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5 STEPS | Becoming a Rockstar Volunteer

If you’ve ever thought about traveling the world for a good cause, but just got a little intimidated by the whole process, this post is for you! Once we show you the easy steps to getting on board with a Good Neighbors volunteer trip, you’ll see how simple it really is and be well on your way to the adventure you only dreamed you could one day be a part of! Check it out>>

June 29, 2013-Ladagada Community, Silgadhi, Doti Province, Nepal: Staff of Good Neighbors International, Photo Credit: Kibae Park/Communication Advisor-CECI

 1- Pick Your Trip

In any given week, we often hear about issues such as the water crisis, human trafficking, or poverty in general, but can feel helpless to do anything about it. These issues loom like a dark cloud that stretches across the sky. How is one person supposed to even poke a hole in that? Well- you’re doing it! No one person is going to chase away that cloud, but a whole lot of people poking holes will let more and more sunlight burst through. A volunteer trip is your way to make some light break through by doing something practical and lasting for people in another country. You’ll get to experience daily life through their eyes, help with urgent needs, and most importantly, empower them with friendship and knowledge. Be warned though, they will most likely steal your heart and become friends and “neighbors” for life. As you’re scanning our info page of volunteer trips, a specific country or project is bound to catch your eye. “Hey, those people look cool” you might think. Or “I could do that!” That’s a good indicator that it might just be the trip for you!

June 30, 2013-Pokhari Community, Silgadhi, Doti Province Nepal: Photo Credit: Kibae Park/Communication Advisor-CECI

2- Ace Your Application

This isn’t an application for a job or a college entrance exam, so just be yourself! Take a few minutes to really think about what it is that impacts you about the work Good Neighbors does, and how it connects to your dreams or heart for people. Maybe even throw in some ways that you first got interested in volunteer trips or making a difference in the world, and future goals and plans you have to do it!

Jan.10,2011~Jan.19,2011

3- Conquer Your Funds

Ok so you’ve decided on the country, and you know what you’ll be working on while your there. Now what? Pillage and plunder! Just kidding. No pirates allowed on our trips. But you are officially an adventurer and activist, which is incredible! Your friends and family will want to get in on that! Not everyone can take a break from their job, family or responsibilities to go on a trip like this, so most likely they will want to support someone who can. So get out a pen and paper and write down every idea that pops into your head for fundraising or reaching out. Write down the silly ones, and even the massive ones! This will help get your creative juices flowing. Now pick a few favorites, and put all your effort into those. The cool thing is, even your friends who don’t have money to give would probably LOVE to help you with a fun fundraising activity! Here are some ideas to spark your brainstorm session:

-A letter. A real letter. People love getting things in the mail that aren’t bills! Haha. Write a heart-felt letter with all the details about the project and your desire to make a difference in the world. Don’t forget to give them a website they can visit to donate, or include a pre-addressed envelope to slip a check in the mail for you.

-Set up an account on GoFundMe.com. Having a link online to share on social media where people can easily click and donate is a great option!

-Make a funny video (something people will want to pass on) about your fundraising. Get your friends in on this!

-Everybody loves merch! BonfireFunds helps you design your own T-Shirt and launch your fundraiser online! 

-Ask a church or sporting event if you can have a BBQ at their location!

-Ask friends and family for unwanted items and hold a garage sale (everyone has stuff they want to get rid of!)

These are just a couple. Pinterest is a great source for more fun ideas!

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4- Empower the People

You’ve raised the funds. You’ve made the journey. But how do you really make the most of your trip? Remember that above all, it’s about people. You aren’t there just to do a task and bounce. Even if it’s out of your comfort zone- interact with people. Even if you don’t speak the same language, there are other ways to communicate: through gestures, through smiles, through hugs. Show them you see them and want to know them. People are empowered by being known and being taught. Once they see you care about knowing them, they soak up everything you have to show them. We want to leave every trip with people thinking two things: “They care about me” and “I can take it from here.”

