Featured Organization: African Community Internship Placement Programme

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1This week’s feature was written by Kristine Sloan, who currently serves as the Director of Operations for ACIPP West Africa.

The World is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well, you do not stand in one place.

–Chinua Achebe, Arrow of God

I’d say I first got involved with ACIPP four years ago, when I traveled to Ghana on a study abroad. I met our founder, Simon Eyram Tsike-Sossah then. What struck me then, and continues to strike me now, is Simon’s simultaneous optimistic energy and hardened realism about volunteering and interning abroad. I was forced to question my motives for studying abroad in Sub-Saharan Africa. Was I really giving through my volunteerism, or was I merely receiving: wisdom, experience, and a paradigm shift.

West Africa wielded its way into my heart, and though I travelled and worked on three other continents and regions throughout the world in the next four years, I knew I wanted to go back. Ghana, the land of tro-tros, mangos, and red soil had spoken to me in a way that other places simply did not.

Interns at HEPENS

So, in the summer of 2011 I emailed Simon (well, I think I Facebook messaged him—we love social media). There was an internship opportunity available to lead a Farm project in Ghana, and I wanted in. I’m currently working on my Masters degree, and the Farm offered me an avenue for practical experience as well as a chance to complete research with a local community nearby. The emails back and forth kept at a steady stream, and it seemed my philosophy on interning and volunteerism had more closely aligned with Simon’s. We shared a common goal: engaging interns and volunteers in a way that provides lasting impact to organizations on the ground, rather than simply an “experience” for the intern.

Thus, after about 11 months of working on various projects, I was offered the Director of Operations position with ACIPP. My plans for the summer had changed, and now I was off to both the farm in Ghana and to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where we also offer internship opportunities with 5 different incredible and engaging organizations.

Freetown is madness: 1.5 million people in one city, most who fled there for refuge and never left. The streets are congested, people living in the valleys, neighbors everywhere. Freetown is also beautiful: mountains behind you falling into the sea, colors and energy and a resilient vibrancy that WILL bring growth and vitality to this post-conflict country. During my time there I met with heads of organizations, felt their commitment and drive to their mission and values, and wanted to sign up to intern with each of them myself!  At night, looking out over a city of darkness knowing that our house, with our generator, may be the only of a handful in a city of over 1 million that has electricity, and yet listening to the neighborhood soccer game, the conversations in the street below, and the endless chatter of chickens and dogs; I knew our interns would do well here.

One of the monthly intern BBQs at the Abusua House!

The rest of my summer passed in Ghana, where I was welcomed with the warmest hospitality by our house manager, Ms. Mavis Aseidu, and where we had 16 interns living in our house in Kwaprow village. It was madness, but it was wonderful. Importantly, we saw the expectations of our interns and the struggle for them to conceptualize and internalize their experiences, which were far out of their ordinary. We also saw the impact on placement organizations, where our interns published news articles, edited media content, led community health talks and importantly, left behind their curriculum for future use. We created partnerships between organizations and new communities; we fostered capacity, at the heart of ACIPP’s mission.

I think the most important thing for people to consider when they think about interning abroad is what set of skills/knowledge they can share, and what set of skills/knowledge they hope to receive. Does impact last? Are we creating situations where we, as interns and as staff, are at the periphery (not the center) of community engagement? Are we building local leaders, or are we simply leading? These things are crucial, because in a way, they multiply time if achieved. Effort catalyzes action, rather than simply acting itself. That’s what makes ACIPP so unique I think. We believe in the agency of the places that we work to solve, to create, and to be receptive.

West Africa is an incredible place to work and to live. I’m so proud of ACIPP West Africa, both of our dedicated staff and all of our interns (over 27 just this year). Everyone works hard. They make friends; they create relationships. Just as importantly, they go out to a bar in a gas station (yeah, you’ll have to come visit us) and drink cheap beer, dance all night, and have a great time.

I hope to see all of you there.



To check out our various internship opportunities and learn more about us please visit our website: www.acippwestafrica.org

Like us on Facebook “Acipp West Africa”

and feel free to email me with comments, questions or inquires at Kristine.sloan@acippwestafrica.org.



