation of Kenya, she and her Kenyan friends were amazed by the response.

I graduated from Queen’s this spring with an honours degree in Life Sciences. I’d like to share the you an exciting story of what individual action and dreams can accomplish. In just 9 months I raised $20,500 for an orphanage in Kenya. I’m hoping that by sharing my story with other members of the Queen’s community, it will inspire people to consider their own potentials.

In May 2008, when I was 22 and going into my final year at Queen’s, I volunteered with an organization called Global Volunteer Network, which assigned me to work at an orphanage in Kenya. While I was there, the children suffered from an outbreak of a fungal infection. Many of them were covered in open, oozing sores, and a visit I made to the medical clinic would change my life forever. I’d never seen children suffering from such ailments as a result of malnutrition.

Returning home to Peterborough, Ontario, I founded Kenya Hope 2009, a fundraising initiative for Shelter orphanage, which is located 40 km from Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. The director of Shelter, Mary Muiruri and I decided the best way to improve nutrition would be to provide milk for the children. With that in mind, I started out with a small donations box in my father’s office. This initiative soon grew into a web site, was featured in the Peterborough Examiner newspaper, and gained the support of St.Catherine Elementary School. My initial goal was to raise $5,000 for the orphanage to donate two dairy cows and support them for one year.

I began fundraising in August of last year, but by Christmas I’d almost reached my goal, and so I upped my target to $8,000. One thing led to another, and by the time I left for Kenya this May, Kenya Hope had received more than $20,500 in donations. I was amazed at how much I’d been able to accomplish with only the assistance of my family and the people in my hometown whose
generosity has made my dream a reality for the orphanage.

Mary Muiruri was blown away when I returned with four times the amount of money that I’d hoped to raise. She couldn’t believe how much money Canadians had donated.

Seeing the smiling faces of the children I’d met on my previous visit was heartwarming and made my efforts seem so much more worthwhile. The youngsters all recognized me and were surprised and thrilled that I’d come back.

Getting down to business, Mary and I set up a budget and devised a plan to make the best possible use of the donated funds. Our first priority was the Milk Project, which would bring milk to the orphanage. I just couldn’t wait to see this become a reality.

We used some of the money, $2,900, to buy two big, beautiful Holstein cows from a local livestock breeder. These two animals were soon providing the children with a total of more than 50 litres of milk each day.

The children at St. Catherine Elementary School in Peterborough, a large contributor to the Kenya Hope 2009 fundraising campaign, named one of the cows “Hope” based on the motto of Shelter: “Giving life a new hope.”

I thought it would be appropriate to name the other cow “Tumaini” (pronounced “Too-my-een-ie) which means hope in Kiswahili (one of the two national languages of Kenya, English being the other).

The cow we named Hope produces 22 litres of milk each day, while Tumaini produces 38. The animals are milked three times daily – at 4 am, 1 pm, and 6 pm due to the high volume of milk production. The milk is then boiled for 30 minutes prior to the children drinking a glass of warm milk in the evening. They absolutely love it.

As the temperature drops in the evening, it becomes quite cool, and having a warm glass of milk before bed is a marvelous treat for the kids. After being offered a glass multiple times, I tried a sip for myself and was shocked at how sweet it is. The milk tastes as if sugar has been added to it. It’s not bitter and is surprisingly delicious.

In case you’re wondering, dairy meal is a staple of the cows’ diet, and there was enough money to provide it for the coming year. My new goal for 2010 is to continue with fundraising in order to sustain the milk project beyond next summer. I now hope to raise $5,000 for the purchase of dairy meal for the following year and to cover the cost of breeding the cows so the children can continue to have milk.

Fundraising efforts on behalf of the Shelter are ongoing, and individuals can view the sponsored projects by visiting the website

I’m also exploring the possibility of publishing a children’s book based on Tumaini and the orphans in hope of providing long term support for Shelter through its sale.

Other projects that were developed and completed while I was at Shelter included starting a library. We bought several hundred books, painted bookshelves, finished the shelves with lockable glass sliding doors, brought electricity to the library and built a large table at which the children could read and study. Additionally, we bought one tonne of food. This consisted of a month’s supply of maize, maize flour, porridge flour, rice, and beans. The farm project entailed digging a 100-metre trench, two feet wide by three feet deep, to expand an irrigation system to Shelter’s garden, purchasing 100 metres of plastic piping, a variety of seeds and fertilizers. A health and first aid supply initiative was also initiated and designed to take care of minor complications and provide vitamins for the malnourished children.

