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Visions Service Adventures

Having experienced three VISIONS trips so far (British Virgin Islands, Montana Northern Cheyenne and Dominican Republic), I figured I could lend an interesting perspective on what it is really like being a part of this community service program. Unlike other summer community service trips I looked at in the past, VISIONS is honest about accomplishing its main goal: to do community service. They do not try to pretty it up online with vivid descriptions of the beautiful beaches or tall mountains on whatever program you are looking at. Everyone who goes on a VISIONS journey shares an objective in common, which is to help the less fortunate and give back. The staff members know exactly how to discipline, as well as hang out with, both middle school and high school students. They are never overbearing or annoying, and if there is ever a bump on the road you feel able to have a genuine conversation with them. They also do not act like your superiors; the staffers are more like older siblings rather than parental figures. The campers on each individual program are always a hardworking, fun, well-rounded group of kids. I have never encountered a bully or clique thus far, which is impressive considering how teenagers can often have exclusive relationships. The excursions we all go on after work during the weekdays or on the weekends are diverse and engaging. From venturing out to waterfalls and a ‘discoteca’ to overnight backpacking in Wyoming, you never feel bored or out of the loop of whatever culture you are immersing yourself in. At times you may feel sad or homesick or angry, which is normal for both new and veteran travelers. This is where circle comes into play. Circle, also known as ‘communidad’, is a time where everyone sits in a circle, shares what happened that day, and completes an activity that helps everyone get to know each other and how they are all currently feeling. At first this sounded extremely cheesy to me. And on paper it does. I promise that we do not sing Kumbaya or hold hands. During circle, we open up to each other and share laughs, tears, and honest feelings. It is a healthy thing to do, especially in such an active environment where you have little free time. I am a huge fan of VISIONS, and while my review may sound biased to some, I feel like I was honest with how my three trips went as a whole. I had been searching for a reliable summer program for years. I cannot wait to go on my fourth VISIONS trip next year. I hope to see you there!

Program:
Location:
Posted: Aug 23, 2014
Overall:
9
Support:
10
Value:
9

Visions Service Adventures

the two weeks i spent in ecuador during the summer were the best two weeks of my summer! i loved being in a new setting with new kids and a whole new culture. being in ecuador really changed my perspective on life and getting to see a new culture was incredibly interesting. The other kids i met on the trip made my experience so much better along with the awesome councilors.

Program:
Location: Ecuador
Posted: Aug 23, 2014
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10

Sankalp Volunteer Society India

I volunteered with Sankalp for 4 month (January-May 2014) in Jaipur and worked there in the orphanage. It took me some time to write this review, and to find the right words for everything. First of all I want to say that altogether I had a great experience in Jaipur, the children in the orphanage were amazing, and I would definitely do it again! There are positive and negative aspects about the organization, and I will try to write everything down.
It took me several weeks to find some good and affordable volunteering organizations. I finally chose Sankalp, because I`ve read some really good reviews about the organization, and it was not as expensive as other volunteer programs. I always got an answer via e-mail from Sankalp within one or two days, explaining me everything I had to know! At the airport in Jaipur I had to call Amita from the organization because the driver was not there, but after some time he picked me up and took me to the volunteer house! I felt comfortable immediately.
The accommodation in Jaipur was really very good! There are nice rooms and a great rooftop terrace, and the house is really clean and nice! Well, the cleanliness of the rooms and the kitchen is mainly dependent on the volunteers, and sometimes it was just impossible to make all volunteers washing their own dishes. Nevertheless, the house was really nice, and I felt safe and comfortable immediately! The house gave me the opportunity to feel a bit like home in such a different country like India! The lovely cook Puni always brought a very positive atmosphere into the house, and she cooked amazing food for us (lunch and dinner)!! The food is always vegetarian, not too spicy and absolutely trustworthy.

There are several rules for volunteers, and in the first 3 months I was always fine with them. We had to be back by 9pm every evening, the lights (and TV) in the common rooms had to be switched off by 11pm (to avoid noise for volunteers who want to go to bed earlier), and the air condition was not turned on before 10.30pm. There was a rule which said that we were not allowed to attend yoga classes (or anything like that) within 5km distance of the house, to avoid strange people following us. But for me this rule didn`t make sense, because nearly every person and every rickshaw driver in this area knew our volunteer house anyway. It made it difficult for us to do activities like this in the afternoons, because going to a yoga class far away and pay 400R for every single rickshaw ride made it just too expensive. Nevertheless, I chose an organization like Sankalp on purpose, because I really wanted to feel safe when I go to India alone for such a long time. So in general I was fine with the rules, because it made me feel better that someone realizes if you are not back in the evening. I guess in my last month I just got a cabin fever, and the rule to be back by 9pm every day got a bit annyoing. Most of the time I didn`t plan anyway to stay outside of the house longer, but sometimes it was difficult to have a stress-free dinner in a restaurant with this curfew. I think this rule shouldn`t be there on, for example, Sundays, because sometimes when we travelled in the weekend we had to take a train back on Sunday early morning and missed a whole day of sightseeing. Maybe they can offer to send a driver to the train station when volunteers come back a bit later, to still make sure that everyone comes back safe. Probably everyone would be happy to pay for that! In my 4 month stay the curfew was sometimes more and sometimes less strict, this made it also a bit confusing for me.
Well, altogether I think when you stay there for only 2,3,4,...weeks, the rules shouldn`t be an issue at all. We all came there for volunteering and doing something good, so it is good to adapt a bit to the rules of the house. I just had problems with the rules after being there for so long, because the rules (being back by 9pm and being not allowed to get close to Indian people or neighbours) made it difficult to get to know the real culture.
Nevertheless, altogether I think it is good that you can feel safe there, because there is someone who makes sure that everyone comes back to the house safely. So even if some volunteers were annoyed by the rules sometimes, I think it is the only way to take care of such a big group of people!
So if you want to feel safe and are a bit worried or scared of going to India alone, then Sankalp is definitely the right choice for you! If you want to explore India by yourself and do whatever you want in you free time, then you shoud maybe look for something else.

