A fierce and devoted advocate for promoting cross cultural peace and understanding, Amanda Mansfield has served as a BLV participant & allumn, admin volunteer, admin assistant, Director of Operations, Program Coordinator, and overall “Nonprofit Management Badass.”
Amanda is stepping down from her main duties at Bright Light Volunteers in order to fulfil her goal of becoming a full time Graduate Assistant at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
She will be very missed during our day-to-day operations, but we are also excited to announce that Amanda has committed to continuing on as a key member of BLVs’ internal Fundraising & Grant Committee.
Amanda, we celebrate you and honor your contributions to Bright Light Volunteers. Here’s to a beautiful and bright future!
“Cheers” from your team!
“Amanda was impressively efficient and effective! She always has such a great helpful attitude and is way organized which is awesome! Really bummed we are loosing her, but equally as excited for her new adventure…who knows. Maybe we can lure her back someday!” – Alex Van Dewark, Team BLV
“Amanda is an absolute gem. Her organization and communication is admirable and impressive. I love how much she genuinely believes in the goals of BLV and how she has supported the team. Losing Amanda breaks my heart, but I wish her the very best. She will always be a part of the BLV family.” – Amy Besnard, Team BLV
“Amanda’s contributions to BLV were as big as her heart. She tackled projects enthusiastically and never once complained. Her ‘get it done’ attitude and her smile will be missed!” – Alma, Team BLV
“I think that Amanda has been our ‘secret weapon’ as an organization. So much on goes on ‘behind-the-scenes’ at Bright Light Volunteers to make sure that our programs are safe, effective, and sustainable. Our success, to date, is in no small part a result of Amanda’s hard work and advocacy.” – Catherine Greenberg, Team BLV
“Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss, Honorary Team BLV member.
Business students at UT Dallas’ Jindal School of Management are now required to ful ll social engagement and community service requirements in order to earn their degree. Dallas nonpro t and global service learning provider, Bright Light Volunteers, chosen as an approved partner to provide opportunities to ful ll new social engagement requirements.
Tell us a bit about your background. (Ex: where you’re from, how long you taught or did another career and where, your age if you want, your travel background, where you are now and what you’re doing, etc.)
My name is Stacie Freeman. I am an Associate Professor of Sociology at Bethel University (BU) in Tennessee, the Director of BU Global Studies, and the Co-Executive Director of Bright Light Volunteers (BLV). In that capacity, I teach Global Service Learning and Citizenship courses to both college and high school students. Through these six-week courses, students learn via online coursework, cultural immersion, and reflection activities. In-country, they volunteer alongside our international partners on community-led service projects, for which they earn the President’s Volunteer Service Award and three hours of college credit. So, five weeks “in the classroom” and one week “in-country” is our formula. I have been organizing and leading local, national, and international service programs since 2007. I have led 25 student groups and visited over 30 countries (through work and with family).
Explain one (or more) interesting travels you have undertaken (or are currently undertaking) during your time outside of your regular home-country classroom/job. (Where did you go, what did you do, for how long, and how was it?)
I recently returned from Thailand with a group of students from Chico, CA. Our service there was focused on education (we taught basic English in Hill Tribe schools) and elephant rescue. Thailand is one of my favorite places to learn and serve. The rich culture, beautiful scenery, and kind people make it an ideal location for students and educators. We began our two week journey in Chiang Mai where we explored temples in the company of a former Buddhist Monk. So, not only did we enjoy the beautiful architecture of the wats and pagodas, we learned a tremendous amount about Buddhism and its cultural impact in Thailand, an excellent supplement to the coursework offered online. While in Chiang Mai, we also explored night markets, art museums, and even visited the local women’s prison for a massage via a government sponsored social program. The idea is that the women learn a marketable skill so that when they’re released they can support themselves and their children. The program is innovative AND successful. The prison / government has even opened spas in Chiang Mai to create jobs, post-release. Pretty cool! Other culturally immersive activities included cooking lessons, a homestay in the countryside, a bike ride through the rice paddies, and trekking through Doi Inthanon National Park. Our second week in Thailand was totally dedicated to service. For this arm of the program, we drove several hours into the hills of Thailand and spent the week living and working among the oldest Hill Tribes in Thailand, the Karen and the Hmong. We taught English in the local primary schools and served on an elephant rescue project. Essentially, the Hmong and Karen people, due to economic necessity, had been renting their elephants to the logging industry, circuses, and tourism. In these environments, the elephants were horribly mistreated. Through an innovative rescue program, the elephants have been returned to their owners and are now freely roaming the jungle. It is a beautiful thing to see and experience. As volunteers in the project, we fed the elephants, helped in the garden (where nutritious food is grown to feed the elephants and their mahouts), and assisted with paving a road to ease the delivery of volunteers and supplies to the project. At the end of our time with the Hill Tribe people, the local Shaman came to our village and blessed our group with a prayer of thanks for our help and protection for our return home. Incredible!!!