“My experience in Guatemala prompted me to reevaluate my decisions and the values that I deem important in life. I realized the necessity of pushing yourself outside your comfort zone in order for self-growth. There is so much more to explore in the world, and now I can’t sit still knowing there is so much more work to be done. Creating something meaningful is so much more exhilarating than you may expect.” -Amy Chio, GN Volunteer 2015 *Link to her blog

 

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5- Document Your Adventure

When you get back home, toss off your dusty sneakers and fall with a thud on your bed, that’s when all the details will be fresh in your mind. But it won’t stay that way! One week turns into two weeks and slip by fast, and you’re already forgetting that silly thing the kids did to make you laugh, or the way that mother looked at you so gratefully as you put the last layer of paint on her new cookstove. If at all possible, sit down to write about your trip within the first week! If nothing else, write down a list of the highlights that you can expound on later when you have a good chunk of time. And in case you haven’t noticed, we love to feature our volunteers’ stories on our blog, so if you do write it down, let us know!!

Well that’s it! Pretty simple right? You can get more info on 2016 trips or start your application HERE , or shoot us an email at VOLUNTEER@GOODNEIGHBORS.ORG if you have any questions (or if anything still seems vague or daunting.) We can’t wait to voyage with you and see lives changed- lives in the communities we work in, and yours!

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VOLUNTEER JOURNALS | Unedited Lives of People

In 2015 Amy Chiu, a student from South Hills High School,  gave up part of her summer to fundraise and take a trip with Good Neighbors to Guatemala. Once there, Amy and her team spent long days in the sun building safe cookstoves to replace old units that were causing serious health risks for the families. But we’ll let Amy tell the story..


Nowadays, technological innovations seem to be updating faster than we can keep up, allowing us to view other parts of the world through the small screens of our electronic devices. However, what we see on television simply isn’t the same as what we can marvel at in person. Although we hear global news blasted from our car radios every morning, we don’t truly understand these problems with such big, scary-sounding words.

I wanted a taste of this experience firsthand by catching a glimpse of real world crises that others face. Thus, upon decisively signing up with Good Neighbors to volunteer in Guatemala by building cookstoves for the local villagers in Acatenango, I embarked upon a weeklong journey.

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An old cookstove

Constructing new cookstoves could make a significant difference in the lives of local villagers. In order to cook, families build open fires inside the rooms of their homes. This is especially dangerous for small children playing near the fires. In addition, the families are exposed to the smoke, which can cause lung-related illnesses, and young children who should be learning at school must spend long hours gathering large amounts of firewood instead.

Compared to the amount of wood needed for traditional cookstoves, the Good Neighbors cookstoves only needs one-third of that amount, and the smoke travels through a stone chimney connected to a hole in the roof. Not only can many health problems be prevented because the toxic smoke is eliminated, but children can also have more opportunities for a better education by not having to collect as much firewood throughout the day.

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A new Good Neighbors cookstove being installed

This trip ultimately broadened my perspective as an individual and taught me lifelong lessons that I will forever cherish. During my experience, there were countless moments that touched my heart.  

On the first day, after we arrived, all fourteen of us (including our Good Neighbors staff members and guides Esther and Jose) clambered out of the airport and into a van. (By the way, our driver would prove to become a regular James Bond with his insanely awesome driving skills.) We were, and I quote fellow volunteer Jason, “excited and nervous.” I pressed my face up against the window in anticipation, drinking in every detail. Our group stopped by the Good Neighbors Guatemala office for a quick tour and introduction (and our hotel DelSol) before we headed to Acatenango.

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Guatsquad with local school children in Acatenango after chatting with the students and challenging them to an intense game of soccer. We tried and failed at not looking like tourists.

During the first half of the drive out of Guatemala City, our surroundings resembled parts of Los Angeles. However, as the van carried us further out into the villages up the long, winding roads, we all quickly became mesmerized by the beautiful scenery. Everything was so…green. Our van moseyed up the mountain, and everyone seemed to be infected with excitement as we pointed out the rows of unending maize, oohing and aahing at adorable children playing. Young, rowdy boys piled into the backs of trucks laughed and waved at us.