Friendship Village – Hanoi, Vietnam

The Friendship Village provides vocational training to Vietnamese children and elders affected by Agent Orange

In Hanoi, Vietnam, the GiveYourGap Travel Team visited The Friendship Village, a learning center for Vietnamese youth. This learning center was unlike any other the team had visited before. The students attending this school bear the weight of the consequences of a war fought generations before their time. This not-for-profit serves children affected by Agent Orange, a toxic gas that can cause physical deformities and severe neurological damage. During the Vietnam War, 20,000,000 gallons of toxic herbicides were spread all over the country in order to eradicate food and foliage coverage for guerillas in the war. As a consequence, the gas affected many innocent people and its use during the war still has repercussions today. At The Friendship Village, the children receive medical attention, specialized education, and vocational training. This NGO was founded by an American veteran with the vision of repairing the severed ties between the US and Vietnam after the Vietnam War. Once enemies fighting against each other, now they are working together to help improve the lives of these children with an overarching goal of working towards a more peaceful future.

Students busy at work

With at least one volunteer and teacher per ten children, each child received a lot of personalized attention. Brightly colored walls decorated the classrooms and give what could be considered a sad situation a jubilant feeling and positive energy. The kids welcomed us strangers, young Americans, with smiles, hugs, and hi-fives. When Kim gave one of the boys with Down’s Syndrome a cheek to cheek side kiss, he squealed with joy and shed tears of happiness. GYG strolled through several of the vocational training classrooms where these children learned different skilled crafts including embroidery and sewing. Despite being born with limitations, these children had an amazing ability to perfect their craft of choice with such a technical skill.

Kelley helps a young girl with her English grammar in one of The Friendship Village’s classroom

Being an American at the center, one may feel ashamed or guilty for the actions committed by one’s own country. However, we did not feel that way because we are a new generation. We hope to be ambassadors of peace and agents of change. The Friendship Village is just one example of how Vietnamese and American relations have changed since the war. To be a part of continuing to mend this important friendship, and to spend time with some amazing kids, consider giving your gap at The Friendship Village.

Check out our interview with Friendship Village volunteer Steffen!



Gapper Video Profile: Steffen K., Friendship Village

Check out our full feature on the Friendship village here!

Full Interview Transcript

GYG: So first, can you introduce yourself for us?
SK: My name is Steffen K. I am 26 years old, I am from Germany, and I am a volunteer here at the Friendship Village.

GYG: What do you do here at the Friendship Village?
SK: In my project here I have two activities: working with disabled children and teaching them Photoshop. So one side is teaching them numbers (1,2,3) and writing, and the other side is teaching them Photoshop. It depends on their disabilities.

GYG: And what are some of the other things volunteers can do here?
SK: They can work in the garden or the hospital. In the hospital they can work with Physical Therapy, and the in garden, well they work in the garden.

GYG: Why did you come here to volunteer?
SK: Actually, I decided to do something else in making the perfect line of working in Germany, so I decided to leave Germany for one year. There’s a special project to help volunteers without money. I decided to come to Vietnam because I like the history and the mentality of the people. I came here because my organization said it would be the best place for me, and actually, I’d have to say that it is.

GYG: What’s your favorite part of volunteering here?
SK: My favorite thing about volunteering here is seeing the children smile. Because it’s the best thing you can have. They smile, you smile a lot; you’re very happy.

GYG: Why should other people volunteer here?
SK: If you want to volunteer, it’s your decision. I cannot tell why they are doing that. Everybody has his own reason for doing that. But volunteering here is a really good place, because you have a lot of things you can do. You are really free – you can decide what you want to do. So you don’t have to stay to class 3 or 2 or 1 all the time. If you want to go to the garden, you can go to the garden; you just have to tell the gardener. Everyone here is very friendly. The teachers really like the volunteers and they also are able to speak a little bit of English, so communication is possible. And the children are lovely and very nice. This is the main reason to come here- to see the children and play with them.

