JetBlue For Good: Volunteering in the Dominican Republic

Thanks to JetBlue for inviting us on this trip and having us document this incredible program! As always, all opinions are our own and we would never recommend or promote something that we didn’t fully support and believe in. This article may also contain affiliate links. If you book through our links you help keep this site running to absolutely no extra cost to you!

What happens when you tell nearly 100 volunteers to pack their bags for a trip to a mystery destination to do some good? So. Much. Fun!  And that’s exactly what happened in our recent partnership with JetBlue on their Check In For Good campaign!

Last year, the company sent volunteers to three locations (Houston, Jamaica and Bahamas) to work on some incredible giving back projects. This year JetBlue knocked it out of the park again, by sending nearly 100 volunteers to “Destination Good” for a four-day trip.



JetBlue Contest

To win a spot at Destination Good, the trip was opened up as a contest to the public. To enter, each person had to answer questions about what it means to them to be a volunteer. Nearly 50 winners were selected (out of 45,000!) and each winner was allowed to bring along one guest.

The catch? They had no idea where they were going! All they knew was that they’d be joining the other winners in New York to fly to “Destination Good,” a secret location where they would engage in volunteer activities. The only hints they got for the location were:

  1. Bring a passport
  2. It’ll be somewhere warm
  3. JetBlue flies there (obviously!)

Of course, we were working with JetBlue, so we knew where Destination Good was, but it was really hard not to tell our family and friends where we were going! We were sworn to secrecy and didn’t want to risk spoiling the surprise for the winners!



When the volunteers arrived at the airport, they each received a blue envelope revealing where they were headed. And the secret’s out now – it was the Dominican Republic! Cheers were heard echoing throughout the airport, as each guest found out they were about to board a plane to this gorgeous tropical destination!

The second surprise happened at the gate when JetBlue revealed their beautiful new JetBlue For Good plane! We would all be traveling to the Dominican Republic on its maiden voyage, full of the volunteers, JetBlue staff and crew. Everyone was super excited that we were heading to the Dominican Republic and the plane was buzzing with excitement from the moment we took off, to the moment we touched down in Punta Cana!



Watch the summary video below


JetBlue For Good Program

JetBlue For Good focuses on three core pillars to give back: community, youth & education, and the environment. During our time in the Dominican Republic we would be working on giving back projects that helped address the need in these three areas.

The large group of enthusiastic volunteers was split into two, Team Blue and Team Orange. Over the next three days we worked on two amazing school projects, as well as a vital program to help protect marine life.



Day 1: Partnering with The Dream Project

On the first day we visited a school that works in partnership with The Dream Project, a local organization helping over 7,500 youth throughout the country receive a better education. We went to the Padre Cavalotto Special Education School, a special education school catering to children with disabilities and special needs, and began our day getting to know the school’s 175 students. We all formed a large circle and played games. Pretty soon, the volunteers were getting hugs from students and everyone was running around laughing.

The positive effect of playing with children can be greatly underestimated. It may seem like all we’re doing is playing silly games, but the organizers of The Dream Project actually identified play time as a need that JetBlue could fulfill. They let us know that these kids don’t generally get many visitors or much attention aside from their teachers, so having this genuine human interaction is very meaningful.



And the positive impact doesn’t end when the volunteers go home. A lot of work actually came before the volunteers even arrived. JetBlue financed the repair of the school’s broken roof. The roof leaked whenever it rained (and if you’ve ever been to the DR, you know it can rain). This led to disrupted classes when the students had to be moved out of the rooms. Having a brand new roof will help the teachers and students focus on what matters most – their education. To further support them with their educational goals, JetBlue also donated 500 books to the school.

With a new roof finished, the volunteers were able to come in and give a fresh coat of paint to six classrooms and one library. When we first arrived, the paint was chipping and construction from the roof had caused corrosion and stains. The fresh paint not only covered these imperfections, but the shade of color was chosen because it has a calming effect on the students. From the first project, the attention paid to these little details showed us just how committed JetBlue is to doing good.



Day 2: Painting at a Local School

Our second day of volunteering was focused on community, as well as youth & education. We went to another school that already had a relationship with our hotel, Paradisus Palma Real. A few weeks before we arrived, JetBlue had worked with the hotel and local contractors to build the school an entirely new basketball court. Before, the court was in disrepair, with cracked concrete making it difficult for the kids to play basketball. It was also closed to the youth of the wider community because no one was able to supervise the court.

Now, with the funding and support from JetBlue and the Paradisus Palma Real, the court has been completely redone. They’ve also been able to coordinate with the neighborhood to have designated community members be responsible for opening the court up to kids after school hours. In addition to the students of the school, more than 900 kids will be able to use this basketball court. This provides young adults from the five surrounding neighborhoods a safe place to play and get exercise.



Our role as volunteers was to revamp and beautify the space for the students. The other group of volunteers spent their first day at this school starting a beautiful mural on the outside wall surrounding the court. On our day, we finished the mural and added recycled plastic water bottles that were cut up and painted to make the wall into a 3D art piece!