When we finally parked at the side of a dirt road, Jose led our group to the very first house we would build a cookstove for. The piece of land was surrounded by a fence made of short sticks, and Jose swung the gate open, inviting us in. There was a cage full of chickens, and small chicks roamed freely. Before us stood a room with three walls and to our right stood another room half its size. There were no doors, and the floor was completely made of dirt.Amywork2

Everyone was assigned different tasks, and then we got to work by soaking bricks in water collected from a plastic barrel, sifting the dirt, and mixing the cement with a sticky syrup. We took turns asking the family questions in Spanish, who introduced their three children. Oldie was a bright little girl with wide eyes and an even wider smile who caught chicks for us to hold. Little Santo shy, but he occasionally rewarded our attempts at jokes with peals of laughter. Alfonso was quiet, with a mischievous sparkle in his eye.

With everyone pitching in, we managed to finish most of the cookstove that day.

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The next few days, we repeated the process of building stoves for different families in the community. Some lived higher up in the mountains, so to reach their homes, we hiked for fifteen minutes on steep roads. Others lived in the middle of the farmland, so we waded through the rows of maize. As we chatted with the locals, we picked up bits of Spanish phrases and learned more about Guatemalan culture. I found out that one couple had been married for fifteen years and the husband built a well from scratch in fifteen days! Their doe-eyed little girl, Dulce Maria, was bundled up in a Dora the Explorer jacket and their son climbed trees to pick fruits. The couple shared soda and local snacks with us.

Although each family had a unique story, I noticed a common theme that all the residents shared. There was an intangible element in the air, a feeling that I couldn’t quite put into words, until one night, when Esther asked us to share our thoughts in our daily evening reflections. As she spoke about teamwork and being good neighbors, I realized that what we had all been feeling in Acatenango was a strong sense of community.

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Bolique. The traditional Pueblo meal with Amy, Jason, Miles (from left to right)

Whenever we passed by anyone, each person always chirped a friendly greeting, whether it was “buenos dias” or “hola.” Strangers welcomed us to their homes with genuine smiles. Even when we were building stoves for one family, other friends would eagerly stop by to lend a helping hand. Though our Spanish was far from fluent, we connected with the children by playing games. In fact, the locals were so open and warm, when we spontaneously decided (encouraged mostly by Jason) to challenge a nearby school to an intense game of soccer (which the schoolboys won), the principal came out to take pictures!

Everyone wanted to share a piece of their lives with us- some families generously prepared traditional Pueblo meals of bolique and tamalitos; Maria passed around cups of leche con bananas as Mark, Shivani, and I painted her stove, and still others bestowed upon us blessings with tears in their eyes.

Building cookstoves became routine for me, but this meant the world to the families.

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My beneficiary family: Maria, the mom, Oldie, the daughter, Santo, the little boy, and Alfonso (not pictured). They were the first family we visited, and to my surprise, after a couple days, we came around full circle and I ended up at their home again with my benefactor tile.

 

AmySignWhen the trip came to the end, saying goodbye felt bittersweet. In about a month, the families would be able to use their new cookstoves. However, I had gotten to know them and my fellow volunteers so much more personally that I began missing everyone before we even left! I wasn’t ready to part with the beautiful land up in the mountains or the sense of inspiration the soaring skies gave me.

As we shuffled off the van and into the airport, I thought about how much Guatemala had changed me on the outside (I tanned due to my refusal to wear an adequate amount of sunblock and made friends with mosquitos) and on the inside, as I would walk out of LAX a completely different person.

When visiting a country on a volunteering basis, there are more opportunities to see the raw, unedited lives of real people. I went into the trip with the mindset of helping others, but I now feel that Guatemala helped me much more. Children were constantly laughing and found more reasons to beam than frown. They saw so much happiness in life and seeing them reminded me that choosing to view a situation in a positive light isn’t so hard. Even if we didn’t understand what anyone was saying, everyone we met showed us that a smile was the universal language for friendship.

It was a tough decision, but we eventually settled on thumbs up over peace signs. #girlsruntheworld

It was a tough decision, but we eventually settled on thumbs up over peace signs. #girlsruntheworld

There are different connotations associated with the word “neighbors.” Some immediately shiver at the sound of this two-syllable word, as recollections of controversial views and ancient tensions regarding the Your-Golden-Retriever-Desecrated-My-Garden war of 1930 resurface. Others beam fondly as they reminisce about the many “welcome” pies received upon moving into the neighborhood. Still others ponder, “Neighbors? What neighbors? The nearest store is a two-hour drive.” However, when I see the word “neighbors,” I think of people who may not know you very well, but are willing to share their stories with you.

