Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In Praise of "Voluntourism"

Hello! I promised I would tell more about my trip to Peru, and I aim to keep that promise. But first, let's just go ahead and get the picture of me and a really happy llama out of the way.



There.

Now then.

A few months back my group applied for and received a Change Ambassadors Grant from Travelocity's very awesome Travel for Good program. They have a wide variety of service projects to choose from, and we eventually settled on the GlobeAware Care for Cusco program.

Why? Do you SEE the llamas? (Actually we wanted the opportunity to work with the kids)

Background.

Cusco is surrounded by incredibly remote villages that are only reachable, if you have a car, by a two+ hour trip on bumpy dirt roads. Since the people who live there don't have cars, the trip is an arduous one hour walk and a three hour bus ride. Since the parents in the remote villages want to send their kids to Cusco to school so they can have a better future, some Cusqueños opened an "albergue" for these kids to stay in Cusco during the week, to go to school and learn extra Spanish and English in the afternoons and evenings. Then they make the four+ hour return to their villages on the weekends. It's not really an orphanage, but some of the kids who live there are orphans.

The alberque:



Volunteers from the US come to the albergue a few times a year to help improve the house by day and work with the kids to play games and teach English in the evening. The main project we worked on while there was the construction of a stone bench so that the kids could watch each other play futbol and voley (aka volleyball).

Like so:



It really ended up being a fine bench, if I do say so.

The kids were incredible, hilarious, and very eager to improve their lives. They come from some of the most humble and geographically remote places on Earth (I have never seen mountains like the mountains in Peru), and they welcomed us with open arms. They can also play a mean game of Uno.

While there we also....

Went to a remote village to help a family build a new stove out of mud and straw:



Played futbol atop ancient Inca ruins (well, technically the kids played while I choked on thin air from the hike up. Did I mention Cusco is 11,000 feet??):



Celebrated birthdays by stuffing our faces with cake (a tradition, or so they claimed):



Danced:



Wore alpaca wool hats while visiting a pre-Inca volcanic salt farm:



And of course made the trip to Machu Picchu:



All in all it was simply an incredible, amazing trip, and not an exaggeration to say it was life changing. It's easy to get so caught up in life and work and one's own challenges and to forget the incredible need out there both around the world and in our own backyard. I know we're in a tough economic climate, but if you have the opportunity I cannot recommend a volunteer trip enough.

Here are the links again, please check them out and give it some thought!

Travelocity's Travel for Good program
Travelocity's Change Ambassador Grant
GlobeAware






113 comments:

Keren David said...

But did you eat guinea pigs?

Marilyn Peake said...

Beautiful photographs. Looks like you had a meaningful and extraordinary trip. Thanks for posting photographs!

David said...

You didn't mention the Curtis Brown shirt. (I assume that's what that is.)

That's a wonderful thing to do. Helping those kids, I mean, not wearing the CB t-shirt, although that might well be wonderful, too, depending on what it's made from.

Felicity said...

I think a trip like this would be perfect for writers - a break from our normal routine (which can inspire creativity) and a chance to help someone live a better story (which is enough in itself).

Jeff said...

I know what you mean, I recently got back from a mission trip to Haiti and it was refreshing to get away from the constant demands of our life in the States. I'm almost envy the simplicity of the people.
I always feel like I gain more than I give on the trips.

Laurel said...

Great pics! Thanks for posting.

I lived further down the same mountain range in Argentina and it is very challenging country but incredibly beautiful. I never got a chance to get to Peru but it is still high on my hit list of places to see. Esp. Machu Piccu... I'm so jealous!

Cheers and welcome home.

Joel Q said...

I work for nationally known nonprofit and we have 100s of thousands of volunteers. We could not do what we do without them.

With that said, find something you like... a mission, an organization, a cause, a need and volunteer.

Nice to see you volunteering, Nathan.

A friend has this on his email...The Titantic was built by professionals, the Ark by volunteers.

sylvia said...

Funnily enough, Alice who writes My Wintersong has just returned from a trip to Peru as well. Is this the start of a trend or do I just have exceptional taste in the blogs I follow? ;)

What is it about Machu Picchu that every photograph of it looks photoshopped?