How do you find your travel opportunities? (Ex: website, friend, group.)
As the Director of Global Studies, I have multiple connections to agencies and organizations offering travel opportunities to students and educators. My inbox stays full. However, I began working with Bright Light Volunteers (BLV) in 2016. While I have worked with other orgs since then, most of my programs are currently organized by BLV.
How did you find the money to fund your travel? (Ex: savings, scholarships, grants, fundraising, etc.)
I plan my programs one year in advance. This gives students and their families time to fundraise. Some of my students secure part-time employment to pay for the experience, others request funding from clubs like Rotary and Lions. A few have had success securing scholarships through orgs like SYTA as well. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful, interesting, or funny.
This summer, I had the opportunity to meet Lek Chailert, the founder of Elephant Nature Park (ENP). She is a tiny but MIGHTY woman. She rescued her first elephant 20 or so years ago. Today, there are over 80 elephants being cared for at ENP. In addition to the rescued herd, she and her staff care for over 500 dogs and cats at the park. This enormous project started with one woman on one mission. Today, her voice and hard work for the voiceless, abused animals she rescues is heard around the world. In her presence, I was reminded that no matter how big the world’s problems, we ALL have the power to leave this place better than we found it.
How have your travels impacted you as a teacher (if you went back to teaching) or in your current career, and how have your travels impacted you as a person?
My travel informs everything I do. Experiencing other people, from other places has improved my understanding of my role as a global citizen and my responsibility for developing solutions to global social problems. I see this in my students as well. On post-service surveys, 100% of my students report that the experience has contributed positively to their appreciation for and understanding of other people and cultures and that their awareness of global social problems and solutions has been improved. They also report having a better understanding of their role as global citizens and of the interconnection between the US and other countries and cultures. As an educator, reading those surveys has been highly impactful and on hard days, keeps me going.
What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching? (Either general inspirational words and/or specific sites, organizations, strategies, or links which are useful.)
Be persistent! If your administration is hesitant or resistant, take baby steps. I started by volunteering with students close to home, in our local community. Then, I began organizing service programs across our state. My next move was to organize service projects across the country. Finally, seven years in, my proposal to travel with students to Costa Rica was approved. Sometimes, it takes time. Don’t give up! “Water cuts through rock not because of its strength but because of its persistence.”
Elephant refuge in Thailand where our program participants partake in various service initiatives!
Bright Light Volunteers announced that it has been honored with the prestigious 2019 Top- Rated Award by Great Nonprofits for the third time in a row. GreatNonprofits, the leading provider of third party reviews for nonprofit organizations, created their Top-Rated Award as a sort of people’s choice award for nonprofits, where volunteers, donors, and people served cast their vote in the form of a review to express their appreciation and help their favorite nonprofits win a spot on this coveted list. Read more here:
The purpose of education is to empower students with the tools necessary to be able to think and learn about the world around them, giving them the ability to acquire knowledge about how to develop relationships with peers and the larger community, which today represents the global community.
What inspired you to work for Bright Light Volunteers?
I volunteered abroad with my children beginning when they were 5 and 7-years-old. Witnessing the way that service and travel has influenced them during their development was inspiring. I want to help all youth be able to participate in international travel and service and believe that has the power to make the world a brighter place for all!
Describe a typical day at work.
