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Seeds of Help Foundation

July 31, 2012

Seeds of Help Foundation is a nonprofit that takes a grassroots approach to helping people in Guatemala to improve their lives through education, construction projects and opportunities for women and youth.  It serves a dozen remote communities in the country’s western highlands, where the vast majority of the population survives off subsistence farming.

Founded by a Peace Corps volunteer who wanted to continue the work he began in 1998 as part of his service once his two-year term with the Peace Corps was at an end, the organization works with local staff, volunteers from countries around the globe  and Peace Corps  volunteers to fulfill its mission.

The mission of the organization is embodied by three types of “seeds of help” for breaking the cycle of poverty and creating positive social change within the rural communities it serves.

  •  Educational Programs and Opportunities:  it is not uncommon for children in these rural communities to drop out of school before the sixth grade.  As a result of gender inequality, girls are not encouraged to attend school.  To address these issues, Seeds of Help has created a comprehensive preschool program to promote the importance of education.  In addition, they provide older school children with encouragement, special programs, materials and scholarships.
  • Women’s groups:  via custom-designed development programs, Seeds of Help teaches women about health, nutrition, family planning and medicinal herbs.  They also provide help with community organization.
  • Construction Projects:  these include construction projects for schools, communities and local families – including the building and installation of latrines, water pumps, stoves and irrigation tanks.  Skills are transferred to the local communities and locally available materials are used.

To learn more about Seeds of Help, including how you can volunteer in Guatemala, click here.


Puketi Forest Trust

June 25, 2012

The Puketi Forest Trust is a registered charity dedicated to restoring the Puketi Forest in Northland, New Zealand.

In the heart of New Zealand’s Northland lies an ancient forest known as the Puketi Forest.  In the past it was central to the lives of Maori and early European settlers, providing shelter, food and clothing.  Over time, it has faced numerous threats including the arrival of the timber and kauri gum industries, human population growth and the introduction of pests.  The forest was therefore protected as the Northland Forest Park, administered by the New Zealand government Department of Conservation (DOC).

The mission of the Puketi Forest Trust is to restore the forest to a complete living forest essential to the spiritual, cultural, historical, economic and social well-being of communities and to maintain it for future generations in ways which are compatible with conservation values.  Since its founding and registration as a charity in 2003, the Puketi Forest Trust has worked on a variety of projects to effect its mission.  Some of its projects include the following:

  • The Restoration Project:  locally extinct wildlife has been reintroduced and the population of their most common predators has been controlled.
  • Wildlife Monitoring: monitoring assesses the effects of pest control on the native wildlife.  The key types of wildlife monitored are kiwis (monitored by their calls), other types of birds (monitored by experienced birdwatchornithologist volunteers) and invertebrates (specifically ground dwelling invertebrates in the areas of pest control).
  • Pest Control:  the introduction of foreign pests led to serious depletion in native wildlife, including the extinction of many species.  In order to preserve and grow the populations of endemic birds and other wildlife that remain, traps have been installed to control the populations of predator and competitor pests.

Volunteers of all ages and fitness levels are welcome.  Volunteer opportunities include the following, among others:

  • Helping with bird counts:   involves a long morning, day or even over-night walk in the forest, in which volunteers visit monitoring points and record 10 minute bird counts.
  • Kiwi call monitoring:  opportunities exist two evenings every year during May-June in which volunteers listen for Kiwi calls from various monitoring points in the forest.  The New Zealand Kiwi Foundation holds training workshops.
  • Monitoring tracking tunnels:  involves setting out and retrieving tracking cards to monitor pest numbers.
  • Invertebrate monitoring: to determine the effects of predator removal, volunteers help set out, collect and sort pit-fall traps.

To learn more about the Puketi Forest Trust, including volunteering opportunities in New Zealand through this organization, click here.


June 12, 2012

Ubuntu-Blox is an innovative project with the potential to transform the way homes are constructed in the poorest communities.

It all began with a man named Harvey Lacey. He created a process for making building blocks out of plastic bags and recycled styrofoam.  When reinforced with metal wire, these blocks can be used to build a sturdy home.  And for every house that is constructed by this method, the equivalent of one 40 foot shipping container of trash is removed from our oceans.



Now how does one go about testing the viability of such an idea on a large scale?  Harvey turned to a Texas-based charity called the Memnosyne Foundation which funded the building of the first house and its subsequent testing.  The home was placed on shake table that simulated an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale (the size of the major earthquake that caused such devastation in Haiti back in 2010).  The Ubuntu-Blox house remained intact.

Next, the house was tested by being subjected to 9o-mile-per-hour winds.  Amazingly, the house of recycled trash bricks withstood the winds, equivalent those of a Catergory I hurricane.