At the end of the day we brought the kids out to show them the finished wall and gift them with basketballs and other play equipment. The rest of the afternoon, the court was full of kids running around, shooting baskets and asking about different parts of the painting. The kids were beyond excited to have a brand new court that looked beautiful and was safer to play on!



Day 3: Helping Marine Conservation

On our final day, we focused on the third category of giving back – the environment. For this project JetBlue partnered with local marine conservation group, Fundemar. Fundemar runs a coral reef restoration program, including coral nurseries, rescue centers and transplant zones, which serves to help protect the coral against climate change.



In the Paradisus Palma Real auditorium all of the volunteers gathered together to construct ocean buoys. The staff of Fundemar led us in a workshop and each pair built and spray painted their own plastic buoy. Like many other coastal countries around the world, coral reefs in the Dominican Republic are under threat by climate change and marine pollution. These buoys help signify to boats which areas have fragile coral reefs, so they can avoid dropping anchor. We ended up creating 60 buoys that will be placed into the ocean to protect the local coral reef beds.


Project Summary

Overall, we were really impressed with how JetBlue for Good approaches its social impact initiatives. During the trip there was a real focus on partnering with local organizations and working on projects that will continue to do good long after the volunteers had gone home. The local partners were groups that JetBlue had previously established a relationship with. The special education school, for example, was a project that local JetBlue crewmembers in Punta Cana identified and had already been working with.

Collaborating with local groups also helped JetBlue address what needs they could meet in the community. We spoke with Icema Gibbs, the head of Corporate Social Responsibility at JetBlue, who emphasized that these initiatives weren’t created by a bunch of execs sitting in a New York office and assuming what the needs of the communities are. Crewmembers are a part of their communities in all JetBlue cities, and the local crewmembers in Punta Canta played an active role in guiding the #CheckInForGood trip.

We worked with local crew members in the Dominican Republic make those local connections and to ensure we were having the biggest possible impact. These partnerships also ensure the sustainability of these projects and allow JetBlue to continue to support the education and environmental initiatives.



Other JetBlue for Good Projects

JetBlue’s mission to do good isn’t just isolated to the JetBlue for Good month of November. They’re doing good around the world, all year long. Last year 22,000 JetBlue crewmembers volunteered over 180,000 hours of their time.

For example, JetBlue runs volunteer activities for Martin Luther King Day of Service, as well as provides “GreenUp Grants” to organizations in the cities they serve for Earth Month! They also run a summer reading program called Soar with Reading, encouraging kids to read by giving out books through book vending machines!

With all of these incredible initiatives, it’s obvious how committed JetBlue is to doing good. Throughout the #CheckInForGood trip, we were continuously impressed with the attention to detail and the effort put in to each project. From the painting of the first classroom on day 1, to the making of the last buoy, we have no doubt that every volunteer walked away feeling ignited to do more good. And most importantly, we know that the communities JetBlue serves in the Dominican Republic will continue to thrive with their support.



5 Ways To Make an Impact As A Volunteer

This post is in collaboration with Lonely Planet and Go Abroad, who are giving away a $2,500 scholarship to volunteer abroad. Click here to enter. 


Here at Don’t Forget To Move we usually don’t dive deep into my or Jules’ personal stories. We like to bring you all the info you need so YOU can go out there and travel for yourself! But every once in a while we like to pull back the curtain and tell you a bit about our personal history with travel.

When people we meet ask where our love of travel came from, I can point to a few specific influences in my life. First off, my parents, who instilled a sense of adventure and an ability to roll with the punches (ie. not plan anything, ever!) from a young age through spontaneous road trips and eventually international travel. Second, my semester studying Spanish in Spain (with a minor in drinking sangria and taking siestas). And third, my experience volunteering abroad, which I can say without a doubt, that it changed my life.

After years of volunteering at home, I knew I was ready to take the leap and give back to the world. My first experience volunteering abroad was in Guatemala. I was only a couple weeks into my first solo backpacking trip, and although I was having a fantastic time, I needed to plan something to anchor myself. As anyone who’s been backpacking can attest, it’s easy to get caught up in the party culture of hostels and backpacker bars. I wanted to give my trip a little more meaning and help in some minuscule way to improve the abject poverty it felt like I was seeing at every turn.



But you know what? I was kind of a crappy volunteer. I left my volunteer position early to get my Scuba certificate in Honduras. And most importantly I was focused on what I would get out of the experience. I thought about how the experience would affect me, help me ‘find myself’ and make my trip once-in-a-lifetime.

Sheesh… I was self-involved! The good news is, that after countless more experiences volunteering abroad, I’ve learned so much about how to make a deep impact as a volunteer. From seven months in Peru working on disaster relief, to seven months working with small community groups in Tacloban, Philippines after super typhoon Yolanda.

Read on to find out my 5 best tips on how you can make an impact as a volunteer… PLUS, we’ll explain how you can enter to win $2,500 towards your next volunteering experience thanks to GoAbroad and Lonely Planet!