GYG: Do you like Hanoi?
SK: No. I actually do not like Hanoi. Hanoi is crowded- a lot of people. It’s very good for making party. I have to say, very good for making party. But for living, it’s not the best place. My living place is around 2 km away from here and it’s next to a main street. You have a lot of trucks passing by. You have a lot of dust- it’s very dirty. But actually I have to say, it’s something you have to cope with if you go to Vietnam. Because Vietnam somehow never sleeps.

GYG: Do you like living in Vietnam?
SK: Yes. I like it very much. Because I’m volunteering for one year, I decided to buy a motorbike and to drive around and visit and explore all the places. This is really nice. Vietnam is very very nice country- we have really lovely places.

GYG: What does the Friendship Village do?
SK: It’s a really big place for a lot of disabled children. I’d say about 80 children and 40 veterans. It’s a place where the children can learn for the future. They get teached things like embroidery and tailoring. After Friendship Village they have education to do something in their life. I have to say it’s a very good place.


RKVM – Calcutta, India


Asna Orphanage – Nepal

Asna is situated on the outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley. Here the orphanage has enough land to cultivate its own garden. The products of this garden are used to cook meals.

When the GiveYourGap Travel Team ventured to Nepal, a country filled with winding dusty roads and breathtaking views of the Himalayas, we were not prepared for the impact the country would have on all of us. Many of the people that live in this uniquely beautiful landscape also live in extreme poverty and face great struggles everyday. Due to the years of political instability and civil war, families have been torn apart leaving many children orphaned. With an increasing number of broken families and a lack of resources, these children are often left to fend for themselves on the streets or are placed in overcrowded orphanages.

GiveYourGap brought some juiceboxes, toothbrushes, and goodies for the kids.

GYG visited the Asna Orphanage, which is located in the Kathmandu Valley. To our surprise, Asna was not overcrowded at all. The children shared rooms and slept in bunk beds, but there seemed to be plenty of both personal and play space. The children at Asna are looked after by the warmest mother and father figures, who make sure all the children get enough food, clothes, education. The “parents,” Mr. and Mrs. Ghimire cook vegetarian meals for the whole group using mostly food that comes right from their own garden. The children are a big help both cultivating the garden and prepping in the kitchen.

The new tutor has been making a very positive impact on the children. A local Nepali college grad, he is able to understand the culture these kids are growing up in and provides essential assistance to the volunteers.

One unique aspect of this orphanage is the emphasis on ensuring that the children are provided with a quality education. They all attend their respective local schools during the day, and in the afternoons do their homework and receive extra tutoring back at Asna. Thanks to The Kendra Fallon Tutoring Program, in memory of the 18-year-old Asna volunteer who was killed in a plane crash just outside the Kathmandu Valley in 2010, Asna has hired a full time tutor, Sagar. In addition, they are able to provide the kids with essential school supplies such as books, paper, and pens.

The orphanage is surrounded by beautiful (and functional) gardens.

Volunteers at Asna live in private rooms in the orphanage. They spend their mornings preparing the children for school and the afternoons tutoring and playing with the children. They can also help working in the garden and cooking meals. Kathmandu is a bustling and exciting city where no visitor will be bored. The serene and happy atmosphere of Asna provides the volunteers with a calm living environment, close to the city, and hands on opportunities to really help the children.

We absolutely loved getting to hang out with the kids of Asna

Overall, the impression Asna left on us was one of hope. Seeing these children with such hard pasts so happy, made us wish we could spend more time with them there. We are confident that gapper volunteers would be cared for at Asna. More importantly, they can contribute their positive energy, creative ideas, and are also passionate about working with children and learning about Nepali culture.




Tiffany Prachachalerm, Bridge of Hope Thailand Charity

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1Name: Tiffany Prachachalerm
School: University of California-San Diego
Type of Work: Medical/Public Health, HIV/AIDS awareness
Region: Asia
Length of stay: 1 Year+
Contact email: bridgeofhopethailand@gmail.com

Tiffany dropping the kids off at their school on her last day at the center

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
I started the foundation with a friend and thought of it after I returned from my volunteer experience at the center. I had found the center online and decided to go there during the summer to volunteer. At the time, I did not know that I would eventually form a non-profit organization, but I knew I wanted to bring more UCSD students back to the center and find ways to fundraise for them. They had become like family to me. Ideas kept rolling and eventually we decided to turn it into a non-profit organization so we can also get help from companies who would be willing to donate!