As you can imagine, this has been a very exciting year for me, my community, and for the children at the Shelter. I’m delighted to share this story with you and other members of the Queen’s community. I hope you’ll find it as inspirational to read about as I’ve found it to be involved with. Oh yes, and all donations are most welcome and go directly to Shelter and will be put to good use.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Intrepid volunteer journeys through Africa by Tracy Pillay

I was asked a question the other day, “If you could go anywhere just now, where would it be?” Imagine you have a teleporter, plenty of cash, and no time constraints and it doesn't even have to be this planet. Besides being awe struck with a dream coming true, I suddenly realised wouldn’t there reach a point where I would get tired of it. I am human after all. So being content with teleporting, money and no time constraints would not be enough.

So why would it not be enough? I think by being a citizen of earth, we have a responsibility to humanity. We are living in time when innocent children maybe fortunate to eat one meal a day, or die of illnesses that are treatable; due to lack of resources. One of the greatest traits my parents taught me as a child was to serve others. Now as an adult serving has transformed into volunteering.

As the Africa Programs Coordinator I have the opportunity to connect with many driven volunteers wanting to make an impact in Africa. Funnily enough wouldn’t a teleporter be a useful tool right about now? It would definitely save money, protect the environment and spare jet lag. Teleporters aside, these amazing individuals are assisting local communities in need through volunteering.

They have selflessly invested their personal money, time and skills to serve the poor and vulnerable. I view volunteering as a two way process for both volunteers and communities they work with. As a volunteer you are challenged by a different culture, various global issues and the way you view life. On the flip side of the coin, you leave behind shared experiences, knowledge, skills and most importantly connection.

Below is a glimpse of some experiences from our Intrepid Africa Volunteers, who volunteered through Global Volunteer Network.

Kathryn Taubert from Florida, United States, volunteered in the Ghana Community Program.

“My work with the CBO has been productive. Within a week, we identified a plan for the Village that will, hopefully, meet their long-term and short-term needs. It quickly became apparent that they’ve seen many projects come with a flourish, then die on the vine for lack of long-range planning to make them self-sustaining.

...So our plan is twofold: by the end of my stay here, we will have drafted a long-range plan which provides two income streams for the village: one for their immediate needs from grants and individual donations, and a longer-term one from eventual profit villagers realize by establishing small businesses through “micro-financing“ loans. Both sources of funds will be “seed” money: intended to get them started so that they can become, eventually, totally self-sufficient.”

Kathryn reflects on her time in Ghana: “Not having enough to be frivolous when one wants is one thing, but not having enough to survive is, indeed, another. The majority of people here are gracious, hospitable. But they are, after all, human too. We’re not so different. What amazes me is that these people aren’t MORE cynical, jealous, and envious. What they lack in “stuff“, they more than make up for in heart. One can never have too much of that.”

Minna Kathrine Larsen is from Denmark. She volunteered twice in the Ghana Teaching Program.

“I went to Ghana for the first time May 7th 2008 and stayed for three months, teaching English and Mathematics to 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade at St. Monica's Prep School. My initial fear of travelling so far away from home was put to shame right away.

The first thing any Ghanaian will tell you when he or she first meets you is “you are welcome!” Never have I met such warm and kind-hearted people! Teaching was so much fun and my kids made me so proud every single day. They are so smart, always happy and so excited that you are there as a volunteer.

I went to Ghana to make a difference in the lives of others, but as it turned out, Ghana and Ghanaians rather made a huge difference in my life. I walked away with a whole new outlook on life, as a matured and wiser person and most importantly I walked away with the greatest friends in the world and a whole new family.”

Michael Seddon from Australia volunteered in the Ethiopia program.

“Before I left for Ethiopia the question that kept appearing in my mind was 'can volunteering really make a difference?'. Now, having returned from my one month volunteer teaching and traveling in Ethiopia I am sure it will.

The Mercy Ministry Home provides the opportunity not just for the current children in the home but for the future children of Ethiopia. With volunteer support these current children will grow up, have successful lives and in turn be able to support future children through programs like these.