Even though the job sounds like it is all adventure and traveling, most of the work for Bright Light Volunteers staff happens on the ground here in the U.S. There are always emails and inquiries to handle, data entry, post program interviews, insurance procurement for groups, and the HUGE amount of other logistical work that goes on in the background in order to run these sorts of programs in host communities around the world.
Why do you do what you do?
I have a heart that calls me to be of service and I have a genuine concern about the divisiveness, inequality, and cross-cultural hatred that I see in the world. I believe that through travel, education, and service that we can cultivate more peace, compassion, and tolerance in the world.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of the job—hands down—is working on the ground with a student group and host community as a stateside BLV rep. Being able to help lead the program and group and witness the changes in perception and openness that they experience gives me the joy and energy needed to continue to further our organizational mission.
How do you use your education and international background in your current role?
As a graduate Magna Cum Laude of Southern Methodist University, I pursued international studies and cultural anthropology with a focus on Latin America. Having an educational background, as well as my previous international experience, gave me the perfect tools for my trade.
What are some current projects you are working on?
One big project at the moment is finalizing our new website! In our work, things change a lot and we needed to migrate to a platform that allows us to maintain and update our website at the click of a button.
What advice would you tell your pre-travel self?
Don’t be scared of wandering because it is when wandering that one finds the opportunity to discover oneself. Speak the local language even if you can’t speak fluently…how will you ever speak fluidly if you don’t practice with those who know it best!
What makes Bright Light Volunteers special?
A large part of what makes Bright Light Volunteers special and unique is the manner in which we have formally combined a unique educational component into our global service learning programs.
Why should someone choose your organization over competitors?
Students that participate in our program receive three hours of transferable college credit through our educational partner Bethel University. They also receive a Certificate of Global Citizenship and the bronze level of the Presidential Service Award. We offer very comprehensive and fun programming that changes lives.
What hopes do you have for the future of Bright Light Volunteers?
I hope that we will continue to be able to bring in funding for our student scholarship program. Travel and service change students’ lives. Through our scholarship program we are helping to fund programs for students attending Title 1 schools.
Are there any developments with your organization that you would like to share with us?
We were recently a finalist in GoAbroad’s 2019 Innovation Awards for “Innovation in Diversity” and I was able to attend the event in D.C. We didn’t win in that category, but it was inspiring to be in a room full of people who feel as passionately about the power of travel to transform!
What makes your organization easy to market to potential participants?
The opportunity for dual enrollment college credit for high school students is a really great opportunity that differentiates our programs from the crowd.
What is the mission of Bright Light Volunteers and how do you continue to work toward it?
The mission of Bright Light Volunteers is to make the world a brighter place by providing educational service opportunities that foster the development of global leaders and citizens.
What do you hope participants take away from your programs?
I hope participants leave the program with a newfound sense of belonging and purpose. I hope it inspires them to create and partake in service initiatives in their home communities and that they, in turn, teach peace and tolerance to others…like a ripple effect of love and compassion.
If you could participate on one of your organization’s programs, where would you go and what would you do?
I still haven’t been able to participate in our newest Costa Rica program!!! We are working with several small community groups there that are doing really interesting work in upcycling trash collected on the beaches to help community members create art to sell to tourists and supplement their income while bringing awareness to the global garbage crisis.
What questions do participants often ask you, and how do you typically respond?
Is it safe? My response: We can’t guarantee safety (no one can) but our team has done and continues to do an incredible job mitigating any possible security/safety concerns. We use safe, contracted, and licensed drivers, we typically operate in small host communities, and we have trained program leaders with the group every step of the way.
Why is it important for people to travel abroad and experience new cultures?
Mark Twain said it best: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness. In order to be able to cultivate peace in the world we must have a broader experience of what it means to be human in the world.”
What does meaningful travel mean to you?
I think all travel is meaningful. Any time someone tiptoes out of their cultural comfort zone it is a cause for celebration. It is difficult for people to be intolerant of others or for hatred to consume hearts when, by experience, one sees oneself reflected in others. We are a global community and travel only facilitates our ability to connect with one another.
What hopes do you have for the future of international education?
I hope that in the future international education is made an available option for all students, regardless of the financial barrier to participation. Unequal access to these sorts of educational programs creates a deeper divide in our communities at home and abroad. We are a global society and a global society demands for global citizenship education.