Monday, September 28, 2009

The Simple Things - Life on an Amazon Reserve

During her time as a volunteer in the remote Ecuadorian Amazon, Kaya Barker worked to develop and maintain the biodiversity that is crucial to this area, and is constantly under threat from habitat destruction and over-exploitation.

The Amazon Biological Station was founded in 1986, creating a conservation, investigation and education centre to host scientists and students interested in preserving tropical rainforest. This band of wet forest is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. As a volunteer Kaya had the opportunity to learn firsthand from a live collection of the most important and endangered plants of the area.

But, according to Kaya, the most important thing she learnt from her volunteer experience is that sometimes it’s the simple things that really matter. Upon reflection, Kaya noted, “time always seems so precious at home as there are so many distractions and things going on, it feels good to get away from it all for a while”.

Of course, when you ‘get away from it all’ in the Amazon jungle, there are a few other lessons it’s worth learning as well! In a journal she kept of her experiences, Kaya wrote

“After spending a couple of weeks in the jungle there are several things that become part of every day life. You get used to the slightly damp odour of your clothes in the morning and waking up with yet another scratch from something that bit you in the night. Checking the toilet for any giant insects or spiders before intrepidly entering becomes second nature before long. Dodging the never ending ant trails crossing every path becomes a skill you can’t live without. You slowly become accustomed to routines of the reserve, early mornings at 6am, lazy afternoon siestas in the hammocks and bracing yourself for freezing cold showers after a hard days work.”

In another entry, she writes

“There are researchers staying [with us] in the rainforest, one guy is obsessed with snakes and goes on jungle walks every night to find and photograph different species. It’s been amazing as we’ve had the opportunity to see some deadly snakes as well as holding and touching the ones that aren’t able to kill you.”

But the life of a volunteer is not all hard work and creepy crawlies:

“Our evenings are spent getting to know everyone at the reserve; we play lots of games and enjoy deep discussion while chilling in the hammocks. We spend hours comparing each other’s cultures and taking the piss out of their idiosyncrasies. There’s also lots of time for reading, reflecting and relaxing!”

Kaya’s time in the Amazon allowed her to venture deep into the jungle, where communities of indigenous peoples continue to live relatively traditional lives amongst the natural beauty of the jungle.

“We spent our days hiking around the small slippery slopes of the jungle, up and down hills, over streams and rocks, from high up on the riverbanks to low down by the waterside. We passed by small communities along the way and watched small children fishing for food in the shallow parts of the river. Following a night of heavy rain the river swelled to a gushing torrent and we were no longer able to bath in the cooling waters as the current would have swept us away. It was a beautiful sight to observe, so powerful and mighty.”

It wasn’t all easy living in the Amazon, to be sure, but Kaya found that the peace and tranquillity of the jungle was hard to resist:

“It is not until you leave that you realise that things were once different in a far away place.”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing but in doing” - Greg Anderson.

Just last month a group of GVN trekkers returned from possibly the most spectacular trek in the Americas – Machu Picchu. Together they donated their time, raised over US$27,000 in critical funds, and had the courage and spirit to embark on this adventure. By joining this fundraising trek they aided the refurbishment of a Peruvian orphanage. What an amazing effort! Jessica Jalea was one of our inspirational trekkers and below she shares with you her reflections on the experience.

‘The Machu Picchu trek was the most difficult, and at the same time, most rewarding experience of my young life. Before I even lef

t home for Peru, there was so much anticipation and build up towards the trek because of the amazing support and generous donations from my family, friends and church. There remained with me an overwhelming sense that the trek wasn't just something I wanted to accomplish for myself, but something I HAD to accomplish; for the kids that GVN was going to help through Peruvian Hearts, as a 'thank you' to all those that were encouraging me from home and finally, as a victory that I could lift up in praise.

In Cuzco, the night before we left for the first day of h

iking, our wonderful guide advised us to enjoy the hike, he told us that Machu Picchu would wait for us, so for the first three days 'just enjoy the journey'. On my own journey, I managed to catch a bit of altitude sickness on the first day. I was so exhausted that our guide seriously asked me to consider turning back since the second day required us to climb even higher. I skipped supper that night to cry in my tent and weigh out my options for the next morning. After sincere reflection with my tent-mate and after some of the other participants, who I'd only known for the past two days, encouraged me to go on and told me they'd walk with me, no matter how slow I'd have to go, I felt so empowered that I decided to go on.

The next day, we went up another 1000 meters in altitude and reached the highest point on the trek at 42000 ft. It was the most victorious feeling to stand at the peak of that mountain amongst the clouds. And though, as promised, Machu Picchu awaited us on the fourth day in all it's majesty, I would have to say that the challenge of the trek was the biggest reward, because the more difficult the challenge became, the more rewarding it felt to overcome.

Finally, the cherry on top of the whole trip had to be meeting the children during the project days that followed. It was a deeper kind of reward to see the work first-hand. I believe our group was lucky to see the Pampallacta School at the infancy of it's transformation through GVN/Peruvian Hearts, still rugged and plain, and then experience the almost complete transformation of the Hogar Mercedes de Jesus Molina Orphanage with their new bathrooms, laundry room, kitchen and dining room.

The change was absolutely amazing, and the kids were so unforgettable. The whole trip sparked a sort of passion in me that I hope I can use to promote, propagate and participate in more change. Even on the last day, instead of feeling like it was the end of a trip, it definitely felt more like the beginning of a new journey. Congratulations to all the participants of the Machu Picchu Trek 2009!’

The next GVN Fundraising Trek is in January 2010 and gives participants the opportunity to help provide disadvantaged African kids in schools and orphanages with basic needs such as food, medical care, and education. Plus, trekkers will also have the chance to bag one of the world's seven summits - Mt Kilimanjaro.

