Global Citizens Network celebrates 20th anniversary
What started as a small non-profit in a bedroom of co-founder Carol North’s house has turned into an organization that, as Daniel Abebe, another GCN co-founder states, “is a life-changing journey.” This blossoming organization is Global Citizens Network and it celebrated 20 years of changing lives in April 2012 with an anniversary event . The event was a great celebration for the whole community, recognizing the story of GCN and all it has accomplished and provided over the years.
GCN's founding was inspired by Margaret Mead’s quote: “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” It is an organization that connects the globally-minded (and the adventurous) with indigenous communities worldwide. GCN gives teams of volunteers the chance to work side-by-side and build relationships around the world with members of indigenous partner communities.
Throughout the years, Global Citizens Network has partnered with 20 indigenous communities and 2,000 volunteers. These partnerships are built in the truest sense
of the word — immersing travelers in the culture and community of the places they visit worldwide. Approximately half of GCN participants travel in family combinations — daughters & mothers, grandparents & grandchildren, husbands & wives. It is an experience that is intergenerational, combining participants of all ages who bring their different experiences to the table. The intergeneration teams are purposeful; they are more reflective of the demographics of indigenous communities that host GCN teams.
“We wanted to see the world; we wanted to give our children that gift. But we also wanted to give them perspective,” commented a team participant during her trip to Guatemala. Comments come from GCN’s team participants and communities that speak to the organization as a meaningful and well-intended exchange — to be authentic.
Equally important is GCN's intent on providing a mutually beneficial experience for the teams and the communities. James Onare, general manager of Kentan Safaris, mentions the journey GCN has taken over the years, especially as it relates to the organization’s work in Kenya. “GCN has saved lives of many people who could have died because of not having access to medicine.” It’s the support and stories like these that make the mission of GCN fully achievable and strong year after year.
Off the tourist path
Since 1992, GCN has promoted interconnectedness, recognizing the interdependence of people around the world. GCN believes that through cooperative effort, individuals of all cultures can experience and enhance their ability to make a difference in their community and their world. GCN trips range from 10 days to 3 weeks. Many of the organization’s trip participants enjoy being able to visit other areas of the world that are considered “off the tourist path.” The help and camaraderie between the indigenous people and visitors does not go unnoticed. “The truth is, I haven’t seen a project where the relationship between foreigners and the community was really so close, like the way [GCN] does it,” stated Marta Ines Alvarado, a community leader in Guatemala. Sheila Kiscaden, a GCN team leader, goes on to say, “It’s one thing to see the architecture and observe the people; it’s another thing to live with them and understand more about their culture.”
While GCN’s message is global, its focus is on the village level — one team, one community at a time. The organization builds partnerships and works cooperatively with individual communities to promote social justice and equality. The village is an essential forum and GCN’s commitment remains strong even 20 years later. “What I really like about GCN is that they believe in working with the community and listening to what the community wants,” commented Kiscaden. It is about education and community. It’s about relationships and support.
A holistic journey
As part of GCN’s 20th year anniversary celebration, the organization welcomed Gastón Pierri, an Atlas Corp Fellow, for an 18-month fellowship. GCN's goal is to foster holistic programming; not just out-bound missions. Gastón Pierri, who is originally from Argentina, will provide GCN with a non-U.S. perspective sharing diverse approaches from programming to leadership. Pierri has a degree in Administrative and International Law, a Masters of Public Administration, and a Doctorate in Applied Economics. He also worked in the Dominican Republic at a socio-juridical research foundation and participated in projects to improve the conditions of Haitian workers in the sugar industry.
As a result of these experiences and expertise, Pierri is one of 20 selected participants (out of a pool of nearly 1,000 applicants) from the Atlas Corps Program that provides specialized training for leaders of nonprofits in the United States, through which he is serving both Global Citizens Network and Intercultural Student Experiences.
A look ahead
Thousands of GCN trip participants have intentionally immersed themselves in the daily lives of GCN’s community partners to support collaboration on joint projects, see with fresh eyes, learn something new and simply be in solidarity with humankind. GCN is primed for the next chapter, building on the relationships and programs it has successfully maintained throughout the past 20 years. At the end of the day, one thing is universal and true across the world— everyone has a story to tell.
About GCN’s 20th anniversary event
The GCN anniversary event, in conjunction with the Intercultural Student Experiences anniversary, was held on Saturday, April 14, 2012 at Nicollet Island Pavilion in Minneapolis, MN. The events featured an International Night Market showcasing unique items which represented the diverse cultures of our GCN and ISE partner countries, performances from Brazilian capoeira dancers to Tanzania songs, The Robert Everest Expedition Band, dinner and inspirational stories from past participants of GCN and ISE.
About Global Citizens Network
Global Citizens Network provides unique travel experiences that emphasize intercultural understanding and service learning to connect the globally-minded with indigenous communities world-wide. Global Citizens Network works to promote peace, justice and respect through cross-cultural understanding and global cooperation. It is an organization that’s committed to enhancing quality of life around the world while preserving indigenous cultures, traditions and ecologies.
Additional resources and information
If you want to expose your children to other cultures in a way that is more real, in-depth, personable and memorable – by working in community with them rather than just traveling – this is the way to really learn about another culture.
We were exposed to something few of us get to experience. Most often we simply drive through communities. This time we got to meet and really get to know people, and they were so generous. We got far more out of the experience than we gave.
Kathy P., Rock Point, AZ (family of 4)
This was our best family vacation and a phenomenal experience. I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to do this with my children. My children realized that although the people in the community we visited didn't have a lot of material possessions, they had some things we didn't. The community members were funny, loving and generous.