Personally, as I am sure you will if you decide to volunteer, I feel rewarded and privileged to have been able to help in the education of these children. Even in such a short period I could see lifelong skills being learnt mainly due to the passion and desire these children have to learn.”

Ashley Lesperance an anthropology student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the US, volunteered in the Rwanda program.

“I was asked by a new volunteer after I had been there for a month, "When did you become adjusted to the culture shock?" and I noticed then that Rwanda and the people had been so welcoming and so friendly, that I hadn't experienced any culture shock and felt genuinely comfortable and at home almost immediately.

I had signed up to stay for a month and two weeks into my trip, I extended my trip by an extra month because I loved it so much. I taught English at an orphanage for street boys and loved every second of the experience. The staff and children were extremely welcoming and made me feel like a member of their family.

The country is absolutely gorgeous and the people are, as the other volunteers and I can attest to, welcoming and affectionate and anyone will quickly make many Rwandan friends. I miss Rwanda and the people I met there every day. It was by far the best experience I have ever had. I can't wait to get back there someday”

Cristina Klosterman from the US volunteered in the Uganda program

“I am a cautious person who was not that adventurous. I don’t like bugs, getting dirty, or going without my little luxuries. I never go camping because I am not into the outdoors. I love children, I love helping, and I love traveling. I decided to do something different. I combined my dislikes and my loves, step outside of my little comfort bubble, and went to Uganda.

I was placed with YOFAFO and my position was to help teach at a Children’s Village. Here I was thinking, “I can help these kids! I can change their lives in some small way! I can make a difference!” Turns out, I was the one who was changed. I fell in love with those kids. I fell in love with the whole country! The people were very friendly, hospitable, and generous. I have never been thanked so many times for just being there.

The Real Uganda and YOFAFO are really making a difference in Uganda. My next step is to raise money for the school where I taught. The kids are slowly but surely getting their permanent school buildings built, but there is still one temporary structure left to replace. I am hoping to raise enough money to build that building, and then when I go back, I can see my kids learning in their new classroom. Living and volunteering in Uganda has shown me that there is a whole other world out there and has inspired me to explore it. I plan on doing a lot of traveling in the future.”

Mark Russell from Ireland, volunteered in the South Africa youth program.

“I was placed in the secondary school, which was a few minutes’ walk from the house. I had never taught before, so I was a little nervous to begin with, but not for long… I taught maths and science, and talked to the learners about Ireland & western culture. It was exam time during my first few weeks, so I also helped out the teachers as much as I could, for example by teaching them some excel skills to speed up their marking process.

It was coming up to the winter break for the schools, so I worked closely with the teachers & with ZOTE to run a winter school program. This presented a new set of challenges for me, and I had to work hard to get the learners motivated to attend, as this was a first for the school. All the work paid off though, we had a really fun winter school program, and even managed to fit a party and a dance competition in there! The learners loved the dancing, and they loved watching the volunteers embarrassingly trying to join in! It was not all fun and games though, the level of some learners English and performance in other subjects was challenging. Although experiencing and being part of this vibrant culture was undoubtedly one of the most exciting & fun filled things I have ever done, there were a lot of heartbreaking truths too. There are to name a few; families here who live in poverty and/or ill health, kids who have fought their way over the border from Zimbabwe for a better life and the general low level of education within the community. I would often get very upset hearing these stories, but they are a part of the experience and after all, the reason why volunteers are needed to help in this area.

In Venda it is usually about food, family, health; certainly no one worries about stock prices or celebrity gossip. Perceptions and priorities are much different in South Africa, things I took for granted at home are hard fought for privileges in Venda. I have been back home in Ireland for a few weeks now, settling back in was like reverse culture shock! It may sound clichéd but the experience was one that has changed my life, I will miss my host family & all my friends… I will be back in Venda though, that’s for sure.”

No doubt the connections and experiences have been life changing for these volunteers. They have made an imprint in the communities they have worked in. These imprints will create a chain reaction that will improve the lives of the poor and vulnerable.

If you are interested in being part of this experience either through volunteering or support, please visit our website

Thursday, August 13, 2009

An Introduction to Nepali Culture!

