Brian Harley in Brazil

Image source: Brian Harley

Welcome to part two of our Ripple Effect interview with Brian Harley, a veteran and humanitarian who traveled to Salvador, Brazil to make a difference in children’s lives. His story illustrates the ripple effect of volunteering: how a volunteering experience can make a person better.

Brian Harley with the Kids

Image source: Brian Harley

Could you talk about one of your most memorable experiences?

During the Brazil trip I had several. The good ones were so good, like the kids just running up to me and wanting to be hugged or picked up or making me push them around in a toy car. It’s really the simplest things that didn’t cost me an additional dime that made the most impact on me. One thing I mentioned earlier was how cleaning up after them was a challenge.

The nuns fed the children essentially the same sort of meal all the time, meat with rice and possibly beans with juice and dessert. Dessert was almost always a fruit of some kind. At the time of my volunteer program I was 25. My younger brother had been grown for some time so I’d largely forgotten how children can be while eating. They would somehow manage to get it all over themselves, the table, the chairs, the floor, even the wall!

Every day these kids amazed me as I stood there with mop in hand wondering, “How does watermelon get on the child, the floor, the table, the chair, and the wall?” It was a challenge, but one I gladly accepted.

My last day working there they had something different for dessert. I bought a cake for them. Thankfully that didn’t end up on the floor and wall.

Brian Harley and the Kids Eating Cake

Image source: Brian Harley

Do you think your experience on active duty contributed to your interest in or motivation to volunteer? If so, in what way?

Well, it definitely made me want to travel more. That much I can say for sure. I don’t know if my time in service contributed to my motivation to be a volunteer. My job in the military didn’t directly prep me for volunteer work, but my training did as it helped me become more savvy and forced me to think fast when a situation doesn’t go as planned (as often happens during travel). I’ve been lost many times when traveling on my own and my training got me through those times. The Marine Corps values did as well:  Honor, Courage, Commitment.

I think having those three values just makes you a better person, period. I would like to thank the Marine Corps for that.

What advice would you give to a first-time international volunteer?

Go in with an open mind, a desire to experience a foreign culture, and definitely a phrasebook or two! [A side note: Sight word apps are great for language learning beginners!]


What is the ripple effect of volunteer travel on your life?

Well, it certainly has given me a lot of perspective: Perspective on how others live, in cultures foreign to my own, how similar we are despite our differences, and how most people are just as curious to learn about us as we are to learn about them. Going to Salvador, Brazil was my first international volunteer program and has been in my heart ever since. I’ll never forget my time there and the desire to volunteer again will not fade. Since returning home in September 2009 I’ve wanted to do another program with CCS in another of their program sites.

Before my first trip, you would never have caught me speaking about volunteering in the way I have been these past three years. It just wasn’t on my radar. Now I want to do it as much as humanly possible. I’m currently enrolled in another CCS program scheduled to begin December 22nd in Rabat, Morocco. It will last four weeks (yes, I’ll be giving up my Christmas and New Years at home for this). This is a program I’m currently fundraising for to help with the overall costs.

In essence I guess you could say the ripple effect is that I just want to do more for people. I don’t come from a wealthy family or one that is very poor. I’m right there in the middle. Even being in the middle in United States is like upper class living for many of the people I met in Brazil. After my deployment in Iraq and my volunteer trip in Brazil I just realized how many people are in a position to do more. So, now it’s my goal to do more whenever possible. In 2012 I hope to volunteer in Morocco helping the poor, sick, and orphaned children there.

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