In 2013, Kathryn Pisco and her husband Mike left their corporate jobs and decided to take a trip of a lifetime in an attempt to unearth and discover the world. Over the next 250 days, the pair traveled to over 20 countries and volunteered at 5 different volunteer projects.
It was during their volunteer experiences that they learned the ins and outs of volunteering abroad. Although their time volunteering was meaningful, they were surprised to see how broken the system was.
A lot of projects charged tons of money for volunteers, were not exactly beneficial to the host community, and were not sustainable. The couple returned home and realized that they had to share their knowledge and experience of what they learned.
In 2014, they launched their social enterprise Unearth the World, an international volunteer organization that strives to improve the international volunteering industry by promoting cross-cultural learning, fostering reciprocal partnerships and elevating social consciousness through responsible international programs.
Today they work with 6 non-profit partners in Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala and Zambia which they have personally visited to ensure that each volunteer experience benefits the local community and provides sustainable change. Since they founded Unearth the World, 200 people have already dedicated 3,500+ hours of service over the past two years in collaboration with their six international nonprofit partners.
Teaching in Peru with Unearth the World
I first met Kathryn at the Women in Travel Summit in April and instantly connected. She is a mom like me and has a passion for sustainable travel and a zest for life. I knew I wanted to feature Unearth the World on my blog so I set up a phone interview to learn more. Here is a transcript of our conversation.
Me: What did you and your husband do for work in Chicago before setting off on your epic travel adventure? Had you ever traveled before? How did you pick your countries and volunteer projects?
Kathryn: Mike and I were both in sales for medical companies prior to traveling the world. While we had done quite a bit of personal travel in the past, it was more traditional tourism. We would maximize our allotted vacation time each year but that was the extent of our travel. Prior to our professional careers, I did a traditional study abroad program in Paris and Mike spent a summer living/volunteering in Nicaragua. Mike’s Nicaragua experience inspired us to volunteer on our epic adventure.
When choosing where to travel, we prioritized regions that were far away and – therefore – challenging to get to on a typical 7 – 10 day vacation. We also sought out countries that were relatively secure and affordable. Once we had outlined our 20-country itinerary we tried to spread our volunteer projects evenly throughout the trip. Our idea was to have a few weeks of personal travel and then a few weeks of volunteering. It ended up working out quite well!
We did a lot of research on where we should volunteer but found it really challenging to understand what organizations were legit based upon online research alone.
Me: Tell me a little bit more about the five different volunteer projects you did. What did you learn about the world of international volunteering?
Kathryn: We taught English in Kathmandu, Nepal, worked at Children’s Homes in Chiang Mai, Thailand and Phnom Penh Cambodia, taught at a school in Ofaakor, Ghana and built homes in Mwandi, Zambia. Through these experiences we learned how important it is to ensure that you have the proper skills to engage in each project. I have adopted the belief that if you are not qualified to do something in your hometown – why would you be qualified to do it abroad?
We realized that so many of our projects were well-intentioned but not truly as helpful as they could have been. There was such a disconnect between the true needs of the community and the projects that were designed to appeal to volunteers. We heard horror stories about schools that were built and torn down each year with the sole purpose of attracting and making money off of international volunteers. We also experienced some great things! In Zambia for instance, the organization is 100% locally run and the entire community is engaged in the mission. Mike and I worked alongside local people and learned from them every step of the way. Finally, we saw how incredible cross-cultural exchange can be for both volunteers and local communities. We built authentic and lasting relationships at many of our projects and are still in touch with people from all around the world.
Me: How did traveling and in particular volunteering abroad change you?
Kathryn: In so many ways! I entered the trip thinking that – as a 30 year old woman – my values, personality and worldview were pretty set. On the trip I learned how to thrive outside of my comfort zone. I became a better communicator, leader, and person. I also realized that I have so much to learn from people of different cultures.
Me: Why did you decide to launch Unearth the World?
Kathryn: As I mentioned earlier, our five volunteer projects varied greatly in intentionality and impact and illustrated the pros and cons of volunteering abroad. We learned that there are many problems in the current multi-billion dollar volunteer travel space: a lack of financial transparency, an absence of meaningful volunteer training, and a shortage of community driven projects. So, we returned from our trip inspired to create our own social venture – Unearth the World – that strives to improve the volunteer travel industry by promoting cross-cultural learning, fostering reciprocal partnerships and elevating social consciousness through responsible volunteer exchange programs. We founded Unearth the World to make volunteer travel more transparent, accessible and positively impactful.
Me: Where did you come up with the name?
Kathryn: Unearth the World was actually the name of our travel blog during our nine month trip. We thought it really encompassed what we were trying to accomplish on our journey. We sought to unearth – or discover – the world around us in a meaningful way. We decided to give our business the same name because we believe that international service and cross-cultural exchange is a great way to understand the world around us.
Me: What makes you different from other volunteer organizations?
Kathryn: We saw that the industry lacked financial transparency and affordability with many projects costing several thousand dollars for just one week. We also saw a lack of community driven projects. Instead, we saw many volunteer opportunities that were created with the purpose of bringing in tourists rather than actually addressing a true need in the community. Additionally, we saw that many of the volunteer sending organizations fail to train and educate their travelers before and after their trip leading to uninformed and unqualified volunteers. These problems in the industry saddened us greatly. UTW’s innovative model addresses the problems in the volunteer travel market in three ways: transparency, reciprocity and volunteer preparation.
Me: What has been the most powerful experience you have experienced with Unearth the World?
Kathryn: That is a tough question. I am always impressed by the transformative effects of our programs.
I have seen the biggest impacts on people who have not had previous international experiences. For instance, we recently had a student from Cornell University join a group trip to Nicaragua. He had never been out of the country before. His experience volunteering in Nicaragua sparked something in him. He immediately booked a second trip – this time to Zambia – to continue to engage with the world. Upon returning to school, he is considering shifting his major to something more focused on social impact and he has begun to volunteer in his local community.
Another great story is from one of our Advisory Board members – Amy. She took her two daughters to Nicaragua as a way of exposing them to different cultures. A memorable moment from their program was when one of her daughters turned to her and said “Mommy, I want to do really well in school so I can continue to travel and learn about the world.”. Amy was so inspired that she joined our board.
Me: What kind of advice can you give someone who wants to try volunteering abroad?
Do your research and ask tons of questions. Make sure that you have a true understanding of the impact on the community and planet that your trip is having.
To learn more about volunteering with Unearth the World, please visit their projects page to learn more about our opportunities.
Have you ever volunteered abroad?
This has been an original post by Nicole Melancon of Thirdeyemom in the USA. Additional posts by Nicole on World Moms Network.
From September 21st-23rd, 2017 World Moms Network will be at the International Travel Bloggers Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship using social media to engage more students and people to study abroad! Follow the Summit at hashtag, #studyabroadbecause.
Last week, I attended my fifth Social Good Summit in New York City along with five other amazing friends from World Moms Network. The Social Good Summit is a unique convening of world leaders, new media and technology experts, grassroots activists and voices from around the world that come together for a two-day conference coinciding with the United Nations General Assembly meeting held during UN Week. The Summit is held at the 92nd Street Y and is truly a global conversation as it streamed around the world in multiple languages.
The Crew of World Changers from World Moms Network and other social good bloggers
The theme of the summit– #2030NOW: What kind of world do you want to see in 2030? – challenged speakers, participants and a growing worldwide community to explore how technology and new media can be leveraged to benefit people everywhere, to spark discussion and ignite change in creating a better world for all by the year 2030. The 7th Annual Summit was kicked off with a great promise to connect the world with more humanity and give everyone a voice in improving poverty, inequality, injustice and climate change through the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon last year by 193 global leaders at the UN General Assembly.
In July, the first report card was released that maps the scope of the SDGs progress, giving leaders an idea of the challenges that lie ahead in order to ensure the SDGs are achieved and no one is left behind. Much progress has been made thanks to the successes of the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) yet much needs to be done in order to achieve the SDGs.
Some challenges that lie ahead include:
- While poverty has been halved, 1 in 8 people were living in extreme poverty in 2012.
- An estimated 5.9 million children under 5 died in 2015, mostly from preventable causes.
- 216 women died in childbirth for every 100,000 live births.
- In 2013, 59 million children of primary school age were out of school and 26 per cent of women aged 20-24 reported that they were married before their eighteenth birthday.
- In 2015, an estimated 663 million people were still using unimproved water sources or surface water.
World Moms Network contributors talking with Stephanie Sinclair, Founder of Too Young to Wed, about her quest to end child marriage around the world.
As we sat at the conference and listened to all the heartbreaking and inspiring tales facing people around the world it was hard at times not to get overwhelmed or discouraged. The amount of issues and acute challenges at times seem almost impossible. Quite frankly, it can also make one feel quite powerless.
Throughout the two day summit, we learned that there is much work to be done yet there is hope. The Social Good Summit is all about making a plan for the future. The world has a plan and 14 years to deliver it. Despite how enormous the challenges may seem, they are achievable and the Global Goals are our guidelines to make the world a better, more equitable place. It is clear that the future of our planet and our people depend upon it. And, every single human being has a role and a responsibility to make it happen.
Top Tweets of the Social Good Summit:
(Click here to watch a powerful video on what the Global Goals mean).
I also asked my friends and fellow World Moms Network contributors what was the most meaningful quote or event of the Summit. Here is what they had to say.
For Jennifer Iacovelli
For Elizabeth Atalay
For Tes Solomon Silverman
For me, Two things stuck: Carolyn Miles of Save the Children talking about refugees: “Refugees are people with skills great for opportunities”. And Tiq Milan, Journalist & Spokesperson for GLAAD re: LGBTQ in the Media: “My existence may complicate yours, but it doesn’t invalidate yours.”
For Jennifer Burden
“The UNICEF vigil for refugee children was the most moving for me. Standing in a crowd, holding up candles near the UN and listening to the stories of 4 children from around the world who were refugees was incredibly important and moving. The story of the boy who was kidnapped and was going to be sold if his parents didn’t pay ransom broke my heart. And when the high school choir sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” at the end, I lost it.”
For Nicole Morgan
Loved this … Imagine a world where children are innoculated for measles AND cancers. This is not about some day … but a moment, the days, a month … there is much we can do. #cancermoonshot is about never giving up. It is about promise. And hope. VP Joe Biden.
For all of us
Being together with such wonderful like-minded friends who we could share our hopes, our dreams and our fears together was amazing. Often during our busy lives as a mother, we don’t get much time to spend together with each other. It was amazing, inspiring and fun.
I was so moved by the Social Good Summit and the dedication, enthusiasm and commitment people have towards changing the world and making a more equitable place. Despite the immense challenges, there is hope. We can’t give up. We all must do our share.
This is an original post written for World Moms Network by Nicole Melancon.
In your mind what is the most pressing Sustainable Development Goal?
As a travel blogger, I am always looking for new ways to give back and just last week at a conference I learned about a fabulous organization called Passports with Purpose. Passports with Purpose was founded in 2008 by four travel writers, Debbie Dubrow, Pam Mandel, Beth Whitman and Michelle Duffy as a way to build community among travel bloggers and to give back to places travelers visit. Each year, Passports with Purpose holds an annual fundraiser during a two-week period in November and December for a new charity.
Past Passports with Purpose fundraisers have benefited such fabulous NGOs and initiatives as Heifer International; the Passports School with American Assistance for Cambodia; a village in Tamil Nadu, India for 25 Dalit families with Land for Tillers’ Freedom; two libraries in Zambia with Room to Read; five wells in Haiti with Water.org; two schools and two adult literacy programs in Mali with buildOn; and, in 2014, five communities in Honduras with Sustainable Harvest.
This year, Passports with Purpose is working to bring digital reading to five libraries in Kenya with Worldreader, a US, European and African-based nonprofit organization that provides e-books, reading and literacy in the developing world. Their mission is to unlock the potential of millions of people through the use of digital books in places where access to reading materials is very limited.
