Katia Gomez, Educate2Envision International

Name, Age: Katia Gomez, 24
University, Major: Boston University, Global Health
Region: Central America
Length of stay: N/A
Type of Work: Medical/Public Health, Education, Community Development

Tell us about the nonprofit/social business you work for:
Educate2Envision International in San Leandro, CA. Educate2Envision (E2E) International strives to offer children living in poverty the chance to attain the highest level of education that their individual efforts will allow them.

How did you find your position?
I decided to found a nonprofit!

What’s your typical day like?
It will vary day to day. Often times we are evaluating the quality of our programs and sitting on classes to observe student-teacher interactions, presentations, exams, etc. Then a majority of time is spent visiting households and speaking with parents about their thoughts on how things are unfolding with the programs, any progress they’ve observed, trying to measure our impact with surveys. We also run workshops for students such as girls leadership or first aid, so interaction with the children themselves is very important to get a sense of what the needs are and what still requires improvement from our end.

What kind of people do you work with?
Our volunteers in Honduras are typically in their early 30s, college grads and have worked with NGOs in the past so have a good command of English. Back in the US, our team is composed of recent college grads or current students with backgrounds that usually include International Studies, Spanish, and Political Science.

What are your living accommodations?
This depends, if we are unable to find cheaper accommodations then there is a town about an hour or so away with electricity, internet access, ATMs and all that. There are a few selections of safe hotels. We are a very budget-wise nonprofit considering we’re so small, so if possible the mayor of the closest town to our community will allow us to stay in a vacant house in which we bring sleeping bags and shower only when water is available. There are many outlets but no WiFi in this particular house, but it is free after all.

What do you do in your free time?
My free time is spent usually planning out the next day and evaluating what was accomplished that day, but other than that I wander the town with my Honduran buddies just enjoying each other’s companies, having a bite to eat, a drink, watching movies, playing soccer etc.

Share a favorite memory or story from your experience!
One of my favorite memories is the time I visited Pajarillos after bringing secondary school there for the first time; it was after I sat in on one of the first classes and afterwards each student went up to the front of the classroom to say thank you to me, many of them in tears. They spoke about how they never thought this would be possible in their lifetime and how much hope they now had for their children to follow in these footsteps. This moment made it clear in my mind that I wasn’t wasting my time and that I had the means to really make a generational difference.

What inspired you to do this kind of work? If you are taking a gap year, what motivated you to do that?

How are you financing your time?
The programs I’ve begun in Honduras are based entirely on individual donations and small grants, but this does not include logistic expenses once inside the country such as paying for a driver, renting a car etc. nor does it provide for flight expenses. These are all taken from own personal savings. I have been lucky to create friendships with local Hondurans who practically volunteer their services, transportation, for very low compensation.

What kind of special skills do you need to do your job?
Language, teaching, medical expertise, writing, social media.

How do you see this experience fitting into your long-term goals?
I think E2E has absolutely advanced my long-term plans. I view education as an invaluable piece of the puzzle in eliminating global poverty. I have been fortunate enough to see first hand how empowered a community becomes when education is available to families and their children. This is something that parents struggle immensely with to collect enough money for school fees and often times it’s not enough and more and more kids with huge potential have no choice but to accept their fate. No matter what I end up doing as a full-time career, I will always work to expand opportunities for youth to attend school and to connect them with children in our country, building friendships and understanding as much I can.

What’s next?
I’m currently in grad school for my Master’s in Public Health/Global Health and afterwards will depend on the job market of course! I plan to take on a fellowship or internship abroad working in program design/implementation to further sharpen my skills and formalize what I have learned by running E2E.

What is one thing you wish you knew before you came to your position?
Success can come in short spurts or waves, immediately visible or a blurry vision in the far distance. No matter which level of success you reach you should always have sustainability at the forefront of every decision. When you’re nuts enough to start your own nonprofit, you have extremely high expectations and you go in with the mindset that you will make a difference, there is no other option. It is this kind of passion that will carry the organization but one needs to remember to not let your heart leap to far out in front of your head. In the beginning I wanted to achieve the feat of helping every single child in a community of hundreds to make it through secondary school, not realizing that some children might just not want to go that route or academically they don’t have the drive so instead one must focus on those who DO have the passion. Don’t pay attention so much to numbers, but rather the quality of the impact, not the size.

Do you have any advice for prospective gap-givers?
The main advice I would give is to volunteer abroad for the right reasons. Although it’s a given that it will make your resume shine, remind yourself that you are working with real human beings and not just a week-long project. Be respectful and don’t assume that they are any less intelligent than we are when it comes to knowing what is best for their communities and families. Learn from THEM. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn from “the poor” about happiness, love, innovation, and perseverance.

Are you blogging about your work or travel? How can we stay in touch?
Updates can always be found on both our facebook and website : www.facebook.com/educate2envisioninternational and www.educate2envision.org

Would you be willing to take questions from potential Gappers?


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.



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.


Janice Smith, Ramakrishna Vivekanada Girls’ Blind and Deaf Orphanage School

Name: Janice Smith
Type of Work: Education, Arts, Language
Region: Asia
Length of stay: 1-2 months

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
I was the first foreign volunteer to stay and live with the girls in 2009. I taught and and other cultural activities.