During my experience in Guatemala, volunteering with Good Neighbors taught me much more about being a neighbor than I ever expected. So, from one neighbor to another, I urge you to challenge yourself to seize the day and change someone’s life- you never know, you might even change your own in the process.


Amy and her team completed a total of 13 new stoves, drastically improving the  living conditions and lifestyle of these families. Our neighbors in Guatemala who encountered this team will never be the same. But there is more work to be done! If you want to spend your summer like Amy did, email us at volunteer@goodneighbors.org for info on our upcoming trips!

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VOLUNTEER JOURNALS | Everything Was Shared

 

Meet John Seo (pictured above on right.) Avid reader and student of Tustin High School, John was one of several students who journeyed on a Good Neighbors volunteer trip last year. The location: Dominican Republic. Their mission: build new latrines for families affected by poor sanitation. But here’s the story in John’s own words.


In 2014, I went to Guatemala with six other students to build new cookstoves for families who suffered from inhaling toxic smoke while using traditional cookstoves in their homes. This past summer, we wanted to experience something different but also make an impact in people’s lives. So our team of eight volunteers went to help build latrines for homes in Chinguelo, a remote mountainous community and one of the project sites overseen by Good Neighbors Dominican Republic (GNDOM).

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John Seo (right) and the volunteers taking a break in the shade to cool off from the sweltering heat

The obstacles began at Las Américas International Airport. Extremely humid air coupled with the scorching heat was almost unbearable compared to the cool and breezy winds of Southern California. Drops of sweat rolled down our faces even before we stepped outside.

Although it wasn’t my first time going to a third-world country in Latin America, my expectations were blown away by the extreme poverty that struck the country. The extreme disparity between the wealthy and the poor was disturbing. It almost didn’t seem fair that, back at home, we lived in houses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in one of the safest cities in the world, yet millions of people lived in poverty.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2.4 billion people still lack access to basic sanitation facilities such as toilets and latrines. Poor sanitation is linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera and diarrhea, just to name a few. An estimated 842,000 diarrhea deaths around the world are caused by poor sanitation every year. Although the access to improved sanitation facilities has increased in the country during the past decades, rural areas still lag behind.

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A latrine the team was helping to build

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Volunteer Sam Yoon (left), helping a community member unload cinder blocks from a horse

We officially began work on the latrines on the second day, but the first day was just as challenging adapting to the new environment. As the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean shores always seemed just a few minutes away, most of us half-expected a small paradise, but the poverty stricken communities we passed by showed us the reality of the situation.

 

When we first met the families, something was quite different from ours. Families of 5-8 people were living in “houses” the size of our closets, yet not a single face showed discontent. The children were radiating with joy and excitement. It shocked us to see that even without the convenience of modern technology and video games, kids were still able to have so much fun.

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Bonding with children: Clarissa, Lina, Eileen and Lina’s little sister (from left to right)

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Community members, GN volunteers & staff in front of an almost complete latrine

More importantly, the sense of community the people shared was beyond anything we had seen in America. Every fruit, every soda pop, and every meal- individuals would come together to share the joy. Nothing was kept private and everything was shared. The trust and support for each other was even extended toward us, complete strangers to them. We worked side by side with them and they even invited us into their homes. With unconditional generosity, the families accepted us into their lives.

Geographically, most of the homes were separated over a mountainside, beyond a grassy plain, or across a river, yet the community’s concept of family stretched further than any border. Although the work we did there was more challenging than we experienced in Guatemala, we couldn’t have been more grateful for this unforgettable experience.

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John and his fellow volunteers left Chinguelo with one latrine fully completed, and three more built with finishing touches added after their departure.   This directly impacted the daily lives of four families, improving the health for over 30 people. Because of the volunteers’ hard work and determined hearts, these households can now thrive, free from the dangerous diseases that come from lack of adequate sanitation.

