If you’re looking for a tour bus to take you to a pat-on-the-back volunteer project, you’re in the wrong place. Our goal is to take you directly into the experience. We take local transportation, we eat local food, and we sleep according to local standards. Unlike many volunteer travel organizations, ethical travel is at the crux of our philosophy. We make our programs as financially accessible as possible while packing them with adventure, community service, and education.
Let’s be real. We’re not going to ‘Save Africa’ in six weeks. Unlike many large Western organizations that create and enforce development plans, we forge partnerships with local NGOs and charities to work with them on community-requested projects. We support organizations that exist before we arrive, appreciate our support during our time there, and will continue to do work long after we leave.
Though we spend solid days on the ground getting our hands dirty and volunteering, a larger chunk of our time is spent learning from our partners to better understand the underlying issues and challenges that they face.
“Spending my summer traveling through Southeast Asia with OG was quite simply the best time of my life. In fact, I loved it so much that I went twice! OG enabled me to explore, experience, and learn about this side of the world in ways which I’m sure would not have happened without them. From spending time working in the remote hill tribes of Thailand, to facilitating leadership programs for youth in Cambodia – every experience was engaging, authentic, and unforgettable.”
– Fiona Kiernan, 2010 Southeast Asia: Animal Conservation
Our Programs Director works closely with each of our program leaders to organize a thoughtful itinerary for every day that you’re traveling with us. Treks in mountainous regions, bike rides through the savannah, meetings with local advocacy groups, comfortable homestays, and delicious local dishes…all of these daily details are organized for your team.
“From day one, your program leaders immerse you into the culture, history, language, and the lifestyle of what it really means to be Peruvian. The adventure aspect is unbeatable. I am not sure you could take a vacation anywhere and experience as much fun and take in as much culture as we did with OG in Peru! Bike tours, sand boarding, Machu Picchu, hot springs, camping, Spanish lessons, local cuisine, zip-lining, white-water rafting, morning yoga, and so much more!”
– Laura Chubb, 2011 Peru: Mind & Body
Every community, country, and continent has its share of unique challenges, including our own. Our programs focus on the different issues facing each region we travel to and how local and international leaders attempt to solve them. Our Program Leaders facilitate meaningful discussions and mind-blowing workshops that will challenge you to think deeply and critically about what it means to make a difference.
“The most impressive and lasting memories I have from OG are the learning activities our program leaders created for us. The lessons helped participants critically look at the situation we saw in the community and our role. Out of all the volunteer trips I’ve been on this has been the only one that allowed us to question our motives and actions – and the willingness to do so shows how much OG cares about the quality and intention of their programs.”
–Gillian Murphy, 2012 Middle East: Behind the Headlines
Our programs are intentionally designed to uncover the intricacies and on-the-ground realities of each region we go to. Our teams eat local food, use local transport, learn the local language, and even stay in urban/rural homestays. At OG, we believe that immersion builds cultural competency and empathy – key qualities in all global citizens.
“I loved the on-the- ground nature of my Operation Groundswell program. With OG you are not getting a censored version of the places you are visiting. You learn, smell, see, and truly feel and experience what it means to be where you are. My trip taught me new things about myself, backpacking and what it means to be a traveler, the world, and a whole new world I didn’t even know existed. Months later, I’m still talking to the friends I met, thinking about the memories I made, and missing the wonderfulness of Ghana.”
– Hannah Hirsz, 2012 West Africa: Discovery
A close-knit group of 8-14 individuals on every program allows for the perfect blend of intimacy, flexibility, and challenge. It allows us to confront ourselves in a way that can’t be replicated by a solo experience. Traveling in a group allows us to hear varied perspectives and create a shared experience beyond compare. Because really, no one outside your crew will ever know what it’s like to sit on a jam packed 15-hour matatu ride.
“The OG experience is a humbling one. There is an unbelievable amount of work that goes into making these trips happen and I believe that I got the better end of the deal, with the knowledge and experiences that I came out of it with. The OG crew you show up with is more than just a bunch of random people by the end of the trip; they become your family and great friends.”
– Bryan Adams, 2012 Haiti: Engineering
Our goal is to facilitate experiences… not manufacture them. Our dynamic program leaders will show you how to thrive in a new country during the first five weeks of your time there. The Independent Travel Time (ITT) component of our programs will then give you the opportunity to put your newly developed skills to the test and explore the region in your own way.
“Be prepared to be scared and vulnerable while, at the same time, accepted and safe. India is full of ideas, zest, and energy. Going with an organization like OG allows you to explore all the possibilities, pushes your boundaries, and teaches you to be a global citizen, with a passion for adventure.”
– Kandace Parks, 2013 India: High Altitude Education
We of all people know that the cost of international travel can be high, but we’ve committed ourselves to making all our programs as accessible as possible. That’s why we provide bursaries and fundraising support. We believe we offer something that everyone – regardless of economic background – should have access to.
“Operation Groundswell has changed the way I want to travel. No longer do I want to be a tourist. I want to come in to each new travel experience with an open mind and a hope to connect on a local level. Everyone should have an experience like this…it will change you for the better!”
Marlee Huston, 2014 East Africa: Youth in Action
We understand that diving into an experience like this is often a family decision. If you need more information to share and discuss with your family, just send us an email to let us know. Our staff at head office will get in touch shortly with everything you need!