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A Day in the Life of Operation Groundswell…All Around the World!

What do you get when you take 22 awesome world-traveling trip leaders, 7 incredible regions, over 16 amazing community partners and then add in 175 eager new backpackers? Operation Groundswell’s 2013 summer!

We’re just past the halfway point of our late summer programs. And it’s high time y’all got an update on all things OG! Hold on to your boots.


Yes, our holiday photo was our last group shot.

Our programming brainstorm session in June

Our programming brainstorm session in June

Starting at HQ, you’ve got myself (Laura, Programs), Justine (Marketing), Eyal (Executive Director) and Shannon (Operations) in the office this summer!  Now we are mostly in our office downtown Toronto, but summer can have us working from cafes, friends and family’s houses outside the city, from cottages and from the road anywhere in North America.

And what exactly are we doing? We’re at Western Union in Kensingston Market at 1 a.m making wire transfers. We’re rushing to the airport to hook participants up with packages for trip leaders abroad. We’re taking phone calls everywhere from standing in a boat in the middle of a lake on a cottage to backstage at a play we’re directing. We may be all over the place, but we are on call 24/7 to support our teams. Working with OG is certainly a ride, even if you aren’t abroad!

Big OGHQ news this week is our Urban Discovery Walk of Toronto! We are starting at Eglinton West Subway Station this Sunday and walking down old railway beds, through ravines, checking out the old brick works, and exploring a part of the city we never knew existed! As all things backpacking, we end the day around a campfire at Dufferin Grove Park! It’s a great way to connect alumni in and around the city, as well as meet those who JUST got back from the early summer programs! Keep yourself updated on our Facebook event page here.

That’s HQ, now here’s the rest of the (OG) world:

Korle BuHas had a whirlwind trip so far! There were meetings with the Old Fadama Development Association in the informal settlement (host to over 40,000 people, it is the destination for legal and illegal exporting and environmental dumping of electronic waste from all over the world), a talk with a local leader about how religion and health/healthcare are still so interrelated in Ghana, seeing the actual vs. the expected problems facing healthcare at the Korle-Bu teaching hospital, some drumming lessons on the Cape Coast and speaking with an OG alumni working in the field of health and sanitation!

They also got a chance to be more acquainted with their new surroundings by going on a scavenger hunt. The best item on the hunt? Everyone had to bring back a piece of ridiculous clothing/accessories to make ridiculous outfits for their trip leaders. They are now just waiting for the perfect day to pull the trigger and make them wear it all. Tiff and Kali are gong to look GOOD! Right now the team is in the small village of Sandema with placements at different hospitals and clinics in the area!


954771_10151523851906951_35067145_nHas made the most of their time in Kenya! Nairobi had the team visiting the Kibera slum, checking out local artists, and tasting ugali for the first time – maize flour (cornmeal) and water, roll ‘er into a ball and dip ‘er into, stew, veggies, whatever you want!

After a visit to the hippos, giraffes, and wildlife of Hell’s Gate National Park, the team has spent the last week and a half in Maragoli. A road, sewing centre, and chicken project were part of their work in this northern Kenyan community. They were also able to donate textbooks to a local library project and help improve a bridge that was built in the early summer. Finishing it off with a BBQ in the community that continually welcomes OG groups into their homes, the group left Kenya and arrived in Uganda yesterday morning!

GUATEMALA: EXTREME                
garbage3Spent the only time we had video for our Skype meeting showing me puppies who are living at the OG hub. The team is also doing great! After their first hike of the trip, the group found themselves at the OG hub, our newest project and base camp in Guatemala. They spent the majority of last week filling plastic bottles with recycled trash to form bricks to build a receptacle for… more bricks! This ingenious building material will be used for many projects out of the hub, and the box the team built will serve as a model.

This past weekend was spent in Guatemala City, for the press conference on the Hudbay Minerals court ruling. 13 Mayans from El Estor (our partners) can now proceed to trial against Canadian mining company Hudbay Minerals Inc. for alleged violence at a Guatemalan mine owned by its former subsidiary CGN. As the first ruling of its kind, it’s a wake-up call to Canadian mining companies worldwide, and a huge victory for the community. Check out the story here. The team, in true OG form, cut short their next trek and re-arranged their time so they could be there to witness history.

1044332_10201036398808541_2085448033_nHas had quiiiite the adventure so far. After the Spanish, cooking classes, delving into the tragic history/current controversy of the Sendero Luminoso in Lima, the team chased down their ride to the jungle, making it to the northern city of Iquitos in record time. Arriving into the port as a ferry boat was pulling away, they hastily got supplies and found a boat to take them to a nearby village. A moto ride to the other side and they boarded the ferry as many locals do: not from the dock but from another boat that rides up beside it on the Amazon. This past week in Iquitos has been filling sand bags and building retention walls in the community of Pampachica, as well as spending some time with Mayantu, a university group we are partnered with in the city. They did a city tour with a local architect who told them stories from the days of the rubber boom, met with a biologist to learn about the effects of mining, and met with a youth LGBT group. On Tuesday, the team went deep into the jungle, to the community of El Chino, for an introduction into rural life in the Amazon. Tomorrow they head off to project number two in the village of San Juan de Yanayaco. The team with be off-the-grid until next Thursday!