Share a favorite memory.
The never ending love the girls had to offer. I learned so much about life and self discover.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
Material items are not essential to live a happy and meaningful life. I learned so much about their language and culture that positively effects me today on a daily basis.

What was the most challenging part of your job?
Not being able to speak the language, adapting to their food and hot humid climate.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
Travel with an extremely open heart and try as many new things as possible, except from street food venders :)


Rosalia Mahr, Global Brigades

Name: Rosalia Mahr
School: Marquette University
Type of Work: Medical/Public Health, Environment/Conservation
Region: Central America
Length of stay: Less than 1 month

The team’s greenhouse, named “Los gigantes verdes” (written in the Embera language), along with the group of students and the family they worked with.

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
I am a member of Global Brigades. There are currently 9 different disciplines within the organization and throughout Marquette University we now currently have 4 of the disciplines. This has been a huge part of my life and my college career for the past 3 years. I have been a part of a Medical/Dental Brigade to Honduras for 2 different years. On these brigades a group of students joins a small group of doctors (from the US and also from Honduras) and sets up a temporary health care area in a few different rural cities. The students help the doctors in translation, intake, triage and in the pharmacy in order to provide health care to these areas that would normally have to drive hours to the nearest hospital. This past year I was blessed enough to be a part of and Environmental Brigade to Panama. During the brigade we built greenhouses for a few families in Piriati (an area a few hours outside of Panama City) along with teaching the people about waste management, organic farming and different ways to take care of the environment around them. One of the key concepts behind Global Brigades is sustainability. Everyone involved is all a part of a larger group for social change working to improve other’s quality of life.

Share a favorite memory.
This past spring when I was in Panama for the Environmental Brigade I was blessed with the family that I was able to work with. The group of students I was with was in charge of building an organic greenhouse for this one family. The wonderful part about this project was the family we were building the greenhouse for was involved in the construction each step of the way. I was helping one of the sons of the family surround the greenhouse in chicken wire. This took some time and allowed for the son and I to talk and find out about each others’ lives. This touched me the most. He shared with me his dreams for the future and where he wants to go with his life. He wants to be able to continue his studies, learn more languages and then, hopefully return to Panama to apply his skills to bettering other people’s lives. He has so much determination in him when he talks about his dreams, and the whole week he worked so hard to help us finish our greenhouse on time. He has the world at his fingertips like anybody else does. Sometimes it is so easy to forget that the people we are serving are people all the same. They have dreams and passion just like the rest of us. The son and I keep contact still via Facebook. I love technology for this reason. He is always checking in to see how I am doing and he gives me constant updates about the progress of the plants we placed in the greenhouse. This is one of my favorite memories of Global Brigades.

The Global Brigades group standing on a mountain overlooking the community of Piriati Embera in which they were working in Panama.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
Being a member of Global Brigades has changed my life. I understand this sounds a little cheesy, but it is entirely true. I have known for most of my life that I want to go on to become a physician. If anything has made me a person for others, it has been Global Brigades. It has defined my college career and is a major part of my life. I understand through what I have seen and learned that there is so much more to health care than just physical exams, diagnoses and medications. I have learned how everything is connected (spirituality, environment, physical well-being, etc.) and how important keeping that sense of humanity and connectivity is when working with anyone. Sometimes a smile can make just as much a difference in a person’s life as a medication to cure a sickness. I cannot look at the world in the same way after returning from Panama. I have learned where my priorities and passions lie and I have gained a new and more intense drive to become a physician. Each time I have traveled to Central America I have been extremely tempted to simply stay there and continue with whatever I am doing. But each time I have realized that there is so much more I can do. I can serve even more people and in a more fulfilling manner (for myself and for others) if I return to school and continue my studies to become a physician. I am motivated to be the best version of myself that I can be. These experiences have solidified my goals to become a physician and the serve those less fortunate than I am for the rest of my life. I owe Global Brigades and each person I have worked with so much in helping me learn so much about myself and about the world.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
Be open-minded. You never know what is going to happen and you never know what each thing is going to teach you.


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.


Megan Leatherman, Kayan-Feminist Organization

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1Name: Megan Leatherman
School: University of Oregon
Type of Work: Community Development, Human Rights
Region: Middle East
Length of stay: 6 months – 1 year

Megan and a friend on a trip to Nablus, Palestine

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
I work for Kayan-Feminist Organization, which is a non-profit, politically unaffiliated Arab women’s organization in Israel. I volunteered with Kayan in 2009, and worked primarily on public relations and outreach. After I began working on my Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution, I teamed up with Kayan again to work on developing a program that empowers women to do peacebuilding work within Arab communities in Israel. In addition to helping to develop this program, I work on fundraising and development. An average day is usually spent at the office editing grant proposals and reports, or meeting with colleagues to talk about the upcoming Conflict Transformation training that we are planning.