The 2008 Mt Kilimanjaro Fundraising Trek raised over US$40 000 for the Africa Children's fund and provided hundreds of orphans in Kenya with shelter, food, clothing, education, and medical care. This year we are hoping to raise $50 000 which will again be used to assist with the basic needs of a number of orphanage projects, and in addition, fund events for local youth and partner organizations. The focus of these events will be to teach leadership skills, instil confidence, and inspire change.

Come on, who is up for the challenge?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Out and About: New Zealand Nature Program

Hey everyone! I’m Ray, the silver haired one in the picture above, and I am one half of the New Zealand Programs Leadership team: the other half is Toby, the scruffy haired one in the picture above.

It’s been an amazing few months on the program and we have been blessed with some really good weather. We only had one bad weather day, and that gave me a chance to take the guys on my patented ‘Ray’s Lord of the Rings Tour’. Fun was had by all. Toby has been away for 2 weeks leading the Machu Picchu fundraising trek, so it’s just been me and the volunteers: planting, removing weeds, surveying streams, counting seals and learning all about Maori myths and legends from one of our ranger friends up north.

Here is a little more about some of our recent program highlights:

Seal Survey at Cape Palliser
Ray and team journeyed 2 hours to this amazing site to identify, monitor and count the seals alongside DOC workers Joe and Jenny. Our final count; a staggering 966 seals and about 10,000 photos of adorable seal pups.

Wellington Zoo
The zoo is always a great day and lots of fun. This time round we made enrichment toys for Sean the sun bear and mulched a large area of the gardens outside the chimp house!

8th July. Nga Manu
This was such a fun day at Nga Manu nature reserve. Between the eel feed and the baby chicks we managed to cut up and re-plant lots of flax. Here we are balancing on the back of a tractor!

As you can see, we’ve been having loads of fun. The volunteers who are here at the moment are very lucky as next week they will be travelling up to the Coromandel Peninsula to take part in some conservation work with the Moehau Environmental Group, a group committed to keeping down pest numbers in order to save the endangered Kiwi Bird, amongst others. The gang will have an amazing trip and get to see some of New Zealand’s most untouched and precious rainforest. We go to Coromandel once very 3 months or so and soon we will also be starting a project at the northern tip of the South Island: very exciting. That means we all get to go on the 3 hour ferry crossing and sail through the Marlborough sounds, which are stunning.


Find out more and apply online

NATURECAST episodes 1 and 2

For Itunes store, click
For RSS feed, click

here for NZNP on Facebook

Check out
this website by Heal the Earth volunteer, Ada Spahija

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

United Nations Grants Special Consultative Status to GVN Foundation

GVN and the GVN Foundation are excited to announce that the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has granted special consultative status to Global Volunteer Network (GVN) Foundation.

Consultative status opens the door for GVN Foundation to actively engage with the ESOSC and its subsidiary bodies, as well as with United Nations Secretariat, programmes, funds and agencies.

Colin Salisbury, GVN Foundation Chairman and co-founder says that it is a great honour to be recognised by the United Nations and granted special consultative status.

"Achieving NGO status marks a significant moment for GVN Foundation. We feel privileged to be given an opportunity to lend our expertise and contribute to the United Nations’ target of meeting the millennium development goals and ending extreme poverty by 2015,” Salisbury said.

Special Consultative status is granted to NGOs and non-profits that have a specialty in an activity area covered by the ESOSOC. GVN Foundation’s work to educate the global community about the possibility of ending extreme poverty in our lifetime, ties directly into ECOSOC’s millennium development goal work.

“One of the key focuses of ECOSOC is the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Six of the UN MDG’s are aimed at assisting children. GVN Foundation will address the same six goals through our continued work to assist children around the world,” said Salisbury.

Courtney Montague, Executive Director of the GVN Foundation, hopes to go to the UN in the coming weeks to speak with their NGO Branch about ways GVN Foundation can assist the UN, and vice versa. Meanwhile, we are all celebrating this huge milestone!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What in the world have we been up to?

It has been an eventful few weeks here at GVN and we’re all being kept as busy as bees. We’re very happy to have Libby Gendall back in the office. As the Americas Coordinator Libby receives a bunch of enquiries each day about our programs in the region.

Toby and Erin just returned from the Machu Picchu fundraising trek and by all accounts it was an incredible experience. One of our trek participants has put together a really awesome video showing highlights from the trek and orphanage visits:

The GVN Foundation have now reached 600 hosts for Eat So They Can! We are super excited about this years event and hope to raise over $100,000 to support children in need.

Just in case you have not heard - Eat So They Can is an international fundraiser that invites citizens of the world to participate in what is collectively one huge dinner party on October 17-18; where something as simple as sharing a meal with friends can help stop child poverty.

ESTC Coordinator Eliza has even got her family involved! “My Granny, Rosemary Raymond, is 85 years old and doesn't have a clue how to use a computer but she has still found a way to sign up - my sending me an 'airletter' all the way from her little village in Kent, England. She plans to host a buffet lunch in her little cottage for her "ancient and deaf" friends (her description, not mine!)”

If you haven't signed up yet and you'd like to receive a pack just visit: All our hosts will receive a DVD showing how the funds from last year were spent, a poster, and some very cool ESTC buttons/badges!

Last month GVN Founder and Director Colin Salisbury, and Lauren McMahon our GVN Kenya Representative were interviewed by Givealitte. In this video they talk about how and why GVN first came about, as well as about our projects in Kenya and how we are supporting children in need.

I’ll leave you now with a link to check out the video here: