Colin with Nepalese Children at the foot of Mt Everest.
Colin Salisbury, founder of the Global Volunteer Network (GVN), shares his inspiring vision for this New Zealand-based volunteer service organization, that literally covers the world with its projects and volunteers. You can go too!
Images courtesy of GVN Charitable Trust.
Easter 1988: Just 18 years old, I stood at the edge of a lake with tears running down my cheeks. From where I stood, I could see the village I had visited for much of the day. The images of malnourished children and emaciated adults kept playing like a slide show in my mind. I had been in the highlands of Papua New Guinea for the previous five weeks volunteering with an organisation that provides radio communications and technical services to remote and isolated groups.
Plant mangrove seedlings in the Philippines.
Spruce up a project building in Peru.
Over the Easter weekend I had travelled with a few friends to visit some remote villages near Lake Kutubu, Papua New Guinea. To get there, we had flown for one hour, tramped through a tropical jungle for four hours and then spent a further two hours paddling the lake in a hollowed out log (which the locals referred to as a ‘canoe’). We were welcomed like family as we arrived at the village. I will never forget the smiles on the children’s faces despite the rust color of their hair indicating a lack of essential vitamins to help them grow and develop as they should. Although we had brought food and medicine, which would provide them with some immediate relief, I could not get past what would happen to the children in the longer term.
The decision I was about to make would significantly alter the direction of my own life, though I did not realize it at the time. Wiping away the tears, I began to focus on what I could do to help create a world where all children regardless of their race, color or location had the opportunities to grow and develop as intended.
I picked up a small stone and tossed it into the pool of water in front of me, the ripples get wider and larger. By myself I could do very little to bring about long term change, but a multitude of like-minded individuals could literally create ever-widening ripples to significantly change the world in which we live. As the splendour of the sunset reflected on the water, the importance of this idea gripped me: imagine it, an ocean of people who wanted to leave the world in a better state than they had found it.
A volunteer learns some signs at a Guatemala school for deaf children.
October 1998: I was in northern Ghana doing research for my Masters degree in Development Studies. While visiting a number of schools, I was shocked to see how few teachers there were. One school had one teacher for every 100 children. Not a lot of teaching was going on! Although the long term goal must surely be training more Ghanaian teachers, the short term solution seemed to be volunteer teachers to bridge the gap and ensure that a generation of children was not lost.
Volunteer in an outdoor classroom in Ghana.
A volunteer tries her hand at teaching conversational English to students in Cambodia..
Upon returning to New Zealand, I set in motion the framework for the Global Volunteer Network with the goal of connecting volunteers with communities in need around the world. Our vision is to support the work of local community through the placement of international volunteers. I believe that local communities are in the best position to determine their needs and we provide volunteers to help achieve them. In turn, volunteers have amazing opportunities for personal growth in their own lives.
If you are an animal lover in particular, GVN has conservation and wildlife programs in many different countries, often very challenging. For example, our Thailand program provides a choice of two projects – the Elephant Refuge and Education Centre or the Wildlife Rescue Centre – both hands-on programs. In her journal, Thailand volunteer, Sarah Wesling, writes about her experience of being able to actually care for the animals, “It’s quite humbling to be in the service of such amazing creatures!!” “There is nothing quite like being woken by howling Gibbons first thing every morning!”
Focusing on ‘local solutions to local problems,’ my wife, Jo Salisbury, and I officially launched GVN in 2002 with volunteer programs in just three countries, Ecuador, Ghana and Nepal. With the help of the first hired staffers who worked out of our spare bedroom, GVN grew from 240 volunteers its first year to 1,520 volunteers two years later, having moved from the spare room into our office as we grew.
February 2012 saw us celebrate our 10th anniversary! Over the past 10 years 15,500+ selfless, hard working GVN volunteers have donated their time to help countless children, families and communities in need. This is a remarkable figure and an extraordinary achievement, especially when you consider that a single volunteer is a representation of ten, twenty, fifty others, or more. There is a long trail of kindness that goes back much farther and runs much deeper than what may appear. There are family members helping out with fees and donations; there are friends collecting toys and books to go to orphaned children; there are work colleagues baking cakes and organising fundraising morning teas. The trail goes on and on…
Nepalese school children share a photo op with a volunteer.
Through our 10 years, GVN has gone through an amazing growth cycle. There has been lots of learning along the way but all very important in shaping our future decisions and direction. In April 2011 we became a registered non-profit, the GVN Charitable Trust with a focus on vulnerable women and children.
The GVN Charitable Trust (GVN), www.globalvolunteernetwork.org, is a non-profit organization (NGO) based in Wellington, New Zealand. (Registration No CC46460). Volunteers complete an online application form and will know within 24-36 hours if they have been successful or if we require further information. Once your placement has been confirmed, your program fee which covers your accommodation, food, orientation, training, supervision, airport pick etc, is paid prior to departure. Volunteers range from 18-80 years of age, with a program suitable for just about anyone.
There are currently volunteer positions available through our partner organisations in Cambodia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya, Nepal, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, and Vietnam. There are fundraising treks to Everest Base Camp, Mt Kilimanjaro, and Machu Picchu; and special a range of special tours: Vietnam Youth Tour (15-18 years); Nepal Young at Heart (for the over 50’s), Distribution Trips to Kenya and Peru; and a walking tour in Israel!
Volunteer placements are available from 1 week to 6 months, and cover a wide range of projects from education and caring for orphans to health care, HIVÁids awareness and prevention, construction, conservation, and wildlife. There are also community development projects. Truly a program to suit everyone.
The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) granted special consultative status to the GVN Foundation in September 2009. What does this mean? It opens the door for GVN Foundation to actively engage with ESOSOC and its subsidiary bodies, as well as with the United Nations Secretariat, programs, funds and agencies. GVN Foundation’s work to educate the global community about the possibility of ending extreme poverty in our lifetime, ties directly into ECOSOC’s millennium development goal work.
Photo: Example of volunteer accommodation in Vietnam.