"I'm sure when I ponder my life experiences, during the twilight of my years, I will regard my six weeks in Thailand as six of the most sensational weeks of my life... I traveled to Thailand hoping for an enriching experience. What I found exceeded my wildest expectations."
Chris Cox, International Health Program, Thailand
The value of Global Service Corps is best told by the stories brought back to us from all the individuals who have given their time and talents in support of our mission.  These individuals include volunteer counterparts, SOS Fellows, in-country staff, and volunteers in our headquarters.  These stories they tell show that there are many ways to contribute to the mission of GSC and to get involved!

Read their stories…

•    Young Tanzanians Making a Difference in Their Communities
•    Teaching HIV/AIDS Prevention in Thailand
•    Volunteering: Does it really help?

Young Tanzanians Making A Difference in Their Communities
Testimonies collected by Erwin Kinsey, GSC-TZ Director of Operations

Many people when they consider volunteering abroad are most concerned about making a contribution to better the world and also to get a better appreciation of international issues. The added opportunity to travel and to see new cultures and places of geographical interest are part of the expectation of any volunteer. Although in theory, most volunteers can realistically admit that they themselves will be the chief beneficiaries of the experience, few realize the impact their volunteerism may have on the people with whom they work. This article gives testimonies of five young Tanzanians who as Global Service Corps ‘Counterparts’ have been influenced by international volunteers so much that they have dedicate themselves to future service.

Erick Massawe is a 22 year old college student who has worked two summers as a ‘Counterpart’ with Global Service Corps.  He is quiet, positive, and out-going, and a skillful translator for the international volunteers who come to work with GSC-TZ.  In his own words:

“I was inspired to work with Global Service Corps under HIV/AIDS community training project, because I had a feeling of working directly with my society so that I can contribute to those who were in need. By doing that project, I was teaching my society about HIV/AIDS awareness as it is a big disaster that causes our society to vanish as days are passing. One of the reasons is lack of correct information about the disease. The project has helped the society to be aware about HIV/AIDS, eliminating myths that were putting the community into a high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. For example many people from rural areas believed that condoms had holes in them as well as HIV so they believed that it is not safe to wear them. But after the training, they decided to change and use them.” 

In this way, Erick has made the project work to become his own calling.  He states, “In the HIV/AIDS project I was working as a counterpart of international volunteers (many of them from America and Canada), working together with them, translating for them during training sessions and teaching them about our country and culture. Then they can adapt to the environment well and perform their duties effectively.  Because of the experience that I acquired from Global Service Corps, I was able to coordinate and organize a youth group on my street. We have been doing voluntary training of our peers about life skills, HIV/AIDS and environmental conservation. This resulted in the establishment of a Non Governmental youth organization known as ‘Youth Wings’ and I am working with them as a Treasurer. 

“I like to share about issues concerning the environment. I have experienced rural culture and lifestyles and realize how we Tanzanians are contributing to the destruction of the environment. When I was in primary school we used to plant trees and grass around the town to make it look green and neat. My extracurricular interests includes; reading, watching movies, riding bicycles, hiking, canoeing, playing basketball and soccer as well as chatting with friends.”  
Gerald Lucas Mollel is a young Maasai of the warrior age-set.  He has been a GSC-TZ ‘Counterpart’ for one year.  He writes with pride about the work he has done for his community: “There are several impacts which my community has got from me: I have established a small youth organization which deals with HIV/AIDS education for special groups.  I have facilitated effective communication during training since the participants were not able to speak English and many of them were not able to read and write.  Being African, I can share with you that some African cultures and traditions make them to be in high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Most Africans are not aware of the modes of transmission which result from cultural issues. For example inheritance of widows and female genital mutilation are still common among my people. The Maasai community is now becoming aware and sensitized with HIV/AIDS transmission, prevention, home based care and environmental conservation.  My great role in this project is to facilitate communication during training.  I am also a role model to my fellow youth since I am a peer educator in my community. So I have played a big part on changing other youth behaviors.”

Gerald is also interested in environmental conservation and issues which force his Maasai people to be in conflict with the national government.  “As a member of Green Ground society, usually I participate in planting trees, preparing sack gardens and campaigning on environmental conservation. I can explain how African environments are conserved and polluted in different ways. For example our government has privatized a Loliondo game reserve for use of an Arab Prince who is allowed to poach and always enters into conflicts with the Maasai people around these areas.”

Gerald likes art and desires to go on to college. “I am an artist in drawing signs, pictures and lettering. Right now I am a tutor, teaching at a small academic institution called Kaloleni Academic Centre, preparing adults for joining college and University education. Being a teacher, I have experience in various social matters. As a Counterpart with GSC-TZ I have worked with volunteers from about 80 different places of the world. Happily I have lots of experiences with volunteers.”