It is a fact that literacy is transformative: it increases earning potential, decreases inequality, improves health outcomes and breaks the cycle of poverty (UNESCO). Yet there are 740 million illiterate people in this world and 250 million children of primary school age who lack basic reading and writing skills (UNESCO). Books are necessary for the development of these skills, and still 50% of schools in Africa have few or no books at all (SACMEQ II). Worldreader is on a mission to bring digital books to every child and her family, so that they can improve their lives
The funds raised in 2015 from Passports with Purpose will bring digital reading to five libraries in western Kenya. The e-readers will provide an estimated 6,250 children, teachers and parents with access to more than 50,000 books. Each library will get 50 Kindle e-readers, containing both English and Swahili fiction and non-fiction for all ages, as well as Kenyan textbooks. The Worldreader program also includes comprehensive training for the librarians, as well as a field-tested and proven solar solution that will keep the e-readers charged if electricity is scarce.
When it is:
From Sunday, November 8, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. EST to Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. EST each $10 you donate gives you a chance to enter to win from their catalogue of prizes ranging from a resort vacation to a camera to a stylish new suitcase.
How it works:
First you browse the prize catalogue and decide what you would like to win, then you make a donation. After you make a donation, you are able to bid on prizes. For each $10 you donate, you get one chance to win a prize. So if you give $100, you can bid 10 times on 1 prize or 1 time on 10 different prizes or however you want to break it up.
All profits from the online auction and all donations will go to Worldreader. To donate and participate in the auction, please click here.
To learn more about Passports with Purpose, please visit their website here or on social media here Facebook
, Pinterest, and Instagram. Hashtag #PwP and also #BooksforKenya.
In addition, Passports with Purpose is hosting two Twitter chats: Jen Leo and Katie Dillon are running a #KidsNTrips #PwP Twitter Chat at 12:30 EST on Tuesday 11/10 and Jyl Pattee and the Mom it Forward team are running one on 11/17 at 9 EST.
Do you believe in the power of literature?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Nicole Melancon of Third Eye Mom.
One of the boys smiles for the camera.
Traveling the world, I am always touched by the children of every place I go. Joy, creativity, and the desire to be loved is universal, and transcends borders, cultures, languages, and even circumstances in life. Despite some of the utter hardships some children face – whether it be war, poverty, hunger or disease – I find that kids are still kids no matter what. They all love to play, to learn, to have attention and love, and of course to smile.
Visiting children at either a local school, community-lead program or orphanage has become something I try to do on every trip to the developing world. I have found that even a short time spent playing and interacting with children, even if we can’t speak the same language, does wonders for the soul. There are tons of places in need of volunteers and visitors however finding the right place to visit can be tricky. Thankfully the perfect place to visit was just a short walk away from the gates of the hotel in Moshi, Tanzania where I was staying on my latest adventure.
The Springlands Hotel is the base of Zara Tours, one of the leading trekking and safari outfitters in Moshi and is the company we employed for our climb to Mount Kilimanjaro. Run by Zainab Ansell, Zara Tours has been brining guests on amazing adventures for over two decades and has also given back to the community in which they serve through the Zara Tanzania Charity. Zara Charity works to develop and support vulnerable groups within their community such as porters, Maasai women, and local orphans improving the lives for many.
Tanzania had been ravaged by the HIV/AIDS epidemic that swept across the African continent killing an estimated 30 million people from AIDS-related causes since its beginning twenty years ago (UNAID 2010 report). In Tanzania alone, HIV/AIDS has devastated an entire generation leaving a nation of orphans. UNICEF estimates that there are over 3.1 million children in Tanzania living without parents of which an estimated 1.3 million are orphaned due to HIV/AIDS. For many of these children, an orphanage is the only place they have to find food, shelter, education and medical attention.
The Kilimanjaro Orphanage Center in Moshi, Tanzania
The city of Moshi was not spared in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Right behind the Springlands Hotel lies the small community of Pasua, a dirt-lined street of homes and small businesses. In 2009, Edward “Teacher” Lazaro, a native Tanzanian, founded The Kilimanjaro Orphanage Centre in response to the dire need to provide care and shelter to an increasing population of orphaned children in the Kilimanjaro region. Lazaro collaborated with Zainab Ansell of Zara Charity to set up the orphanage and today the center cares for 60 resident orphans with the help of many dedicated local and international volunteers.
