Happy Earth Day/Birth Day

1231980_76813417It was on Earth Day in 2009 that I launched this blog, with a simple message:


This seems the perfect day to launch the new CHANGE BY DOING blog, a destination where you’ll find news and updates on volunteer travel, voluntourism, and service travel opportunities and ideas around the world.

Check in to dip into the well for inspiration, find out what others are doing to help, and answer the question for yourself, “I wonder if I could…?”

You can

The world is an incredible place–You should go there.

So, so, so much has happened since then. I hope for you that the place on the road where you find yourself is more satisfying than where you were five years ago. Some of it will have sucked, but hopefully there are victories and proud moments and people wonderfully affected by your presence along the way. 

Earth Day is kind of like that. It’s been marked on calendars since the 1970s, and some of what has happened to the planet has sucked, but along the way there have been some wins. Our greater global awareness gives us a clearer picture of the troubles our planet faces, but also empowers us to act with greater understanding and make a difference.

In the 1970s, Dennis Hayes, one of the primary organizers of Earth Day, said, “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.” An article in LIFE magazine proclaimed: “In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution… by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half.” Others assured us we would trigger an ice age before the end of the 20th century, and that entire continents would be arid dustbowls. Well–there are certainly regions of Africa where unimaginable drought has decimated wildlife and human lifestyle…entire nations wrestle with food and water insecurity…nobody looks at the air quality in urban China with the same jokesy “ain’t it bad and oh-so-brown” humor we once saved for Burbank…but clearly we’ve begun turning the ship, albeit slowly. There is so much to do, but not by ignoring what we have done. Whether the ecology glass is half full or half empty is irrelevant–what we know is it can be filled some more.

Celebrate your progress today, on Earth Day, and find places where you have barriers to making better choices for the planet. We all have changes we can make to take a little less out of our resources…to leave a little more for the next generation.

My Nez Perce Native American friends in Idaho have a way of living and making tribal decisions that are based not on how action taken today will affect us, but how it will affect those who will be here seven generations from now. Major actions are done for those seven generations hence. If we do this, what will it do to or for our great, great, great, great, great, grandchildren? This, like every other thing they have taught me about this earth, is a nice way to look at it.


Teens Committed to Giving Back This Summer Eligible for Scholarships

Photo: Adventures Cross-Country

Photo: Adventures Cross-Country

Now is the time when families are making summer plans for vacations, camps, visits to family, and hopefully some meaningful volunteering. For teens who are looking for a giveback element to their summer blended with amazing travel and cultural experiences, Adventures Cross-Country is offering $1,000 scholarships toward the travel costs for volunteer trips.

For more than three decades, the company has been creating meaningful travel experiences for youth ages 13-19, and some highlights making me wish I was age-appropriate include: Thailand Elephant Service (volunteer in a hill tribe village, overnight at a monastery with Buddhist monks, learn Thai cooking, scuba dive, white water raft, and teach English), Costa Rica Service Ultimate (community service work with school children and rural farmers, white water raft, surf, patrol turtle nests, and build a community shelter), and Hawaii Service (help preserve natural and cultural environments, work with Boys & Girls club, surf, swim, hike).

Overall, they offer community service and immersion trips in 21 countries across six continents. That is SO much more life-altering and purpose-driven than the summers I spent working the drive through window at Carl’s Jr!

Make Your Tax Refund Tax-Deductible

taxcheckWhew. Did you finish? Get those taxes into the mailbox yet? As I’m writing, you’ve still got a few hours left, but not many. April 15 can be a real son of a gun for many of us as we gather piles of paper and reports around us that get scattered a few times by the breeze or a cat or dog or kids or our occasional fits of temper…but eventually we muddle through some ten-ninety-something form and stand in line at the post office, muttering that we’ll never put it off until the last minute again.

So, Forbes tells us the average tax refund this year is about $3,000 and more than 90% will be processed in less than 21 days. Ready for a wacky thought? Donate that money to charity. Don’t wait until December to give to organizations that have your passions and interests at heart. Everybody waits until the end of the year, which makes the rest of the calendar uncomfortably lean for most non-profits.