Share a favorite memory.
I have quite a few stories while with the orphans at the center and while interviewing the patients about their life stories. However, the one that sticks out in my mind is the site of the three youngest kids at the center who’d run around all day, playing so happily. Their parents are currently living with HIV, and I knew their life stories. There were three kids who were not HIV positive because their parents had taken anti-retroviral medicine when they were pregnant. It’s just overwhelming to know how much their parents had to go through in their lifetime to get to this point, and gratifying to know that the kids are happy, healthy, and have a chance to live a life very different from the rough lives of their parents. One of the girls there is a bit chubby and likes to run around eating crepes her mom makes. We bought crepes to pass out to all the kids at the center. She wanted one just because everyone else had one in their hands, but the minute she took a bite, she was sick of it because she had eaten it for the past two weeks, so she gave it to someone else. She was only 3 years old, but I found that act to be adorable. There were countless stories with the kids, but that’s just one that was on the top of my head.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?

Jenny is a 4-year old orphan living at the center. These are her different expressions as she’s feeling the wind pass by.

I learned that you have to do your research before you donate to any nonprofit organization. Some organizations do not donate 90%, or even 30% of the donations. There are even some that donate only 5% of the donations for the cause they are claiming to donate to! There are so many loopholes. The important thing is to do your research before you get involved. Another important thing is to show your commitment once you have decided that you want to be a part of the team. Accountability, responsibility, and most words ending in -bility means your ability to uphold those different values. If you really want to help, then do it, but don’t ever half-a** your way through. That is just my opinion. 

This experience is teaching me a lot of things about life, which is important for a doctor. Although you can never truly understand everything and life’s philosophies, volunteering is a start. It’s teaching me so much about how people interact and how sickness and death can affect people. You don’t start living until you’re close to death. I definitely learned that as I watched the orphans and patients taking their medication twice a day the same time everyday. That’s what they worry about. They think about, “”Will I survive today?”” while we are here thinking, “”What should I eat for lunch? Too many choices!”” It definitely puts into perspective what is important and what really matters in life. Volunteering allows you to give back to society. It allows you to be generous and hope that everyone will give so that we can continue to live together and prosper. Really, it’s a survival mechanism and if we don’t help each other, how would we survive?

No, my goals have not changed. Volunteering definitely advanced my plans and hopefully will prepare me to be the best doctor I can be!

Do you feel like you are making a positive, critical impact on the global community? 
I definitely think I am doing what I can. I have a vision about how I want this all to pan out, and if it becomes something greater, then great! If I overestimated and it doesn’t get as big as I imagined, then I’ll be fine as well because I’ve learned to manage my expectations. I really do hope that I am making a positive, critical impact on the global community. I know I am spreading awareness and providing opportunities for students who want to be active and do these sorts of things but don’t know how or don’t have the means to. Sometimes it’s just a matter of your ambitions and if you think it’s possible. One of the things I believe is that if you want it bad enough and you work hard enough at it, then anything’s possible (as long as it’s not defying gravity or physics). Like in the Wicked play, “Nothing will bring us down!” It’s important to have spirit and not think that whatever your plans or goals are will become a failure. If you believe that it will become a success, then you can provide that inspiration to others and sooner than later, they too will believe that it is a success. I hope that I’m making an impact when I make someone aware about these social issues. They may not have to donate, but the fact that they are more aware that these problems in society exist, they are being more open and more willing to contribute to society in the future. As for the orphans in Thailand, I know that they would really appreciate all that we’re trying to do here, halfway across the world. Everyone, excluding me, would be complete strangers to them. If they knew that strangers were helping them out, then they wouldn’t feel like this world is such a bad place when it’s filled with caring people. If there aren’t people who show that they care, the kids might think that they are being punished by being born HIV positive, without a choice. So I hope that I am making a critical impact. It’s worth it, even if will only make an impact on one person. 