1. Give as Much Time as You Can

One of the best ways you can be as helpful as possible to an organization is to commit to staying for as long as you can. The more time you can spend volunteering, the longer you’ll have to connect to the community, build important relationships, establish trust with local people and find your role within the organization. The longer you can stay, the more likely you are to be able to see projects through to completion or help get programs off the ground.

It can be tempting to try to squeeze in a one or two week volunteer experience during your backpacking trip. But if you really only have a short time, consider if it’s worth it for the organization to take the time and resources to train you for such a short time. It may make more sense to raise money for the organization instead and just visit for the day to see where your money has helped.



This tip is especially important if you want to volunteer with kids. With so many short term volunteers coming to help out at schools and day cares, it can be traumatic for children to develop relationships and then have their new friends constantly leaving them. Committing to volunteer for months at a time, or even a year, ensures you can develop meaningful relationships with children and avoid doing emotional harm.


2. See Where You Can be Most Impactful 

These days it seems like there’s an endless option of volunteer opportunities, especially those that are paired with mini-vacations. You can do any type of program you want. Want to teach children how to make popsicle stick picture frames? What about teaching single moms how to hacky sack? Just because you are super passionate about something and want to share it with the world, doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for volunteering.



You really want to find a position that fits your skillset, as well as the needs of the organization. Even simple skills like editing English translations, helping with finances or cooking for large groups can be helpful! Pro tip: contact organizations directly to see what they need help with most. Some middle-man volunteer placement companies can be so thirsty for your money that they’ll place you in any position, even if it’s not very impactful.


3. Be Flexible

Volunteering overseas can be a wild rollercoaster of an experience. Besides the normal bout of homesickness, volunteering in developing countries means you may be dealing with culture shock, limited resources, and possibly a poorly managed organization. Stay calm.

As someone who has worked in the international non-profit world for the past 5 years, I can tell you that things are not going to be perfect. Projects may get delayed, you may run out of funding and volunteers might not show up when you most need them. Help out as much as you can if sh*t hits the fan, even if that means taking over someone else’s role or putting in extra hours.



4. Raise Funds

As rewarding as it is to physically be present at an organization, spending time on the ground, sometimes the greatest help you can be is by fundraising. If you’re from the Global North, (a “developed” country such as the US, Australia, the UK, etc.), chances are the dollar from your home country will go a lot further in the country you’re volunteering in.



As helpful as we are as volunteers, sometimes an organization just needs some seed money to really get off the ground. I’m not saying don’t volunteer. If you’re heart is calling you to a country to help out in person, GO! It can be life-changing for you and the people you help. But don’t stop there. One of the most impactful ways you can continue helping an organization is by fundraising when you get back home.

On a related note, don’t be afraid of organizations that ask for payment to volunteer. Being a volunteer is a drain on resources (food, housing, training, etc.). Paying volunteer dues is just another way you can support an organization! Do your due diligence that make sure the organization is transparent about where these funds go. Don’t have the cash to volunteer? Enter to win a $2500 scholarship to volunteer abroad! Details at the end of this article.



5. Be Humble

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned after years of volunteering is to just be humble. As a university educated person, it was easy to get to an organization and think I knew all the answers. I studied Global Studies for goodness sakes, my whole major was dedicated to figuring out how to help the world!



But as it turns out, my college educated butt couldn’t compare to the knowledge and wisdom of the people who live life in that country every single day. They know what needs to be changed and the obstacles that are in the way to changing them. They know about the local economy, weather patterns and political corruption. The best thing I could do when I got to a new organization was to listen and make suggestions where I could. And I’ve learned more in my years of volunteering than I ever could in a classroom.

Now that you’re equipped with the tips and advice to be an impactful volunteer, its time for you to go out and do it yourself!

GoAbroad has joined forces with Lonely Planet to help make your dream of volunteering abroad come true! Enter to win $2,500 for your volunteer experience + a chance at weekly giveaways!

Contest open to legal residents of the US (all 50 states). Giveaway ends Nov 14th!

6 Ways Volunteering Overseas Will Change Your Life

If you’ve ever volunteered abroad you know we’re not exaggerating when we say that joining an overseas volunteering program will change your life. It’ll open your eyes to global inequalities, give you a greater appreciation for everything you have, and help you contribute to making the world a better place.

But as rewarding as it can be, volunteering overseas shouldn’t be an activity to take lightly. Along with the regular tasks of any other job, you’ve also got the added responsibilities of making sure you’re having a positive impact on the community, project or person. Wanting to make a difference must to be your number one priority in choosing any volunteer position, but that doesn’t mean you won’t personally get a lot out of joining an international volunteer program.

Dedicating your time, resources and expertise to any volunteer project in need is an admirable way to contribute to the bettering of the world. And in doing so you’ll also add to the bettering of yourself. Whether you’re volunteering for a gap year holiday, or a veteran of international volunteering, everyone can get a lot from taking the time to help others.

