A Message from OGHQMany times we rush through our lives without pausing to consider what is going on in the world and the impact thatwe can have with our thoughts, words, and actions. At Operation Groundswell, we make a conscious decision to dojust that. It’s not something that we do but rather, something that we are. We pride ourselves in being what we like tocall “backpacktivists” -- a special breed of travellers that traverse the world ethically and responsibly, consciouslyaware of their social, economic, and environmental impact.This summer, 173 remarkable individuals embraced this backpacktivist lifestyle and joined us on our adventuresaround the globe. Our summer fundraising efforts this year have been like no other with a whopping 2500 donationsfor a total of $189,409!Thanks to your generous donations and support, our backpacktivists built the first factory made out of styrofoambuilding blocks in Haiti, constructed sustainable drainage trenches for a village in Peru, shadowed Ghanaiandoctors, and volunteered with youth arts organizations in Cambodia. They watched the sunrise up top the SantaMaria volcano, lived amongst the hill tribes of Northern Thailand, and trekked the frigid mountains of Ladakh. We are humbled everyday by the generosity of our donors, the open-mindedness and compassion of our participants, the multifaceted skills of our trip leaders, and the tenacity of our local partners who work in some of the harshest conditions in the world. We are all integral pieces of this giant puzzle. With love and thanks, Eyal, Jo, Taha, Kari, Ali, and Justine OG Headquarters
Operation Groundswell (OG) is a non-profit organization that offers travel andcommunity service opportunities aroundthe world. We aim to build a community of backpacktivists that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in.Founded in 2006 by hungry and curiousstudents, Operation Groundswell is an ethicaland affordable alternative to the many travelvolunteer for-profit businesses out there. Whenwe first started our travel volunteer adventures,we were disappointed by the options available,and so we set out to do it ourselves. We spentmonths meeting and connecting with amazinglocals, finding incredible partner NGOs andsetting up an organization we are proud of. Inthe process, we’ve made lifelong friends inSandema, Port-au-Prince, Phnom Penh,Jerusalem and everywhere in between.
After 6 amazing years of adventure, learning, fun, and growth, we havelearned just how deep the impact our trips have on our participants andthe local communities we have formed partnerships with.Our first generation of participants returned from their experience wishing theyhad involved more people back home and had more resources to make agreater impact in the communities they worked at. Since then, we decided tomake fundraising for local community projects an integral part of ourprogramming.
Fundraising is a crucial component of all OG programs and is just one way we support our local partner NGOs and charities. We ask each of our participants to fundraise $1000 giving them the opportunity to share their experience with friends and family at home. 10%5% Past participants continually tell us that supporting local In Country Projects organizations is one of the most Administration rewarding aspects of their OG experience. Carbon Offsetting 85%
In-Country Projects85% of participants’ fundraising efforts go directly to supportprojects of our local partner NGOs. From constructing the firstUbuntu Blox styrofoam factory in Haiti to building houses in Cambodia,our groups always leave a lasting impact. Employing a consensus-based decision-making model, each group decides on which projectsto fund once in country, whether they be major group projects orsmaller personal projects. Funds that are not dispersed by the groupin-country will go towards the OG Project Fund, a communal pool thatall OG alumni can submit project proposals to after the summer. Carbon OffsettingThere is no doubt that running trips around the world has an effect onthe environment. Round-trip flights and in-country transportationundoubtedly leave a large carbon footprint. If our volunteers are goingto fly, we want to encourage environmental responsibility. For thisreason, we carbon offset all of our programs, contributing 10% of allfundraising money to PlanetAir, a Canadian organization regardedas one of the leaders in the industry by the Suzuki Foundation. Allof the projects we support are assessed against the Gold Standard’ssustainable development criteria.AdministrationOG runs a lean non-for-profit. Only 5% goes towards the administrationof funds, assisting participant fundraising, staff salaries, and bank transferfees.