998755_519354188138124_1870591344_nAfter an intro into a more modern EA life in Kigali, this team’s highlights were definitely the home stays in Kimironko and the hang day at the beach! The group spent a good deal of time in Kampala, something atypical for an OG trip to the region, but much appreciated by the team! They met with local officials and administrators to get an understanding of life in the country and got their first taste of a bustlin’ East Africa capital city. After some rafting and camping in Jinja, they headed north to Kisumu to meet with our newest partners: the Young County Change Makers. With YCCM they continued work on the library from our early summer programs, as well as helping out with programming they have ongoing with at-risk youth in the area. The teamed also joined local environmental non-profit, Ecofinders, to build an earth bench. Last time I spoke with trip leader, Meg, she was yelling into the phone about to board a bus to Nairobi with the team. Oh, life in East Africa! They start Independent Travel Time today, with most of the team headed south to Tanzania!

permaculture farm in Battambang, CambodiaHas found a great partner community in Banteay Chhmar. They started the weekend with a BBQ to meet the community, then went out exploring the ruins, biking across the countryside, and learning about the Khmer culture…as rural as it gets! After that, they joined their new project partner, Evolution in Motion, at their northern Cambodian Permaculture Centre. During the days, they were elbow deep in dirt, helping out around the centre and learning about the program to teach and share alternatives to monoculture and pesticides. By night, the group ate from coconut bowls and listened to traditional Khmer songs. After taking some tourist time and visiting Angkor Wat and the cities of Siem Reep and Phnom Penh, the group is currently on the beach for the second installation of the OG Tiny Toones Leadership Retreat!

1074045_10101246701287557_2090611581_oShmutzes, all the time! (you have to come on a program to know that game!) The team learned about the challenges facing local grassroots organizations while finishing the playground project, making solar showers, teaching dance classes and exploring yoga and mediation at Sembrando Semillas farm in the Andes. They learned the best way to mix mud for adobe (still picking dirt out of their toes!) and had many epic cuddle puddles in the cool mountain town! Heading further south into the Andes with KALLPA, they spent an amazing week in a new community: painting, digging, fishing, and receiving an overwhelmingly open welcome from the people there. The team was flying after this week, and just yesterday finished a five day trek past the Salkantay Glacier to Machu Picchu! Independent Travel Time starts today as most of the group heads north!

Enjoying a northern style Thai BBQ in Chiang Rai.Had their work cut out for them in the Lahu community for their project with the Mirror Foundation! Walking an hour in and out of the jungle to fetch bamboo, mixing cement and doing a lot of digging, they helped build a bridge that cuts the walking distance from the community to the rice fields from over 5km to 1km! There was work and play, however, with Sir Chai, their animated host and daily dips in the waterfalls! A plague of sickness that hit their group for just under a week (I haven’t seen such a poo-filled incident report in a while) but the team is back on track! The group is healthy and reunited up at the Elephant Valley Project this week! Nothing like afternoons with elephants to pick you back up! They come back down from the jungle today to start Independent Travel Time!

Dinner in LehHas spent the last two weeks up on the mountain at a monestary village called Skidmang, at over 4,000m! The team slept in tents just down from a local school where they took turns working with the classes and building two playground structures with our partners, 17,000 ft. In Tibetan tradition, one offers a “khata”, a white scarf around someone’s neck as a token of appreciation. The community held a khata ceremony as soon as they arrived and has subsequent given the group so many that Natalie, one of the trip leaders, now says she has received so many she has enough for everyone at OGHQ! The team is just now finishing their five day hike through the Markha valley and also start ITT today!

2013 Operation Groundswell West Africa Discovery!Started their time in the village of Sandema meeting with a local micro finance organization in Bolga, meeting farmers through G-Roots (an OG-initiated seed lending program) in Kadema, meeting the boys at the Horizons Children’s Centre, starting to work on the new boys home facility, scavenger hunting and meeting all of the village elders and people they would be living with for just over two weeks! Since then they’ve started art and English classes with the girls at the leadership program (there are two teachers on the trip!), trained locals in computer use, helped with the disability centre research report, tutored local children and adults, and continued construction on the site! Yesterday was their last day in the village, where they celebrated with a big dinner and the boys from the centre. A sad goodbye, but many will be back during their ITT!

968867_10151856689507577_1841282809_nHave wrapped up for 2013! They lived in the old city in Jerusalem, divided the cooking, cleaning and shopping groups, shared two apartments, worked volunteer projects and took weekend trips outside the city. Their second project with Rabbis for Human Rights was a huge success. The group was split between two projects: one at a summer camp in a Bedouin community, the other helping at a daycare in Tel-Aviv for Eritrean refugee seekers. Their last weekend was spent in the Negev desert, hiking outside of Jericho, camping on the coast of the Dead Sea, swimming in the Mediterranean and experiencing an incredible sunset drive along the Egyptian border. The team visited Kibbutzim (Israeli agricultural communities), experienced the controversies in Hebron, met an inspiringly positive woman in a city that continually receives rocket fire and some even attended a Jewish Settler/Palestinian breaking-the-fast-dinner (as the team was in the region during Ramadan). Matt and Sam bid farewell to their team this past Sunday, but will be staying in the region for a bit longer, along with a few of their team members. Congratulations on a successful program!

Pretty incredible, no? Sometimes when we’re back in the homeland, it’s easy to forget the bigger picture; what we’re all working towards. Then you read something like this and it puts everything right back into perspective! It’s been a fantastic summer so far and there is still more to come!

Whether you’ve just arrived home or went overseas with us years ago, cheers to you, OGers, wherever you are in the world!

Much love,
OGHQ, Programs Coordinator

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