Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Recently, I've been getting more and more interested in the idea of "Voluntourism." I love to travel, but I also feel like we should be doing our part to make a difference in this world and finding a way to combine the two is important to me. Recently, my friend Sarah did just that and I asked her to share a bit about her travels.

"About 6 months ago, a good friend and fellow architect, Jill, told me about a trip she was planning to Sudan. Jill and Kevin, her close friend and pastor of her church Mosaic, had met one of the 'lost boys' of Sudan, Michael Kuany. After hearing his incredible story they decided to see what they could do to help his cause. Michael traveled thousands of miles on foot to avoid the violence that had broken out in his village during the Civil War in Southern Sudan. He was brought to the US under the Clinton administration to have an opportunity to start a new life. He has a US education, and he has decided to go back to help his village and his country. We were master-planning several buildings focusing especially on a primary school and a women's center. Everyone was so friendly! We spent much of our time meeting officials and locals and playing with kids. We spent a week collecting information and designing.

Sudan is trying to rebuild itself after a twenty year civil war, and right now isn't the safest place in the world to be traveling. Tourism of any kind is pretty much out of the question, but we had made it all the way to Africa, and we wanted to do the cliche African tourism things. So, we traveled to neighboring Uganda, where Jill and I stayed for 3 weeks. We went on safari, and we saw wild giraffe, monkeys, hippos, and even intercepted a pride of hunting lions. We had an exhilarating adventure white water rafting the Nile River.

We wanted to make sure that we were active and purposeful in our travel, so after our week of tourism, we were volunteering again. We worked on another architecture project in Lira, Uganda. We also taught a photography class in Kampala. Anyone can travel, but I think by being active, that we got closer to what is actually happening there. We were in the community meeting people and working with them.
We presented our project at Mosaic's Sunday gathering and Kevin asked me why I decided to join the trip. My answer was long winded and sounded meaningful, but when it got right down to it, I just wanted to learn something new. It is important to me to be curious about everything I encounter in order to learn and grow as a designer, and more holistically, as a person. As a westerner, and especially as an American, we have a very isolated view of what the world looks like. We have never seen real poverty or real struggle on a massive scale. Much more of the world lives like those in Sudan than we, as sheltered Americans, even realize, let alone do anything about.

This trip helped to put many things in my own life into perspective. It was a chance to slow down and step out of the box of my comfortable life. It was a chance to not only observe, but to take action and help. "

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