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GIVE: Volunteering toward international sustainable development

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Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2013 12:13 am | Updated: 7:44 am, Fri Oct 11, 2013.

After three months in Cambodia, a long dirt road strewn with massive potholes leads Mathew Geddes and Jake Allison to the airport for a flight home. They don’t want to leave. They have lived with the people and experienced a culture new to them. They are filled with the insatiable longing to not only continue to be a part of something new but to do something for the greater good.     

After returning to the U.S., founder Jake Allison and co-founder Mathew Geddes, a Western Washington University alumnus, started Growth International Volunteer Excursions (GIVE) in 2011. It was Geddes’s spring quarter of his final year at Western studying economics with an emphasis on community and international development. The idea came from their personal travels abroad and they wanted to start something to allow students to engage in philanthropic work internationally.

Since then, GIVE has grown as an international volunteer organization that works with sustainable community development, Geddes said. It facilitates university student’s travel, or anyone’s travel to Nicaragua or Tanzania to give back to the community and experience culture, Geddes said. College students from around the nation have participated for two years through a hybrid course offered by Central Washington University. Organizers held info sessions in the Viking Union last week to encourage Western students to take part in GIVE in spring 2014.

Within the program, GIVE offers student opportunities to receive credit toward their education. Students spend their spring term online focused on international sustainable development and the summer term volunteering in either Tanzania or Nicaragua, Geddes said.          

"GIVE is trying to break the mold of standard education and how it's offered,” Allison said. “We really see the value in experiential learning and allowing students to engage overseas in philanthropy and relate that back to their academics and their lives in general."

By their own means Geddes and Allison went to Nicaragua in 2011 to find partners to work with GIVE. They also met with the Jiquilillo community to find out what their needs were and what GIVE could do there, Geddes said.

The community asked for a secondary school and technical school so its people could have the opportunity to learn skills, such as carpentry, marine mechanics, business hospitality and English, Geddes said. Most children there did not receive an education past fourth or fifth grade.

After GIVE found a partner to work with, the first programs took place in summer 2012 with a trip to Nicaragua. About 150 volunteers started the groundwork and foundation for the school in Jiquilillo, Nicaragua Geddes said.

“What we do now is we build sustainably designed infrastructure that has a direct effect on the environment, and more importantly on the outlook that the locals have on how they affect their environment and how important their environment is to them," Allison said.

More than 350 volunteers worked on the school in Nicaragua so far. Watching the children paint and take ownership of the school was an emotional moment for Geddes, he said.

All of the projects start from the ground up and with GIVE’s eco-conscious mindset, its philosophy is represented by the motto, “Be the roots of change,” Volunteer Outreach Coordinator, Karin Fredriech said.

GIVE started with 150 volunteers and now has about 750 volunteers from around the nation and 65 from the United Kingdom and Australia. Its first year was primarily concentrated on the volunteer aspect. Now the focus is to strengthen and fortify its relationships with the institutions and universities it works with abroad, Geddes said.

Kenneth Cohen, Associate Professor of Sustainable Tourism at Central Washington University, teaches students about cultural, political and economical issues of the country they will be volunteering in.

The hybrid course gives students a wholesome learning experience they can grow from, Geddes said. Students can expect to be doing hands-on projects at their locations abroad, such as working with cement on infrastructure projects or working one-on-one with local children, Allison said.

"[Students] should expect to be exposed to a lot of different culture and extreme environments that will challenge them,” Allison said.

During 2013, GIVE chose to refine the online aspect of the program by focusing on the course material taught to students instead of expanding to more locations abroad. While GIVE is very present thinking, there are big plans for the future as far as new locations and offerings for students go, Geddes said.       

Students who are interested in being a part of GIVE can apply for the program through GIVE’s website

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