Thursday, October 15, 2009

Be The Change – what’s it really all about?

Kristin Scales, our BTC Coordinator fills us in on what this intense and motivating training program is really like, and what you can expect to achieve through it.

I often get a lot of questions from people curious if GVN’s Be The Change Program is right for them. People aren’t always certain if it’s the right fit for them and some think it sounds like fun but really don’t know what the whole thing is about! The program attracts people from all age groups, educational and professional backgrounds.

You may have always had a dream to start a non-profit, a charity, an international movement – you may have recently read an inspiring book – taken an eye opening trip – or simply had an “a-ha” moment.

Sometimes you an get an idea in your head of something you know you would love to accomplish one day but you’re not really certain how to get there – what steps you need to take – or even if you have what it takes to make those necessary steps. Be The Change strips you of those nagging “what ifs” and places you in an environment of like minded people all working toward similar goals and headed by a group of confident, inspiring social entrepreneurs in their own right.

Each Be The Change course has a wide variety of people attending. Many participants are more mature aged than our other volunteer programs. These people often want to learn something new, change a job, or have had an idea in mind for years but never knew how to proceed with it. We also get a fair amount of people in their twenties who are looking to start jobs in international development or with the UN and want to learn more about how to do so.

It is not a requirement of the Be The Change program to have a clear 'cause' in mind- some of our past participants have said that the program has allowed them to narrow down or pinpoint exactly what they are passionate about- using the course to fine-tune what and how they can make a difference in their communities or internationally. On the other hand, some participants do come into the program with a very clear idea of their project or cause and use the course as a time to put their ideas into action.

Each day Colin and Courtney will lead workshops to explain the difference between different types of NGOs, nonprofits and international development organizations. They go over what requirements you may need to start an NGO or Nonprofit and give you knowledge about how to successfully fundraise. During the workshops Colin and Courtney will discuss your goals with you and give you help and advice about the steps you need to take to begin your project.

The schedule for Be the Change usually involves a morning activity, such as a short hike or yoga, followed by breakfast. Then each day Colin and the other facilitators will go through different presentations on various issues surrounding the world of Non-profits/fundraising and the UN. After the presentations/discussions an afternoon activity is offered. These group activities are meant to help bring the group closer together as the Be The Change program really is a learning and growing experience.

Some people come to the program with a really clear idea of a project they want to start, some are looking for a change in career, others just want to learn a bit more about NGOs – but all leave the program inspired and instilled with confidence that they can do something!

Be The Change is currently offered in Jamaica, Italy and New Zealand.

Our next program is offered in Runaway Bay, Jamaica, 14-21 March 2010.

For more information please visit:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Helping our partners recover from Typhoon Ketsana

At GVN we were devastated to hear about the damage Typhoon Ketsana has wrought across South East Asia. Our thoughts are with our partners, friends and their families in Vietnam and the Philippines.

Today we are bringing to you an article written by Shafaq Varghese, one of our current volunteers in the Philippines, describing the heart-breaking aftermath of the typhoon.

“Visiting the areas affected by the flooding was a heart-wrenching experience. The devastation was limitless. In one of the hardest hit areas, numerous houses, which had originally been built alongside a major river, had been flattened and the homeless victims were scattered on the streets living in temporary spaces made up of plastic sheets tied together with thread. Garbage, which was basically household items destroyed by the flooding, was piled up on every street corner and outside every house. It was obvious that anything these residents owned, in an already poverty-stricken area, had been washed away or spoiled by the flood.

In one street corner hundreds of people were standing in the sweltering heat, in lines that stretched around several blocks, to receive aid from their local community leadership. I was skeptical on whether enough aid would be available for the hordes of people waiting.

The family we visited to provide aid to had lost everything they owned in the flood. Their house had been submerged in water and they had survived by taking shelter in their neighbor’s two-story house. Every single piece of clothing and furniture this family owned was covered with thick mud. They had no food, no drinking water or clean clothes. And even though they had started the cleaning process, it was obvious that in the absence of proper nourishment and basic amenities, it would be weeks or even months before they would be able to have a normal life again.

The same story was repeated in the hundreds of other houses that we passed by. From the families scavenging through their destroyed goods for items they could still make use of, to the one living inside a truck because they had lost everything, to the group of people holding a vigil on a bridge for a drowned child, everywhere I looked, the only thing visible was utter destruction and suffering.

In the three and a half hours that we surveyed the area, we saw just two aid operations in progress, one through a UN agency and the other through Red Cross. From the size of the trucks and the number of victims standing in line to receive aid, it was clear that the rations provided by these aid operations would be inadequate. Worst still, there wasn’t a single medical program in progress to provide temporary medical care or check-ups to the victims. With millions of dollars worth of aid coming into the Philippines just for the sole purpose of providing food, water, shelter and medical care to the victims of the flooding, I wondered where the money was being spent if not in the area with the highest number of casualties.