If this story has inspired you to step out and make a difference, Good Neighbors has 2016 trips lined up and open for applications! Simply email volunteer@goodneighbors.org for more info!

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LA MARATHON | Meet Manami

Manami has been working with Good Neighbors Japan since 2012, but came out recently to visit our US branch! She’s in a different country and culture, but decided to throw a half-marathon into the mix!  We find that inspiring. Here’s a little introduction to this gem. 

 

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?

I’m here in the US from Good Neighbors Japan!!  I’m visiting LA to learn all about fundraising.

Have you always had an active lifestyle? What made you start running?

I love riding my bike on weekends to explore new places! To be honest, I’ve always been more interested in bike riding than running because it’s faster and I enjoy the breeze. But Good Neighbors gave me a reason to start running!

Have you ever tackled something as big as a marathon before?

Never! I’m actually a bit nervous because  this is my first fundraising experience here in the US. Haha.

What inspired you to run the LA Marathon for Good Neighbors?

I’ve been working with Good Neighbors Japan since 2012, and I just love everyone in this organization and what they do for people with real needs. It just made sense to join in with something good our US branch was doing while I was here!

Have you had any “I hope no one saw that” moments while training?

Ha, I think sometimes I have a pretty grim face on while I’m training. I always hope no one sees that, but it’s not likely.

Do you have a mental strategy to combat thoughts of quitting if the marathon starts to get tough?

I’ll definitely remind myself why I’m running the marathon, and think of the people in Zambia who are waiting for our support!

Have you learned anything from running that has shifted your perspective of life?

Yeah, it’s shown me that every single step gets me closer to my goal, even if the process seems slow.

What’s your favorite cheat day snack?

Skittles and Chex Mix! Because we don’t have them in Japan 😉

MANAIBUTTON

Manami and the rest of our Good Neighbors marathon team are raising money for our Zambia water well project! Help Manami reach her goal!

 

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Interning in the Dominican Republic: PART 2

Sophia interned at Good Neighbors Dominican Republic this summer, and wrote about her experiences in a two-part blog. Read below for her second entry!

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Hello! Living in the DR has reminded me of how fortunate I am to live in the USA and have constant access to potable water. Here in the DR, tap water is not safe to drink, so people purchase water from jugs that are brought to the house via motorcycle. This service is expensive for those living in extreme poverty and it causes people to struggle to provide their families with safe drinking water (the price for one 5 gallon jug is over $1.50). Good Neighbors Dominican Republic has provided the people living in the urban slum of Los Guandules, Santo Domingo with a water filtration system so that they can refill water bottles at the affordable price of only $1.50 per month instead of per jug ( it’s called “Project Good Water”).

This is the “Project Good Water” reserve osmosis system.

This is the “Project Good Water” reserve osmosis system.

The Community Development Project (CDP) in Los Guandules has a dedicated doctor working for them.  Dr. Rossy Molina Cuevas provides free medical checkups and care for the parents and children enrolled in the program. Dr. Rossy always has a long line of people waiting to see her and she does an incredible job providing the community with quality care despite the limited amount of resources she has at her disposal.

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Los Guandules is located by the Ozama River, but unfortunately the river is considered to be the most polluted river in the Dominican Republic due to decades of industrial runoff.

I also had the opportunity to work at the summer camp in Los Guandules as a yoga instructor. Over 250 children attended the camp and it was truly an amazing experience (hundreds more children will be back for the second half of the camp). The children are truly talented, sweet, and enjoyed the yoga class. I got more hugs than I thought were possible and the outpouring of love was heartwarming. I’ll never forget their smiles and gratitude.

Yoga time!

Namaste! Yoga time!

The staff and summer camp volunteers are a group of dedicated individuals and I was lucky to get the opportunity to work with them.  The final day of the camp a couple of us got dressed as clowns and the kids went nuts!

That's me in the front and center clowning around!

That’s me in the front row clowning around!

I never thought I’d ever be a clown, but that’s the amazing thing about volunteering abroad – you never know where it will take you or who you will become!

Thank you SO much for spending part of your summer with Good Neighbors Dominican Republic, Sophia! We know they loved having you as much as you loved being there! Are YOU interested in volunteering? Visit our website for more info! 

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