Does vacay + serving others sound interesting to you? I don't know if my enjoyment to see fun places and do good was born out of the need to multitask, or just a brainstorm from my younger type-A/adventure-seeker days. Whatever the origin, I have always embraced the concept, and we have tried to raise four kids to do the same. What is to be gained by traveling and giving of yourself in a new locale? Meeting new people, seeing new territory, giving in a new way, pushing yourself to live, eat, and experience things that push you out of your comfort zone. Intrigued yet?
What I have learned over the years about service travel adventures is that they come in all shapes and sizes, including your time commitment, cost, and add-on excursions for before, during, and after the service project. The trips can be as short as a drive to an urban downtown area, or as long as a year or more commitment on the other side of the world.
(Image above and at top of post is of Project Woo in Nicaragua, where surfers combine thier passions of the great waves and helping the community that lives there.)
A few questions to ask yourself:
What places would you like to see?
How long can you be gone?
What experiences or adventures would you like to have?
What can you afford, or how much would you have to fundraise?
Do you want it to be part of a school educational service project, a religious endeavor, or a certain cause that you champion, such as saving baby sea turtles, restoring the rainforests, or battling human trafficking?
Do you want to go alone, with a group, with a significant other, or with your whole family? Ultimately, what sounds fun to you? What is calling you in ?!
Sometimes, you don't even have to ask these questions, because you will just, serendipitously, have a friend or family member or local organization call you and say, "Hey, I am driving a group of kids to New Orleans to help with hurricane Katrina clean up. Wanna go?" (This would be me eavesdropping on my husband's phone calls to his business contacts, friends, and youth group kids.)
Here are a few organizations to get your search engine going:
Cross-Cultural Solutions (described as a "mini Peace-Corps", or "Peace Corps alternative")
Mercy Ships (state-of-the-art hospital ship that delivers hope and healing to people around the globe living in dire circumstances)
Om Luxe (divine destinations for the conscious connoisseur)
Rotary International (global volunteer network, but great for those who want to make a global impact while staying in the USA because
you can join your local Rotary club!)
Sierra Club (their motto is "explore, enjoy, and protect the planet.")
Global Volunteers ("volunteer vacations that change the world")
Project Wave of Optimism (WOO)
Travel and Serve (another great organization to get you abroad, this one also involved mission work in the services they provide abroad)
Doctors without Borders ("Medical aid where it is needed most. Independent. Neutral. Impartial.")
Christian Medical Society ("The nation's largest faith-based association of healthcare professionals.")
The list is truly endless. You can search by location, interest, or your religious affiliation.
Our family has usually just used local contacts, like our church/youth groups/mission projects, friends that are oversees on-site, local organizations like Rotary, or organizations where we have friends as founders, organizers, or fundraisers. Once you make up your mind to do it, the opportunities will find their way to you, and you will be on your way!
Today, I will share pics and stories about Project WOO (Wave of Optimism). Our second oldest son, Matthew, asked to go serve here after he graduated from high school last year. We had first heard of Project WOO from one of my mom's friends. Mag has a son, Trent, who had begun a project with college friends helping Nicaraguan surf villages become self-sustaining. The WOO mission statement is to "facilitate community-driven development in Latin America surf travel destinations." The words "surf" and "serve" were all Matt needed to hear to sign on!
Learn more about this awesome project by watching their video on You Tube here.
The Matt-Adventure Factor:
Matt got to stay with a local family. Eat the local food. Take daily Spanish classes overlooking the ocean. Break ground on the new local medical clinic. Entertain his host family and the locals with his guitar sessions. Work with the local kids in their classroom. Meet other twenty-somethings that were there to surf and serve. Not to mention, he got to celebrate the local holidays with the community, where, apparently, Mother's Day lasts for a week, and the kids even get out of school!
His favorite memories of the trip a year later: Surfing, living with a local family, breaking ground for the Gigante Medical Clinic foundation, and working with the kids at their school.
Would he do it again?: Yes!
Advice he would give others about going to serve with WOO: Go explore the area and get to know the locals as much as possible, and don't just stay cooped up in your room.
The Mom Factor:
I felt semi-calm because we set this up through a lifetime connection, who knew there is no wrath like that of Momma Bear Laina :) So after phone calls with Trent, and the volunteer coordinator Lisa, I released my "baby" to the wild Adventure-Service launch pad....His first solo service trip. (Insert my clammy palms here.) Upon arrival, WOO had a trusted shuttle driver, Lorenzo, pick up Matt at the airport hotel across the street. By then, Matt had texted that he had landed, and later that evening he face-timed us. After he got to the village of Gigante, there was no cell phone connection, but throughout his stay, he would be able to walk to basecamp, where there was a satellite phone, and he was able to check in with us once or twice. (Insert my sighs of relief.)
I threatened to disown Matt if he returned without taking any photos. So luckily, he has some snapshots from a disposable camera that capture the beauty of the little surf village, the beautiful people who live there, the grand lushness of Nicaragua, and the fierceness of the ocean that pounds its shores.
I wont lie, it is hard to see my husband and/or kids travel to the near and far corners of the world to help others if I am not their to hover over them! But, I have learned many things from letting them go, the least of which is that God hovers over them waaaaaaay better than I ever could!
Want to learn more about Project Wave of Optimism, and support their great projects? Check out the WOO website for information on the WOO team, how to volunteer, how to donate, or just to look at the pics of their cool surf village projects! To contact them, click here.
Share what service trip have you done that changed your life, and others, with us on our Facebook page. Got some service Selfies you want to share? Share those with us too! Try tweeting them at us to @CampMakery with the hashtag "#CampMakeryService" and be sure to follow us on Twitter!