You probably didn’t budget the refund money since you couldn’t plan well until you did the paperwork to find out how much it would be…and while extra cash flow never hurts…you did OK so far this year without additional infusions of dollars. It could make a beautiful addition to your wardrobe, or a fun entertainment splurge, or that widget you’ve been eyeing that nobody got you from your gift list last December…but it could also mean less empty stomachs for some kids, or life-saving malaria nets, or an endangered species being better protected, or a school being built, life-saving medical care or medicines, a creative endeavor being realized, a teacher not having to empty their own wallet to get supplies in the classroom, a safe source of drinking water or hygiene. The list is as diverse as we are, but the commonality is that it could be YOU that makes a difference. You can’t solve every problem by throwing money at it, but you can help those who have boots on the ground working tirelessly every day in our stead while we have to go on with our lives, keep on working. A truly helpful charity closing down because of lack of funds is tragic, and it happens all the time.  Giving is low, need is high, and not every organization will make it until December when people loosen up their own pursestrings and get more generous for good causes.

Think about it, when that multi-colored check comes from Uncle Sam. You could turn it around right away and put it to work making our world better. It would be huge, and, it would be tax-deductible for next year’s return.

Get a receipt!

40th Annual National Volunteer Week

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWell, here we are. National Volunteer Week is upon us (April 6-13), and it has been a part of the April calendar for four decades. It is a week for charitable and philanthropic organizations to recognize and laud the volunteer force, without which most could never continue. Volunteer work is the lifeblood of most active social change around the world. That is not to suggest that for-profit work doesn’t move mountains for positive impact…but the volunteers, the unpaid blood/sweat/and tears gang, really makes the sea change in communities. It is never for money. It might occasionally be for glory (even if only glorified in our own eyes). Mostly, giving selflessly for others or a cause is all about being human. Respecting connection. Touching other lives because we can, because that is what we are meant to do. Being open to receiving service is much more difficult than giving of ourselves, and both sides of the equation are noble.

There has been a spate of recent articles making the social media rounds about how international volunteering is all about making the privileged volunteer feel superior while doing nothing for, perhaps even harming, the communities they go to serve. I mourn this negative attention based on tiny individual experiences that people extrapolate to be condemnation of the entire venture of giving.

Give. Of yourself. That is all.

If you tried a volunteer stint and it wasn’t a good fit for your desires, skills, needs, personality, etc…move on, but don’t stop giving. That would be tragic–for you, most of all. Are there people for whom balance of power and inequality issues get in the way of being of good service? Yes. Are there shady businesses cropping up, like false orphanages for “orphanage tourism” to try and capitalize on the best intentions of visitors? Sadly, yes. Does this mean there is no need–hell no! If you have been burned by an illegitimate service organization, don’t try and make that mean that the system is broken. Warn the rest of us, and find your next volunteer opportunity that sends you home wiping your eyes from endless gratitude that you got to be part of something huge. THOSE experiences are everywhere. If being of service to a person or community of need much greater than your own confronts or triggers you–go work on behalf of endangered species, or clean up the beach, or advocate in front of congress for better air quality, or work a charity race/walk/cycle/swim/etc event for a health cause that inspires or has touched you.

There is a volunteer opportunity that will light your fire uniquely and astoundingly and because of it, you will never be the same. If you haven’t found it on your first, or even fourth try, you mustn’t think it is the volunteering that is wrong…and you mustn’t, ever, discourage others from giving of themselves. You steal from them such light they may never know they have.

Give. Of yourself. That is all.

Light It Up Blue for Autism Awareness Day

LIUB-VERTAt awards shows, on the red carpet everyone is asked “Who are you wearing?” Today, I want to know what color are you wearing? I hope it’s blue. Today, worldwide, we all don blue for Autism Awareness Day. The education and fundraising day, April 2 each year, has, for several years, had international cooperation for the “Light It Up Blue” campaign, where landmarks in cities around the world light blue in the evening. From the Empire State Building to the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, even the International Space Station will be illuminated with blue lighting to mark the day.

Aside from our indigo t-shirts and porch lights, what does this day really mean? Autism Speaks, the advocacy organization out at the helm of the fight, tells us that 1 in 68 kids will develop autism (the figure is 1 in 42 for boys), and that autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States. As we are all hyper-focused on insurance right now, it is interesting to note that a family will spend about $60,000 a year on autism-related expenses, and there is no cure at this time. Being “on the spectrum” of autism means very different things for each individual, and there seem to be many factors that come into play when we try to determine how an individual develops autism. The controversial vaccine theory that got so much attention has not really been borne out by science, but we are learning more every day about pre-natal care, genetics, parental age at conception, premature birth, complications in pregnancy, and more. While we are definitely learning more, we haven’t cracked the case yet—which is why it is so important to keep the bright blue spotlight on the cause, advocate for research funding, and—so crucial—support individuals and families dealing with autism.