Breaking Out Of You Comfort Zone

If there’s one guarantee for volunteering abroad it’s that you’ll push yourself further than you thought you could. In your position you’ll constantly be bombarded with a plethora of ‘new’. New tastes, smells, cultures, ideals, lifestyles. The first week or so is most likely going to be a period of continually adjusting to this new way of life. You’ll be learning exactly what that mystery meat was from last night’s dinner and how to cope with the cockroach that lives in the corner of your room. You’ll get over your fear of speaking in a foreign language and get the courage to step up and take leadership role when you’re needed. Why? Because you have to.

Unlike traveling, where you can easily move on if you don’t like a place, as a volunteer you’ve made a commitment to an organization. Despite uncomfortable situations, you’ll need to power through and push the boundaries of your comfort zone. And you know what? You’ll be better off for it! You’ll look back on those mini-breakdown moments and laugh it off… eventually.

You Might Also Like –  Low Cost Volunteering Abroad: How To Choose a Program For You 

Getting Back More Than You’d Planned

Going into your volunteer position you should be focusing on what you can give to the community and organization you’re helping. But what may be more surprising is how much you’ll receive in return. Volunteering abroad isn’t just about heading overseas and building houses during your spring break. It’s about connecting with communities around the world. Finding mutual interests and respecting our differences. It’s the little moments like learning how to weave from a Guatemalan abuela (grandmother) or dancing the traditional kuratsa with a family in the Philippines. It’s moments like these that you’ll remember forever. These are moments that you’d never have access to if you were just visiting as a traveler, disconnected from the true day to day activities of the culture you’re passing through.

Gaining Newfound Independence

There’s nothing like moving away from the comforts of home to a foreign country to kick start your sense of independence. Leaving all the things that were familiar and reassuring, to embark on a journey into the unknown! Not only will you be learning to adapt to new living situations, but you’ll now have to do it without the immediate support of your friends and family. It’s in these times that you’ll discover your true inner strength that’s been buried in there all along. Everyone has it, and taking on a foreign volunteering trip is the perfect way to accelerate its development.

Learning to navigate through a foreign place by yourself will prove that you are truly independent. And this newfound independence won’t only be useful while you’re traveling, it carries through your life in all aspects. Being independent helps you find the confidence to pursue things in life that you really want. Whether you’re pursuing a promotion, taking up a fun hobby or just taking the plunge on something new.

Learning a New Appreciation For What You Already Have

Perhaps one of the most life-changing parts of volunteering abroad isn’t what happens while you’re overseas, but rather when you return home. If you take a volunteer position in developing communities, it’s inevitable that you when you get back to your home country you’ll notice glaring differences. Not just in the standard of living, but also due to the consumer driven nature of more well-off countries. It’s also this consumer focussed nature that is having an extreme impact on environments all over world, as well as the animals that live in those environments. You’ll start to see that it’s all intertwined!

Wasted resources will drive you crazy and you won’t believe how much people take their privilege for granted. You’ll start to look at those little things you complained about in the past as incomparable to the inequalities in many countries around the world. Witnessing first hand the resourcefulness and resilience of marginalized communities will give you a new appreciation for everything you have.

This newly discovered appreciation isn’t intended to make you feel bad about living your life back home, but perhaps it will help you make more conscious decisions next time you decide to leave the water running brushing your teeth or spend $200 on that new pair of shoes. Or maybe it’ll encourage you to do a little more once you’re back home. This could be as small as buying from reputable companies that support fair trade practices, or donating money to organizations helping the cause.

You Might Also Like –  Helping Rebuild Tacloban After Typhoon Haiyan: Our Personal Experience

Making Life Long Friends

There’s no stronger bond than a bond shared over making the world a better place. Whether it’s with other international volunteers, local staff or families from the community, joining forces with others from different walks of life will produce friendships that last a lifetime. Friends back home will admire the stories you share, but only your new friends will truly understand the life changing experiences that you’ve been through. These friendships will stay strong over time and distance, regardless of how far or long it is between drinks.

Changing Your Mentality For life

While you may only have a few weeks or months to volunteer abroad, the impact it has on your worldview will last a lifetime. You’ll leave your volunteer position feeling empowered and inspired to do more good in the world. You’ll leave humble, knowing that just because you have the privilege of being from a developed country and receiving an education doesn’t mean you’re more skilled or knowledgeable than someone from a developing country. Rather, you have the privilege and opportunity of taking time off and traveling somewhere new, and instead of sipping margaritas on the beach, you’ve chosen to lend a hand. From here on out you’ll be more aware of those instances you can help out even in the smallest ways in your own community. You’ll search for a job that has a charitable component and you’ll always look for your next opportunity to travel and give back.

As you can see, along with helping the world, you can also gain a lot for yourself in the process. While this shouldn’t be your sole focus when choosing a volunteer program, it is important to enjoy your volunteer work and feel good about what you’ve done.