The most important part was the work in the orphanage. This was definitely a very rewarding experience for me! Before I started working, I`ve heard horror stories from the other volunteers who worked there, about women hitting the kids with a stick and about the bad conditions there. First I was shocked that Sankalp supports an orphanage like that and hires staff who hits the kids. But in the orientation I came to know that it is a government orphanage, and that Sankalp cannot change the conditions or the staff in the orphanage- they can only send volunteers there, to make life for the kids a bit easier. When I went to the orphanage first, I didn`t look at the bad things at all. I was only focused on the kids, who were so excited and happy when we came. This was the best thing of every day: seeing the shining eyes and the smile of the children when the volunteers arrived – the only people who hugged them, kissed them and payed attention to them in a positive way. Yes, the conditions in the orphanage were indeed bad, but in India I think it can be even worse. I think as a volunteer it is much easier to focus on the fact that these kids get clothes and food there, they get washed and stay inside a house – a better life for them than staying on the streets on their own. But still, I think it could be so much nicer there for the kids! The children (1-7 years old) sleep in one room, and are locked there in the morning until the washing starts. It was definitely not good for them to be put together in this age range, because some of the older boys were aggressive sometimes, and just didn`t know how to treat the babies. The disabled kids were the poorest ones, because they were seriously treated like non-human-beings!
In the mornings we helped the staff to wash the children and dress them. Then we had time to “play” with them. This was really difficult, because they had no toys! Well, the orphanage had toys, but they didn`t give them to the kids…who knows why!! The problem was that the children were not used to toys, so they didn`t even know how to play with them. When we once got toys from Sankalp for the orphanage, the kids were fighting for the toys and broke them, or even threw them out of the window. Another really bad thing was that the children were not allowed to leave the house, or even the floor they stayed on. There was kind of a garden outside, but the kids were never allowed to go there. This was really sad, because sometimes the children just didn`t know what to do with their energy, they couldn`t run around or play under the sun. I hope that Sankalp has the influence one day to change that, and that there are enough volunteers to maybe split the children and just take small groups of them outside. Here I have to mention that most of the time we were only 2 volunteers in the orphanage, and there are so many more volunteers needed for this project!!
Around noon we also helped to feed the kids. In general our working time was from 8.30 – 12.00, and even when the free afternoons were a bit boring for me sometimes, I was totally exhausted after these 3 ½ hours. I always tried to understand the way how the staff handled the kids. I know that the Indian culture is different, and that using sticks or slapping the kids is still common in some parts of India, at home and in schools. Nevertheless, this was the most difficult thing for me to accept! The women who worked there were in general a bit rough, and they didn`t handle the children with kid gloves. I think the major problem is that we all come from a probably nice childhood and have a lot of sympathy with the orphans in such a home, so we just want to hug them and kiss them and take them home! But for the women who worked there, these kids also have to learn discipline and have to be prepared for a life in which probably no one will ever handle them with kid gloves. These women also came from a lower life standard, and I think that their way was just the way they learnt, and the way they treat their own children. So I always tried to see these women not as "monsters", but as women who just don`t know better. But coming from the western world, in which “discipline a child with corporal violence” – even if it is “just” a slap on the back – is extincted since around 40 years, it was very hard and sad for every volunteer to accept this. Once I saw a man who worked in the orphanage office, hitting two boys, and I stopped him and told him that this is wrong, and that there is never a reason to hit a child, not matter what the child did. After that, Pranay from Sankalp told us that we are not allowed to intervene in something like that anymore, because with this behaviour we risk to get kicked out from the orphanage. This made me very sad, and I felt like not fighting for the same thing with the organization I worked for, and that even the organization may also see "slapping a child" as the best way to discipline it. This was the time when I started being not sure about the whole organization anymore, because I realized that we just had different opinions about how to deal with a child. I just hope that one day everyone in the world will learn and know that there are other ways how to discipline a child! The kids in the orphanage were aggressive sometimes and hit each other, because this is the only way they learn. You cannot expect that the children behave well, when no one ever explains them why some things are right and others wrong. When their only punishment is a slap, than they will never understand why their behaviour is bad.
Still, I think that Amita and Pranay try to do their best and only want the best for the children. I am sure that they only want the best for these kids. I just think that they have another, maybe for us "old-fashioned", way of thinking.

