If you get your news from the alternative presses online, you may have been reading about volunteering for years. But for those of us who read the mainstream rags, it may seem strange that they haven’t picked up on the volunteering trend. The benefits of volunteering are so obvious—both for the volunteers themselves and for the people they are helping overseas. But, as with any trend, a critical mass is often necessary before the mainstream media will take a real, sustained notice. That’s why it has been so exciting for us here at Journeys for Good to see so many mainstream media outlets covering volunteering over the past few weeks. Most of the recent articles I’ve found have covered volunteering from the perspective of the volunteer—illustrating the opportunities that are out there for exploration, and encouraging people of all walks of life to consider traveling to help those in need all over the world. I hope, as the movement continues to build momentum, that the mainstream media will begin to cover specific projects—to explore the many ways in which those projects have benefited local communities and to explore the role of international volunteers in changing lives and making a difference.
When a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in early 2010, it seemed like the entire world turned its eyes to the poverty-stricken Caribbean nation – and Sean Penn was no exception. In the wake of the disaster, which virtually leveled the tiny country, Penn and fellow philanthropist Diana Jenkins sprung into action and formed the Jenkins/Penn Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO).
Unlike some other celebrity-based charity organizations, the J/P HRO and its namesakes were not only at ground zero immediately following the disaster but, nearly three years later, are still actively involved. Sean Penn’s volunteerism through the J/P HRO is, in fact, so lauded that he was recently named ambassador at large for Haiti.
The volunteer industry is growing at an astounding rate. More students are choosing to spend gap years overseas. More adults are taking career breaks to volunteer. Honeymooning couples are choosing to spend their time giving back together, cementing their love by sharing their time and happiness. Empty nesters are finding new purpose and energy by sharing their experience, skills, and wisdom. It is a wonderful thing to see, especially in a world where economic crises seem to crop up everywhere you look, where poverty has reached record levels, and where the Internet joins us virtually, something that I think could keep people physically apart, if people let it. Instead, people are coming together across vast distances, bridging racial and socioeconomic divides, laughing in the face of ageism and sexism, and standing up to inequality and injustice.
Welcome to our new interview series, The Ripple Effect. The Ripple Effect explores the emotional impact of volunteer travel and its lasting effect on people’s lives. Over the coming weeks, we will be interviewing adventurous volunteers who have given their time, compassion, and sweat equity to make a difference. Today, we’re speaking with Paul and Anne Jeschke. They traveled to Kenya with Habitat for Humanity to help build homes for local families. In the process they learned how important it is to give back. Paul and Anne are an inspiration for volunteers of any age.
Part two of my interview with Kimberly Haley-Coleman is focused on volunteer feedback, building a volunteer community, and the voluntourism industry as a whole. Enjoy!