After a short five-minute walk, twisting and turning down the serpentine dirt streets of the village, I arrived at the gates of the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Centre. I could hear the laughter of the children from outside the gates. A large group of 20 volunteers were already inside playing frisbee with the children. This group would spend the next several days visiting the kids before doing a Kilimanjaro climb in honor of their charity.
This little boy was a tough customer to get to smile. I found out he is a neighbor’s child who enjoys coming to play with the kids at the centre.
To learn more about the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Center and how you can help, click here.
This post was written by Nicole Melancon of ThirdEyeMom and edited for publication on World Moms Blog.
When you travel is there one particular thing that draws you in each place you go?
All photos by Nicole Melancon.
Have you ever had a dream for so long that it never stopped bugging you until you decided to just do it? For me, it has always been Kilimanjaro. I have wanted to climb this epic mountain for over 15 years since my father did it in October 1999 before my wedding. There really has not been any other dream or travel goal that I have had for that long.
Like most dreams, there have been many obstacles and road blocks along the way. The first big one was timing. There was no way I could go climb Kilimanjaro when I was in the midst of wedding planning, and honestly at that time I had never ever even considered climbing a mountain before. I had hiked all my life but had never climbed a mountain. My dad was always the mountain climber in the family, the one who took these amazing trips and challenged himself to new heights. Not me. Yet still his 1999 trip started a fire inside my wanderlust soul.
It wasn’t until 2001 a few months after September 11 that I did my first real, big, out-of-country hike. My dad and I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. I had never been on a multi-day hike before nor had I been above 12,000 feet. But this magical trip would be a turning point in my life. It would be the first of many hiking trips with my dad to off-the-beaten path places. It would open my eyes to the world outside of Europe, which had always been my safety net in traveling. It would instill a passion and desire to explore. A wanderlust that would never cease, not after getting married, having children, becoming a stay-at-home mom and turning 40.
Instead of satiating, my travel bug grew and grew, and grew. Fortunately, instead of having all my travel end once I had children it actually blossomed. My dad and I continued to take yearly trips to Argentina, Iceland, France, China, India, Nepal and most recently Bolivia. My husband pushed me to follow my dreams and supported my decisions to volunteer abroad in Morocco, Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica. I began my blog and the travel door continued to open as I visited India, Ethiopia and Haiti.
I often get those questions or remarks such as “How do you do it?” or “You are so lucky, my husband would never let me go“. That feeling of guilt about why should I be able to do this when others can’t even feed their family. Yet I have pushed it aside and realized that I have an incredible opportunity to use the good fortune of traveling to give back. To make a difference. To dedicate my life to helping people who don’t have these luxuries. So that is why I do what I do and am who I am.
As with my dream of climbing Kilimanjaro, I could easily have just signed up to climb it and gone by myself. I had thought about doing it many times. I even was going to do it with my husband years ago but we decided on Chile instead. Then came the kids and we never wanted to leave them without at least one parent home (hence why my husband does not travel with me).
I wanted this climb to be special. I wanted it to mean something similar to my life-changing trip to Nepal.
Like an act of fate, I got the call a few months ago from my dear friend, and fellow World Moms Blog Editor Elizabeth Atalay of Documama. Elizabeth and I met at a blogging conference a few years ago and since then we have worked together as writers at World Moms Blog, ONE.org, and Mom Bloggers for Social Good. One of our projects with Mom Bloggers for Social Good was to review an advanced copy of Betsy Teutsch’s new book called “100 Under $100: One Hundred Tools for Empowering Global Women”. One of the non-profits inside of that book was Solar Sister. Solar Sister is based in Rhode Island where my friend Elizabeth lives, and Rhode Island is a small state.
Elizabeth was familiar with Solar Sister and over a lunch with a friend of hers who works there, she learned about their #SolarSisterSummit climb this July. Knowing this was a dream of mine, she phoned me right away to tell me about it. It was fate. I did a Skype call with the team a few days later and signed up instantly and haven’t looked back. Climbing Kilimanjaro while knowing I am doing it not only for myself, but to help others is amazing.
Over the next month and a half I will be actively fundraising with a goal of reaching $4,000 that will cover the training for 8 new Solar Sister Entrepreneurs in Sub-Saharan Africa. To date, I have almost raised $2,000! These women will have a new opportunity. It is a thrilling feeling knowing what an impact I will make.
