Global Citizens Network

GCN: Off the tourist path, changing lives for 20 years

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GCN wasn't just a volunteer trip but instead a life altering two weeks that helped me discover myself.

- Shannon, Age 15

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.


Changing lives

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, provided 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

GCN’s Anniversary Video

GCN on Facebook