Summer 2012 by the Numbers 173 participants 17 trips 8 regions in the world$1094.83 CAD average fundraised by each participant$189, 409 CAD total funds raised $2040 CAD highest amount fundraised by a participant 2500 total donations 35 local partner NGOs and charities 53 ongoing projects throughout the summer Total Summer Fundraising 14,000$ 12,000$ 10,000$ 8,000$ 6,000$ 4,000$ TOTAL EARLY SUMMER 2,000$ PROGRAM 0$ TOTAL LATE SUMMER PROGRAM
Field Notes…words found on our blog from around the world…
Guatemala Fair TradeEduardo, somewhat of a rugged teddy bear figure, and Mercedes, a cowboy hat-wearing peanut and coffeefarming master, gave us the quintessential coffee rundown of our partner, As Green As It Gets (ASAIG). Inthe most patient and knowledgeable manner, Eduardo and Mercedes took us through everything from coffeetypes to harvest seasons to cultivating steps. By the time they finished their lesson, we could’ve farmed ourown cuerda of coffee, having all the necessary tools minus the raw experience.This is OGG’s third year working with As Green As It Gets. One of the coolest parts of AGAIG is that they’realways testing new techniques and seeking creative alternatives to do what they do best–help people helpthemselves. Whether it’s testing new crops in the experimental field plot or marketing new talents like peanutbutter making, AGAIG never stops after one success. There’s always room to grow, potential for newopportunity, and new markets to uncover. Aside from innovative projects, AGAIG also does an amazing jobworking closely with its farmers and crafts men and women. The close relationship they maintain with theactual people keeps the cooperative from feeling too much like an organization and instead more like afriendship. It is their personalities that shine through the cooperative, making it what it truly is…
Southeast Asia Music and CultureWe struggled through the intensely emotional day at the Killing Fields and the infamous Security Prison 21 (S-21), now theTuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Hundreds of Killing Fields can be found all over Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge period.In an effort to bring Cambodia back to the Year Zero and return to an agricultural society free of inequality and westernvalues, the Khmer Rouge waged a genocide against its own people…Over 16,000 people went through the S21 prison and only 7 survived. Famous for its brutal torture techniques, the KhmerRouge interrogated individuals they thought were out to thwart the revolution. Men, women and children passed throughthis hell. Blood stains the floor. Barbed wire fences are on every level to make suicide an impossible escape. Photos of thevictims line the walls with looks of not fear or sadness, but either defiance or defeat. Tiny cramped cells with chains. Bulletholes litter the walls. A heavy and negative aura surrounds the museum making it difficult to breathe.The victims of the S21 prison were brought to Choeung Ek, the Killing Fields, for their final moments. The excavated pitshold the memories of the 20,000 souls that lost their lives at this site. A pagoda stands in the middle of the site housing theskulls of the lost. A tree is marked as the baby killing tree. The sound of young school children fills the air with an eeriesound of the hope and future. Why didn’t we learn anything about this in school?This is current history. These are fresh scars. Cambodia continues to overcome the odds and has not given up! Growingfrom the ashes of this broken society are the youth of today. Empowering the next generation is the only way to guaranteesuccess tomorrow…
Peru Mind and BodyIt’s a popular phrase here in South America: everything is possible, but nothing iscertain!OG Peru Mind and Body lived this motto the past four weeks, soaking up as much of thePeruvian culture (and Andean sunshine) as we could and spending the past two weekscompleting our major project in the small mountain village of Chahuay. After workingwith the community day in and day out, we successfully refurbished and added on to achildren’s park, visited centers for young children and new mothers, and formed a bondwith a community that truly became a home.
West Africa Discovery and Development Living in the community of Sandema was unforgettable. We had the luxury of not only exploring and developing new potential projects and ideas, but also making friendships and memories that are etched into our minds forever. Through the magical, and often hilarious moments, we also had our share of difficulties. Initiatives like starting a recycling and sanitation awareness project and setting up a girls football tournament take time, planning, and dedication. Visiting schools and waving at excited children is one thing, but sitting down and really asking the right questions and understanding what students want and need is a complex process. Our group struggled early on in our stay to grapple with our prior expectations: what did we think we came to do, and how can we turn a three week visit into something lasting, something beneficial, and something we can be proud of? Sometimes that “something” is different from what we originally planned for. What we really learned was that it’s not about what we want, but ultimately what they need, since these are their lives and their homes. This is, after all, a discovery trip and this community is giving us more than enough to learn from.
