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Entering the small village of San Benito, dust billows around our van crammed with volunteers, blowing into the windows and clouding the view. I had grown accustomed to the dirt, the heat, and the smells. All of these had become part of my journey, having left American luxuries far behind. My eyes grew round and not one of us in the van uttered a word as we slowly made our way through the village, over potholes, ruts and divots in the unpaved road. Village members slowly peered from windows and doors of their primitive, one room homes to see who had arrived. A woman stops sweeping her dirt floor to smile and wave. Children of all ages run towards the moving vehicle, laughing and yelling to our van as if we were long lost friends returning from an extended absence. We park and exit the van at a community center…
Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Volunteering at a Farm in the Langhe, Italy

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Between the Alps and the small herd of sheep left in my care unfurl the slopes of the Langhe, a rolling patchwork of pasture, vine and orchard nestled above the Italian Riviera. Here and there a winery pokes out from behind a hill, its metal tanks gleaming amidst the folds of the valley, but otherwise the few farms stand isolated atop ridges. Added to the Unesco World Heritage List in 2014 for the “authenticity of the landscape”, the area retains both a strong sense of community and a certain wildness. The sheep belong to Mario and Lisa, proprietors of the farm I've been staying at for the past fortnight, Cascina del Finocchio Verde. In exchange for food and accommodation, volunteers help out with the animals or the hazelnut harvest or whatever the season may call for. Guidelines suggest six hours of work per day as appropriate, although here it seems…
With a month left until college graduation, I had no idea what I was going to do after May. Like many of my peers, I could not see myself having a 9-to-5 job at this stage of my life. I wanted to travel before I got the dreaded desk job I had heard so much about. East Africa had been calling me since I started taking Swahili my freshman year at the University of Kansas. When I did not test out of a single Spanish class (after four years in high school), I decided to take Swahili, fulfilling my desire to take a less commonly taught language in college. I ended up loving my Swahili classes and studying it for five years, even minoring in it. I decided to go to Tanzania: it is one of the safer countries where Swahili is spoken. However, many of my online searches turned…
Wednesday, 30 October 2013

WWOOF Shimogamo, Japan

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The port of Shimoda at the tip of the Izu peninsula is the place where in 1852, commodore Perry’s black ships were first sighted. America came requesting a trade route, they were refused, so came back a year later in warships and requested again; thus signifying the end of Japan’s self-imposed isolation from the world for over two hundred years. I stood by a large model of one of the ships, waiting for a bus. I was heading to a WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) farm further south. The previous morning I had left Tokyo, and after three weeks was city-tired. As the train rolled slowly out of the station, something began to lift; it was a mind frame born out of adjusting accordingly and without my noticing, to things like: how to deal with 24hr crowds of consumerism, 24hr neon adverts on video screens almost the size…
Sunday, 30 June 2013

Conserving the Bolivian Amazon

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My body ached all over. Carrying twenty five kilo bags of gravel will do that to you. My clean clothes were brown and muddy. It was my first day as a volunteer with Madidi Travel’s rainforest reserve Serere. Five weeks of conservation work without electricity or hot water in the Bolivian Amazon was to follow. I was filled with both excitement and apprehension. Having never done prior conservation work, I may have been forgiven for having naively inaccurate preconceptions of what it entails. What I imagined drew largely from what I had seen on television, where selfless nature lovers cradled wounded animals and gently fed them milk from a little bottle, or staked out endangered animals to tranquilize, tag and later monitor via GPS tracking. Really heroic stuff. I now know that the other ninety percent of conservation work that was not often publicized was all hard labor and if…
The Wobbly Road to Zambia It’s November 2011 and I hear the words “We’re sorry to say your job is at risk...” Except, what I actually hear is, “You’re up for redundancy. You’ve been here eight years, so we’re going to pay you to go on the bike trip you’ve been waiting for.” To some this might not seem the most rational response to the situation. But since when has logic been a good start to a mini adventure? I’d been in the potential redundancy situation before, so I knew my plan. But where? How? Was it feasible to get a taste of adventure without a GS, a big beard and a TV crew as back-up and with only eight months on my bike license? Actually, I’m getting ahead of myself because at that point not only was my license new, but I hadn’t exactly been a natural on two…
I wake up early to the sounds of prayer drifting from the nearby Church and Mosque, the low chants and songs intermingle into a kind of religious harmony. I know that soon, the chorus of birds will start singing. This was the thing that first struck me about living in Africa, the beautiful sounds of everyday life, no longer hidden under the incessant rumble of traffic. The prayers give way to the birds, then to the sounds of town life as my neighbors wake up, listening to African music as they get ready for work and talking in loud voices, over the sound of the Zem’s (motorbike taxi’s) hurtling along the twisted path, and of street sellers bartering with housewives. I know as the day draws on, my head will be filled with voices, children chattering and laughing at the school where I volunteer, my neighbors', friends' and host family's…
As newly retired folk, my wife and I thought that Southern Africa would be an excellent place to travel. We were interested in learning about the cultures and traditions as well as learning about the array of spectacular wildlife. So for one week this summer, we volunteered with the Noah's Ark Wildlife Center in Namibia, one of Enkosini Eco Experience’s projects. I knew that short-term volunteer opportunities in Africa were becoming more accessible with the rise of “Voluntourism”. There has been a rise in the number of tourists visiting Africa now who wish to spend a portion of their vacation in a more enriching way; such as helping local communities, or becoming involved in conservation efforts. When we arrived at the camp, we first registered, and then were assigned a raised wooden cabin overlooking a big waterhole with a background of the beautiful desert land of Namibia. We were fortunate…
A School is Built The Liberian civil war that erupted in the late 1980’s continued for fifteen years. It led to the mass exodus of Liberians, who sought safety in neighboring countries. Ghana opened its doors to Liberia’s displaced communities, and the Buduburam refugee settlement, 40 km west of Accra, became home for 42,000 people. As fighting continued in Liberia and spread to Sierra Leone, it soon became apparent that people would not be returning anytime soon. Although UNHCR auspices provided immediate shelter and food and immediate health care, education and schooling was not guaranteed. Liberians did not have the same access to school, health care or even bank accounts as Ghanaians did, and so those with refugee status were stuck in a kind of no man’s land; unable to return home and unable to enjoy the same rights as free people. Without education and social development in the interim, what hope did…
Driving a desolate road near Los Machos Beach Puerto Rico, Katie Block spots a small puppy lying in the middle of the road. After a brief search, the puppies’ mother and two siblings are found nesting in the roadside bushes. “These dogs are new to this beach,” she tells me. “They were probably dumped here yesterday.”      As the founder and director of Island Dog Inc., the largest nonprofit animal welfare organization on the island, the rescue of homeless dogs is a daily routine for Block. On a daily basis, Block and volunteers feed and medicate homeless dogs living on several beaches on the eastern coast of the island. Many of these dogs have suffered horrendous abuse from beatings, scaldings, and starvation. Currently an estimated 150-200,000 stray dogs inhabit Puerto Rico at any given time.Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, has long harbored a poor reputation for the treatment of animals.…

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