Now it was on to Haiti.  Harvey partnered with an organization called Haiti Communitere, which is committed to ongoing disaster recovery, by focusing not just on response and relief but also renewal.  Haiti Communitere trained local women to make the blocks themselves.  It is hoped that the Ubuntu-Blox will be able to compete with regular mortar bricks in the marketplace – and thus empower the women to support themselves financially.

There is a potential for an Ubuntu-Blox factory to open up in Haiti.  Women will be able to earn a living wage, building homes that remove trash from the oceans.

To support this project, you can donate either to Haiti Communitere or to the Memnosyne Foundation.  Also, you can join the Ubuntu Blox Facebook group. Follow Harvey’s latest and greatest via his Twitter account.

Source:  “A Palace of Trash and the World It’s Changing” by Auren Kaplan.

Bridges to Community

May 22, 2012

Bridges to Community is a nonprofit organization focused on community development in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

Bridges to Community is a nonprofit committed to creating sustainable, long-term community development. Through their projects they seek to empower communities and foster community leadership to generate local capacity.

The organization currently works in two countries: Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. In Nicaragua, the population has suffered bloodshed and economic hardship for many years. As the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere (after Haiti), the country has extremely high unemployment, external debt and a very low per capita income. Currently Bridges to Community is working in 5 regions of Nicaragua.

In the Dominican Republic the population in the western highlands, along the border with Haiti live some of the most impoverished communities in the Western Hemisphere. Educational and economic opportunities are severely limited and access to water is a major concern. Bridges to Community began working in the Dominican Republic earlier this year.

To create sustainable change in impoverished communities in the Dominican Republic and Nicarague, Bridges to Community works in 4 program areas. They include the following:

  • HOUSING: for many impoverished families, the realities of daily life include homes made of rusted metal, scrap lumber and plastic sheeting. The dirt floors and leaky roofs create a host of chronic health problems. Bridges to Community’s Housing Program both repairs existing buildings and builds new homes for families in need. These homes are built to be earthquake resistant, be durable and to make the best use of natural cooling and heating and available light. In addition, the organization helps the owners secure land titles, ensuring the homes remain in the family for generations.
  • HEALTH: Bridges to Community’s Health Program projects address both long-term and immediate health issues. A focus is placed on improvements to infrastructure and preventive care. Examples of recent projects include the implementation of water systems to deliver drinking water, the installation of high efficiency cook stoves that reduce smoke related illnesses and the repair and construction of health care facilities.
  • EDUCATION: due to both the remoteness of the impoverished communities where Bridges to Community works or to a lack of government-supported infrastructure, children often must travel for hours on foot to attend elementary school classes. High school classes, trade schools and universities are both more expensive and more scarce. This means many young students are unable to pursue a higher education and their communities will remain without educated leaders. To address these issues, Bridges to Community’s Education Program offers scholarships, workshops and adult education programs, as well as constructs classrooms, libraries and other educational facilities.
  • ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: economic opportunities are scarce in the areas where Bridges to Community works. The adults are either workers in textile mills working long shifts for extremely low wages or farmers with no means to bring their products to market. Bridge to Community’s Economic Development Program provides training workshops (such as accounting and small business administration) and grants for small cooperative businesses.

To learn more about Bridges to Community and how you can get involved, including volunteer opportunities, click  here.

WAVES for Development

May 10, 2012

WAVES for Development is a nonprofit bringing educational surf and surf voluntourism programming throughout Peru.

WAVES seeks to create positive social change in coastal communities in Peru through youth education and development programs and through surf voluntourism programs that transform the views of travelers on themselves and the world.


WAVES  provides the local youth with educational programs, including Environment and English classes, Sports Classes and access to teachers who work in the Lobitos Primary school which complements the available resources of the government-funded school.  Additionally, the local youth are provided with three free weekly Surf Classes (including Girls-Only Surf Classes), which include a range of opportunities,  from swimming lessons to water safety, beach environment and local hazards.  WAVES Also provides the girls with wetsuits, surfboards and other equipment.

Volunteers have the opportunity to assist teachers both in the academic programs and with the Surf School.  Additional Surf Voluntourism Programs include Beach Clean Ups and other activities including Surf Photography, Small Business Studies, Construction Programs, Dance Classes, Health Clinics and Art classes, among others.

The values behind their programs are spelled out in their name:

Water – via adventure sports, participants develop a special relationship with the precious resource to which 1.1 billion people around the world lack access.  And that relationship can be applied easily to conversation activities in their daily lives.

Adventure – WAVES offers disadvantaged youth access to adventure sports and makes adventure part of their social and personal development.  They believe adventure is not just an adrenaline rush but rather a way to build confidence, promote good health and foster meaningful relationships.

Voluntourism – volunteers engage in community service activities while engaging in their passion for surfing.  Additionally, voluntourists provide local communities with cultural exchange opportunities and camaraderie through their participation in Educational Surf Programs.