Rebuilding Tacloban After Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda)


Tales From Tacloban After Typhoon Haiyan

Glasses clink as we raise our warm beers to the jubilation that fills the air. Everybody is full of smiles and laughter, and not even the stifling heat can interrupt this joyous moment. I reach for the bottle of Red Horse and give everyone around me a small top up, tilting the glasses slightly to avoid the classic Filipino beer pour, which usually leaves you with more froth than beer. I glance at the other beers around the table with their foamy consistently, looking more like fruit smoothies, and have a small chuckle. Sitting at the end of the table is a giant metal cooking pot full of pancit bihon, one of our favorite Filipino dishes. Stray glass noodles and chunks of chopped up cabbage and carrot are sprawled across the table around the pot. An old wooden serving spoon lies across the top of the pot; it’s a serve yourself type of event.

At the centre of the table is Danny, one of the community leaders of the Calvary Hills barangay and the President of the Calvary Hills Basic Ecclesial Community group (BEC). He has a smile on his face that rarely disappears, and nods his head in approval of the conversations happening around him. The familiar sound of ‘o-o, o-o’, Filipino for yes, bounces around the mixed chatter of Tagalog, English and the local dialogue Waray Waray. A small towel lies across the back of his neck, and he periodically reaches for it to dab at the beads of sweat that build up on his brow. As I look around the table I see most people nonchalantly doing the same, as if it was a common instinctual habit. I guess when you live in the Philippines the heat just becomes second nature.



From the crackling speakers the distinct music of the kuratsa, a traditional Filipino dance, reverberates throughout the crowd. A middle-aged woman sits in a plastic chair while a man playfully dances around her; twisting and turning his arms as he generously throws twenty peso notes into the air. When the song finally finishes kids scramble around the floor to collect the notes into an old straw bowl, before handing them to the barangay officials to count. Everyone cheers as the next person takes a seat and the dance repeats.


Livelihood Development Work in Tacloban

Tonight marks the celebration of the local Calvary Hills barangay fiesta, which Christine and I been invited to attend as special guests. Over the last 5 months we’ve been working with this community, specifically the BEC, to help develop a new livelihood program for the typhoon Yolanda survivors working to rebuild their life. Tonight is also an extra celebration because it signifies the opening of a new candle making business for the BEC and the beginning of a new livelihood opportunity for some of its most marginalized members. It has been a long process getting to where they are now and tonight is about celebrating how far they’ve come. For the people of Tacloban their struggles began long before we arrived, but for this moment all of that is forgotten while people smile, laugh, drink and dance kuratsa.

Before arriving in Tacloban in April 2015, eighteen months after super typhoon Yolanda, we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know what we were getting into, but we knew we need to help. When the typhoon first made landfall back on that fateful November day in 2013 all we could do was watch in shock from the public television sets in Cuba. At the time our hearts went out to the Filipino people, but there was little we could do at that stage. We were just finishing up a two year trip through Latin America working with various non-profits along the way. We talked about heading to the Philippines, but we couldn’t afford it at the time, so we could only watch on and vow that we’d get there sometime in the future to help.



Thankfully that opportunity came late 2014 when we received an opportunity to travel to Tacloban and join in with the long-term livelihood development programs that were still desperately needed. So, after a couple of months of traveling in Southeast Asia, we finally touched down on the small DZR airstrip of Tacloban with open hearts and minds, ready to help wherever we were needed.


Tacloban Two Years After the Typhoon

Initially, from the main road, it was hard to see the trail of damage that typhoon Yolanda had left behind. If you hop aboard a Jeepney downtown, passing the Astrodome and the businesses sprawled along Real Street, it’s hard to see how Tacloban City differs from any other city in the Philippines. Shell gas stations, Jolibee, Mercury Pharmacy, among others, go about their daily business. In true Filipino style people are happy and hospitable. Life goes on as usual, but look a little deeper and you’ll see that the memories of Yolanda are fresh, as a constant reminder to embrace life. Stickers on pedi-cabs, tricycles and shop fronts display ‘Tindog Tacloban’, which signifies the resilience and strength of the people to rise up again from the destruction.



After a couple of weeks in Tacloban we started to see more traces of typhoon Yolanda. We widened our peripherals and saw that beyond the façade of normal life there were still many people in need of assistance. On our motorcycle ride to work everyday we passed a large community of resettled families on the Maharlika Hwy on route to the famous San Juanico Bridge, just before Citi Hardware. From the back of a motorbike, zooming past thinking about work emails and the latest sports results, it’d be easy to miss. But take a walk to the daily fish and vegetable market that is set up on the corner and you’ll start to see how people have been living for the last two years: in temporary shelters made from scraps of materials and no bigger than the average sized lounge room of a house. Despite their long enduring living arrangements they are friendly and welcoming. We’d regularly visit to purchase fruit and vegetables, chatting with the fisherman about their daily catch or asking the ladies when the price of potatoes was finally going to go down again.

These people haven’t been forgotten, but there is just still so much to be done that it’s sometimes hard to figure out where to start. The city government has plans to relocate them up to a new settlement area in Tacloban North, but even that plan isn’t without its challenges. For our time in Tacloban, to avoid the overwhelming and unachievable task of trying to help everyone, we picked a few projects and concentrated our efforts into making sure they were successful. The candle making project in Calvary Hills was one of these success stories, thanks to the assistance of the Calvary Hills community and a Jesuit organization from Manila named Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB).