Share a favorite memory.
One thing that has stuck out to me in my second time with Kayan was when I went to a meeting of the Forum of Arab Women Leaders, which is a network of community organizers that Kayan supports and facilitates. This was my first time out “in the field” since I’d come back, and it was really touching to see familiar faces, some of whom even remembered me. It was as if I was being transported back two years, except that the Forum has grown and is becoming increasingly sophisticated in its research and interventions.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
Well, obviously I’ve learned more than I’d ever imagined about issues of women and conflict transformation, fundraising, and development. More generally, however, I’ve learned that it takes a very long time as a volunteer to actually contribute in a meaningful way – unless you are with an organization for a significant amount of time, the gift is primarily theirs to give, not yours. This idea that Americans can descend upon international organizations and improve them is largely unfounded, and I think it’s important to remain humble in the work that we do. As far as my long-term goals, they have totally shifted since I came back to Kayan this summer. When I arrived, I wanted to work for international women’s organizations in conflict zones. After getting more involved in the community-level work that Kayan does, I realized that I actually want to give back in that way to my own community in the Pacific Northwest. The grassroots work that this staff does is immensely powerful, and I feel convicted to work to improve the quality of life for disadvantaged members of my community in America.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job has been keeping up with all the various aspects that go into program planning: donors, grant proposals, logical frameworks, activity planning, target group, etc. Having never done this before, I have had to learn quickly what it takes to orchestrate programming in an organization like Kayan.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
I would suggest that gappers learn as much as they can about the context they will be working in, remain humble and openminded, and connect as much as they can with the people that they are working with.

Harrison Gill, American Jewish World Service

Making cement.

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1Name: Harrison Gill
School: University of California, San Diego
Type of Work: Education, Infrastructure
Region: Central America
Length of stay: Less than one month

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
I volunteered with the American Jewish World Service through their Alternative Spring Break program during my freshman year with several other students at my university back over spring break 2010. We helped provide support to OPCION/Aj Ticonel and the local community of San Antonio, Chimaltenango, Guatemala by helping with the local school renovations. The school had been so successful that they were doubling the size. We spent most of our weekdays working on the school, playing with the kids, building and painting furniture, or leveling the driveway. Every night we did a text study of various academic sources and religious opinions, which offered us the ability to apply a critical lens to what we were doing by volunteering in Guatemala and how that affected the community. Our weekend was spent walking through the town and over to the next town and getting to know the community. AJWS also requires a follow-up program upon return to the United States to increase awareness for which I made one presentation and also led a dinner table discussion.

Share a favorite memory.
Hearing the stories of the locals was the best thing about this experience. San Antonio was heavily affected by the Guatemalan civil war and almost half the community was killed or severely wounded as a result of the conflict, which the United States was largely implicit in. We had the opportunity to walk about the community as well as over to a neighboring village to see what the living conditions were like. We also got to play games, such as soccer or frisbee, with the kids during recess or when they happened to be around the school.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
The experience made me realize how much more interconnected the world really is than we might think. It is clear from the community how much what occurs in the United States and other highly developed countries affects rural developing countries. Since my return I have been compelled to increase my understanding of the region as well as work to increase awareness of pressing development issues through various organizations I participate in. Most of all, I have continued to volunteer wherever I might be.

The school.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
Living conditions were challenging at times. When one goes to volunteer in a community like San Antonio, you give up things like beds, hot water, and automatic toilets that you are probably accustomed to back home. What you get in return however is some awesome home hospitality and great locally cooked meals.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
Go for it. If you are truly committed, you can do it. If you need help convincing your parents (and yourself) on the other hand, do some research on your program provider and look into things like how many staff members they provide on the ground, ground transportation, and any medical certifications staff might have. My dad was very concerned about me going, but after I assured him of the services AJWS provides, he was more than happy.

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.

Sylvia Ng, Ecoteers

It’s a turtle! ‘Penyu’ in Malay.

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1Name: Sylvia Ng
Type of Work: Environment/Conservation
Region: Asia
Length of stay: Less than one month

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
The organization I worked with is called Ecoteers. I volunteered for their Perhentian Turtle Volunteer Project in the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia for 2 consecutive years. I had a blasting time there. It was sun, sea, turtles, snorkeling, sand, stars, frisbee time, pontoon and jetty diving, village kids, mango ice blend almost everyday( with a dose of occasional thunder and monsoon rain!) And of all, the friends I made and the memories we forged together were unforgettable. Not forgetting the countless of close encounters I had with the beloved Mother Nature- being up close and monitoring female turtles and their hatchlings and monitor lizards!

Share a favorite memory.
Patrolling on a beach full of turtle tracks with 3 turtles making their pit at the same time but-there were only 2 of us! And did I mention, there were thunder and lighting?

South China Sea

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
I decided to volunteer for this project because I wanted to reaffirm my passion. And I did.I always love the ocean and dream of doing my part in conserving marine animals. Turtles was definitely part of it. Throughout my weeks in this project, I’ve gained so many knowledge of turtles, corals, sharks and many general global oceanic problems. I met so many like minded people out there with a common goal as I do, people who inspires me, people whom I hope to work with one day. I know for sure after everything, that saving up for studying marine studies is definitely what I want in life- because I simply derive so much joy from it.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
Follow your heart. Nothing beats a holiday for a good cause. Your money will definitely be worth it!