My youngest was considering what he wanted to do the summer between his junior and senior years in high school. He’d thought he’d stay home, get a job and play lacrosse, in the hopes that this might put him in a position to be recruited for a college team. It seemed he was all set, but then he and a couple of friends started thinking about something altogether different: traveling far from home and volunteering.
Their imaginations took them to the farthest points on the planet, and involved some fairly outlandish job ideas, so with a bit of gentle steering from mom, they began to explore what their real options might be. My husband and I were ok with their traveling to a far away country as long as it was a relatively stable one (they were only 17), and as long as the organization they worked for was legitimate.
My son and his friends studied volunteer programs in Asia, Africa and the Americas, primarily through internet searches and word of mouth. At the same time, we asked a lot of friends with older kids and also a number of teachers about programs they’d researched and what they knew about them. The kids then contacted the ones they were most interested in. They settled on an agency that ran an orphanage in Llasa, Tibet and were in need of teachers.
The program they chose was geared for college kids and adults, so it did little to coddle the volunteers -- or his anxious parents. There were no pretty brochures or thick packets of forms sent to us to prepare them for the trip, just what the organization provided on their web site.
This was more than enough, as it turned out, and so the group of us – the three kids and their 6 parents - all set into motion to get passports, put together itineraries, and study State Department and travel advisory web sites. We had several meetings of the 9 of us to make sure we were all comfortable with everything.
All the parents became close, which made the whole experience that much more exciting. I also happened to have a friend who's involved with a group dedicated to preserving mountain cultures. The group had a base in Llasa, so we made contact in advance with the group's local director, and made sure the kids stopped in to introduce themselves when they got there. As it turned out, the group director also helped them plan a couple weekend trips outside of the city, so it was good to have made that introduction.