Trekking to the farthest ends of the earth is easier than you think. If you have a lust to travel the world and make a positive change, places like Thailand, New Zealand, Ghana, and Peru are all within your grasp. It’s one thing to donate countless dollars to a charity and be told that your money is impacting someone’s life. It’s a completely different feeling to be mixing concrete by hand in the Thai jungle, building a road without heavy machinery, and to be given the most sincere “thank you,” you have ever received. People who can’t afford to pay for a subscription to this publication do exist, and lucky for you, many of them live in beautiful and culturally rich countries and could use your help.

Service work is very broad term. It covers all grounds from teaching English in a foreign school, to re-directing a river without machinery. This past summer junior Thibault de Saint Phalle took a trip with Amigos de Las Americas to Costa Rica. His project was to build a self-sustainable hyrdoponic garden in a rural village. Thibault noted that this was what Amigos calls a Community Based Initiative (CBI.)

“It’s an asset based program with a focus on using resources already in the community,” said de Saint Phalle. Living conditions vary from trip to trip. You could find yourself in a hostel with running water and electricity, or on the floor of a host family’s house sleeping on the dog’s bed. “I was living in a host family’s house. Half the house had nothing more than dirt floor, and there was no potable water. We slept under mosquito nets and ate nothing but rice, beans, chicken, with the occasional soup.”

Global Works, Rustic Pathways, Amigos de Las Americas, Common River, and Adventures Cross Country (ACC) are just a few of the better organizations currently in operation. Most companies do not require an application process, the only real necessities are that you can pay for the trip, and that you feel your cut out for the level of ruggedness your trip calls for. Trips can cost anywhere from $900 to around  $5,000 depending on destination, length and type of service. Two years ago I took a trip to Peru for 16 days with Rustic Pathways. The trip cost $3,200 with an additional $500 for international airfare. With most companies, this price includes room, board, food, supplies for the actual service, and transportation.

There are literally hundreds of companies that will shuttle anyone from 12 to 18 years of age all over the world. Personally, I traveled with Global Works and Rustic Pathways, two highly reputable organizations. Generally, companies designate a hub to travel in and out of. States along the border of the U.S serve as the most popular origins for trips. Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, and New York are all have international terminals with service to Asia, South America, Australia, and more. Your point of departure will be pre-determined depending on where your final destination is.

Senior Caitlin Firmage spent five weeks in Ethiopia with Common River, a program catering to those with a high tolerance for drastic changes in every day life. “I was overwhelmed at first,” said Firmage, “The first thing I saw was a mass of kids.” Caitlin lived five weeks in huts equipped with bucket showers. She recalls, “There was no sense of personal space.” Caitlin spent her days as a doctor’s aid, treating minor cases including cuts and scrapes, dehydration, and generally assisting volunteer doctors in whatever they needed.

Time in a foreign country in such conditions can take a toll on even the most seasoned of travelers. What sets service trips apart from vacationing is the sense of gratitude and accomplish you feel when your time is up. “It just felt good to help people who have less than us, “ said Firmage.

The sense of accomplishment one gains from positively impacting someone else’s life is immense. Junior Jonah Amargi-Levy went to Ecuador with Sage Educators, “I felt really accomplished, it was like nothing I had ever experienced before… Getting there and seeing what was around me really made me thankful for what I have here in Mill Valley.”

If I could be outside of the country sleeping on the floor of a Thai Family’s house, I would be. Service trips have made an immense impact on my life. They have allowed me to journey to places I never thought I would be in. The idea that at a mere 13 years of age, one can travel to Costa Rica and build the foundation for a school, and the next summer end up 11,000ft. in a Peruvian mountain range, building livestock keepings for impoverished families, is truly an amazing concept. This past summer, I spent a month in Thailand, trekking from village to village on foot, by bus or in the back of a 4×4 truck on a windy dirt road. Living conditions were rough. Every meal consisted of rice, some kind of ramen soup, and if we were lucky, chicken or an egg. 12 hour work days and piles of dirt filled my once serene life with a complicated energy.

On one hand, I was exhausted and tired of the 94% humidity and sweltering heat. Conversely, I wanted nothing more than to fill one more bucket with just one more shovel full of dirt, just so I could get a sense of satisfaction. Some trips will barely test your personal boundaries, making life easy. Other trips can be difficult. They can put you in situations where you might have to do something you don’t want to do. They can take a serious toll on you if you aren’t careful. On this particular trip, I, along with 9 of the other 15 participants found ourselves in the hospital on at least one occasion. With that said, if you sincerely want to be in whatever non-developed country you end up in, you’ll make it out alive and well.

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