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

That is really cool you volunteered AND saw beautiful scenery and met cool folks on vacation. I'm definitely gonna try to do Voluntourism soon. No idea where at, though.

Neil said...

Nathan -- dude that Machu Picchu snap looks so photoshopped!

Seriously though, nice work and well done.

ryan field said...

Nice post.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

hey just curious: Did you speak Spanish?

Dan said...

Nathan,

I think you should've worn your Piggly Wiggly t-shirt on Machu Picchu.

AM said...

Voluntourism (volunteer vacations).

I'd never heard of this before.

I checked out the sites you provided, and I've learned something valuable.

Thanks for sharing the information and your personal experience.

Thermocline said...

I know you're not big into sharing much about your personal life on this blog so thanks for letting us know more about your trip. It sounds like an incredible experience.

Bane of Anubis said...

Nathan - mucho props -- and Machu Picchu - definitely one of the top 10 places I'd like to see.

You hear stories about kids traveling two hours to school each way (or walking 25 miles round trip) and it makes you appreciate what we have in first world countries... Actually seeing/experiencing the struggle for modest things (like education, housing) makes you realize how much we take for granted.

Thanks for sharing.

Nathan Bransford said...

keren-

Oh yes. The family whose stove we built cooked us cuy.

Nathan Bransford said...

dima-

Un poquito, but the others on my trip didn't speak much and did just fine.

susiej said...

Keren David: LOL! We have two guinea pigs and a friend from Peru. We tease him all the time about wanting to grill our pigs.

Natha: looks like it was a fantastic trip. Way to go.

Melanie Avila said...

It sounds like a wonderful trip. Like thermocline said, thanks for sharing with us.

My mother was in that area last year, and once again I'm amazed at how much it resembles where I currently live (minus the 11,000-ft elevation, good lord.) I've had cake shoved in my face here -- I think it's a Latin thing. :)

Mira said...

Wow. Pictures. That is so cool -
thanks for sharing these, Nathan. It makes it very real. Especially the happy llama. (I think he really is happy! That Llama is smiling.)

The kids look happy, too. They're having a wonderful time. It's nice to see.

I can see why this kind of trip that would have a powerful impact. Good for you, Nathan.

And I bet the bench was awesome.

Anna said...

This was a fantastic read and view... Thanks so for the pics, as well as the reminder.

Looks like you had one heck of a time too, btw... :)))

Lisa Schroeder said...

Love it, especially the pics. Thanks for sharing. And I agree, some perspective is always good.

reader said...

Thank you.

SharonK said...

Was May Vanderbilt part of your group? She also had a great write up on the experience on her blog.

Kristi said...

It sounds like it was an amazing journey. My husband said just yesterday that he wants to go to Machu Picchu. I looked into volunteer trips for the family a few months back, but it looks as if our 2-year-old has to grow a little older first. There's nothing like helping others to snap one out of an ego-centric focus - not you, of course - just people in general. Glad to have you back.

Abby said...

What an awesome experience. Very cool! Thanks for sharing!

Livia said...

I did a project on Cuzco for 8th grade Spanish class. I still remember making a Machu Pichu model out of spray painted sugar cubes.

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

Very cool. Meaningful!
~ Wendy

Keren David said...

I was thinking of this image of the Last Supper hanging in Cusco cathedral: http://imnotbenny.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/dsc00099.jpg

Jesus and the disciples feasting on a guinea pig.

On my mind today because we just went to chose our new guinea pigs, and they were pure Beatrix Potter.
Anyway, looks like a great trip...hope the piggies tasted good.

chris bates said...

That llama didn't look happy, it looked possessed.

The white-furred animal kinda looked a little freaked too!

Liana Brooks said...

Looks like a blast!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely amazing! Thanks for telling us about your trip.

The hat is quite a look. Hope you brought it home with you.

Meredith

Kayleigh Jamison said...

Wonderful, Nathan! I have also done volunteer work in Peru (Cajamarca for me) and absolutely loved it.

Next you have to go to Russia. Equally awesome.

(And I don't know about you, but I did eat cuy when I was there)!