Want to Know How to Change the World? Ask Young People: We Day

Photo: FreeTheChildren.com

Photo: FreeTheChildren.com

So it turns out I kind of missed the coolest party of the year last week. I probably wouldn’t have been invited anyway–they were looking for a younger crowd–but boy I wish I had been there. I have friends who went, so I look forward to picking their brains about it.

We Day had it’s big California party last week, in Oakland, and the reason I wasn’t invited is because We Day is all about youth—a category that rarely still applies to me. A movement of Free the Children, We Day inspires kids after a year-long initiative, “We Act,” which gets young people becoming active for social change. The generation speeding toward adulthood now is the first that can actually put an end to the worst forms of poverty, cut a large slice out of global hunger issues, and more. The We Day events are held throughout the US, Canada, and the UK, to celebrate the amazing work kids are doing. Guests at events include super luminaries, like (just to name a few):Kofi Annan, Queen Noor of Jordan, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jane Goodall, Richard Branson, Magic Johnson, Elie Wiesel, Deepak Chopra, plus performers like Jennifer Hudson, Demi Lovato, One Republic, Joe Jonas, Jason Mraz, Colbie Caillat, and tons more. As a young person, what wouldn’t you do to get to go to a party like that with thousands of other inspired, fired up peers?

Well, here’s what some ARE doing: Schools and groups commit to taking on one global and one local project per year, and take specific action on the issue of their choice.  Since 2007, We Day participants have raised 37 million dollars for 100 different causes and volunteered nearly ten million hours for global and local initiatives. Tickets to these mega concert events in huge stadiums are dearly sought, and can only be paid for with service. Some of the most recent lesson plans and activities added to the website include units on Girls’ Education in Afghanistan; Racism in Canada; Adopt-a-Village programs focusing on water, education, alternative finance, and health; Hunger Heroes; Take a Stand on Aboriginal Issues; etc.

Your kids want a piece of this…trust me. Go explore, make sure your family’s teachers, faith groups, and community groups know about it and look for ways to get involved as well. The only regrets will come from not jumping in.

Volunteer in Haiti: Leadership Education, Solar/Wind Projects, and Agriculture Infrastructure

photo: Elevate Destinations

photo: Elevate Destinations

I can’t believe how quickly the pages get torn off the calendar! Time races by, and now it has been two years since I was last preparing to lead a volunteer service trip to Haiti. The organization with which I traveled, and am dearly fond of, is Elevate Destinations, and their service trip Elevate Haiti is once again filling up with hearty souls. Be careful if you ask me if you should go–I’ll flat out tell you “YES”

My two trips to post-earthquake Haiti were both with Elevate Destinations, once as client in Jacmel, then as a co-trip leader in Cyvadier. This year’s trip is to an island just off the Southwestern coast, Ile-a-Vache. Every year, the organization teams with on-the-ground community-based organizations–the mandatory key to a successful volunteer program–and this year they will work with the Edem Foundation, extending that group’s commitment to Haitian youth and local community economic development.

As a volunteer, you’ll be spending time in various activities, from teaching English and Leadership classes for kids, installation of new agricultural equipment, and getting a solar/wind energy system up and running. While it sounds like you’ll need lots of expertise for these jobs, you will have everything you need with a willingness to put in sweat equity and keep a great attitude. There is also plenty of time built in for cultural interchange and genuine connection to the community, and some exploration of the island as well as Port-au-Prince upon first arrival, with expert local guides. This is the polar opposite of a touristy, canned experience, and the friends you make—both fellow volunteers and Haitians—will likely be with you for the rest of your life. The two trip leaders this year were clients on my last trip there (and have both been repeatedly and are far more Haiti savvy than I ever hoped to be) so I know you’ll be in excellent hands. Tell Nic and Tess I said HI.

The trip is in July…in Haiti…and yes, it’s gonna be steamy…and this experience will also fire up your heart in ways you cannot imagine. Check it out. If you have any questions, give a holler–but I warned you–my answer will be YES, you should absolutely go!


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