Author: Operation Groundswell

by Nate Van Haute My group and I at La Ventana, one of the highest points in Guatemala. Here we had a view of massive volcanoes before finishing our hike in Todos Santos. Everyone I met in Guatemala during my Operation Groundswell program had a story to...

I wasn't sure what to expect as I embarked to Tanzania with Operation Groundswell. Approaching the trip, my knowledge was limited. I knew that it would be winter in Africa. I knew that there were giraffes and elephants and lions to encounter. ...

As you begin reading this, take a moment - pick up a map of the world - find Tibet. Chances are, you will not be able to find it. In fact, a week ago, I wouldn't have been able to tell you where Tibet was either....

A Letter from Our Executive Director

Let's not beat around the bush... We've just wrapped up our 8th summer of operations around the world, and already, our newly-minted backpacktivists have been reaching out to us looking for ways to get involved in the OG community. There is nothing more refreshing and inspiring for myself and for all the staff at OG to see this. To see and know that we are developing and building an educational experience that deeply impacts young adults far beyond the summer. To see that we are, slowly but surely, accomplishing our mission of changing the way the world travels. The ongoing energy, commitment, and generosity of our growing community of ethical travellers is a source of inspiration for me and even more so today. Today, I am incredibly proud to announce that our network of alumni and other friendly backpackers have come together to create the Groundswell Education Fund to enable more young leaders around the world to partake in an OG program.

The Groundswell Education Fund is a registered Canadian charity that provides scholarships for exceptional young people to engage in cross-cultural collaborations, get involved in meaningful community service, and develop the skills to apply those lessons back home.

Why is this so important?

Written by Amanda Martin and Samnang Pak, 2014 Southeast Asia: Cities & Sanctuaries Program Leaders. We're back in Bangkok and the gang's all here, except for Marie, who has continued her travels in southern Thailand and is now a bad ass scuba-diver. They have survived Independent Travel Time as they wandered around the islands and mountains, bargained for transit, and explored street food of their own volition! Our mighty crew also discovered how kick ass they are and that NOBODY has travelled Cambodia like them. The past six weeks flew by! It's shocking how quickly the weeks pass, while simultaneously feeling like we've been traveling together forever. Time runs at a different pace for the traveller. Now, sadly, it's time to part ways.

Written by Sidney Jhingran and Jessica Young, 2014 Southeast Asia: Animal Conservation Program Leaders. After an exciting week of exploring new destinations on Independent Travel Time, the group reconvened in Bangkok before disorientation. Everyone shared stories from ITT, some went shopping on Khao San Road, and others sought out the creature comforts of a nicer hotel - but everyone as a whole hit the sack pretty early to get a good night of rest. Bright and early the next morning, we all piled into a minivan for the short drive down to Amphawa – a quaint canal-side town famous for its trendy weekend floating market. Once there, everyone had the chance to get comfy in our cabin by the canal where we were all sleeping together on the floor slumber party style! After sharing an amazing seafood lunch together, everyone grabbed a quick snooze before catching a ride on a canal boat to the weekend floating market. There was much shopping to be done, seafood and snacks to be bought, and other interesting sights to see in the busy market. Once night fell, we got back into our boat to weave our way back through the canal and see nature’s very own display of fire flies in the trees along the banks.

Written by Ana Sani, 2014 Southeast Asia: Animal Conservation. It is currently 9:15 pm, the night before our Independent Travel Time. We are all very excited to go off to Siem Reap, the beach, and Vietnam, just to name a few of the destinations decided by various group members. Our latest volunteer project was based around an elephant sanctuary called the Elephant Valley Project (EVP). EVP is a non-profit organization that started about 10 years ago. There are currently nine elephants living in the sanctuary’s forest space. Some are living there permanently while others are on loan from their owners or taking a well-deserved vacation.

Written by Jessica Insogna, 2014 Southeast Asia: Animal Conservation. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="320"]bear selfie Bear Selfie![/caption] Our OG crew was lucky enough to visit the local Cambodian NGO Free the Bears. During our visit in Phnom Penh, we boarded our pick-up vehicle and travelled an hour towards the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, a reserve housing an array of endangered species as well as the Free the Bears headquarters. We learned about the two major bears inhabiting Cambodia whose lives are being threatened. The Moon Bears and Sun Bears are endangered due to excess hunting, illegal trade, deforestation, and human consumption. The organization works to save these bears before being traded or eaten - in some cases rescuing them with wounds or even limbs missing. We had the opportunity to visit the bears, learn their backstories, and ensure their nutrition by filling large balls with mixed fruits and veggies. The balls allowed them to work for their food, as the food could only be retrieved through a small hole. Why did they need to work for their meals? It's the reserve's way of making the bears feel as though they were in the wild, instead of giving them the sense of domestication. In this same vein, we hid food in their enclosures (while they were away!) so that the bears could practice foraging. Most group members found this to be the best part of our day. If the bears could speak, I’d say that they would agree - The moment they were released into the enclosures to find the food, they didn’t hesitate at all!  They ran in, looking under, and climbing over everything!

Written by Suthen Sivanesarajah, 2014 East Africa: Youth in Action.  I chose to join the Youth in Action program in East Africa in part to understand the impact and challenges of micro-finance in sub-Saharan Africa. For the uninitiated, Micro-finance is an alternative way of providing financial...