Elizabeth Kruithof volunteered through GVN for 6 weeks in our Nepal Volunteer Program. Elizabeth’s journal paints a great picture of Nepali culture, what to expect and what the first few days of a placement in Nepal would be like!

“Namaste saathi! (I salute the god in you, friends!)

We arrived in Bistachap on Friday after a bus ride that felt more like being on a rickety boat on very rough seas. At least we each had a seat to ourselves…as luxury that I think I will miss when I have to ride the local bus. One by one we were led to our host family houses (which were mostly all along the same road). The village is quite small and most houses line one or two roads. The houses don’t look like what we would consider houses…they are mostly simple square structures with a sloped roof and they are made of burnt red bricks. On one side of the village are hills with an interesting type of forest that has no underbrush, and on the other side of the village are beautiful sprawling green patchworks of wheat, separated by tiny clay pathways where the women haul huge baskets of wheat through the fields (with the basket balanced against their back and held up with a piece of cloth around their foreheads). It’s incredible to see these tiny, old women carrying these immense loads. Put’s my level of fitness to shame!

I met my aamaa (mother), bahini (little sister), bhaai (little brother), and bubaa (father) and was shown my room on the second floor. It was actually a surprisingly nice room... The family was quite quiet, but I didn’t mind sitting with them in silence while they chattered to each other in Nepali. We had language lessons during the day in one of the houses, and had daal bhaat at home with our host family. I never actually got to eat with my family (I think maybe there wasn’t enough room in the kitchen for all of us, so I got served first). I was served daal bhaat once by the father, once by the son, and once by the mother, which I thought was really neat since I was told that it is only the mother that traditionally cooks and serves food and generally has domain over the kitchen. Regardless of who served me, however, they sat and watched me eat and as soon as I finished, offered to fill my plate again. It sounds awkward, but I didn’t mind at all…I figure you have to jump in to the culture totally, and your experience is much better. I think it will take a while before I can even hope to pack away as much daal bhaat as a Nepali can.

I also had my first experience using a charpi (squate toilet), which is basically a ceramic hole in the ground…we had a demonstration of how to use the toilet during training…I’ll have to show you when I get home. Also, Nepali’s do not use toilet paper, they just wash with water. I, however, snuck in my toilet paper roll.

My house also had 6 or 7 goats (who lived right beside the kitchen), and a puppy who regularly attacked me. One day I came back from language training and saw my bahini bathing in the backyard under a hose (bathing is done publicly in Nepal). I thought I might as well experience that part of the culture as well, so I got in to my “shower dress” (I can show you that demo too) and came to wash under the freezing cold hose. It was actually a perfect experience and I loved it. Who knew washing could be so liberating?

On our way out of Bistachap we visited all the children’s homes that we could potentially be placed in to volunteer. There is one near Bistachap and they did a performance for us (Nepali songs and dances) because it was a special holiday that day.”

To read more of Elizabeth’s entertaining journal please visit:, or if this personal description of a volunteer experience in Nepal has got you interested in taking part in one of our worthwhile projects please visit our website:

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Coming Soon! - GVN Website Update

Over the past few months we’ve secretly been working away on the newest version of our website. I can tell you, so far it looks fantastic and we’re so excited to be revealing it to you all soon.

Jon (our new website designer) describes his role of completely updating the entire Global Volunteer Network website as “making things look nice.” We couldn’t agree more Jon!

Whilst retaining the GVN feel, some top features of the new website are:

  • Easy program search – are you looking to work with children in Africa or wildlife in Asia, our new program search feature makes it easy for you find the program you’re looking for
  • Enhanced Program Information – maps, galleries and program details now arranged in tabs to make it easier and quicker for you to view
  • Contact the program coordinator – an easy to access form allowing you to ask us any questions you have
  • Improved Video Gallery – with a new video system you can now watch our videos in higher quality
  • Fundraising Page – we’ve put together a great new page of ideas to help you raise money for your trip. Personal fundraising pages will be coming soon too, allowing volunteers to fundraise online!
  • Community Page – fast access to GVN and friends on Twitter and Facebook
  • Behind the scenes things have changed too, it’s going to be easier for us to update the galleries, and volunteer feedback and keep you up to date with the latest news from the programs

Stay tuned for the website to go live in late August.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Fresh off leading the 2008 Mt Kilimanjaro Fundraising Trek, which raised over $40 000 for the Africa Children’s fund, Libby Wann sent a riveting email to her family and friends about her life changing experience on the ‘roof-top of Africa’ that will have you on the edge of your seat!