Our Work With the Community

When we first visited the Calvary Hills BEC they were already working with the SLB and we were fortunate enough to be involved in the next stage of their development projects for the community. The SLB had already successfully helped Calvary Hills set up a small community eatery, where members worked in rotational shifts to share the income opportunities. It was a successful operation, but small and in need of expansion. This is how the community developed the candle making project.

The candle making, like many community projects post-Yolanda, wasn’t just about finding a business idea and making it happen: it was a complete process of empowerment, engagement and participation. As community development workers our ultimate goal is to become obsolete, so the community can be fully self-sufficient without external assistance. With this is mind we worked alongside the community as equals, helping them strengthen and grow. Along with organizing technical candle making training we were also involved in various capacity building training workshops for the community, such as business management, branding and marketing, financial literacy, as well as conducting market research, community surveying and data collation. After many month of planning and work the pinnacle of this project occurred just before we left Tacloban in late September, when the team conducted their first official day of production. It was a special day for us to be involved in, and one that we’ll forever cherish and remember. It was a rewarding feeling to finally see a positive aspect emerge from the constant reminders of that tragic November day.



Remembering Typhoon Yolanda

The longer you spend in Tacloban the more you come across subtle reminders of typhoon Yolanda, but over time the sentiment has shifted from helpless victims to strong survivors. Filipinos are proud of their strength and the way they have been able to bounce back form this tragedy. References to Yolanda are reminders for them on a daily basis of this strength, and they wear this tragedy and their response like a badge of honor. Originally we were hesitant to mention Yolanda in conversation, worried that it would invoke raw feelings of loss, but that quickly changed when we witnessed how open people were about it.

People would often recount stories and even joke about some of the funnier things that happened in the events after the typhoon. It’s humor like this that we were surprised to see and hear while in Tacloban. As a close friend of mine said one day when I asked about it, “if we don’t laugh about it somehow, then we will cry”. Stories like this gave us a small insight into what life was like post-Yolanda, and although we would never be able to fully comprehend the full extent, it did help give our work context and feeling. It was emotional and at times difficult, but it was real.


Video of Tacloban Two Years Later


It was this realness that has forever connected us to Tacloban and the people we worked and lived with. We share an unbreakable bond that transcends time, distance and language. Even now, as I sit in a small coffee shop in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I wonder how our special group of ladies from the candle making team are going. Not just their business, but how they are on a personal level. Are they well? Are they happy? Could I still do more to help? It’s tough being apart from them because I always feel like I could be doing more, but I have confidence in their ability. And I know one day I’ll get the chance to visit them again to witness their success.

For now I hold onto my memories tight, cherishing every tiny detail that made them so unique: like the night of the barangay fiesta. The unshakeable memories are still fresh in my mind. The laughter of the children as I chase them around the streets, picking them up and spinning them around until we we’re both too dizzy to walk. The gentle embrace from our ladies as they thanked us and presented us with personalized hand drawn portraits. The sweet creamy texture of mango float.



Nights like this where we danced, and laughed and drank the night away. Where there, in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Tacloban, you wouldn’t immediately notice the tragic aftermath of the super typhoon. Where the happiness and joy for living drowns out, at least for the night, the lingering sadness. Where the youth show their resilience through creativity in the form of impressive dance performances, and their parents and grandparents watch proudly, and appreciative of life in a way that we could never imagine.


Christine and I want to give thanks to everyone that helped support us during our time in Tacloban. And to the people of Tacloban, never stop fighting. Keep that passion strong and we’ll be back! Salamat po!

Nepal Earthquake Photo Series

We had just returned from hiking the Annapurna Circuit when the first earthquake hit.

Just over 4 months ago, the earthquake in Nepal shocked the world. An outpouring of humanitarian efforts and donations came worldwide, as images of destruction flooded our computer screens. But as empathetic and devastated as we felt for the people of Nepal, it is no match for actually experiencing the disaster on the ground.

Ben and Christina, our good friends and fellow volunteers during our time in Peru, were in Nepal at the time of the quake. I can’t even imagine how terrifying it must have been, but instead of leaving the country and never looking back, they decided to get to work by helping local villages. They went home to fundraise and are currently back in Nepal working tirelessly and witnessing first hand how their contributions are used. They have agreed to share their stunning photos for this Nepal Earthquake photo series to illustrate the harrowing destruction of the villages and the inspiring resilience of the Nepalese people. Ben and Christina’s full story is at the bottom.

The people of Nepal are still in dire need of donations, please consider helping out Ben and Christina’s effort here: Fund Nepal Villages

A woman walks through the rubble that used to be her home in a village outside Kathmandu

Earthquake survivor in Gorkha district who lost her home, she is awaiting chemotherapy for breast cancer

A woman walks through the rubble that used to be her home in a village outside Kathmandu

A women brings tin up to her village to be constructed into a  TMS (temporary metal shelter)

Impoverished family in a remote village

Two homeless girls begging outside a Hindu temple in Kathmandu

A women living in a remote village in Gorkha stands next to her new temporary shelter

 Students at Himalaya High School in Gorkha

Ben & Christina’s Story

My boyfriend Ben and I were traveling around Nepal this past April. We had just returned from hiking the Annapurna Circuit when the first earthquake hit on April 25. It happened sometime around noon as we were settling into our hotel. Once we felt the shaking and realized what was happening, we quickly made the decision to crouch between the two beds in our room and ride it out. We were lucky to have been in a well-built, modern building located in the city of Pokhara, which managed to come out of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake completely unscathed. It was a couple hours before we heard what had happened in Kathmandu Valley and to hundreds of villages throughout the country.

