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.
Bright Light Volunteers puts education and global citizenship at the heart of its mission to make the world a brighter place. We have partnered with an accredited university to achieve our mission and sustain our core values, which makes our nonprofit a one-of-a-kind organization. In partnership with Bethel University (of McKenzie, Tennessee), we offer opportunities specifically designed to prepare students to become the global thinkers and leaders of tomorrow.
Our programs use a methodology called global-service learning, which combines international community service with experiential learning. This approach creates culturally aware global leaders and citizens who understand their place in the world and their ability to effect change both at home and abroad.
Students will travel, learn, serve, and lead through each of our programs; each one provides transformative, culturally immersive, experiences abroad.
Since our partnership has developed, participants now have the opportunity to enroll in a six-week online course in Global Service Learning and Citizenship (GSLC) through Bethel University. With guidance from UNESCO global citizenship education, the GSLC course equips students with the knowledge and functional skills necessary to become culturally competent. Students gain exposure to the history and culture of the host country, preparing them for the experience of cultural immersion and exchange.
We then provide opportunities to serve by working side-by-side with local partners on community-led service projects abroad, allowing students to develop a deeper understanding of the host country and culture. Students can expect to serve between 20 and 80 hours, depending on the length and location of the program.
DALLAS (PRWEB) JUNE 21, 2019
Alexis Soria is a young woman on a mission and she’s got a lot of supporters cheering her on along the way. Last month, Alexis participated in a comprehensive global service learning program in Costa Rica, thanks to generous grants and support that came in from multiple sources after Alexis was awarded a Bright Light Volunteers scholarship sponsored by DFW’s Hispanic 100 – a nonprot organization that promotes Hispanic women’s leadership roles in the private and public sector.
After receiving the H-100 scholarship, Alexis was awarded additional support in the form of a Road Scholarship from the Student Youth Travel Association (SYTA) as well as support from Si Se Puede, an organization that provides advice to students to work for academic success, encourage volunteering, and help students grow into leadership positions.
Alma Garcia, Board Member of Bright Light Volunteers says, “The fact that several nonprots jumped in and helped leverage a small scholarship from H100 into being able to completely fund this opportunity for Alexis is powerful and will, no doubt, have ripple effects throughout our community.”
Alexis, now a Junior at DISD’s Irma Lerma Rangel School Young Women’s Leadership School, isn’t new to this sort of experience. Last year, thanks in part to private sponsorships, Alexis served in the highlands of the Sacred Valley in Peru where she spent time teaching, aiding in the construction of water filtration system, and immersing herself in the people and culture of Peru.
Alexis Soria while volunteering at an animal refuge in Costa Rica with Bright Light Volunteers.
“International education allows me to stretch and grow.”
Recently we got to sit down and debrief with Alexis after she returned home from her latest global service learning experience in Costa Rica and asked her some questions to get a sense of how these experiences have shaped her life and future ambitions:
BLV: What has the opportunity to serve, learn, and lead meant for you?
AS: To serve means that I take a part of my community into another country and plant a seed there. To learn means learning about other cultures and nding ways we can help. We don’t know the struggles other cultures have until we engage with them. To lead means bringing what I learn in other countries to my local community; international education allows me to stretch and grow.
BLV: Has this experience changed you in any way?
AS: Yes … it has changed me in different ways. I learned that we have a lot of commodities living in the U.S. and people in other parts of the world don’t have the basic necessities (toothbrush, towel, bed, etc.) to not only survive … but to thrive. In America we hustle, hustle, hustle and take a lot for granted. In other countries, people value other things like family and tradition.
BLV:Is it important to travel? Why or why not?
AS: Yes. It is important because we get to learn how other people live, their culture and traditions. You learn a lot about how communities work together within a country. In Costa Rica, for example, everyone is laid back, but they do not take anything for granted. A local man explained how their country recovered from the last hurricane by every person contributing in the restoration process. It takes a lot of heart and pride from its inhabitants.
BLV: What are your dreams for yourself and how do you plan to get there?
AS: My dream (as a little girl) was to become a doctor. But the more I learn about the lack of respect for the Mexican community (we are always bashed; we are not appreciated), I want to be a role model for other Mexican girls to love their heritage and help empower the Mexican community. I have volunteered helping Mexicans complete immigration forms and being an activist as a way to gain awareness of the immigration crisis. Doing something in the immigration eld would put me in a position to be encouraging and show compassion to those entering our borders.