Fatna Issa is a young Muslim woman who aspires to all the things normal youth desire of modern culture.  She has worked for one year as a GSC-TZ Counterpart.  She writes:  “I am 23years old. My tribe is Nyamwezi from a certain region in Tanzania called Tabora. I completed secondary education in February 2006 and was awarded an Advanced certificate. I took a computer course from March 2006 to December 2006. I have passed through various temptations but I succeeded to pass all of them by looking forward to my future plans. I started working with Global Service Corps in January 2007 up to now 2008. I really appreciate Global Service Corps because it educates my fellow Tanzanians about this dangerous disease (HIV/AIDS) which kills a lot of people all over the world. I also learn different cultural behaviors from volunteers who come from different countries. I expect to join college in community development because I would like to work within the community to help people living with HIV/AIDS and orphans. I like playing netball, volleyball, watching television and reading magazines.”

Fatna speaks with pride about her social work with GSC-TZ.  “We have used different teaching methods from lecture, to games, poems, and axioms to facilitate learning.
We have done community based training within Arusha rural and urban areas. As volunteers and counterparts, we work together in the communities. After the training we encourage voluntary counseling and testing. Our objective is for people to know their status. I like helping youth to have decision making skills and how to avoid peer pressure. I like to make follow up to those participants which I taught to make sure they lead changes in the community so that we can protect our future generation.”

Fatna has also worked alongside farmers to produce organic vegetables. “We have accomplished a sustainable agriculture program whereby we educate farmers groups about bio-intensive agriculture. If people apply this they will maintain the environment, not pollute air and water from chemicals (i.e. sustainable agriculture doesn’t use chemicals.) This GSC-TZ project provides sustainable food security support to communities affected by HIV/AIDS.  I have talked a lot about the accomplishments of my work, but this is how I can impact my community.”  TOP

Teaching HIV/AIDS Prevention in Thailand
By: Brian Fabian, Thailand In-Country Coordinator

I thought May 25, 2007 would be just like the previous last Sunday of the month.  I would meet the new group of volunteers at the Suvarmabumi Airport and begin the orientation.  It would probably progress the same way that the others had.  I would begin by telling stories of how this is the new airport, but they have already found major cracks in the runway and have shifted some flights to good old Don Muang Airport.  I’d caution volunteers to always look to the right before crossing a busy street and, yes, it is ok to drink a coke with ice in it.  It was all beginning to become routine for me.  I had been coordinating the Global Service Corps (GSC) Thailand volunteer program, and telling the same jokes, stories, and cautionary tales, for about a year.  However, for this group of volunteers it would be different.

The May 25 group was different because of a new program that was being launched in Thailand.  In collaboration with Programs for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), a local NGO, GSC was asked to conduct a series of weekend camps combining HIV/AIDS education and prevention, sexuality education, life skills training, and English training dubbed ‘English for Life’ (EFL).  I figured that I would just assume my normal role of program coordinator.  I would conduct the orientation and training, ensure that all the program placements and host families were set up, and make sure all the volunteers got where they needed to go in the run up to the EFL camps.  Then, once the EFL camps began, I could sit back and watch as all previous six months of planning was put into effect by the volunteers.  I could not have been more wrong.

It started with the orientation. GSC begins each volunteer program with 6 days of orientation and training sessions and activities.  This training would be a bit more intense, however, as the volunteers needed to be trained in basic HIV/AIDS knowledge, sexuality issues in a Thai context, and how to facilitate the camp activities that were planned.  The volunteers were all  excited when the PATH staff arrived at the GSC training center in Singburi.  I was impressed, as were the volunteers, that the PATH staff conducted the trainings in ways that were professional, effective, and fun.  I found myself joining in all the activities.  It was a good thing, because when the time came for the camps, I ended up joining all activities there as well!  It was also great to see the impression that the PATH staff made on the volunteers and vice versa.  Here were four extremely bright and passionate Thai women training the GSC group of volunteers and really demonstrating to them and me why they had put so much effort into the program and why it was so important to the reach the youth in Thailand.  Likewise, the PATH staff were greeted by a diverse group of GSC volunteers who were energized and ready to take on this program head-on.  After that initial week of training and orientation, I could tell the upcoming month would be different than those that preceded. 

When the camps began, everyone was very excited.  I, for one, was enthusiastic because I had put a lot of work in over the previous 6 months with the design and planning of the camps. Also, I knew that the volunteers were in store for a very memorable and meaningful experience.  Talking with the volunteers before the camps started, I could tell they were very excited as well because they believed they were going to be part of a significant volunteer project. 