India High AltitudeThe group didn’t flinch when Rajul told us we could sleep at his brother’s restaurant. We were stranded in Manali for the nightafter a long twenty-four hour jeep journey from Leh. It would be closing soon anyway and Rajul would clear away tables andlay down a long foam mat on the floor, one storey above where we’re standing. We aren’t asked to pay but in backpackeragreements that means we would buy beers then and breakfast in the morning before another long trip to Rishikesh. Thegroup didn’t ask questions.We had slept in weird situations before on the trip (small vans with seats permanently reclined cramping knees behind; localbuses–periodically checking if that woman with the sweat dampened sari is puking out the door; jeeps lost in the high altitudedesert with only rocks, bush and rabbits; large tents covered in snow; homestays with beetles crawling around the floor, muddripping from the straw roof; and on the marble grounds of the Golden Temple) so by now there’s nothing that could surpriseus.Backpacking is a full time job. There is no such thing as easy. This isn’t vacation. We earn the best moments–the bizarre, thefun, the unpredictable–all of which are remembered best in the fixed routine of our normal lives. Or is this normal?In discussions early on in the trip, I expressed that traveling with a backpack doesn’t make one a backpacker. A backpackerabsorbs every opportunity, taking all the good and the bad from the experience. A backpacker adapts to the country ratherthan imposing their own life into it…
Haiti EngineeringTraveling and volunteering abroad always teaches us something about ourselves and the world…in terms of personalgrowth, we learned to work harder, push ourselves farther away from our comfort zones, and to humanize the other. Byconstructing the world’s first styrofoam building block factory, we are at the forefront of an open-source movement toremove human-created waste from our rivers and oceans by turning that waste into reusable and sustainable,earthquake- and hurricane -resistant construction materials. A small ripple of an act in the hope of creating a giant sea ofchange.Haiti is a country known for all the wrong reasons these days. Mainstream media focuses on the earthquake, thechallenges of reconstruction and the lack of progress. All true things. But what our team has learned is that Haiti’s storyis complex, not one that can be explained in a scrolling ticker on 24-hour news. So we came here to see for ourselves,made some small progress but more importantly, some real connections with real people who are working to createlong-term change. In the process, we became better people and global citizens. There’s not much more we can ask forin an OG trip.So to everyone who followed along on our adventures, please don’t let Haiti be forgotten. Its tragic beauty should be alesson to us all. We know that our OG crew will never forget Haiti or the time we spent here…‘Nou pap jamais blye ou’ – ‘We will never forget you’
West Africa Global HealthOur work and volunteer placements ranged from the surgical theater at the National Cardiothoracic Center inAccra, Ghana to the makeshift football pitch at Horizon Children’s Centre (HCC) in the Upper East Region.During the work day, the participants donned their white lab coats and shadowed doctors, nurses, andsurgeons in the Korie-Bu teaching hospital. There were opportunities to observe, interview, and learn fromprofessionals in several units of the large campus, including the Cardiothoracic Unit, the Obstetrics andGynaecology Department, the Plastics Unit, and several wards and surgical theaters. Several afternoonswere devoted to putting our observations into context by having presentations given from several nationalhealth initiatives, including the National AIDS Control Programme and the National Tuberculosis ControlBoard.The entire trip seemed to come and go very quickly, especially as the group gave their final goodbyes outsidethe taxi cabs on the way to the airport. It’s funny to think that in just this short time, new friendships weremade and many changes were made to peoples’ lives. Everyone had a great adventure that will last in theirmemories for a very long time…
East Africa Discovery and DevelopmentAt Good Sheppard School in Kiritu, Kenya, there was no library. They had a few battered textbooks, and theteachers would copy the text onto the blackboard and the students would write their homework into theirnotebooks.Last month, Operation Groundswell sponsored the purchase of over $2,000 worth of books. The teachers compileda list of the materials they needed, and we used our fundraising dollars to go to the publisher in Mbale and buythem. We bought encyclopedias, and atlases, dictionaries, novels, textbooks, and more novels.“Since the books were purchased, there have been great improvements with the students.” Said Eunice Ahuga, theacademic administrator of the school. “Before, children in class 1 would have trouble with numbers, and soundsand letters. Now they have no problems, and even children in nursery are learning to read small words.”The books were locked up in a newly built cupboard in the Director’s office. They are counted each week to ensurethat none have gone missing. When a teacher wants to use them, they sign them out, and then sign them back inat the end of the day. They are not letting the children take the books home, though, for fear of them getting lost ordamaged. There aren’t enough books for each child to have its own, but it is a start. An incredible start.
On behalf of all of us at Operation Groundswell, thank you for your generosity!