Over time, the numbers revealed how devastating the earthquake had been to the people of Nepal. In total, there were over 8,700 deaths and over 600,000 homes lost. Those worst affected by the earthquake reside in villages deep in the mountains. Nepal’s extreme, mountainous terrain combined with the remoteness of these villages created major challenges in reaching people in need.

The onset of monsoon season further complicated the situation as many roads started to become impassable due to earthquake damage, flooding or landslides. Some people are now faced with battling the monsoons in makeshift tents and tarps, which simply aren’t enough to protect them from the intense wind and rain.

The reaction of the Nepali people who were in a position to help was truly inspiring. Many trekking agencies and local non-profits immediately stopped their normal operations and shifted to emergency relief for earthquake victims.

After the earthquake Ben and I returned home to the US, but with a return ticket back to Kathmandu a couple weeks later. We had a lot of doubts about whether to return to Nepal. Neither of us possessed the specialized skills needed in an immediate disaster relief situation. We wondered what we had to offer that would genuinely help, not harm or get in the way of people getting the help they desperately needed. We decided to hold off for two additional weeks before returning to let the situation shift from immediate relief to a more semi, long term effort. In that time we decided we would fundraise.

After researching how the relief was going, we decided to raise funds for small, Nepali NGOs who seemed to be reaching villages faster than larger international ones. We also decided to focus our funds on remote villages in the most devastated districts. Since returning to Nepal, with the generosity of our friends and family, we have been able to fund some amazing projects, mainly in the Gorkha region, where the epicenter was located. These projects include medical supplies for a remote village called Fulpindanda in Sindapulchuck, bringing tin to construct 4 temporary classrooms along with one year of school supplies to over 300 students in Saurpani VDC, and funding the construction of 15 temporary shelters in Simjung VDC.

We’ve also spent time volunteering in the Kathmandu Valley with an incredible organization called All Hands. All Hands is an American NGO that currently has over 50 volunteers on the ground, working in various communities in and outside of Kathmandu. Their current projects include temporary classroom construction, transitional home building, IDP (Internally Displaced People) camp improvements, and rubble removal.

We work on one family’s home for about a week, slowly removing the mountain of rubble that was once their home. The families are so overwhelmed by the massive amount of rubble they have to deal with and it feels incredible to be able to help them. As gratifying as it is, it’s also sad, particularly when finding various household items, and things like clothing and children’s toys that was destroyed and buried in the rubble. Sometimes we uncover family photos that are still intact. Their faces always light up when given a photo they thought had been lost. After all the rubble is cleared, you can see the huge weight lifted from their shoulders. And despite having lost so much they are still smiling and laughing. It’s really stunning to see these families deal with their circumstances in such a gentle and dignified way.

Ben and several other volunteers have spent the last few days creating an irrigation system around an IDP camp to create drainage during the daily monsoonal rains. Before they began, the camps would flood and families were left in knee deep water. Improving the drainage and creating appropriate sanitation facilities will help to stop disease from spreading in the camps and improve the overall well-being of every family there. Most IDP families are eager to help out wherever they can.

Throughout our experience in Nepal, we’ve found most people are very empowered to help themselves. It’s very motivating as a volunteer to see such resilience. Even though they have lost so much, they are still driven to help themselves. But they cannot do it alone. With their homes and livelihoods destroyed, they need assistance to rebuild their lives.

Although the situation in Nepal is no longer making headlines, there is still an estimated 2.8 million in need of humanitarian assistance, and 1.1 million of those in need are children. If you are interested in learning more about our progress or in supporting remote villages in Nepal, please visit:

Thank you to Ben and Christina for their beautiful Nepal Earthquake photo series and for their contributions to the disaster relief efforts! Send your messages of encouragement below!

Low Cost Volunteering Abroad: How To Choose A Program

Volunteering abroad has become an ever more popular thing to do while backpacking. To cater to this growing market, more and more “middleman” companies have swooped in to create customizable volunteering packages for travelers. These companies can charge you upwards of $500 a week to place you in a volunteer program and essentially promise to hold your hand if anything goes wrong. This can be reassuring for first time travelers, but are ridiculously overpriced and have questionable impact on the local community.

Many of these programs include two weeks of volunteering followed by two weeks of adventure activity. That sounds well and good, but you have to wonder how much of an impact you can have in only two weeks? These companies cater to those “quick, get a picture of me holding up this shovel and carrying a small Latino child, so I can show on Facebook how worldly and caring I am” tourists.

