Volunteer Abroad 2021
What We Did
With the COVID pandemic cancelling last year’s volunteer trips and suspending most international travel this year, we were so fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to O’ahu and volunteer with local Hawaiian nonprofits for the week. Our group had just finished a long summer of virtual and in-person internships and Tauber projects, and we were eager to unplug from our devices and immerse ourselves into nature and meaningful work. After linking up in Honolulu, the group packed into our rental minivans and drove to Camp Erdman, our home for the week on the North Shore. Camp Erdman was an almost magical place – nestled between rolling mountains and 20 feet from the ocean, it truly felt like we were living in paradise. Each morning, we would wake up with the sunrise and then mobilize across the island to Papahana Kuoala, a Hawaiian cultural and environmental nonprofit organization located in a sacred mountain valley in He’eia. We worked on a variety of projects related to environmental conservation and Hawaiian cultural preservation, which involved weeding and tending to Taro plants, performing trail maintenance and removing invasive plants and tree species, and collecting fish from a nearby stream to be ground as fertilizer for the Taro plants. Every day on the job we were partnered with a different worker at Papahana Kuaola, who all had extensive knowledge about Hawaiian culture, language, and history, and they made a strong effort to educate us and probe our curiosity while we were working. After each of our workdays the staff took us to a beautiful waterfall pool to cool off and wash away all the mud from the taro fields. For our last day we volunteered at He’eia State Park, where we worked in a wetland ecosystem removing invasive species. In the afternoons after work, we went on countless hikes around the island, explored some of the beaches on the North Shore, went surfing, visited Hawaiian heritage museums, rented a boat around Honolulu to go snorkeling, and tried endless Poke restaurants and local food trucks on the North Shore! By the end of the week, we had learned so much about Hawaiian culture and history and developed such a deep appreciation for the land we were working with, while also creating lifelong memories and connections with the group!
The work we performed in Hawaii was impactful in two ways: one was the impact that we had on the organizations we worked with, and the second was the impact that the organizations had on us, which is arguably more important. The work we performed for Papahana Kuaola was not enough to change the world by any means, but we were able to clear out significant invasive vegetation from the nonprofit’s trail they were building and helped brainstorm innovative ways to prevent weeds from growing in their taro farms. Each day on the job we embraced a collaborative and curious mindset and were excited to get dirty and provide help where help was needed. With He’eia State Park, we cleared out over 100 pounds of invasive plants from an endangered bird wetland and learned how to quickly identify different invasive plant species. Despite only volunteering for a week in Hawaii, the lessons we learned from the two organizations were incredibly valuable and applicable to our future careers as business and engineering leaders. Empathising with the devastating impacts of American colonialism and greed on the native Hawaiian people deeply expanded our emotional intelligence. The sustainable and indigenous practices of Papahana Kuaola also exposed us to a unique perspective where we could apply closed-loop thinking to sustainability challenges in business practices. Most importantly, our group bonded on a deep level and we’ve established lifelong friendships as a result of our experience living, working, and exploring Hawaii together. This trip was such a meaningful experience, and we are so grateful for this incredible opportunity!
San Diego, California
What We Did
After a long summer of internships and Tauber projects, we arrived in San Diego in multiple different groups, but everyone was in town within a day of each other. We became close with each other pretty quickly .. in the literal sense. Our accommodations for the duration of the trip had all of the boys and all of the girls together in two separate rooms. With the virtual experience last year, this was the first time some of the younger EGL members on the trip had met some of the older ones in-person, and we still had a great group dynamic. Our volunteer efforts varied from day to day, with an overall focus on improving conditions in the local community and addressing environmental concerns. This took many different forms: community garden clean-ups, helping out at some Habitat for Humanity sites, and local park restoration. The duration of these volunteer efforts varied, but the majority were wrapped up by mid-afternoon. This left us with plenty of time to check out different sites in the city, including Birch Aquarium, the USS Midway Museum, the famous San Diego Zoo, and even a Padres baseball game. We visited multiple local restaurants for dinners together, and during one of the volunteering days, we made sure to grab lunch from the famous In-N-Out. Everything went smoothly and for a ‘Domestic VA’ trip, we were still able to engage with the local culture and have a worthwhile experience, while leaving a positive and lasting impact on the surrounding community.