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
My advice is to get out there. Do whatever you wanted to do because you know once you apply for graduate school or get a job, you won’t have the time to explore the world. If you want to teach English in another country, volunteer, explore other career options, now is the time to do it! You just graduated and worked hard during your undergraduate years and you deserve a break. Traveling, joining an organization, and staying active is a great way to open a new perspective and you’ll grow as an individual during the process! You’ll learn more than what you expect to and you’ll remember it for the rest of your life. Why not? You have the rest of your life to go for your career. After taking a gap year, you may have a more focused, clear mind to accomplish your career goals in an efficient manner. Just make sure to blog everything so you can look back on it. I’m sure whatever you decide to do, as long as it’s productive, would be something memorable. Literally soak up every opportunity because it won’t come by as often as we get older.


Yvonne Nader, Voluntrek

Visiting a nearby archeological site, Uxmal.

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1Name: Yvonne Nader
Type of Work: Childcare
Region: North America
Length of stay: 1-2 months
Contact email: info@voluntrek.com.mx

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
Some years ago I was looking for a volunteer program in Mexico. Being born and raised in Mexico, I wanted to give back and help in my own country, knowing there were many opportunities and projects where I could make a difference due to the economic, political and social situation of my country. I also knew that Mexico combines diversity, contrasts, beauty, culture and traditions that I had yet to discover. When I searched Volunteer Organizations for a Program in Mexico, and the offer turned out to be only two options (and they were offered by foreign organizations), I decided to look for a volunteer placement and accommodation on my own. Even though I had lived all my life in Mexico and knew where to look and who to contact, it was not such an easy task. I ended up volunteering for 6 weeks in the Yucatan Peninsula. I was supposed to teach English to small children, but when I arrived they told me they did not need an English teacher anymore and asked me to give Religion classes to 6 different groups and helping in the office one day of the week! I had no choice, so I accepted and it was great to see how the children loved to listen to stories from the Bible: Creation, Noah´s Ark and so on, and how much they learned from each of them.

Some pictures of my students during Hanal Pixan (Day of Death) celebration.

Share a favorite memory.
It is difficult to choose just one memory, but I remember my first day teaching. I prepared paper figures to give my class for all 6 groups. I thought I would use the material throughout the day in all my classes, but ended coming out of my first class with nothing but trash, since the children had destroyed the figures while playing with them! I had to totally improvise for the rest of my classes. Even though at first it was frustrating, it really helped me understand children and learned how to prepare the rest of my classes. It helped so much that some of the regular teachers came to me and asked how I managed to keep the group so quiet and interested in the class, since they could not manage to do that while they gave their classes. This was a great satisfaction for me because I had never given classes before, and these meant the children loved my class, paid attention and learned! I am grateful that I also got to explore another part of Mexico I loved: beautiful beaches, archaeological sites, cavern-cenote diving, Hanal Pixan (Day of the Death Mayan celebration), colonial cities and magical towns.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
It really was a life changing experience, so much that I am now the founder of Voluntrek, a volunteer organization in Mexico. When I went back to Mexico City, I realized it would be an incredible opportunity for people around the world to experience what I had just lived. It had not been so easy for me to organize it on my own, and thought it would be even more difficult for someone from abroad to organize everything without knowing the culture, language and country. Wanting to share this experience with people from other countries, a thought came to my mind, “Why not help others volunteer in Mexico so they do not have to worry about anything but making a difference”. Some years later I founded Voluntrek (www.voluntrek.com.mx), offering volunteer programs in Mexico that provide and support volunteers with everything they need to have the adventure they are looking for. Our job is to make sure that our volunteers do not have to worry about anything but giving their best at the non-profit organization they will be supporting, and enjoying this unique experience of discovering a new culture. Volunteers can relax and enjoy their time in Mexico, knowing that someone local, who has volunteered in Mexico and organized her own volunteer experience once, is behind all this, making sure I can share with you the same great experience I had in 2006! Voluntrek provides you the opportunity to be part of this process through a volunteer program that you can customize according to your budget, needs and expectations.

Noh Mozon: one of the amazing places I got to visit. We were practicing cenote diving and had to abseil down to the cenote.