Nathan Bransford said...

keren-

Yeah, we saw that painting. It was pretty incredible.

And cuy tastes like rabbit, only chewier.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

Yay llamas!

For people interested in this sort of thing I can personally recommend Service Civil International volunteer camps. I spent two weeks in Slovenia working with Roma children (several years ago, but it was awesome enough for me to still be talking about it).

Precie said...

Wow. What a great experience. Thanks for sharing!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Reading this and looking at the photos makes me happy like a llama. Thanks for making that trip and sharing it.

Charlie said...

My Peruvian wife found your post insightful. She's from San Jancinto, which she said is far from Cusco.

I'm supposed to renew my vows there next year.

PurpleClover said...

Wow. The pictures are absolutely amazing. I'm sure the trip was exhilarating and fulfilling. You guys made a difference that will change lives for these youths and that is to be commended!

Thanks for keeping us in the loop!

Yat-Yee said...

Thanks for the reminder of what's important, truly important, in life

Calliopenjo said...

It looks like you had fun. I see a real smile in all of those pictures. Even with frosting.

Last night, I read a posting about sending you our MS. In short, if you don't know who to send it to send it to you because you read just about anything. Even Twilight. How was Twilight? Enjoyable? Wish you never spent the money? You have to scratch your head to answer? Curious really.

The other question I have is when I read the Submission guidelines for Curtis Brown it mentioned sending in a sample chapter, query letter, and resume. The first two I'm familiar with but my question is on the resume. Is that like the resume we use to get a job?

B.J. Anderson said...

Wow, that is awesome. Thanks for the pics. I'm going to check out that site.

Cat Moleski said...

Thanks for sharing your adventure. I feel inspired, too.

Steph Damore said...

Nathan - as soon as you said you were volunteering in Peru I thought "Wow, what a life-changing experience." Sometimes you just know it.

You're right, nothing like voluntourism to put life into perspective. I can complain all I want about being broke, but I will never face the hardships millions of people face everyday. Thanks for the reminder.

Rick Daley said...

All I can say is: Wow. OK, I'm not kidding anybody. You all know I can say a lot more than that. But still: Wow.

I'm assistant coach on my son's soccer team, does that count as helping the kids?

WORD VERIFICATION: rupla. Don't know, but it seems fitting for Peru, don't you think?

Lady Glamis said...

This is incredible, Nathan. I would love to do something like this. Thanks for the links!

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

Seeing a different life certainly makes you see life differently.
Do the children teach, or learn about the world?

A Paperback Writer said...

Great idea, great photos.
Thanks for sharing it, Nathan. It looks like you got a great balance of helping others, seeing the REAL culture, and seeing a few cool tourist sites as well. Very, very nice.

dan radke said...

Good for you, dude. I'd be, oh, TERRIBLY AFRAID of going to any underdeveloped areas. Including certain parts of the USA. You're a braver man than I.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Wow how brilliant. And that llama looked REALLY happy to see you!!

Laura Martone said...

Hi, Nathan.

Well, all I can say is... Wow! What a wonderful way to spend a vacation. Good for you for being so altruistic (ESPECIALLY in this tough economy). And since I know you don't usually post "personal" stuff on this particular blog, I feel honored that you shared your photos and stories with us!

--Laura

Anonymous said...

Awesome! As the mom of an amazing almost-4-yr-old with Down syndrome, I've been looking for an opportunity to travel abroad to work with parents of children with Down syndrome, as well as orphans with Downs, in areas where there aren't resources for them. I can't wait to look into Travelocity's grant!
Thanks for sharing!

Steven Till said...

It is truly an eye-opening and wonderful experience to visit a 3rd world country and help the people there. I've been to Linden, Guyana (just a few countries over from Peru), and the people there are incredibly happy and content, even with unemployment sometimes approaching 50% (and we complain about 9.5%) and people living in houses that are one-room 15x15 ft.

About the birthday cake picture, did they shove your face in the birthday cake, or was that voluntary? I know in Mexico, for birthday celebrations, they sing a song and then someone comes up behind the person whose birthday it happens to be, and they shove that person's face in the cake. Didn't know if that same tradition occurred in Peru.