Before the actual student camps were held, there was a weekend ‘Teacher Training Workshop’ where the GSC volunteers, secondary school teachers from the participating schools, and Rajabaht University students would get acquainted with each other, go over the planned activities, practice facilitating activities, and make schedules for the coming camps.  The workshop had its ups and downs, but definitely more ups than downs.  When bringing together people from different cultures and different age groups to work on a project dealing with issues of a sensitive nature like HIV and sexuality, differences in how to present material could be expected.  Language and cultural barriers made matters difficult as well, but I was surprised and pleased by how open the Thai teachers and university students were to the different points of view expressed by the volunteers.  Not only were the secondary school teachers open to our points of view, but there were also interested in the experiences of the volunteers in growing up in the United States.  Since most of the GSC volunteers were college age, they wanted to know what kids did growing up in the states and if that was any different than Thailand.  Do 17 year olds go out on dates?  What do they do?  Do all secondary school students have sex in America? Do you have sex education classes in the U.S.?  How do students find out about things like safe sex and condoms?  Is AIDS a problem in the U.S.? It was great to see this exchange and dialogue.  I, and most of the GSC volunteers, agreed that this was perhaps the most memorable part of the workshop.  Just being able to talk honestly and openly about all these issues that face young people around the world...and realizing that they were all pretty much the same.

The student camps themselves were a blast, but they were also a lot of hard work with activities starting at 9 AM and not finishing until the final post-dinner ‘cross-cultural’ exchange in small groups.  When I said earlier that this was not going to be another month of coordinating projects, but actually participating in them, I wasn’t joking.  For the next few weeks I no longer felt like the coordinator, I  felt like a Global Service Corps program participant.  To be honest, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. 

Being involved in theses student camps was one of the best experiences of my life.  Over the course of the next two months, eight weekend camps were held all over Thailand.  The GSC volunteers and I traveled from the far south in Nakohn Sri Tammarat to the northeast near the Laos border in Ubon Ratchatani,  to just about everywhere in between.  Being able to travel around a gorgeous country like Thailand was an added bonus.  Each camp presented different challenges that had to be addressed and overcome. Whether it was the painfully shy students in Ubon Ratchatani or the painfully weak air conditioners in Lampang, we all had to make adjustments on the fly to make things work.  But that was just all part of the fun.

Being able to reach these young students and bring them important messages about safe sex, how to take care of themselves, and the importance of being open to their friends, family members, and teachers was extremely important. I remember vividly when one of the GSC volunteers asked a student if she would ever buy condoms if she was going to be sexually active with her boyfriend.  This student said that she would be too embarrassed and it would be too hard for her to buy condoms at a 7/11.  The volunteer the asked, “What would be more difficult?  Buying condoms and using them or telling your mother you are pregnant?”  You could see a little light bulb going off in this girls head like something had just clicked.  These were the little moments that really resonated during these camps.

I can sit here and write this knowing that the camps made a difference in my life; I also feel confident in writing that they made a difference in the lives of those who participated in them.  As one GSC volunteer, who is Thai-American and who grew up in the U.S. wrote, “I had a very positive experience, and feel we made a difference in the lives of the students.  Having been raised with an up bringing similar to those of many of the campers, I know how difficult it is for them to open up about the topics we covered, and even to just speak out in general.  By the end of the camps, I felt that the goals the group had set out to accomplish (teach English and HIV/AIDS prevention) resulted in unexpected byproducts such as encouragement of open-mindedness and personal confidence.  I think I personally saw the most changes in the teachers and university students.  I'm sure for them, it was very difficult to accept this new way of thinking.  I was actually quite surprised to see such progress.  I can only picture my own Asian family in such a camp and the thought is hard to imagine and makes me squirm a little. But at the same time, I wish my mother had gone to one of these camps.  It would have made my life a little easier.”

Looking back, I will remember these camp sessions for a number of reasons.  The bonds made with the volunteers, Thai teachers, and university students remain today as we are still in contact and I’m looking forward to the day I’m in Thailand again and can rekindle these friendships.  But more importantly, I will also remember being part of meaningful volunteer program that affected and impacted so many lives.  Just recently I was flipping through the latest edition of the ‘Global AIDSLink’ and saw a statistic reported by the Ministry of Public Health in Thailand.  The Ministry reported that fully 77% of young people in Thailand have limited knowledge about HIV/AIDS.  I truly believe that the EFL camps were an effective start in addressing that 77%.  TOP

Volunteering: Does it really help?
By Jan Taylor, GSC Volunteer

You would have to be pretty soulless to remain unmoved by Africa’s current woes. Thanks to TV news, tales about Africans dying on an epic scale from famine, war and disease, seem to intrude almost daily into our comfortable lives here in the developed world. So what’s to be done?