Lydia Ochieng, Art Outreach Programme

Presenting a play in a children’s home.

Name: Lydia Ochieng
Type of Work: Environment/Conservation, Education, Community Development, Arts, Childcare
Region: Africa
Length of stay: 1 Year+

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
I work for Art Outreach Programme. I work in Volunteer Placement department.

Share a favorite memory.
My favorite memory at AOP is the work camp. A work camp is a place where people of all races, ideologies, and nationalities live and work together for two to four weeks on a project organized by Art Outreach Programme. Most work camps occur during the summer months and have between 10 and 20 international participants. They volunteer, they socialize, and they work with the local people. They are a multicultural, voluntary workforce. That is a work camp – and it works! We usually go far away for the camp and assist the community in various project, as well as teaching in schools and going for excursions every weekend with the group… WORK CAMP IS SO MUCH FUN.

Clearing The field for an Eco-Lodge.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
I’ve learned that if one wants to go fast, they can go alone; but if one wants to go FAR then one should go with people. A lot can be achieved if there is team work.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
Lack of people and resources.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
Just be open minded!


Margot Schein, Cultural Embrace

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1Name: Margot Schein
School: University of California, San Diego
Type of Work: Education, Childcare
Region: Central America, South America
Length of stay: 3-6 months

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
I worked for Cultural Embrace when I volunteered in Guatemala and Costa Rica. I was doing considerably more meaningful work in Guatemala as I was teaching Mayan children basic math, reading, and writing (whereas in Costa Rica, I was teaching English). My day included taking a chicken bus out of Antigua (where I was living) to a small town called Santa Maria de Jesus. It would come to work at a small school that was almost all volunteer based. I would help the teacher with individual students or run lessons for groups. I helped distribute food and donated clothing and toy items to students. This work is particularly important because these children do not have the opportunity to attend state public schools and would end up working in farms like their parents who earn about $2/day. With basic skills, they can work in a shop or in town. It is not a huge improvement, but I learned the value of baby steps.

Share a favorite memory.
At the end of my stay, the students and teachers were so enamored with me that they sewed me a a thank-you note and preformed a dance in honor of my departure. I was extremely emotional in leaving the people who I was helping. They group hugged me goodbye and I nearly fell over! Their show of appreciation has caused me to dedicate my life to helping others.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
I have learned that one person can change lives. I constantly have to fight disillusionment with the slow progress of world aid, but I am filled with hope when I think about the children who I know I helped directly. And there are those out there just like me- helping one little girl or boy at a time learn to do basic math. My future goals include anything that involves doing good. I want to use my education as a force for the betterment of all people.

Some of the female Mayan children.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job was being brave. I was in a third world country as a young female. But I still got on that over-crowded bus everyday and walked up a hill to that small school because I was in love with helping. There was one day with torrential rains, but I suffered through, arrived and left work quite soaked, and smiled the whole time. Stay Brave.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
Love what you are doing. If you don’t love it, change volunteer positions. You can only be beneficial if you are totally dedicated. Volunteering is not easy, so you better be in for the long-haul. And again, be brave and try new things. I know it is cliche, but it will take you very far.

Roheet Kakaday, Project RISHI

A forest path in Mulgavan.

Name, Age: Roheet Kakaday, 21
University, Major: UC San Diego, Bioengineering
Region: Asia
Length of stay: Less than one month
Type of Work: Medical/Public Health, Environment/Conservation, Education, Infrastructure, Community Development, Arts, Childcare

Tell us about the nonprofit/social business you work for:
Project RISHI (Rural India Social and Healthcare Improvement) at the University of California, San Diego, is a relatively new organization that’s making positive and sustainable changes to rural Indian communities. UC San Diego’s Project RISHI primarily focuses on helping Anandwan, a rural leprosy colony in Maharashtra, India, and the physicians, patients, and staff who reside there. We plan on expanding our focus to encompass more rural areas that need help in the coming years. Project RISHI has chapters in UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, and Northwestern University with more on the way.