Glad you made it back safely. Are you planning going back?

kdrausin said...

I enjoyed reading about your trip and seeing your pictures. Did they have many books for the children to read?

Nathan Bransford said...

steven-

They told me it was tradition to take a big bite out of the cake. I saw it coming and tried to bite and dash, but they still got me.

I'd love to go back to Peru someday, but there's so much in the world to see!

Nathan Bransford said...

kdrausin-

Yes, they do have books, but I brought some more for them.

Etiquette Bitch said...

thank you for sharing and cheers! looks wonderful...very inspirational.

Charlotte said...

I don't know who is smiling wider - you or the llama. Great way to spend your vacation time, Nathan.

Anonymous said...

You are an impressive person.

bryngreenwood said...

Sounds like a great vacation on a number of levels. I guess now I know what's on "the list" to eat in Peru is guinea pigs.

mkcbunny said...

Sounds like a wonderful experience. Thank you for sharing it and spreading the word.

M. Dunham said...

My mom does all sorts of service trips to Peru and Guatemala (she's native Spanish speaker, so you can see the need). It's great seeing pictures of your trip!

I'm curious - I always hear horror stories about the showers since many have open wires nearby and has something to do with turning the hot water/shower on? Did you have any weird experiences like that?

Kathleen Noud said...

Great photos Nathan. You've made me miss Peru even more! When I visited a village near Cusco, the kids made me play a hopscotch tournament and I thought I was going to die ;)

Justin Hensley said...

I've been on Cross Cultural Solutions mailing list for years, but never knew about the grants available. Thanks for spreading the good news - I'm hoping my wife and I can secure a grant to finally volunteer together!

I went to a restricted corner of India last December for 3 weeks as an assistant instructor in a whitewater rafting school for tribal villagers. (I'm still hoping a magazine editor will rescue my feature article from the slush pile soon, too). The trip was - as always - eye opening and one of the best things I've ever done. Hopefully we're helping save this pristine land from being spoiled by encroaching developers and illegal loggers.

Thanks again!

Lynne said...

Way to go, Nathan! Thank you from those incapable of doing *anything* at 11,000 miles above sea level. And it was a great bench, nice stove and oceans of goodness.

Dawn Maria said...

Thanks for sharing your incredible experience. We were just talking about doing more community service with our teen boys this week. Now I'm really motivated. I'm also going to look into that program from Travelocity.

D. G. Hudson said...

Thanks for sharing the photos of your volunteer work. There is so much poverty existing in other countries that we in the western world don't see.

It's good to have you back, Nathan.

Sara Tribble said...

That is AMAZING! Love this and so glad your back! It looks like you had quite an experience--I can only imagine! Peru! =D

Yamile said...

Wonderful pictures! How wonderful that you had the opportunity to visit a new country, serve others, learn about a new culture...fantastic! And I LOVE that you spelled futbol like it really is!

Nancy Coffelt said...

You rock!

I've done some work like that here in the states, but I need me some llamas!

Violet said...

NB-

Did you read Three Cups of Tea? It’s phenomenal…and life-changing.

~Violet

The Decreed said...

Glad you had the awesome and rewarding experience, Nathan. About a month ago I got back from a two week mission trip in Uganda that sounds quite similar to your own: construction, play with the kids, choke on thin air (we were at about 9,000 feet). We had a Mzungu (White Person) versus Ugandan soccer (football, sorry) game there, too--need I say how that turned out?

Lupina said...

What a lovely thing to do and then share -- except for the guinea pig part (I have had too many as pets). Where will you go next?

Janet Beaver Coad said...

Great photos and wonderful that you were able to get away to voluntour :)

I've been checking these out ... nice to hear from someone who has done it.

As a writer ... I also have other creative outlets, one happens to be fiber art with alpaca fibers. I do believe that the friend you made in the first photo was an alpaca! I was going to raise them, but love traveling more and a farm with animals would tie me down :) Aren't they great animals = they hum, it's so soothing :)

Peru is on my list of must visit places.

Lisa Dez said...

Wow. I mean...just...wow.

Mariana said...