How to Find the Best Volunteer Opportunity

Volunteering seems like a natural thing to add to the itinerary while traveling abroad. You have the chance to give back to the communities that are inviting you in, you can connect with locals, maybe practice the native language, and let’s face it, it’s nice to be able to say you did something productive in between those months of tanning on the beach and drinking rum.

However, for some reason, everyone assumes volunteering overseas equals taking care of kids or teaching English. And while many organizations offer those important volunteer jobs, there are plenty of other opportunities out there. Hate kids? (Don’t worry, we won’t judge you). Volunteer at an animal rescue center. Hate kids & animals? (Ok, starting to judge..). Volunteer to do administrative computer work for an NGO. If you don’t enjoy something in real life, you’re definitely not going to enjoy doing it for free, in another language, in a foreign country.

Figure out your marketable skills. Applying to become a volunteer is much like applying for a job. It’s not as competitive obviously, most organizations will find something for you to do, but they’d rather place you in something you’re good at. Bilingual? Help with translations. Have experience in web design? Update the website. Got legit artist skills? Paint a new welcome sign! Seriously, whatever abilities you have, they can translate to the non-profit world.


{ a baby ocelot at a rescue center in Iquitos }

Find Long Term Volunteer Programs

There are plenty of organizations around the world that welcome foreign volunteers. Depending on your level of involvement, some organizations will ask for anywhere from a two week to six month minimum, but the one thing they’ll all tell you: the longer the better. Two weeks is not long enough to make a big impact, and can instead be draining for the administration who’ll need to take the time out to train you. Consider extending your volunteering to a month or longer. You may have to cut some sites out of your itinerary, but trust me it’s worth it. When you’re spending your last couple weeks playing football with the local kids that you’ve actually built a relationship with, instead of roaming around yet another ruin, you’ll be happy.


{ making connections with kids in Pisco, Peru }


Not everyone has months to spend volunteering. If you really can only spend a couple weeks giving back, consider donating to the organization instead. Money goes a long way for these programs, and honestly it will probably be more helpful than your inexperienced butt spending a week attempting to teach English to rowdy kids. If you do donate, ask the organization if you can come in for a day and see how their programs run. They’ll be more than happy to indulge you with the obligatory Facebook photos and you’ll have the satisfaction that you’ve actually helped.

Volunteer Teaching the Right Way

If teaching English is something you’re interested in doing then we really suggest you get yourself a little more qualified before taking off on your next trip. As native English speakers we all assume we can teach English, but it’s not as easy as you’d think. Are you ready to explain the difference between a verb and an adverb? Or what a proper noun is? Jules is a former English teacher in Australia and even he has difficultly explaining grammar.

Rather than throw that idea away, get qualified and learn a new life skill along the way. Completing a TEFL course is the perfect way to get yourself ready to teach English, which is such a vital skill for so for many around the world. And it doesn’t have to be difficult, or expensive! You can complete an online course over 120 hours that will have you throwing out impromptu English classes in no time! And thankfully for our awesome Don’t Forget To Move readers we’ve got an exclusive 35% off discount code over at myTEFL. Not only are myTEFL one of the leading TEFL qualification providers, but they’re also a socially responsible company that donate proceeds from their sales to local charities in Haiti and Nepal. To check out their 120 hour course simply click here and be sure to add your unique promo code MOVEON to claim your discount.



Cost to Volunteer Overseas

While you should be weary of any companies that charge you ridiculous amounts for short volunteer programs, you should expect to pay something. A lot of people are opposed to this. “I’m volunteering my time, why should I have to pay?” Yes, I can kind of understand that logic, but it’s not how it works overseas. It takes a lot of logistics and administrative time to coordinate with volunteers. The weekly dues you’ll pay to volunteer will be going to a stipend for invaluable administrative staff. If room and board is available for volunteers, these dues will likely be going to rent, food and general maintenance. Not sure how much is an appropriate amount to be paying? It really depends on the location and organization. Volunteering in a touristy beach town in Mexico is going to cost more than super rural Indonesia, as the cost of living is obviously higher.



{ building a house for a family in Peru }


Commit to the Community

Volunteering overseas can be a great way to meet fellow travelers from around the world. Volunteering together is a bonding experience and you can walk away with life long friends. This is a definite pro to volunteering, but should not be your main reason for becoming a volunteer. It can be easy to fall into a trap of volunteering with a community during the day and coming back to a house full of volunteers eager to let loose and party it up. That’s fine, but it’s not really that different from traveling and staying in hostels. If the option is possible, do a home-stay. One of the benefits of volunteering is being able to connect to a community. What better way than living and developing relationships with a local family? You may not get the same party atmosphere as a volunteer house, but you’ll gain much more meaningful experiences.



Volunteers Abroad Websites and Programs

In the end, if your heart is in the right place, you’ll find something meaningful in whatever you do. Here are some resources for volunteering opportunities:

Free and low cost volunteering throughout Latin America: Volunteer South America

Volunteer, Internship and Job opportunities in global nonprofits: Idealist

Low cost volunteering positions: Omprakash

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