The road ahead will be exhilarating. I have a lot of training to do, and more fundraising. But I know I can do it. My mom and dad always taught me to chase my dreams and never give up. I don’t think there is any better lesson I could have ever learned from them that is more valuable except of course to love, to be compassionate, and to be grateful.
Have you ever had a long-term dream or goal that you finally were able to fulfill?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Nicole Melancon of Third Eye Mom.
Kilimanjaro Photo credit Wikimedia
As a global advocate and traveler, I have always wanted to visit Haiti and little did I know I would soon find myself there as part of the Macy’s Heart of Haiti program (#Bloggers4Haiti), an initiative to bring the artisan’s work to market in the US, and offer a sustainable income for the survivors of Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake five years ago. A small group of us landed in Port au Prince the Thursday before Valentine’s Day and the start of Haiti’s Carnival. I honestly had mixed emotions about what to expect.
The weeks before my departure the news from Haiti was more or less the same. Protesting, political instability, and the usual ongoing extreme poverty that gives Haiti a bad name. Being the poorest nation in the western hemisphere is not a status any country desires. Decades of political fighting, instability, foreign meddling, natural disasters, and poverty has left the country in shambles after the devastating earthquake a little over five years ago.
Reading all the terrible news that never seemed to shred a ray of light on Haiti obviously worried me. I honestly had no idea what to expect when I signed on for my trip with Macy’s Heart of Haiti program where I would spend five days in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel learning about the amazing partnership between America’s largest department store chain and Haitian artists. Would it be safe? was always my number one question as I finished reading the pages of Paul Farmer’s harrowing true story of the aftermath of the earthquake. Would I feel threatened? was another alarming fear I had in the back of my mind when I heard about the recent rioting and protests over the government and fuel prices. Lastly, Would it be depressing? I wondered as I pictured enormous squalid tent communities, slums and rubble.
How would Haiti truly be?
For me, that is the answer I wanted to find out. Whether “Hay-iti” or “the mountains place” as it was named after the long gone Taino people, was the frightening, poverty-stricken desperate place I’d read about over and over again in the media or was it a place of beauty, resilience and strength.
Our group meeting with the amazing women of OFEDA, all earthquake survivors.
As we landed in Haiti’s rebuilt airport in Port-au-Prince, I had just turned the last page of the powerful book “The Big Truck that Went By” by Jonathan Katz. Katz is a journalist who was based in Haiti during the earthquake and stayed on afterwards to document the enormous missed opportunity of governments and aid groups to help truly rebuild Haiti.
Despite the billions of dollars sent in aid money, Katz pointedly argues that Haiti is no better off than it was before the quake that killed over an estimated 220,000 people. Much of the promised aid money was never delivered, while Haitians scramble to rebuild, create jobs, and repair the horrendous lack of infrastructure that lead to such devastation in the first place. Five year later, running water and electricity remain a luxury to the lucky few. Haitians continue to leave the countryside and come to overcrowded Port-au-Prince to live in one of the many growing slums. Tent communities, although reduced in numbers, still exist. Medical care and treatment remain overwhelmed. And deforestation that makes the rains sweep away cities during the rainy season, destroying thousands of homes and killing people in its path, continues.
But “Dèyè mòn gen mòn”…a famous Haitian proverb that means “beyond the mountains, there are mountains”.
The “gingerbread” homes that rise up in the slums above Port au Prince, Haiti.
Haiti has a long way to go in rebuilding and ensuring that another devastation won’t destroy the progress that has been made. Haiti needs a stronger economy providing sustainable jobs.
Haiti needs better infrastructure on every level. Haiti needs investment in education, health care, water and sanitation, electricity, and transportation. Haiti needs political stability and a government that works for its people. And Haiti needs us to not forget her.
The mountains remaining are enormous and often seem almost impossible to pass. Yet the one thing that I learned after five days in Haiti is that the people are some of the strongest people on earth. They have witnessed so much hardship for centuries yet they persevere. Their strength and resilience is astonishing.
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Nicole Melancon of Third Eye Mom.