The group experience was what made it so great. The team leaders were remarkable. They never passed judgment and treated my children like full members of the group, so they acted that way. The experience made them more confident and more excited about taking other travel adventures.
Marcy G., Xiloxochico, Mexico (family of 6)
Volunteering in Tanzania was a life-changing experience that opened my eyes not only to the needs of our fellow global citizens, but also to the lovable and exhilarating culture of Bukoba.
Megan age 19, Bukoba, Tanzania
GCN wasn't just a volunteer trip but instead a life altering two weeks that helped me discover myself.
Shannon age 15, Bukoba, Tanzania
Our GCN sponsored program in Tanzania wasn't a vacation but rather a deeply moving experience our family will cherish for a lifetime.
Sean, Dad, Bukoba, Tanzania
Working side by side with my husband and children, helping, reaching out, and learning from people in a culture vastly different from our own together as a family was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. We are already planning our next volunteer vacation.
Karen, Mom, Bukoba, Tanzania
This experience changed all of us. Nothing can compare with it. It's made my kids into global citizens. Before we left for Kenya, I was concerned that my kids were getting spoiled, but the trip showed them how happy people were, even though they had so little by comparison. They also discovered how much more important it is to have experiences instead of things.
My kids are so mature now as a result of the trip. They have a new and broader world view.
Nancy F., Maili Tatu, Africa (3 time repeat participant with 2 kids)
I took each of my two granddaughters on a trip when they turned 13, as a rite of passage. It was tremendously bonding for us. It deepened our love and our relationship, but it also sensitized the girls to different cultures and helped them gain an understanding and empathy for others.
One of my granddaughters was extremely wary. She said, "I don't know how to do this and I don't want to be there." But by the end, she was begging to stay. She had formed some amazing friendships. It was quite a transition.
My advice to families considering this kind of trip is this: Even if you have some hesitation, trust that the experience will be transforming for your child and for your relationship with your child. My two granddaughters are totally different personalities, but the same positive transformation happened for both.
We had so many one-on-one reflective conversations about what we were experiencing and learning. It's a different and more intimate way of being with children.
The team members were incredibly kind to my teenagers. The leaders were such good role models -- caring and inclusive.
Meg V., Rock Point, AZ 2003; La Push, WA 2007
The truly amazing thing about this community is the pride, character, and sense of respect you feel being with them. They carry themselves with esteem. Being with them, you know they will not only survive, they will succeed, collectively using the resources available to them for the good of the whole.
Joyce, Pennsylvania; Kenya Participant
With the beauty, the simplicity, the strength and comedy of this place, each day becomes an adventure to be anticipated.
Gladys, Ontario; Kenya Participants
I learned much more that GCN is about the process of building long term relationships with communities, not necessarily about the process of "building!" It was truly priceless to be allowed to be on the 'construction site' with a bunch of indigenous people in Mexico. Tourists DO NOT get that opportunity-nor should they. We all believed WE TRULY MADE A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF OTHERS.
Diana, Colorado; Two-time Mexico Participant
I have just this last hour arrived back home after what can only be described as an experience of a lifetime, the people at Jampaling were wonderful and I return with a feeling of accomplishment, and everlasting respect for a group of people who work so hard with such limited resources to achieve their goals.
David, Ontario; Nepal Participant
As a GCN volunteer you expect to fill the role of giver, giving of your time, efforts, money and heart. During a recent trip to Nepal, I felt more like a wide receiver for a pro football team, with countless blessings being passed my way! It started before I even left with support from a bunch of people, some of whom I don't even know, my sponsors through fundraising.
Cherril, New York; Nepal Participant
A positive growing experience that will unfold as time moves on. I do appreciate the warm hospitality of the local Navajo people and thank them for all they did to open our eyes and heart to their life, culture and values.
Jerry, Minnesota; New Mexico volunteer
It has become the most meaningful thing I've experienced in my life. It was more than a casual cultural exchange. I never felt like a tourist - I felt like I was coming home.
Ted, New York; New Mexico volunteer
The trip to Rock Point was a wonderful experience for me. Our team really "connected" and are talking among ourselves of doing other trips together! We all agreed we haven't laughed and sung songs like we did there for a long time. The Navajo people are wonderful, and we were able to share songs, dinner with them and they with us. We were able to complete the projects they had for us and still have lots of time for culture exchange.
Lynne, California; Arizona volunteer
My goal was to get lifted out of my personal and professional rut, to have my head and heart spun around and to land more solid and grounded. For the most part this happened.
Nancy, Vermont; Guatemala volunteer
Because of a scholarship provided by Global Citizens Network, I was able to spend two weeks volunteering in Guatemala, in a rural village called Llanos de Morales. This was my second trip volunteering in a developing nation (I went to Nicaragua two years ago), but my first time working with GCN. My experience was unforgettable and I would recommend it to anyone!
The best thing about the trip was getting really close-up pictures of horses. The hardest part of the trip was leaving Chirapa
Tana-Isabel, Washington; Peru youth volunteer
I wanted to be "in the middle of nowhere" and enjoy it as well as learn about the Quechua culture. My comfort zone has expanded and I enjoyed getting to know the people!
The most inspiring moment for me was receiving a genuine Quechuan percussion instrument as a gift from the community. It showed me that the community valued my presence and it is something that I will never forget.
David, University of Minnesota Participant; Peru volunteer
As I zipped into my sleeping bag, I reflected on this totally crazy, awesome experience, and in many ways wondered how (why) we are having so much fun. This is -- by far -- the best trip we have ever taken as a family and perhaps even my best trip ever. Everything is an adventure. We are living it rather than observing it. Amy S., Chicago, Guatemala volunteer