About Bright Light Volunteers
Bright Light Volunteers is a 501(c)(3), non-prot organization, designed to empower program participants and community partners through education and service. Specifically, our programs adhere to global service-learning best practices, which combine community service with both experiential learning in the eld and online coursework through our university partner, Bethel University. Our vision is to make the world a brighter place by creating a more peaceful, just, interconnected world where global challenges and opportunities are met by educated, compassionate, global citizens and leaders.
About the Hispanic 100:
The Hispanic 100 is a network of D/FW-area Latina leaders who are committed to increasing business development opportunities for Hispanic, women-owned businesses and to promoting Hispanic women’s leadership roles in the private and public sectors. The organization’s endowment fund supports initiatives that address the needs of Hispanic women and girls in the D/FW area. For more information, visit http://www.dfwhispanic100.org. Visit us on Facebook at DFW Hispanic 100 or follow us on Twitter @DFWH100.
DALLAS (PRWEB) FEBRUARY 07, 2019
Between the five new members to BLV’s Board of Directors, the new team has participated and/or led eight student programs, and three are career educators. It is a diverse Board with membership residing across the U.S. in Baltimore, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, and California.
“All five of our newest Board members embody the spirit of community and bring significant talent, expertise and energy to ‘carry the torch’ forward as we continue to scale operations. We are very fortunate to have them by our side as we continue to make the world a brighter place, one student at a time!” Catherine Greenberg, Founder and Co-Executive Director.
Alma Garcia, one of BLV’s newest board members, is a leader who has a history of supporting initiatives that empower young girls and women. Inspired by her experience volunteering as a mentor for Big Brothers & Sisters of Central Texas, she went on to serve as the Executive Director of Dream Angels, Inc., a nonprofit organization focused on empowering at-risk girls and providing the support and opportunities necessary to provide them with the best tools possible to achieve their professional and personal dreams. Alma has served, unpaid, as BLV’s Community Engagement Specialist in the past, as well as a seasoned Program Leader guiding groups in our host communities abroad.
Kyla Parker, one of BLV’s newest board members, is a veteran educator from West Tennessee. She has witnessed, first hand, the power of our leadership programs and is a proponent for equalized access to such programs as ours for Title One schools.
Alex Van Dewark, one of BLV’s newest board members, is an entrepreneur and a firefighter/paramedic based out of Chico, CA. Founder and CEO of UP, Inc. (UP: Unlocking Potential), Alex has worked hard to make the MixMat available as an easy and affordable solution to the need for concrete on our service learning programs. Having past experience working as a Business/Leadership trainer for Odyssey Teams, Inc., Alex is well positioned to help BLV expand into serving corporate sector clients to meet their need for cultural sensitivity, cross-cultural collaboration and leadership training.
Dr. Sharon Thomas-Parker, one of BLV’s newest board members, holds a Doctorate of Education focusing on Higher Education Leadership and has an illustrious and varied career as a licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. She has served in a variety of cross-disciplinary roles such as Program Director for Redefining Refuge, a nonprofit dedicated to serving victims of sexual trafficking and Director of Behavioral Health at the Family Health Centers of Baltimore.
Kodi Henderson Niehaus, one of BLV’s newest board members, is the Coordinator of Education Abroad and International Exchange at the University of North Alabama (UNA). She joined the Office of International Affairs (OIA) in August 2018. Kodi has a M.A. in Postsecondary Education and Administration and a B.S. in Journalism, Mass Communications, Geosciences, and Television Production. Kodi has worked in a variety of roles in the news industry as an associate producer, reporter, videographer, photographer, and journalist. Furthermore, she has worked several offices of higher education as a graduate assistant in the Student Disability Services office at Murray State University, a graduate intern in the Office of Global Studies at Bethel University, an intern in the Study Abroad Office at the University of Evansville, and as a volunteer in the Office of Education Abroad at Murray State University. She has traveled to Austria, Belize, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, and Switzerland.
Bright Light Volunteers is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization, designed to empower program participants and community partners through education and service. Specifically, our programs adhere to global service-learning best practices, which combine community service with both experiential learning in the field and online coursework through our university partner. Our vision is to make the world a brighter place by creating a more peaceful, just, interconnected world where global challenges and opportunities are met by educated, compassionate, global citizens and leaders.
