All Rhodes Lead to Service

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.

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What it Means to be a Global Leader

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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.


Bright Light Volunteers Goes to Harvard

Harvard’s Think Tank on Global Education has invited Stacie Freeman, Bethel University professor and Co-Executive Director of Bright Light Volunteers, to be at the forefront of testing and developing cutting-edge curriculum to advance competence in global studies, in classrooms, schools and school districts via participation in Harvard’s Graduate School of Education program.

Freeman states, “Participants in Harvard’s Think Tank will be sharing and learning ways to foster global competence in our schools by co-constructing curriculum, developing educators and devising a strategy for systemic change in global education.” 

As a participant in the upcoming institute, Freeman will take part in “a dynamic, large-scale collaboration to create and adapt lesson plans, and scale global education” for students in the rural, Southern, Title I schools where she teaches.

Historically, Title 1 students in the rural south have had limited access to global citizenship education and to the multiple intellectual and social benefits of participation. Bethel University and Bright Light Volunteers initially partnered to support the U.S. Department of Education’s Purpose for Title 1 schools: “improving the academic achievement of the disadvantaged,” by “closing the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students and between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers.” (2004)

Although Freeman has already devised and implemented a curriculum which capitalizes on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, she is eager to learn more and to use that knowledge to help “level out the playing field” when it comes to access to global education.

Catherine Greenberg, Founder & Co-Executive of Bright Light Volunteers is excited about how Freeman’s participation in the institute will strengthen the educational aspect of the Dallas-based nonprofit’s student global service learning programs.

Greenberg offers, “Being able to improve how we implement our signature pedagogy in global education and provide teachers with the tools to design global service learning experiences is an enterprise that will change lives.”

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.

Founded in 1842, Bethel University is a nonprofit institution that is regionally accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Bethel University’s mission is to create opportunities for members of the learning community to develop in a Christian environment their highest intellectual, spiritual, and social potential. This includes synchronous and asynchronous modes of education.


Why Should You Travel Abroad?

Whether you’re a busy college student like myself or you work a full-time job, with the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, the idea of travelling seems almost out of reach. However, I encourage you to take a step back and consider all the possibilities the world has laid at your feet. If you find yourself on the edge of a decision to travel abroad or not, consider these benefits.


Travelling Is Educational Travelling abroad gives you the opportunity to see the value of other cultures. It gives you a new understanding of the world’s people and might even shift your perspective on how the world works. Maybe the way you have been looking at global issues is not the only way! Going abroad and experiencing this first hand is a deeply educational, life-changing experience. You can read as many books as you want but you will never truly understand the world outside your walls until you go experience it for yourself. And how impressed will colleges, grad schools, and future employers be when you add a study abroad experience to your resume? It certainly speaks volumes about your ability to think outside the box, navigate new / uncomfortable situations, and behave in a culturally competent manner.


Travelling Builds Connections Never underestimate the power of a connection. Each person you meet has the potential to change your life. Whether it is someone you meet on the street or someone you roomed with at a local hostel, everyone has potential to become a friend. I met one of my very closest friends on a plane ride home from Ft. Lauderdale. Travelling is also a great way to expand your professional network. As the world gets smaller, it’s more important than ever to have connections outside your local area.


Travelling Promotes Growth With travel, comes spiritual, intellectual, and social growth. When you experience the beauty of the world, you find new ways to refresh your soul. Being in a new place can test your ability to adapt to difficult situations and thus hone your problem solving and critical thinking skills. These skills will not only serve to help you, but others as well. As travellers, we are better able to see the connection between the local, national, and international and have an improved understanding of our role as global citizens and leaders in solving the world’s problems.


I am in awe of the many wonders that are continually laid out before us. Travelling has given me endless opportunities to spread love, make memories, build connections, and grow to my full potential. I want to encourage those who are unsure about international travel. This short list contains just a few reasons to say YES to making the world a brighter place through international travel and education. Do it!!!