Worldwide Community Service: 2011 in Review
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Worldwide Community Service: 2011 in Review

Thanks to our regional associates for doing so much to help their communities

It's one thing to organize community service events in our own community—but what about the communities where we have offices around the world? In 2011, 23 of our regional offices took it upon themselves to organize a community service event—or, in some cases, multiple community service events—in their own neighborhoods. Here are highlights of what was accomplished.

Africa/Middle East:
A new Grand Circle Foundation partner this year is the Tarangire Primary School in Tanzania. On November 5-6, a team from Grand Circle's regional office in Arusha made the journey to the school to provide some much-needed improvements. Over the course of two days, the team renovated eight classrooms and planted an avocado tree to provide nourishment for young bodies as well as young minds.

Grand Circle is proud to have partnered with the Sinamune Children's Orchestra since 2004. Based in Coca, Ecuador, Sinamune helps disabled students overcome mental and visual challenges to develop the motor skills needed to play a musical instrument—and gain the confidence to face whatever other challenges they might encounter during their lives. On June 24, a team of eleven Trip Leaders, office staff, and friends gathered at the school to refurbish the school's art gallery, improve the first-floor restrooms, and repaint the walls of the auditorium where the orchestra performs. Travelers on OAT's Ultimate Galápagos Exploration & Ecuador's Amazon Wilds, who were visiting the school that day, were happy to pick up paintbrushes and pitch in on the effort.

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is an amateur Irish cultural and sporting organization focused primarily on Gaelic games, Irish music and dance, and the Irish language. Each parish and townland throughout Ireland has an association with a club, each of which is self-funding and run on a volunteer basis. St. Finbarr's Hurling and Football club is located in a socially disadvantaged area of Cork City and serves more than 500 adults and 300 young people. On November 23, a team of twelve Grand Circle volunteers arrived to paint adult and children's dressing/locker rooms. Then, in the afternoon, the team organized a game of hurling, Ireland's national sport—played despite a chilly November rain—followed by a party to celebrate a successful day.

North Asia:
According to Christine Wong, Grand Circle's area manager for Hong Kong, China, one in every four children in Hong Kong lives below the poverty line. On August 26, Christine led a team of associates, local Chinese guides, vendors, and friends and family in an event to benefit students of the Fresh Fish Traders' School, which serves students from families with the lowest means. Fifty students, handpicked by their teachers in recognition of their contributions in school, both in academics and extracurricular activities, were treated to a magical day that included a bus tour, a delicious buffet lunch, a magic show, games, and a gift bag. "We hope the joy and happiness of the day will stay with them," says Christine, "and we wish them a successful year ahead!"

Elsewhere in China, the village of Donghan is a community in transition. In recent years, the vast majority of Donghan's 960 residents have left their traditional adobe homes behind in favor of larger, more modern structures. But not everyone in Donghan has moved to the new village, and the families who still live in Donghan's old village face daily challenges of poverty and inadequate living conditions. On January 27, our team in China helped bring two of these families a happy Chinese New Year during a day of community service, bearing New Year's gifts and providing maintenance services for their homes. And in late February, 21 members of our Shanghai team worked together to clean up a nursing home in the Caoyang neighborhood, which regularly hosts Grand Circle travelers for meals with local families.

South/Southeast Asia:
Since we began our partnership with the Pu Ong Ka Primary School in 2004, Grand Circle Foundation has supported the school with donations of more than $12,000. Yet there is still a great deal to be done—which is why our team in Thailand chose it as the location of their annual community service event this past August. The 38 volunteers divided into two teams, one of which tackled making improvements to the dining area and the other of which focused on landscaping. According to operations manager Jaye Sappattarabune, "This community service event has helped make our Thailand team even stronger, and we look forward to next year's event already."

In May, a team of volunteers in India also split into smaller groups, in this case to help make improvements to the Sri Venkateswera Orphanage in the southern Indian village of Kaduveli. Among the projects addressed by the team were building a granite waste receptacle, creating an information board for the children, and planting saplings around the orphanage's playground. The children joined in with enthusiasm and were rewarded with sweet treats before the Grand Circle volunteers departed.

Just a few months later, in August, a team of Trip Leaders and associates in northern India ventured to the village of Abanheri to paint classrooms and plant trees at the local school. They also helped coordinate dental checkups and distribute toothbrushes and toothpaste. As is true all over the world, the parents appreciated the latter more than the children did!

There are no wealthy families in the floating village of Me Chrey, situated 25 miles southwest of Siem Reap, Cambodia. But Mr. Chin Mab and Mrs. Prom Sok, who live here with their four young grandchildren, face exceptional challenges. The elderly couple makes their meager living doing the backbreaking work of cutting and selling the elephant grasses that villagers use to keep their homes afloat on Tonle Sap Lake—but while they sell supplies to help others stay safe, their own home was in shambles. On July 13, a team of 35 associates, Trip Leaders, and vendors worked for hours in the heat of day to reconstruct the dilapidated home, then organized a boat race for the entire community. And they didn't stop there. Back in the office, they raised $80—enough to purchase 70 pounds of rice and some other groceries and spices for the family, as well as a fishing net to help provide a sustainable source of food.

In neighboring Laos, the village of Kia Luang has been partnering with Grand Circle Foundation since 2010. The people here make a humble living by farming, tending livestock, and weaving—and have neither the time nor the resources for regular entertainment or repairs to their facilities. On June 23, during a day of community service, our team in Southeast Asia offered both. Under the leadership of regional general manager Rung Chatchaloemwut, a group of 19 associates, Trip Leaders, Program Directors, and local guides joined the villagers of Kia Luang in making crucial improvements to the village—while having fun at the same time.

This story was featured in our December 2011 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.