How did you find your position?
During another club’s general body meeting, the president of UCSD Project RISHI was given the opportunity to present a short powerpoint. As he recounted the experiences he had in Anandwan, I became inspired to help him out and, perhaps, visit Anandwan myself. I’ve been with UCSD Project RISHI for three years now, serving as a member for two of those years and on the leadership board for one year.

What’s your typical day like?
The thing about Anandwan, and rural India in general, is that there is a lot of work to be done. This enables volunteers to choose the field in which they would be most effective and focus their time there. When I visited with the first UCSD Project RISHI group, I took my time exploring the various needs of Anandwan. As a colony, Anandwan has become largely self-sufficient and with that self-sufficiency has come a microcosm of “industries” to help in. Anandwan educates children through their own schools, grows and ships its own food, creates its own prostheses for the handicapped, diagnoses and prescribes medications from physicians who live there, and much more. From a volunteer’s perspective, Anandwan is ripe for exploration, with each volunteer’s experience dependent on how much they leverage their capabilities.

When I came into Anandwan, I had a pre-medical student’s mindset which led me to assist in the medical area. I woke up nearly every morning at 5 AM to help out at a wound-wrapping clinic where leprosy patients with open wounds would come for treatment. I shadowed physicians in hospitals and sat in on public health seminars in order to explore what UCSD Project RISHI could do for Anandwan. I was also a part of the group that went to Somnath and Mulgavan, two rural farming areas, that needed help as well. As I was guided around the areas, I learned how farmers were having difficulties harnessing rain-water during India’s relentless monsoon season. These were illuminating experiences that jump started UCSD Project RISHI’s future improvement projects.

A typical day will start in the morning hours, the latest at 9 AM, and end around 11 PM at night. The work day here is unusually long due to the fact that you live and work in the same place. The hostel that hosts us is on the campus and is not more than a 10-minute walking distance away. You’ll start working in the morning, take the typical lunch break, a tea break in the afternoon, and end your work day sometime around 6 or 7 PM. Some of the other volunteers in our trip continued working with their groups until 10 PM! If you have the passion or drive to really help, there is no limitation placed on your volunteerism.

What kind of people do you work with?
The people who come on the trip with you are college students of varying age. The natives that you work with at Anandwan vary in their age and education. The physicians who work there have plenty of education and training in the medical field. There are, however, staff members who are older, younger, or the same age as you with varying levels of education. For example, one older staff member who trained me didn’t have a college or high school degree, but knew how to take blood pressure, wrap wounds, take medical histories and more. There are also volunteers from other international organizations that come in to help as well. Most people speak English to one degree or another, so language is usually not a barrier.

What are your living accommodations?
We lived in a hostel on the campus that was fairly decent considering that Anandwan is smack dab in rural India. It had its own bathroom, shower, four beds, a sink, and a fan in one room. By the standards of living I have seen in most poverty-stricken rural areas, I felt that we lived in the lap of luxury at this hostel. Barring the occasional gigantic exotic bug scare, living in this hostel was enjoyable. Three simple, yet tasty, meals were provided everyday and slow internet was available at a single central computer for a fee. Our group of eleven lived in four side-by-side rooms, so we were never alone and spent a lot of our time laughing nights away.

What do you do in your free time?
We explored the surrounding wilderness, enjoyed local fare, played intense games of hacky sack, joked around for hours, and spent time in deep philosophical contemplation. It was a great experience bonding with these volunteers and I definitely made some new life-long friends.

One of the self-sufficient textile industries Anandwan has.

Share a favorite memory or story from your experience!
I feel that my experience was enhanced due to the fact that I speak Marathi, the local dialect in Maharashtra. Because of this language skill (Thank you Mom and Dad!) I was able to communicate with patients directly as I wrapped their wounds in the 5 AM clinic. Listening to the stories of these patients who had been displaced from their homes and expunged from their former lives had a lasting impact on me. It made me realize how much I take for granted here in the U.S. and just how much change needs to occur abroad. The positive effects of just one volunteer making a difference is amplified in places like rural India. This experience served to formulate the basis of my future career – to help the under served populations of the world.

