Volunteer around the world and travel with compassion and purpose.
Overseas volunteering gives travelers the chance to create intimate connections to places, people, and movements greater than oneself. Since Seattleites are ingrained with a strong volunteer ethic, it’s not surprising to find many making positive contributions in countries around the world. If you’ve been considering volunteering or working abroad, find some inspiration and advice from three Seattle natives that have dedicated their lives to international volunteer efforts.
Hamomi in Nairobi, Kenya
Born and raised in Bellevue, Susie Marks is the Executive Director of the non-profit Hamomi-USA. Hamomi Children’s Centre is a primary school whose mission is to improve the lives of orphaned and vulnerable children in the slums of Nairobi. They focus on developing adults with the skills necessary to improve their social and economic condition, by providing education and access to basic needs in a safe and nurturing environment. Susie’s role is 100% volunteer and spends many hours working on long term development, social networking, fundraising, budgeting, roping in interns and volunteers, and much more to run Hamomi.
Susie’s volunteer ethic is rooted in her childhood when she first helped out at a soup kitchen. She got started working in Kenya while on an exchange program during college. Although dedicating her life to children in Kenya was not what she planned, she finds it endlessly rewarding, challenging, and exciting. While in Kenya, she is not only inspired by the people she works with, but also by the ever-morphing state of language in Nairobi. The beautiful, organized, and simple language, Swahili, is spoken on the coast of Kenya and all over Tanzania but in Nairobi Susie says, “Swahili is a concoction of English, Kikuyu, Luo, Sheng and Jibber-jabber all wrapped up as one.”
Susie’s Travel Philosophy: You’re still traveling when you’re waiting in line, arguing with a customs agent, fixing a flat tire, awake at three in the morning suffering from jet lag, sitting on a bus, waiting for non-existent service at a restaurant that doesn’t have anything listed on the menu. Traveling is not just what happens when you’re getting what you want. Enjoy the trial and error. And always, always, always carry a book.
Want to Volunteer? As an organization that is working towards providing comprehensive care, Hamomi needs volunteers in absolutely anything and everything. So if you want to teach a yoga class, that’s included in everything. For more information on volunteering either here in Seattle or in Kenya, contact Susie directly: Susie@Hamomi.org
Filmmakers for a Cause, Worldwide
A graduate of both Garfield High School and the University of Washington, Ian Bell is as Seattle as they come. A singer/songwriter, filmmaker, and academic, Ian is an active member of the Seattle community. Recently he has transferred his passion and energy to places all over the world. As a volunteer for Filmmaker For A Cause, Ian produces, directs and edits short films about the work other small, community based NGOs are doing. Filmmaker For A Cause is a not for profit organization that provides free film production, photography, and media services to other NGOs. They believe that through the arts of photography and filmmaking they can help share the stories of those making a difference in our world.
Ian got involved with Filmmaker for a Cause by meeting the founder and staying in contact. Since they had a mutual desire to do something that uses the arts to help people around the world, Ian was invited to go on a production in India and has been working with him ever since. Their specific niche is working to tell the stories of people who have dedicated their lives to a cause. Whether they are in Panama, the US, India, Haiti, or elsewhere they have the privilege of working with sincere, caring, and compassionate people. Below is a video they made for the GEP Foundation a non-profit dedicated to the education of Haiti’s youth.
Ian’s Travel Philosophy: Expect delays.
Multimedia Vagabond, Worldwide
Kent Truog, another Bellevue native, describes himself as a “Multimedia Vagabond” with an emphasis on social justice, human rights, and conservation. With a background in film and multimedia productions (getting his start making commercials for Microsoft) he quickly decided that the private industry was not for him and instead followed his sense of adventure. Fusing his passion of helping others with his skills in video production, Kent has worked on documentaries for non-profits such as Transitions and SISHA. Currently based in Phnom Penh, Kent worked as a producer for MTV Exit’s acclaimed Enslaved series on human trafficking and is currently directing a documentary on the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin for the World Wildlife Fund.
While he loves what he’s doing now, he says that perseverance was key to getting to where he is. After years of begging people to let him work free, he is now in a place where he can affect change through his work as a documentarian. After so many humbling experiences while pursuing his dreams, Kent finds his encouragement from the “Real heroes” his work is based on. Those he says who have dedicated their lives to a particular cause or have persevered in the face of hardships he can hardly imagine.
Kent’s Travel Philosophy: Go local. Eat and drink as the locals do, as much as possible. Your best memories could be that cup of tea on some dusty road, waiting for the broken down bus to be fixed with someone you can only communicate with by smiling. I love the mix of just being in perpetual sensory overload and having your comfort level smashed.
Final Thoughts on Travel Volunteering
Susie: Do your best to connect with an organization directly, avoid using a travel/volunteer service to get connected. They may charge a hefty fee then place you with an organization with everyone ending up confused.
Ian: The company you work for may have specific charities that they support. They may also offer incentives for volunteering by offering time off, gift doubling, etc. Find out where your time will have the most value. Start volunteering locally. Build your network in your own community first, and find the kind of work you enjoy doing, as well as the work you feel passionate about. The network you build will lead to the right placement abroad.
Kent: There’s also a world of culture in your 206/425 backyard. For example, Seattle has some of the largest populations of Cambodian and Somali refugees in the country. Also, ” Just do it. There’s no time like the present, just dive in.”