“It’s been about a week since I returned from Africa. As often happens when momentous trips conclude, the overwhelming immediacy of emotions, still vivid and raw on the plane ride home, have already begun to fade- leaving me with only a thin dreamlike residue of my African adventure of which to cling. The trip was so dynamic in its challenges- quite complete in its depth of experiences. Literally, in my 20 odd days on the road, I cried numerous times. Some tears were bitter, some sweet, some from exhaustion and some from joy. I sat in tattered school rooms listening to orphans sing hymns, and only several days later sat perched on a rock at 15,000 ft. watching the clouds snake their way up the tallest mountain in Africa. I played soccer in a park with refugee children displaced from post election violence, discussed the upcoming American election with a Masai chief, visited the ‘cradle of humanity’, and gave myself a pat on the back for somehow coordinating a trip for 17 strangers and seeing them safely through a politically unstable country to which I had never before visited. I watched a pride of lions circle and stalk a gazelle from 20 feet away on the Masai Mara plains, and stood atop a 19,368 ft. peak in a raging snowstorm.”

Snippets of Libby’s experience on the mountain:

“Ahead and above, lines of headlamps snaked up the mountain and disappeared into the inky night. It was cold and snowing sideways. I thought it wasn’t supposed to be cold in Africa? Checking my watch, I saw it was just after midnight as we began our painfully slow march up the mountain. Several of my teammates were sick from the altitude and a couple had been vomiting, and I was surprised they had even made it out of their tents to attempt the final push. We began our summit bid at 15,000 ft. and over the next 6 hours would switchback up loose, steep scree and gain 4,000 ft. in elevation to top-out at Gilman’s Point, the first of two summits. I vividly remember the first two hours of the hike as being intensely joyful- I was ecstatic and high with the thrill of doing something so perfectly bizarre and beautiful. Marching one foot after the next, I smugly thought to myself ‘if this is all I have to do for the next six hours, it’s in the bag’.
But then gentle snow turned to icy sleet, occasional wind gusts turned to a shrill blast, 15,000ft. turned to 17,000 ft. and something inside of my began to shift. By the time we got to the midway point, we sat huddled in a cave trying to block ourselves from the onslaught of the elements. My water bottle had frozen, my clothes had turned stiff with a thick layer of ice, and my hands were too cold to maneuver my frozen backpack open to get anything out to eat. To look at my hiking companions was to stare into the eyes of a group that had gone to battle. Nearly six and a half hours after leaving camp, just as the day began to break, we cut our final few switchbacks and finally reached Gilman’s Point. The summit moment, as cliché as it felt, was exactly like the movies. Although we hadn’t done anything monumental like scale the slopes of Everest, the few seconds of pure joy felt upon reaching our destination was as raw and intense an emotion as I can recall ever feeling. I immediately began tearing up, with exhaustion and joy- a sense of relief compounded by the advance of daylight. The sun had come out, and as I descended, I felt my brain and limbs begin to thaw and cast off the icy, numbing layer that had blanketing me for the previous 7 hours. I began to smile. I can’t remember a time when I’ve been more drained of physical or mental energy- but somehow happy and content at the same time. I finally shuffled back into base camp 11 hours after our journey began. I began to assess the damage of my teammates- many who appeared to still be shell-shocked. A silent nod was all that some were capable of mustering. Some appeared truly rattled, some wanted to hug me and cry, muttering that it had been the most amazing experience of their life. I’m not sure any of us were prepared for the intensity of it all. It was truly the hardest thing I have ever done.”

Libby’s story will feature in the new GVN book. The book will be about real people and real experiences. The volunteers are the life and soul of GVN and the book hopes to capture this essence. The book is a self published collection of personal stories from volunteers whose lives have been significantly affected after participating in a GVN volunteer program and will soon be available online to our volunteers.

Colin firmly believes volunteer work has a personal impact that can shape the direction of your life… it did for him. This belief is supported by hundreds of GVN volunteers who have shared their own heart warming stories through blogs, online journals and personal emails to GVN.