Global Volunteers

Making an Impact Where They are Needed Most

When Global Volunteers was founded in 1984, co-founders Bud Philbrook and Michele Gran had taken their honeymoon and enjoyed what Bud, wryly refers to as “a properly balanced honeymoon.” After spending five days at Orlando theme parks, the two spent five days in an impoverished Guatemalan village. It was this time in Guatemala that eventually led Bud and Michele to create a nonprofit organization that would encourage and enable volunteers to spend short periods working and learning from and about local people in communities worldwide. Today, Global Volunteers is headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., and has engaged more than 39,000 short-term volunteers on long-term community development projects in 36 countries over the past 40 years.

Through Global Volunteers, individuals can contribute to the communities they are serving in a variety of ways. From planting EarthBoxes, to teaching conversational English, to building chicken coops. What makes Global Volunteers unique is their philosophy of service, which prioritizes listening to empowered local people from the community they are serving to direct the volunteering needs.

Global Volunteers Co-founder and CEO, Bud Philbrook says, “Global Volunteers’ philosophy of service is grounded in the basic fact that local people are always in charge. We only serve where we’re invited, we only work on community projects we’re asked to, and we always serve under the direction of local leaders.”

One area of the world where Global Volunteers has focused their volunteer efforts is Iringa, Tanzania. This community faces high levels of malnutrition, specifically in children. When children do not get the nutrition they need, it can also affect them mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally. This is referred to as “stunting” and erodes children’s potential, productivity, and economic growth in countries like Tanzania. According to Rebecca Rassi, a Clinical Instructor, at the Montana State University College of Nursing, and 2-time Global Volunteer, 57% of children in the Iringa region are stunted. She emphasizes that, “If you have an entire community of kids who are stunted, it will affect an entire generation.”

Global Volunteers has focused their volunteer efforts is Iringa, Tanzania to help combat “stunting”. “Stunting” is a result of malnutrition in children which can affect them mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally.

Global Volunteers heard the need in the Tanzanian community and expanded their Reaching Children’s Potential Program (RCP). Recognizing that in most populations, women play a large role in the early stages of children’s lives, they worked with local leadership to determine how to best structure the RCP. The RCP is an integrated program in which volunteers accompany local staff on weekly home visits, conduct workshops for mothers, work at the health clinic and women’s co-op, and update household technologies like hand washing stations. All the aspects of this program work together to effectively heal and catalyze the community. This program started with 100 families in 2017 and now has over 850 families enrolled.

As they celebrate their 40th anniversary, Global Volunteers continues to expand and respond to communities in need worldwide. They are able to do this because of the commitment of their volunteers. Co-founder and Senior Vice President, Michele Gran says, “Our volunteers are everything. They are the heart, the soul, and the hands of everything we do. We are one of those organizations that would not exist without our volunteers.”

If you’re looking to volunteer individually or with a group, go to https://globalvolunteers.org/ and click the “volunteer” tab to get started.

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A group of people works together assembling a wire structure outdoors. One person wears a shirt reading "Global Volunteers." Wood, tools, and debris are visible in the background.
A group of children and two adults gather around makeshift handwashing stations with plastic jugs in an outdoor area near rustic buildings.
A woman wearing a "Global Volunteers" shirt pours a drink for a child from an orange jug. Several children stand nearby in an outdoor, rural setting.
Several people work together to plant young seedlings in rectangular containers outdoors.
A woman and a group of children in brightly colored uniforms are smiling and laughing in a classroom with a chalkboard in the background.
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