Well, I just can tell everyone who wants to volunteer- and really wants to do something good- go to the orphanage wehere I was! And don`t look at the bad things. As sad as it is: you cannot change the way how the kids are treated, you cannot change the mind of the women who work there - you just can make the life of the children a little bit better. With the volunteers these children will learn how it is to feel loved. Every single volunteer is so much needed there! Most of all the disabled children need so much love and care! But with only 2 volunteers and 30 children full of energy, which all want to sit on you and play with you, it is nearly impossible to also take care of the disabled ones. After being in the orphanage for so long I really felt that I have done something meaningful, and I hope that many more volunteers will help in the orphanage!

I want to recommend Sankalp, because I had a really good time there! India is an amzing country, and I never made any bad experience or felt unsafe.
There are one or two things I want to mention:
- the car for the volunteers should have seat belts (this is probably the most important point when it comes to "safety"!)
- no volunteer should be forced to do a project. When someone can not deal with the orphange mentally, then it doesn`t help to force the volunteer to go there. Even if we got there to do something good and volunteer, everyone should also enjoy this experience a bit.

Thank you fpr the great experience!

Program: Volunteer Abroad
Location: India
Posted: Aug 23, 2014
Overall:
8
Support:
7
Value:
7

Travel to Teach

I volunteered in Luang Prabang as an english teacher however there were so many problems as a result from the laziness of the organisers that I cannot recommend anyone do this.

To start with, the administrative body had not contacted the coordinator of Luang Prabang to inform them I would be comming and it was only due to a friend being there that they were made aware of my presence.

Prior to arriving I was giving the wrong information of where to stay and ended up at the old guesthouse were room charges were overly priced at 10euro a night which was a waste of program fees.

Briefing from the coordinator was minimal and consisted only of the handing over of an information pack which did not include things like the english abilities of the students, what had been done previously with the students, or where they were up to. There was limited instruction as to how to teach a class or prepare lesson plans and no offer to spectate the coordinator teaching a class to pick up tips. In fact while I was there, the coordinator spent all his time studying for his own exams and never sat in on a class or offered much support. There were never any checks to see what I was teaching or how.

I was not given the option of where or when or who I would like to teach, only given 2 classes a day (3 hours total) with the same class. The class had an age range from 12 to 17 varying levels of english including one with a learning disability. There was no opportunity to teach classes with monks or work in the library, and there was no opportunity to receive Laos lessons.

None of the money I paid for the program was used for the children. No new materials were bought with it, the children didn't all have the same text book and photocopies were not made available.

There was only 1 other volunteer with this organisation but no inter-organisational efforts were made for volunteers to socialise.

All in all, I was very disappointed with the program failing to deliver things it had promised or to live up to my expectations. It might be the cheapest option to volunteer in Luang Prabang but it is not at all worth it. You would be better to arrive and just ask to assist the monks or at the library without going through the organisation.

If you want to assist people learning english, this program doesn't have a system in place that will allow for that to be done and you will not receive any appreciation for it. You will also not get the opportunity to learn about the culture much through interacting with the locals. With no one really looking after the program I would suggest (which I have done to the organisation) that it needs to be shut down

Program: Volunteer Abroad
Location: Laos
Posted: Aug 23, 2014
Overall:
1
Support:
1
Value:
1

Frontier

I first joined the Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates and Turtle Conservation Project as a volunteer for 5 months. I enjoyed my time there so much that after three months I became staff on the project and extended my stay there for an additional 8 weeks. There was so much to do on the programme with regards to everything including the many different surveys and general trail/river explorations, sunset walks, teaching at the local school, spending time with the locals, socialising, playing football, beach volleyball or even stargazing and much more. There was never a dull day and there was certainly never a time where I wanted to be anywhere else but in the middle of the Costa Rican Rainforest in the OSA peninsula. I felt as being staff on the project I learnt so much from all the different survey techniques and loved getting to know all the great people that were on camp during my time there and teaching them what I had learnt from my experiences and time here, I definitely made some friends for life and I really never wanted to leave, but I will return one day!
The camp set up suited me perfectly, especially as it was not unusual to see at least one of the four species of monkeys in the area passing through for a visit as well as many other reptiles, birds and mammals. There is cold running water straight from the pristine river next to camp, two flushing toilets, two hammock areas, a tent deck, a main deck for cooking, eating, reading, working and general chilling time and many resident alarm clocks (Howler monkeys) to make sure everyone was up nice and early to make the most of their day.
The wildlife was incredible, everyday there was something new and exciting and nothing ever got old, I still got just as excited for every baby sea turtle I saw reach the sea and happily got up at 2pm or 3pm most mornings to watch the struggle over and over again. I could not recommend this project more, I had the most amazing 6 and a half months of my life here and made some unforgettable memories.

Program: Volunteer Abroad
Location: Costa Rica
Posted: Aug 22, 2014
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
9

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