The fact that the hot debate surrounding the impact of one individual's generous actions—the age-old question: "Can one person really make a difference?"—still has two polar sides continues to boggle my mind. Leading the debate is an antagonistic group of committed dissidents, who, as it seems, have nothing better to do than idly hurl insults into the open minds of those in possession of a more altruistic perspective.
This baffling dispute draws to mind one of my favorite quotes: "Cynics will shake their heads, but cynics don't do much anyways but shake their heads." Could I think of something better for them to do? Just ask me! If you think stymieing the intentions of one person seeking no more than to put a smile on the face of a 5-year-old AIDS orphan is a valuable use of time—we've got problems.
In my mind, if you've change one life, you've changed the world.
Even if you see the benefit in amassing individual efforts, there's still the trap of self-doubt to contend with. How many missed opportunities to effect change have passed by with the sheepishly uttered excuse of: "I don't know where to start"? When I'm posed with that challenge, I have a simple, two-word reply—guerrilla aid.
Guerrilla aid is a style of volunteerism that I define with the mantra behind my work: "Just go somewhere, do something and teach others to do the same." Regardless of the amount of time you have to offer, zeros on your paycheck or previous working knowledge of international aid—you can make a difference!
The perfect place to begin developing your own international aid project is on a vacation! If you need a bit of help getting started, we follow a travel template at Global Colors that presents some basic steps you can take to make a difference during your vacation.
Step 1: Select a Location
You can be of help anywhere! Choose a location you have always wanted to visit. An active interest and pleasurable experience in the place you are visiting will manifest in a personal commitment. Use the beauty or adventure of your destination to inspire your work.
Step 2: Plan Your Trip
Give your project a kick-start by consuming as much information about your destination as possible. Google is always a great resource for a general understanding of local politics, economic status and social composition—but don't be afraid to dig deeper. Use search terms like: "children's home," "orphanage," "women's shelter," "clinic" or "hospital" in combination with the name of the city or country you intend to visit. Keeping abreast of current events can also provide some insight when planning a project. For example, recent natural disasters near your destination will, inevitably, provide plenty of opportunities to volunteer.
Step 3: Book accommodations
It is all too simple to seal yourself away in a Westernized fortress when selecting accommodations abroad. A map can be a very useful tool when faced with the decision of where to lay your head. Use the research you have compiled on your destination to locate a hostel, hotel or guest house in a safe location near a local or indigenous community. Increasing your proximity to the people you intend to help will not only make your commute easier but will also give you a better sense of their daily struggles and overall need.
Step 4: Pack Your Bags
Although candy and other sweets will bring smiles to the faces of the children, the negative repercussions outweigh the temporary enjoyment. Handing out sweet treats to children in developing regions will encourage begging in the presence of Western tourists and compound the effects of limited hygiene. If you choose to bring small gifts for children in the locations you are visiting, opt for hygienic or educational materials—those that will benefit health and wellness or engage and inform. Throw some inexpensive reading or coloring books, crayons, pens or toothbrushes in your bag, and your guerrilla aid experience has already begun.
Step 5: Make a Difference Though this step may seem the most daunting, it has the potential to be the simplest and most fulfilling. This one is really dependent on your specific interests—whether that's child welfare, women's issues, public health or even wildlife and the environment, your research will be the driving force in the development of the project. However, we do have some advice based on the procedure we follow when administering guerrilla aid on the ground.
You can launch your project before you unpack your bag or even check in! Begin by stopping by your hotel concierge to inquire about volunteer opportunities offered within a 5-mile radius. If they don't have the information on file, most will be more than happy to do some research for you. We have also found local entrepreneurs and hotel staff extremely helpful in narrowing down a project focus. Many of the drivers, bellman, waiters, waitresses and housekeeping personnel live in the surrounding communities and are eager to help you identify unconsidered needs and issues.
Perhaps the most elementary, enlightening and enjoyable—yet beneficial—technique in the guerrilla aid arsenal is plain old exploration and observation. Immerse yourself in the local culture and community, and you're sure to uncover a compelling issue to support.
Step 6: Share and Teach Your aid experience doesn't have to end at the airport terminal. Our mantra—"Just go somewhere, do something and teach others to do the same"—incorporates that special little caveat. Even a single act of thoughtful, unselfish generosity on a two-week vacation to Mexico can have an effect that lasts a lifetime. If you change the life of one person, you've changed the world. Continue to expand your impact by starting a blog featuring communities in need, help a friend plan her next vacation with two days devoted to volunteerism or encourage your children to continue the commitment to each specific location through pen pals, school reports and classroom education through guerrilla aid show-and-tell.
Our challenge to you is to come up with your own ways to advance the mission of guerrilla aid. Be sure to not only share them with us, but with others too.
Barton Brooks is an international aid administrator and founder of the nonprofit volunteer organization Global Colors. His mission is to establish sustainable grassroots humanitarian aid projects around the world without the subjugating factors of time or previous experience. He calls this style of work "guerrilla aid." For more information, visit GlobalColors.org and GuerrillaAid.com .
Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, December 13, 2013