Finding Family in Cuba
By Ethan Besnard
For most Americans there is a great deal of interest and mystery in Cuba because, until recently, we have not been able to explore the country. When offered this once in a lifetime opportunity with BLV’s award winning Cuba program, it was an automatic yes for me and I knew I would enjoy every second of it. I had already experienced one BLV program and was excited knowing how much that first trip impacted my life. I couldn’t wait to learn more from a different culture and lifestyle.
Upon arrival in Cuba, there was an immediate realization that Cuba’s economy appeared to be suffering. The airport in Havana was small, run down, had no air-conditioning and little organization. As we waited for transportation, I watched dozens of Cubans carting out TVs and other electronics that were difficult to obtain or too costly on the island which resulted in Cubans traveling to other countries to make purchases. This was a shocking contrast to our quick Costco runs or Amazon orders.
Our BLV guide told us that one of our most important jobs was to help increase Cuba’s middle class, which was why we weren’t staying in hotels, but casitas: local homeowners who rent out rooms. I quickly learned there were many advantages to staying in a casita over a hotel. I was able to get to know the owners personally, became part of their community, practiced my Spanish, and enjoyed delicious home-cooked meals.
In our first night in Havana, our casita owner Maria hosted a big welcome party for us. She and her family decorated, cooked langosta (lobster which is difficult to purchase), and hired professional salsa dancers for our entertainment. Despite my language barrier, I could still communicate with our hosts through their patience and gestures. Before long, there were no more barriers and we all danced and clapped together enjoying a true cultural celebration.
Havana’s streets were lined with brightly colored 1950s cars. The buildings stood tall and closely together. The ocean breeze provided comfort from the hot sun. While Havana was overgrown with buildings and history, the small western town of Viñales was much more rural and provided warm people, beautiful views of greenery and the famous mogotes, and incredible food.
The real joy of the program came when we started our service on an organic farm in Viñales. After learning that the Cuban government takes 90% of the farmers’ crops for their own use, we knew the more we helped on the farm, the more the farmers could keep for themselves. We would walk to the farm everyday and spend hours planting, digging, weeding, and preparing for new crops. All of the farmers were very gracious and offered plenty of food throughout the day. We did our best to keep up with the farmers and could tell they appreciated our work ethic. After long days of working alongside these men, it was quite difficult to say goodbye. We gifted them tools, gloves, socks, etc. and they gifted us memories and gratefulness.
I have noticed similarities between my two BLV programs but the one that occured every single day on each program was the generosity of the local people who had little to offer; the farmers, who made just enough money to support themselves and their families gave us food from their farm, the casita owners who opened their homes for us to stay in overfilled our plates at each meal, the baseball players who played friendly games with us offered fresh pineapple to quench our thirst. Seeing the generosity of the Cubans was eye opening. While Cuba is a beautiful place, it is the people who make the country magical.
All “Rhodes” Lead to Service
By Ethan Besnard
I was only 11 when my mom decided it was important for me to see my place in the world. My mom took me along with her AP and IB students on a BLV service program to Greece, where we would visit Athens and spend majority of our time on the island of Rhodes. The trip was well organized and we got to see two very different styles of living in the big city and a more rural village. While in Athens, we visited many ancient structures, including the Parthenon and ate fresh organic foods; however, it was our time in Rhodes that made a more significant impact. There weren’t as many people and the city wasn’t as advanced. As soon as we arrived in Rhodes we traveled to a facility for special needs children. The facility was trashed and overgrown outside. I felt compelled to help the children, especially once I saw them through the windows. We each had specific roles to do – I cut overgrown bushes, cleared out areas on the playground, and planted. We worked for several hours and transformed the run-down facility to an environment more conducive to learning. It was then that I realized what we came to Greece to do: to complete sustainable projects to provide for those in need.
Our group did many projects on the program, but one that I really enjoyed was repairing and painting an elderly couple’s home. The house was hundreds of years old and poorly maintained. We spent endless hours cleaning, scraping, priming, and painting the interior of the home. Other community members watched and wondered why we came to help. They didn’t seem to understand the concept of service, but were soon inspired by our group. The couple whose home we painted was so grateful and yet they didn’t speak a word of English. I specifically remember the elderly woman offering me a blanket because it was very cold that day. Although we didn’t speak the same language, I tried to convince her to use the blanket instead, but she was more concerned about me. Painting the house made me feel good inside knowing that we improved their quality of life and that the couple would remember us for the rest of their lives.