Fantastic! And it's so nice that you're spreading the word about "volountourism" (lol), which is obviously great fun and rewarding!

Glad you had such a great time!

Martha Ramirez said...

Wow what an experience! Congrats on making it possible to be there to help! :)

Martha Ramirez

Carol said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. I love the pictures.

Carol

Alina said...

Oh my goodness, the llamas! I must go.

What an amazing adventure you had! My dad goes down there once or twice a year to perform OB surgeries for villages that don't have surgeons. I'd like to join him one of these days when my kids are a bit older. They'd surely have a few jobs for this lowly writer to do.

Thanks for sharing!

Heidi the Hick said...

We have a real tradition in our church to go do volunteer trips. I haven't done any.

But now you show me LLAMAS and I feel I must go!

Seriously, what a wonderful way to spend a vacation. You must have learned so much, and I'm kind of envious! Thanks for sharing!

Other Lisa said...

Wow! Looks like it was a fantastic trip. Put me in the "hard pressed to do more than lie down" that far above sea level. But I'd love to give it a shot.

Thanks for the stories, the photos (llamas!!!) and links.

Matilda McCloud said...

What an amazing experience that must have been for you. It's wonderful these children have this school to go to during the week.

I imagine this was a life-changing trip--and as you said, this kind of volunteer experience sure gives one some perspective.

Amy said...

Love the pics Nathan, thanks for sharing.

Congrats on your deal in PW today!

Jil said...

My husband, a photographer, had a magazine assignment in Peru. I went along as writer. We went to Cusco to a ranch owned by an American couple. ( Since take over by the government) The woman started a school for the shepherd's children. Beautiful place. I felt exhilarated. Husband had to find oxygen! I'm glad to hear a school is thriving.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Awesome. Just awesome.

Kristin Tubb said...

What a wonderful experience! Thank you for sharing. And...shearing? (Llama jokes *kill* in my neck of the woods.) ;-)

Yay, volunteers!

Steve Fuller said...

I always assumed literary agents ate small children for breakfast. But you actually helped children.

Nothing makes sense anymore.

holly cupala said...

I've always thought you were a cool guy - this just confirms it.

Anonymous said...

There were places I went, when I lived in Colorado, where the altitude was so high, when you got there, all you could do was sit around and laugh. Really!

I think you went higher!

Nice guy. Friend to llamas and writers and little kids too. Wow!

Donna said...

Ah..ha; the light comes on! I may be slow, but lurking in corners eventually pays off. I am glad you had fun on your "voluntourism" trip, and am happy, Nathan, you shared so much of your personal life with our group.

And thus the enlightenment. From the varied comments, I take it this post is unusual in that it shows you in something other than a professional light. You did not ignore my previous questions for some personal information (ie: your first queries and such). You were sticking to professional ethics.
Thanks for the lesson; and thanks for a glimpse into your private causes.

The pictures are beautiful, and if I may be so bold, seem to have also drawn a great many followers into the concept of voluntourism. A worthy sentiment indeed. I hope to see more of your photo journal; the pictures are inspiring and poignant.

Thanks for sharing this part of yourself with us.

Anonymous said...

Well, that's a very generous and nice thing you did. I hope those people would have granted you and your team all the blessings they could pour (and I personally wish that I, too, could reprieve such beautiful experiences by helping others, especially rustic blokes).

Vacuum Queen said...

What is the group you went as a part of? Curtis Brown? That's cool. I had no clue that groups put trips like this together. dur.

Kiskadee said...

Nathan,
brings back fond memories: I was in Cuzco and Machu Piccu way back in 1971 -- not as a volunteer but as a backpacking nut. One of the greatest times of my life, so thanks for reminding me.

I have worked as a volunteer in India and I can only agree with Nathan that what you get is far, for more than you can ever give. There is nothing so rewarding.

@Steven Till:
I am from Guyana - glad you liked it! And you are correct that people there are mostly content despite dire circumstances.
And by the way, anyone looking for a proper (paid) job in Guyana supervising a coconut/coffee farm and eco-lodge in the Interior, as well as volunteer work with the Amerindians, please contact me.

"It is truly an eye-opening and wonderful experience to visit a 3rd world country and help the people there. I've been to Linden, Guyana (just a few countries over from Peru), and the people there are incredibly happy and content, even with unemployment sometimes approaching 50% (and we complain about 9.5%) and people living in houses that are one-room 15x15 ft."

Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

Nathan, this is amazing. Thanks for promoting volunteerism. It's great to travel too, but there are plenty of opportunities in everyone's backyard too. Big Brother, Big Sister, Habitat for Humanity, Nursing Homes, Soup Kitchens. The need has never been greater as more Americans slip into near poverty with this economy.

One question - no photos of your bride? Did you she make promise not to post a picture of her?

Kim

abc said...

I heart llamas. Super duper, Nathan. I love that you did this! Also, pictures are fun.

Joseph L. Selby said...

Did you sing llama llama duck ( http://www.albinoblacksheep.com/flash/llama ) while you were there?

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Wow. Phenomenal, fantastic.

You know how everyone says they'd really really like to have Nathan for their literary agent? I think he's just quadrupled the number of really's for a whole lot of writers. Me included!

Yes, I know, synopsis, plot, market, economy, style, will the dang thing sell?

Regardless, Pablo Neruda smiles.

Alli said...

Back in 2000/01/02 I lived in Cuzco and worked as a tour guide. In my spare afternoons I taught English to the street kids so they could use this to sell wares to tha kazillions of tourists. Their enthusiasm, laughter and beautiful, smiling faces will always be with me. I learnt a lot about the humanity that changed my soul profoundly - I am so glad you had a chance to have this experience.

Denise Unland said...

Good for you!

I often write about similar trips for the local newspaper--working now on a package about two individuals who volunteered overseas for Habitat for Humanity--and the stories never fail to inspire me.

katieleigh said...

What a cool trip. (And thanks for humoring us with the photo of the llama.) Seriously, it is humbling to see how some people struggle, when we have so much - and yet how joyful they are. Thanks for sharing.

Dara said...

Awesome! It's always nice to see an outpouring of love and friendship for our brothers and sisters.

We often take for granted what we've been blessed with in this country and seeing how other people live really makes you appreciate life, especially when they make the most of what they have.

Thanks for sharing!

Glenda said...

Aren't these types of trips the most rewarding way to travel? My husband and I used to lead trips like this to Cuba, Argentina, and Chile. After several years of doing this, traveling just for fun seems a bit empty. Thankfully neither of us is very shy so when we do travel for fun we usually find ourselves interacting with the locals in some form or fashion.

lynnrush said...

Amazing. Thanks for sharing the photos and the story of your trip!!

Missy said...

Thank you for posting! When I submitted my application I had no idea that we chose the same cause. Now I have a better visual of what I can expect if I get selected.

Again, thank you for posting the link. I was not aware that a program like this existed. I am so glad you enjoyed yourself.

nkrell said...

Here, here. It looks like you had an amazing trip!

Danielle Gibbons said...

Hi Nathan,
Thanks for sharing your experience in Cusco. I support the Casa De Milagros at www.chandlersky.org. It is an orphanage in Cusco Peru that a woman, Mama Kia, from the U.S.started.If any of your readers are traveling to that area, the Casa is always in need of supplies, as you now know how hard it is to get things to those areas. Check out their website for all the info. Thank you for your service! Danielle

Anna Claire said...

Thanks for posting pics. The trip looks amazing, and you guys are awesome for doing it.

Reesha said...

Awesome pics. Awesome time. Awesome deed.

Good job.

Word verification: cherredr. Accidentally putting cheese through the shredder.

Anonymous said...

I think we have to rename you.

Saint Nathan.

coll

Carpy said...

I was really impressed by the photos, and yes, the llama/alpaco was my favorite. Actually they all were, so much that I had to check out the websites you mentioned, which got me started thinking how great it would be to volunteer for one of the on-going projects. Thank you, Nathan.

wendy said...

How amazingly cute was that picture of you with the llama! And you looked ok, too.

Yup, old joke. :)

Kristin said...

WOW!!! What an amazing trip, Nathan. So awesome that you got to go!

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