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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Storm Damage Isn't Just Physical

Traumatizing events can have a long-lasting impact on a person's life. Unfortunately, many don't quite realize the extent to which they can reach.

A recent study conducted by Princeton University determined that survivors of Hurricane Katrina continue to suffer mental health issues many years later. The survey began in 2003 (two years before the storm) to focus on low-income adults in community colleges. The study shifted to continue following the Katrina survivors. Four years after the storm, about a third of participants still exhibited signs of post-traumatic stress and 30% showed psychological stress.

According to the press release, the study's results cannot be assumed to apply to the population as a whole, but they shed light on natural disasters' effects on a particularly vulnerable group--namely low-income mothers with an average age of 26.

It's so easy to forget about natural disasters a few months or years after they occur...when you don't live there.  But for those whose lives were affected, things can never be the same. Whether a favorite location is gone from the corner where it stood, or a home was destroyed, or a loved one was lost, life will always be a little different.

It's up to those of us who are fortunate enough to have never gone through something so painful to remember the pain and loss of others and extend a helping hand. Even though it may seem like the past, for many, it is still the everlasting present. That is why our work means so much to us here at Volunteer Expeditions. We will never be finished helping others.

The paper on the study appears in the January issue of the journal Social Science and Medicine.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Guest Blogger: Inspired by New Orleans

This week, we here at Volunteer Expeditions are pleased to present you with a guest blogger. Ari was one of the leaders of a synagogue youth group that traveled with us at the end of December. We want to give you a firsthand perspective of the volunteer traveler's experience. So without further ado, discover what it's like...

Motivated. Inspired. Eyes-opened. Shocked. Energized. Committed. All of these words and more describe how I, along with 15 of my synagogue’s youth felt after spending a few days in New Orleans, volunteering in the Lower 9th ward. This was my first time to New Orleans, but a handful of the participants had gone on a temple-led trip 2 years ago. For newcomers and second-timers alike, the amount of work that still needed to be done was shocking. Parts of New Orleans looked like the hurricane had just come last week. Patti put together an amazing trip that allowed us not only to do some meaningful work, but to also meet and talk with those both still affected by the hurricane and those who are doing work to help the community stand on its own again.

To try and decide which moment of the trip was the most moving and powerful would be impossible. We had dinner at Pastor Bruce Davenport’s church, where we learned about the poverty and crime that affects his community. Our participants instantly fell in love with the children of the families in the community, and after only one dinner there were deep connections forged.

A second powerful moment the entire group got to share together was on our last day volunteering, at the Lower 9th Ward Village. The director, Mack, was very inspirational and really painted the scene for our participants. He told us of the troubles affecting the area around him and how the community was beginning to come together to help everyone rebuild. The children left their discussion and work with Mack asking me how we as a congregation could continue to help Mack in his mission to build this community center.

It has been 2 weeks since my trip got back from New Orleans, yet the feeling of wanting to do more and help, both in New Orleans and within our own community, is strong among the participants of the trip and we are in the process of developing monthly projects that our teens can do to better our community. The trip taught myself and the participants so much, gave us a new appreciation of our own lives, and inspired us to not let that trip be the end of our action, but the beginning.

Thank you, Ari! We're thrilled that you and your youth group were so inspired. We hope to give many, many more groups the opportunities you found. (For more information, email patti@volunteerexpeditions.org today!)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Helping Communities on a Regular Vacation

Let's face it - not all of your trips are going to be volunteer vacations. Most vacations are about relaxing, and that's not exactly the point of voluntourism! Everyone deserves a break, though, so there is no reason to feel guilty about taking a regular holiday.

But just because you aren't focused on rebuilding doesn't mean you can't help! We have tips on how to turn your regular vacation into one with shades of voluntourism, and we'd love to hear yours, too!
  • Shop, eat, and stay local. The money you're already spending will help the economy of your local community much more than it will help the big chains. (No offense to Olive Garden, but the local Italian restaurant will really appreciate your business!)
  • Have leftovers from dinner? No time to eat them later? Don't hesitate to give your box of leftover food to a homeless person. Be safe about it, but this is a much better use of your food than throwing it out!
  • If you want to spend a day or even a few hours volunteering in the community you're visiting, there are always many options! Most cities have soup kitchens, homeless shelters, food pantries, and more--and everyone is happy to take in volunteers. Do some research before you arrive on places you can volunteer, or check in with a volunteer travel organization for recommendations.
  • Clean up after yourself! If you have a picnic, leave no trace. If you bring a six-pack of pop (or other beverages), cut the plastic rings and throw them out. There's no quicker way to say "I don't care" to the community you visit than by leaving your trash around!
  • If you're there on the right days, don't be afraid to attend a local religious service. Broadening your mind through your religious perspective is a great way to become a global citizen! Talk to your religious leader or do some research online before you go to discover churches, synagogues, mosques, and more in the area you're visiting. We have friends who were in London on Christmas Eve and went to services at Westminster Abbey! (And be open to attending a service for a faith or denomination you're not a part of! If a religion other than yours is the predominant faith of the area you visit, observing them respectfully is a wonderful way to get to know the culture!)
Do you have more tips for how to give your regular vacation shades of voluntourism? Leave us a comment below!