Of all the projects we did, the one that resonates the most with me and that I will always carry in the back of my mind is working in a Syrian refugee camp. Here I witnessed people, from kids to elders, who had lost everything. In fact, many had lost loved ones and witnessed war and bloodshed. While I was sympathetic, it was impossible to put myself in their shoes and truly understand what they had experienced. Still, we listened to their stories and provided as much comfort as possible. One teenage girl explained she was in school when there was an attack and she witnessed people being murdered. This same girl was eager to learn German because her family planned to move to Germany and start fresh. I respected this girl and the fact that she was willing to help contribute to her family and still had such hope about the future.
It was difficult to see the poor living conditions the refugees were living in. There was a giant warehouse where all of the refugees lived. Greek volunteers would hand out donations – clothing, food, books, educational supplies, toiletries, etc. I witnessed the volunteers and refugees looking out for each other. It was inspiring. We purchased and served food and supplies. We listened to our new friends and created bonds. My favorite part of working at the refugee camp was playing soccer with the kids and adults. I remember thinking that it is incredible that something as small as a soccer ball could bring joy to a group of people who had nothing.
Even though I fell asleep on the dinner table each night from exhaustion, I will never forget my first Bright Light program and how it changed me. I see how fortunate I am to be able to help other people. I love learning about different cultures and lifestyles. I realize that people are the same everywhere and our differences are outnumbered by our similarities.
We, at Bright Light Volunteers, have made it our mission to help educate future global leaders. But, what exactly does it mean to be a global leader? How does one become a global leader? Can I become a global leader?
These are some of the questions you might ask yourself when trying to decide if our programs are right for you. So, let’s look at these questions, in depth, and find out if you are (or can become) a global leader.
A global leader is a person who understands world systems and that they have the ability to impact the communities they interact with. A global leader is someone who wishes to not only positively impact a community, but also wishes to provide sustainable support to the people of that community. Being a global leader is not a job. It is a passion.
To become a global leader, one must fuel their curiosity about the world around them. A future global leader must seek out opportunities to gain knowledge about cultures from around the world. They must be open, understanding, and willing to explore.
There are no limitations to who can become a global leader. Global leaders come in all genders, ethnicities, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds. In fact, if you are reading this blog, you might be on your journey to becoming a global leader.
So, what does this mean? What’s the point?
As our society becomes more globalized, it is those with a background in global leadership that will pave the way to a truly sustainable future that crosses the invisible barriers of country lines, race, and culture. It is our hope that the global leaders of tomorrow will have the knowledge they need in order to fully understand some of the struggles of the world and their part in the puzzle. We want you to take the knowledge you acquire on your mission of becoming a global leader, and use it in your daily lives, in your career. You will find that once you have become a global leader, people will look up to YOU for your advice and expertise. Understanding that you are a global leader, and that YOU have the power to impact the world is the first step!
Yes, YOU can make a difference. YOU can be the start of something that can create sustainable change, helping people, making an impact. YOU can become a global leader!
With Bright Light Volunteers, not only will you volunteer abroad, but you will have the opportunity to experience so much more! You will observe a culture far from your own. You will experience a way of life that so many in Western societies do not even know exists. You will build relationships with your peers and with those you are helping. You will get the inside scoop on what it means to live in a certain region. You will understand what it means to become a global leader.
We hope you take this opportunity to realize that YOU have the opportunity to become a global leader of tomorrow and make the world a brighter place!
Last year, when Ryann was a senior at Pleasant Valley High School, she was awarded a privately-funded scholarship to participate in a Bright Light Volunteers program to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. When Ryann found out she had been awarded this all-inclusive scholarship, she dreamed about the food she would try, the sights she would see, but most importantly, the impact she hoped to make.
In Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, Bright Light Volunteers works in the Zambiza Dump. This community, of roughly 300 families, survives on the dump, mining what they can find to sell. In 2006, a daycare was opened in the Dump community in order to keep children away from the dangers of the Dump. Since it opened, this daycare has relied on volunteers to care for the children and also renovate the dilapidated building.
For Ryann, the children of the Zambiza Dump made a huge impact on her life, admitting that sometimes it was easy to forget that her tiny hometown isn’t the only place that exists. She says, “I don’t think I truly knew, before this, that putting other people before yourself is an inevitable path to joy.”
Since her program has ended, and she has completed her first year of college, studying Global Leadership, Ryann has started her own mission to help children in her community. Ryann’s Art Camp was created in April, 2018 for children ages 7-12.