We can lobby our politicians about Third World debt (while accepting that their actions are rarely altruistic and are never as `generous’ as they appear). Or we can give to charities (while wondering how much gets through to those who actually need it). But there is another option: you can cut out the middlemen and go to troubled countries direct, offering practical service as a volunteer. But this, too, presents dilemmas.

Earlier this year I fulfilled a lifelong ambition by spending a month as a volunteer in Tanzania with US-based Global Service Corps. I am in my mid-50s, now free of commitments that would previously have held me back. I am fit, and reasonably secure financially. So I signed up with GSC, as it is familiarly called, which offers volunteer programs in both Tanzania and Thailand, to work n a sustainable agriculture project. The reaction of friends and family to this news was in itself interesting.  Some were impressed that I could countenance the prospect of roughing it for four weeks: for some of my girlfriends, for instance, life without the use of a hairdryer for so long would be unthinkable.  But others clearly disapproved. Their arguments – although much more politely phrased – focused on the dangers of creating a dependency culture among Africans, or of patronising them: was it really ok, they questioned, to ‘pop in’ and tell them how to run their lives?  It was obvious that one of two of my acquaintances even felt that we do `happy’ Africans no favours at all by introducing them to the wealth that bring so much misery to our own society.

But if 30 years of journalism have taught me anything, it’s not to make prior assumptions.  So off I went with what I hoped was an open mind. I’m glad I did. For the experience probably did far more for me than it did for the wonderful Tanzanians I met.

As part of the exercise, my American volunteer colleague Rachel and I were assigned to visit a group of farmers in the village of Ambureni/Moivaro in northern Tanzania. Our brief was to see how well they were assimilating the principles of sustainable farming into their daily practice and to help with queries.  On the surface this was a bit rich.  They farm for a living, while I have a small, rather unkempt garden that supports a bedraggled selection of shrubs: I have never knowingly eaten anything from it. This was not a patronizing exercise thanks to a number of more subtle factors. For a start, we were accompanied by Evans Javason – an African whose knowledge of bio-intensive agriculture far outshone our own. He was our translator and generally coordinated proceedings, making it clear that this was an African-led incentive, to which Rachel and I, as representatives from the developed world, were indicating our support. As exotic outsiders, we provided interest that drew people’s interest in methods to improve soil fertility, and as such justified our presence.

But it didn’t stop there.  When the difficulties of water harvesting and storage were raised, Rachel had personal experience on which to draw. When the best ways to market surplus produce were being debated, my professional knowledge proved useful. In this way, we were both able to bring something to the party that would not otherwise have been available – and in a way that was not remotely patronizing.

But what about creating a dependency culture? Nobody wants Africans to laze around assuming that others will pick up the bill. Of course, when people are actually on the brink of starvation, hand-outs are the only things keeping them alive. But initiatives like the sustainable agriculture project aim to prime and point the way: we were introducing them to better ways of farming, but we were definitely not going to do the work for them! 

Our Urony farmers were kind, generous, hard working and intelligent. But it was clear that things we take for granted, like education and access to credit, are simply not available to them. With an average income of around $200, they cannot afford to educate their children so there is little chance of escape to better things.  And although the construction of a few concrete tanks to capture water during the wet season would greatly lessen the problem of drought during the rest of the year, without the money for this, and with no realistic credit facilities, they were stymied.

The upshot is that Rachel and I have also been helping by drumming up finance for the concrete wells. Our reasoning is that better irrigation means better crops, means better income – and that this can help to fund education and healthcare. Far from creating dependency, it will, we hope, provide the kick-start liberating them to create greater independence for themselves.

And that can make you feel like Bill Gates. I am far from rich in my own country, but in that environment, we saw how the sacrifice of small sums to us could make a huge difference to them.  And what a privilege that is! I still can’t get over how fortunate I was to meet Agnes. This dear little soul is the daughter of one of the Urony farmers – a single mum whose life is one long struggle to make ends meet. With very little education, her options in life were negligible. However, for a relatively small sum each year, I am paying for an education for her that will transform her prospects. At the same time, I have secured a life-long link with a group of people I grew very fond of and with a country of stunning, if improperly exploited, beauty.

First hand experience of real poverty is shocking.  It is difficult to understand what it means to have virtually nothing until you see it for yourself. More than ever I realise how lucky we are in the developed world to be born into affluence. Yet there is so much about the Tanzanian way of life that I envy.  The generosity of people who have so little is humbling, and their politeness and concern for each other make our society seem greedy, selfish and uncaring. The adoption of our `values’ is that last thing one would wish on them.

Perhaps poverty is better for the soul than wealth. But surely nobody relishes a life cut short by need and preventable disease. There has to be a balance, but where that lies is a question I will leave to others. In the meantime, I will cherish my link with Africa and the mutual, beneficial exchange it provides, while recommending volunteering as a truly life changing experience.  TOP