Clearly, the government and other aid agencies need to take additional steps to reduce the suffering of the people affected by the flooding, most of whom are now living on the streets and are highly susceptible to diseases, mal-nutrition and probable death. This includes, first and foremost, providing additional food, clean water and medical help, in order to prevent further fatalities and the spread of diseases. Rebuilding the houses and cleaning the streets of the loads of garbage scattered everywhere would be the next significant step. These must then be followed by providing safer and more stable housing in the areas more prone to rain and flood damage, in order to prevent such widespread disaster and loss of life in the future.”

Hundreds of lives have been lost, many are still missing, and hundreds of thousands of people have been affected. In response, the GVN Team has launched an Asia Pacific Emergency appeal to assist three communities in desperate need who are particularly dear to our hearts - our partner in the Philippines, our partner in Vietnam, and Samoa, the island neighbouring our headquarters here in New Zealand.

I urge you to please consider making a donation to one of our emergency appeals or volunteer and assist on the ground.

Click to donate:
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Please leave us your comments and thoughts about the devastating past few weeks in the Asia-Pacific region below

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Very Important Wall by Libby Gendall

The plight of street children around the world is a desperate one. Street children are widely recognized as those most at risk of violence, neglect and abuse. UNICEF’s annual State of the World’s Children reports have repeatedly called attention to the extremely challenging conditions in which children work and live in the streets. Sadly this is an ongoing problem that shows little sign of being resolved.

Thankfully, there is something that can be done… and our volunteers are helping to do it! Never one to be discouraged, Laura Van Waas, is one such volunteer. She realised that despite overwhelming odds, it is possible to make a difference in the lives of some of society’s most neglected children.

Laura volunteered with GVN at a construction project in the rural village of Oropesa, located just outside of Cusco, Peru. She worked at an orphanage which houses boys ranging in age from 6-18 years old. These boys were street children and this orphanage aims to provide them with a safe home and better quality of life. One of the future goals of this orphanage, known as Azul Wasi, is to develop training workshops to provide the boys with employable skills when they leave the orphanage at the state mandated age of 18.

In a journal entry, Laura writes:

‘On site at Azul Wasi, we have had a good week. We have nearly completed the reinforcing wall all the way along the back of the buildings. There has been more digging in the mud, more shovelling and moving gravel, more mixing and carrying cement and more magical moments sharing a sugary drink or standing back to admire our work with the kids.

Apparently, the police (including the man who founded and heads the orphanage) are often involved in "plain clothes" round-up efforts in the main plaza of Cusco. At around 10pm, after the kids are meant to have gone home, they move through the plaza to see who is still there trying to sell goods or services to tourists. They bundle them all into a bus and take them back to the police station. Then, within half an hour, word has somehow managed to get back to anyone who has parents in Cusco and the mothers come in to collect their children.

Often there are one or two children left, no parents to pick them up. These are street children for whom another solution needs to be sought. They may be brought to one of the several orphanages in Cusco or, if they are lucky it seems, they will be brought out to Azul Wasi.

Not all of the kids are necessarily orphans, per definition. One boy that was staying at Azul Wasi was thrown out by his mother when he was eight, because he was the oldest of many (probably eight or more) children and she could no longer cope with them all. At first he was brought to
an uncle's place where he was forced to do hard labour on a farm and not given any opportunity to go to school - modern slavery in one of its most complicated forms. When he was 12, he ran away and went to live on the streets. Then he was brought to Azul Wasi, where he had the chance to get an education and he has since returned to live with his mother, but with the help of the orphanage he has been set up with the knowledge and equipment needed to have a small guinea-pig "farm", so he is able to make a small living for himself and his family.

How many of the kids stories are like this one and how many of the children no longer have parents is unclear. What is certain is that they come to Cusco from all around the country, drawn to the city by the promise of tourist's money, and they are very, very lucky if they are taken in at Azul Wasi. The conditions there are far better than in the orphanages in the city and many of the children are happy to stay there and cooperate with the attempts to secure an education for them and the chance to behave like brothers. It feels good to be helping the kids, even if it is only for a month and only by building them a not very exciting - but incredibly important - wall.’

There are several factors which contribute to the high numbers of street children in Cusco, as well as the other cities in Peru. Increasing poverty in rural Peru has caused a shift in population, with many families moving into urban areas in the hopes of finding employment and a better life. Without traditional means of income and extended family support, the new pressures of living in the city often become too much for families to cope with and children are drawn to the freedom and potential of the streets. Luckily, volunteers like Laura, are helping to make the lives of such children in Cusco a little better and with one ‘incredibly important’ wall, their future is looking brighter.

If you would like to follow Laura’s adventures in Peru, please check out her blog:

Thanks Laura and all our volunteers for your hard work!

If you would like to find out more about volunteer opportunities in Peru please visit our website: