“The most important thing I learned while on both these trips is that if you want to make a change, you can’t just wipe away or ignore the communities and cultures already existent in a place when you arrive. I also learned that simply because something is not what much of western civilization is accustomed to does not make it wrong.”
There’s something special about the mountains–maybe it’s the spectacular views, the gradual change in climate and terrain, or the sense of accomplishment upon reaching the peak. Last week was International Mountain Day. In homage to the mountains, we’ve compiled some of our best mountain photos from last summer’s excursions. Enjoy!
A quiet, cool morning waiting for the fog to clear on the Lares Trek in Peru (Peru: Service In The Sacred Valley™)
Hike a half-day into the rural mountains outside of Shaxi until you come to this hidden gem! A beautiful temple is carved into the hillside, just waiting to be explored. (China: Mandarin Service Adventure)
You’ve never seen mountains like this before! The Rainbow Mountain in Peru is a photographer’s paradise. (Peru: Service Through The Lens™)
Pastoral views from the route up Mt. Brison (Dominican Republic: Caribbean Service Adventure)
Snow-capped mountains, winter sunlight, hiking companions…aaaaah. The perfect day. (Peru: Service In The Sacred Valley™)
This is as mountain-y a it gets in Fiji–but the views are still A+! See the entire Yasawa island chain from the ridge, just a short hike from the Home Base. (Fiji: Children Of The South Pacific™)
Jamie Paradis, a high school senior from Maplewood, New Jersey, enrolled in GLA’s Costa Rica: Beachside Service Adventure program because she was excited to make a difference. Jamie also wanted to deepen her experience and opted to enroll as a GLA Fellow, an optional program through which students can expand upon their GLA program with a curriculum that both highlights and recognizes their achievements. For her Fellowship final project, Jamie submitted a collection of seven poems that were inspired by her experiences in Costa Rica. We’ve picked two of our favorites to showcase here.
“releasing baby turtles”
we heard the soft cracks early this morning
43 small lives
squirming in our
lime green bucket
it tips over, spilling
and not yet hard shells
the turtles instantly know
where to go
struggling to inch
across the gray sand
two don’t move,
frozen near our bucket
we cheer for them the most.
they each slowly
begin their lives
the waves help,
picking them up
when they’re close enough
bringing them closer,
but then throwing them
we see their small black heads
pop to the surface
before each new wave crashes
soon we can’t see any of them at all
except for the squiggly
I wonder how many
how many will grow
and lay their own
eggs filled with
begun with sandy journeys
It’s no secret that giving your time and energy in a sustainable, ethical way benefits the people/animals/group/cause you set out to help. The positives don’t end there, however! The act of performing service has a ripple effect, impacting the lives and outlooks of many–including the volunteer!
Volunteering can be a catalyst for….
Starting a Movement
Turns out, helping others is contagious! More than ever before, young people are giving their time to a cause, and it is catching. When your family and friends see you giving your time, they are more likely to be inspired to volunteer and join the movement. Many high schools have a chapter of Key Club International, Recycle Club, or other community service group. This is a great place to start and one of the best ways to connect with like-minded people in your community. (Besides, it’s more fun to volunteer together!)
Volunteering can be a great way to test the waters before committing to a college major or career path. You might love animals and consider studying veterinary medicine, but spend time at an animal shelter and realize that you actually enjoy the human interactions more. Spend three weeks in Tanzania and discover (or nourish) your interest in classroom teaching. Through dedicating your time and learning in a new environment, you’re giving back but also discovering your likes and dislikes and teasing out your strengths and passions. In fact, 80% of GLA alumni say that their service-learning experience influenced their future career or field of study.
Afraid you don’t have the right skills? You don’t have to be a professional to make a big impact! Most volunteer organizations have many types of opportunities, including entry-level physical projects and simple data entry.
Whether you give your time halfway across the world or just around the corner, putting yourself in a new environment and out of your normal day-to-day can have a huge impact on the way you see the world. You know the saying “change begins at the end of your comfort zone”? It’s true! Volunteering can be a great way to put yourself out there and come together in solidarity with people you may never get to interact with otherwise.
This is an added perk for those who bring their passions for community service abroad! Learn about customs, belief systems, and experiences that would otherwise be foreign to you as you connect through a shared objective–working in conjunction with the local community is the key to sustainable, ethical projects and successful cultural exchange. As you work and spend time in your host community, you’ll learn through experience–share a meal at the project site, meet with locals in the community, and learn to cook, dance, sing like the locals do. It is also an opportunity to share the things that you love about your culture with your hosts! Each new relationship, activity, and conversation adds another piece to the puzzle that is the complex, diverse world in which we live and is a key component of becoming a well-rounded, global citizen.
Name: Yente Oosthuysen
Years with GLA: 2
Title: Regional Director of International Programs in Africa
Current City: Johannesburg, South Africa
Favorite South African saying: Hoe klim mens berg? Stappie vir stappie… Hoe ëet mens ‘n olifant? Happie vir happie. (How do you climb a mountain? Step for step. How do you eat an elephant? Bite for bite.)
As a Regional Director of International Programs at Global Leadership Adventures, Yente is responsible for all things Africa: Forming and maintaining relationships with local partners, vetting community service projects, managing the staff who run our programs in the summer months, and monitoring safety all fall under her job description.
She wasn’t always so passionate about community development. In college, she studied human movement (the US equivalent of physical therapy); initially, she had planned to work with high-performance athletes, being a former athlete herself. After breaking her femur in a netball (similar to basketball) accident, Yente found herself in a wheelchair and then crutches for the better part of a year; during this time, she realized that her campus, and her city at large, was not set up to accommodate those with mobility limitations.
“My whole perspective on life changed–I thought, why am I working to make fast people run faster if there’s a whole population in South Africa that can’t walk because they don’t have access to rehabilitation services?” she says.
Soon after, Yente hooked up with Altus Sports, a Pretoria-based NGO, where she worked to set up after school athletics programs in underserved communities. She graduated from the University of Pretoria with a degree in biokinetics. While presenting her thesis on sports as functional therapy in lower economic communities, she was approached by a consultant for UNICEF and professor from the University of Johannesburg about the opportunity to pursue her Master’s Degree in Community Development at the University of Johannesburg. Yente worked with UNICEF for over two years as a project manager reviewing the national curriculum for life orientation in schools, as well as creating a national plan for sport development at grassroots level. Through her work here, Yente worked developed and adapted partnerships with many NGOs and had the chance to see programs in action.
When she happened upon a job posting for GLA on Gumtree (South Africa’s version of Craigs List), she thought it was too good to be true: the company’s values seemed to be in line with hers, and her passion for travel, sustainable volunteerism, and community development made applying for the position a no-brainer. Two years later, she is serving as the Regional Director and excited to see where her work with GLA will take her next!
“Everyone here feels the mission deep in their bones–they are so committed to making it happen. That’s also why I think everyone is open to change: we are always asking ourselves, ‘ Is what we’re doing the most responsible option? The most ethical? If not, what can we do about it?’”
Part of being a Regional Director is identifying locations and projects that might be a good fit for for GLA students. For Yente, this means a good deal of travel–which is not a problem! Having visited 23 countries in her 27 short years on earth, travel is a big part of her life both with and outside of her professional role. “Travel has always been something I’ve been exceptionally passionate about, taking whatever scraps of money I had to make an adventure for myself. Those experiences always stayed with me and have impacted the way I see things,” she says.
This past summer and fall, Morocco was on the docket. After spending almost two months in country meeting with local partners and planning a program for Summer 2020, Yente returned to her home in South Africa but soon felt the itch to go back.
“It’s one of those places that completely captivates you with all five senses. It really is a magical country, and I needed to get my fix,” she says. “I never felt unsafe there–as long as you are respectful to the culture, the culture will respect you. Listen to locals when they give advice on how to dress appropriately and what areas to stay in.”
Yente arranged to stay with a host family and headed out again, spending four weeks in Marrakesh before heading north to explore Chefchaouen, Fez, and other spots that she didn’t get to see on her first visit. However, she still doesn’t feel like she spent enough time, saying “I’ve never had a spiritual connection to a country before. I’ve never felt so content than when I’m in Morocco.” Sight-seeing, spending time with local partners and new friends, taking a cooking class and getting adventurous with the foods she tried. Her favorite dish? An apricot and lamb tajine, a traditional dish baked in a special clay baking pot.
Who might especially enjoy a program in Morocco? Yente feels that students who are big-picture focused, open minded, and have a passion for education will get the most out of this special country in the context of GLA.
“Our local partner really believes in the holistic development of character to bring about leadership,” she explains. “Our main Home Base is actually a yoga retreat: It’s in the mountains, very open, with flowy chiffon curtains, a peaceful terrace. A cool breeze blows over you, you’re staring into the Atlas Mountains and a peacefulness comes over you. It’s well set up for a lot of introspection.”