Education – WAVES believes the future success of communities lies in the education of its youth.  They therefore help create educational  and development opportunities for youth in coastal communities, providing them with the tools to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Sustainability – there are 4 aspects to sustainability:  ecological (use of/impacts on/implications for the natural environment), social (the initial participation of the community, impact on their culture and willingness to carry it on), political (the politics of destination and other accountability issues) and economic (the impact of money that exchanges hands).


To learn more about WAVES, including the details on their Voluntourism Program, click here.


The Small Things

April 30, 2012

The Small Things is a Tanzania-based nonprofit which provides support, education and care for the children, staff and volunteers of the Nkoaranga Orphanage.

Through long-term investments in infrastructure for the Nkoaranga Orphanage and its parent hospital, as well as direct project support, The Small Things is working to make a lasting impact on the lives of the children it serves.

Some of the organization’s projects include the following:

  • Education: the children can begin attending school at the age of five, but in order to do so, they need sponsors.  The Small Things works with The Foundation for Tomorrow to provide the children with uniforms, room and board, tuition, medical care, tutoring, and more.
  • Project “Light Up the Night”:  the orphanage’s electrical system is old, nonfunctional in some areas and even dangerous (a short in the electrical system  caused a horrific fire on Valentine’s day 2009).  Through Project “Light Up the Night,” The Small Things is working to completely rewire the orphanage and installing solar lighting in the hospital maternity ward, if fundraising goals are exceeded.
  • Orphanage Staff: as there are currently two or three caretakers at any given time for thirty children, there must be an increase in orphanage staff.  They would assist the current “mamas” in shopping for the children, preparing food for them, washing their clothes and running the school.
  • Vitamins and Formula: this program provides the children of the orphanage, some of whom were suffering from iron deficiency and rickets, with a daily vitamin regimen.  Additionally, the program funds the purchase of formula for all children up to six months old, as otherwise due to the high price of formula, their diets would be switched from formula to a porridge/milk/peanut butter mixture for which their systems are unprepared.

For more information about The Small Things and how you can help, including how you can volunteer at the Nkoaranga Orphanage in Tanzania, click here.

Note: The Small Things has filed for recognition as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. 

Interview with Kim Ang, Co-Founder of GiveYourGap

April 13, 2012

The following is an interview Kim Ang, the co-founder of GiveYourGap, a portal for young volunteers to get tips and share their gap year volunteering experiences.

Tell us a little bit about your organization and the work you do.

There are two “sides” to our organization. There’s our website,, which is a portal for young people to share different gap year volunteering experiences and get advice. Then there’s our trip, which includes 4 girls from the GiveYourGap team. Together we’ve been traveling around Asia for a few months now, volunteering everywhere we go. We’ve helped with a medical mission, English-language centers, lots of schools, an orphanage, an HIV/AIDS center, an LGBT Counseling group, a school for deaf, blind, and mute girls…the list goes on. We share our volunteer stories on the website

What’s the inside scoop on what experiences inspired you to become a co-founder?

We founded when we were fresh out of college, looking for cool things to do with our gap years. With the economy as it is, we had a lot of friends who had graduated college and were unable to get jobs, so they moved abroad and volunteered their time. That seemed 100% awesome, but it also proved to be quite difficult to coordinate. We created the website to make the process easier – provide a resource of advice, share experiences, and look for opportunities.

What is the most inspiring story a member of your site has shared with you about their gap year experiences?

People are sending in inspiring stories on a daily basis, so its hard to pick! One of our featured gappers started his own organization in a small community in Ghana, and has provided hundreds of people with free first aid training and diabetes counseling. Another gapper has been working with the refugee populations in San Diego through Americorps, helping families get settled in their new homes and communities.

What was your most memorable moment during your own gap year?

Mm, this is a tough question. We’ve been to about 7 countries now and each place has a very unique story. But I would say Nepal has been the most exceptional experience. We met up with some family friends in Kathmandu – but our real mission was to visit a site in rural Nepal. To get there, we piled 8 of us (and our luggage) into a jeep that was supposed to fit 4, drove up and over some infamous Nepalese mountains (about a 12 hour trip total), and then hiked for 2 hours to our destination village. On our hike, we stopped about 4 or 5 times at various schools, giving gifts like computers (which our friends had raised funds for) and scholarships for students. It was a trek I never thought I would take, but I’m so glad it happened.

Over the next five years, what is your dream for

Our dream is to build an accessible, vibrant community of people interested in this kind of work for their gap year. (We call them “Gappers.”) We want to inspire people to take gap years, volunteer, travel with purpose. We love it when the community engages and we see prospective gappers contacting “gapper alumni” asking questions and finding the right fit for them. We have big goals, like GiveYourGap fellowships to help fund volunteers. If we can create that active network and really help people take the leap – we’ll be happy!