What inspired you to do this kind of work? If you are taking a gap year, what motivated you to do that?
When I was investigating nonprofits to join, I wanted the opportunity to not only make a difference but undergo some self-exploration as well. I believe part of volunteerism is not only making positive changes for others, but creating positive changes in oneself as well. For that to happen, one needs to find a cause worthy of one’s energy and investment.

I realized that an aspect of nonprofit work that really appealed to me was hands-on volunteerism – volunteerism in which I could really get involved in not only the implementation of projects but the planning stages as well. Though there were a good amount of clubs at UCSD with that kind of hands-on volunteerism, the critical aspect of self-exploration was missing from many of them. For example, one could go to South America and aid critical volunteer efforts, but all the activities were already prescribed and scheduled. I needed the opportunity to not only complete such volunteer efforts, but to find them in my own time and devote myself to them because I wanted to, not because a schedule told me to.

UCSD Project RISHI, as a relatively new club, offered the hands-on volunteerism and the self-exploration aspect that I was searching for. It was the perfect fit for me and I have never regretted choosing RISHI since.

How are you financing your time?
All work done for Project RISHI is on a volunteer basis so no one received any kind of financial compensation for their efforts. Furthermore all members who go on the trip to India pay their own way there. That means paying for round trip tickets, lodging, and food to and from Anandwan. Though it sounds like a lot, the trip’s total cost is no more than $1,500, a fairly manageable sum.

What kind of special skills do you need to do your job?

Do you feel like you are making a positive, critical impact on the global community?
The entire reason I joined UCSD Project RISHI was to make a positive and critical impact in a community. So, yes, of course I feel like I am making a positive contribution to this rural Indian community. That feeling was further reinforced by the gratitude I received from lepers and staff alike when volunteering in the field.

Furthermore, UCSD Project RISHI’s focus on sustainability as an integral part of any project it undertakes is unique amongst nonprofits today. When we design our projects, we want to make sure that even in our absence the projects we design will continue to have their desired effect. As our projects come to fruition, I have every confidence that we will make a positive and lasting impact in Anandwan and rural areas beyond.

What have you learned about the nonprofit and social business world in your experience?
Effective nonprofit work is slow and steady, despite the unrelenting vision of motivated individuals. To make a truly lasting impact, the nonprofit needs to scout the problems, come up with various solutions, and ensure that the solution it chooses is sustainable, low-cost, and, most importantly, effective. This process takes a while, but once it gets going it’s hard to not be enthusiastic about it.

How do you see this experience fitting into your long-term goals?
Volunteering for Project RISHI on campus and in Anandwan solidified my choice of career. Caring for lepers made me realize how important medicine is to the under served populations here at home and abroad. As such, I hope to enter a field where I can care for such disadvantaged populations in a medical capacity. My ideal choice is to be a physician and make a concrete difference in such patients’ lives.

Moreover, handling lepers’ wounds served as a litmus test for medicine. I figured if I could stomach the sight of severely disfigured limbs, then I may be able to handle some of the sights in medicine. When I began treating the lepers who came into the clinic, I found myself engrossed with their histories more so than their wounds, which made me believe that perhaps medicine would work for me.

What’s next?
I hope to go onto medical school after graduating from college. In medical school, I want to help expand Project RISHI’s vision and perhaps even recruit medical school students and physicians to help out. They could be an invaluable asset to implementing projects in Anandwan and beyond.

Do you have any advice for prospective gap-givers?
UCSD Project RISHI, or even the Project RISHI at your local college, is a great option for volunteerism. From the start you can get involved in everything about the club, from planning events to staffing them. Every effort on your part can be directly translated into increased fundraising and better projects for the target site your local RISHI chapter has in mind. Project RISHI needs all the help it can get, and you can be the one to make the critical difference. If Project RISHI doesn’t seem to be something you’d be interested in, then there are plenty of other nonprofits with equally valuable work waiting to be accomplished. Get out there and get involved. It’ll be worth your time and you’ll feel better for it.

Are you blogging about your work or travel? How can we stay in touch?
Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/ucsdprojectrishi or on Twitter @SDProjectRISHI for more information! We also had a travel blog you can find at projectrishi.wordpress.com, though it was sparsely updated due to the shaky internet connection.

Would you be willing to take questions from potential Gappers?