The conditions of a big city like San Diego starkly contrasted with what we were used to from Ann Arbor and other cities where we were from. One major issue that we noticed was the large-scale homelessness and housing displacement. Through teaming up with Habitat for Humanity, we were able to contribute to the availability of safe, affordable housing, but this will certainly be a problem there for the foreseeable future. We came to learn more about the housing displacement in the city when we worked at a community garden on our last day. There, the organizers told us about how many of the students at the neighboring elementary school participate in the gardening club because there are not many safe outdoor activities for them in the surrounding area. Overall, we certainly left our mark through our efforts. Despite having a new project and location each day, we accomplished a lot at each of our sites. Between clearing entire overgrown plots to painting entire sides of townhouses to installing a brand new irrigation system, we worked hard every day to better the San Diego community and proudly represent EGL. So many new friendships were formed on this trip, and we were met with much appreciation from the community at the end of each volunteer project, therefore adding to a very successful first Domestic VA trip.
What We Did
Our group’s week-long volunteer trip to the Blackfeet Indian reservation in Northwest Montana was one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. It began with 6 of the students driving cross country over a few days from Ann Arbor to Browning Montana, while the other 6 students flying on the Saturday our program started. The whole group met at the Browning United Methodist Church in downtown Browning, where we were introduced to our Global Volunteers trip leader, Barbara, as well as two friends of the program: Joe and Bob Tailfeathers. After a quick dinner, our group ventured across the reservation from the church to experience a traditional pow-wow. There was dancing, games, and lots of Indian Tacos! There, we met Tom Crawford–an elder on the reservation–who invited us to participate in his sweat lodge the following day, which was an honor that we had to accept. The next day, we ventured to Tom’s home about an hour from church. The sweat was one of the most insane experiences ever, but also allowed us to learn a ton about Blackfeet culture and their sense of community. The premise of the sweat lodge, as explained to us, is to push your body in order to form a stronger connection to a higher power, similar to fasting in some religions. After 4 rounds of sweating (+ breaks), we ended just before dinner. Tom, and another new friend Dan, insisted we join them for the last night of the pow-wow! Hungry from sweating all day, we all scarfed down Indian tacos before being asked to participate in a group pow-wow dance, which was so cool. Our trip already felt so full and it was only the weekend before.
We woke up Monday to officially start a week full of volunteering. We ended up being asked to help all over the reservation, our group was in such high demand, we had to split up most days. The work we did included, but wasn’t limited to teardown and clean up after the pow-wow, splitting firewood to be distributed to help heat homes in the winter, working in multiple food distribution centers and food banks to help fight food insecurity, and helping one food distribution center create an expansion plan to help them apply for grant funding. During the week, as a group we were also able to make a couple of evening trips to Glacier National Park, which was absolutely gorgeous. We were able to learn about the Native American connection to that land. At the end of the week, we were very tired, but also very thankful that we were able to have such an action packed time and to be able to share that experience with each other was incredible.
There was so much good that came from our time on the Blackfeet Reservation. We worked closely with the volunteer coordinators to ensure our work would have impact, and to make sure we were doing what was needed and not what we felt was best. We only volunteered where we were invited, but throughout the week that ended up being so many places. It was amazing to meet and build relationships with so many people in such a short amount of time. The impact of our actual volunteer work was pretty quantifiable: we helped clean up the pow-wow field and helped some attendees dissemble their teepees, worked at multiple local food distribution centers and food banks to help fight food insecurity, helped out the reservation pastor complete work on his farm, and even used our IOE expertise to help plan out the expansion of the food distribution program. However, I think the bigger impact was forming close bonds with the people on the reservation throughout our time there. Normally, every Global Volunteers week ends with the volunteers hosting a celebratory dinner Friday night and inviting everyone they met to join. Our invitation list became problematic because it was so long. Due to the pandemic, we were limited to inviting only a few guests, but were still able to deliver cards and desserts to those who we couldn’t invite. As we were wrapping up the celebration, we all went around the room, volunteers and locals, and shared what we were taking away from this experience, and everyone was just so thankful that we were able to share time together and learn from each other. We could really feel the love in the room.
251 Chrysler Center
2121 Bonisteel Blvd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2092
Monday – Friday
8:30 AM – 12:00 PM EST
1:00 PM – 5:00 PM EST