Sometimes when traveling, opportunities arrive to make a difference in the lives of others. Just last week I received an email from a good friend of mine, in which, she mentioned that she was about to take three weeks out of her six-month travel itinerary of South America to volunteer at an orphanage in Bolivia. Sometimes it can be small, sometimes, like my friend it can be rather lengthy.
So inspired by the happiness such acts can rewards ones-self with, full-time traveller, Adam Pervez has dedicated his entire travel schedule to volunteering at various places everywhere he travels to.
I got the chance to ask Adam a few questions about his incredible lifestyle:
Adam, first of all, are you able to give us a little bit about your background and what you do for work?
I’m Adam Pervez from Cleveland, Ohio, USA. My hobbies include traveling (of course!) reading, blogging, photography, yoga, and spreading positivity wherever I can.
I work wherever I can find Wi-Fi! Even then, it’s often on long, bumpy bus rides or in crowded cafes and public libraries. In a previous life I worked as an engineer in the oil industry, then as a corporate tool in the renewable energy industry. I got an MBA in between those two experiences.
I see one of your hobbies is blogging. Can you expand on what your blog is and what it’s about?
I write for my website HappinessPlunge.com. It came about as I started asking myself questions after I failed to achieve happiness in Denmark – supposedly the happiest country in the world and a place where I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about anything.
But it wasn’t enough. After convincing myself that I’m not crazy for feeling the way I was feeling, I looked within, discovered my passions in life, put them in a blender, and I figured out what to do. I call it The Happiness Plunge process and that’s where the name for my site came from. What I discovered was that my passions are traveling, writing, helping others, teaching, learning, and telling stories.
I’m volunteering abroad with the goal of leaving each place I visit a bit better than I found it. I call it The Happy Nomad Tour.
Where has the “Happy Nomad Tour” taken you so far?
I’ve been on the road for 17 months now. I went from Mexico to Peru by bus then boat from Panama to Colombia.
After that I headed to both Southeast and South Asia. I’ve been to 65 countries in total. Myanmar will be number 66 in about two weeks on my way back to India.
The Happy Nomad Tour has taken me to about 20 countries.
I know there must be a stack, but can you share about some of the highlights from all the opportunities and experiences you have had from volunteering abroad while on The Happy Nomad Tour?
There are way too many to list so here are some of the highlights.
My first volunteer experience was at a dog shelter. At the time my Spanish was terrible and the founder gave me four options, not really understanding why a Gringo came all the way to Mexico to help out a little dog shelter that was far off the tourist trail. The only word I understood was “limpiar” or to clean. It was a humbling experience that many immigrants face in my own country. In the end (with fancy MBA degree in hand), I grabbed the broom, mop and cleaning solution and cleaned each cage every morning.
The organisation educates the public about pet population control and offers free neutering. They also take in old dogs, rehabilitate them, train them, and offer them for free to anyone who wants to adopt them.
I volunteered with an American guy here, who went to Colombia in search of love. Instead he fell in love with the whole city – specifically the children in the mountains displaced from the years of drug violence. He calls them his angels and started the organisation Angeles de Medellin.
It’s a safe community centre where kids can gather after school for activities such as playing games, learning how to use computers to play educational games and learning English (he teaches a class for adults too).
He regularly distributes donated items like clothes, beds and household goods to families in need. He also organizes a massive Christmas party each year which thousands attend. Not bad for a retiree.
I volunteered with a lady who comes from a village up in the Andes that still isn’t in Google Maps! Though she left to pursue an education in Lima, becoming a teacher there, her village roots never disappeared.
In an effort to bring her passion for knowledge back to the village (which just got electricity in 2000), she started a rural library project six years ago. It started with one library in the centre of town. Many of the residents live one or two hours away by foot.
Her focus was kids, so she worked to put libraries in each of the area’s 15 primary schools. She has built 11 libraries so far, leaving only four to go. The village still has no Internet access, so books really are the only outlet to learning about the rest of the country and world at large.
Again, not bad for a retiree…
Here I volunteered at a school, also too rural to be on Google Maps.
Some nuns belonging to a spiritual group that advocates social service started a school in the capital, Vientiane, but they also started a kindergarten in this village to provide some early-childhood education to children who would otherwise not receive such instruction.
They intertwine some English and songs of love and joy with colours, shapes, and numbers.
While there I helped teach English to the teenagers in the village. In the end, this experience was too much to summarise. You can see the way they thanked me here.
I have volunteered at orphanages in Ecuador, Costa Rica, and a Mother Teresa Home For Sick And Malnourished Children as well. Each experience was different. It wasn’t depressing and the kids were wonderful at each place.
Though starved for attention, they were receiving the care needed to live a fruitful life. But yes, they needed more love, human contact, and positive reinforcement given that there were only so many adults and limbs to go around. You do what you can and hope your temporary presence does more good than harm, but it’s hard to know whether or not it helps or hinders their progress.
Here I volunteered at a kindergarten in a slum-like suburb.
The kindergarten was very high quality and the local community values it highly. The community members pay about half of what it really costs to operate the school, the other half is obtained from the city of Arequipa in a very interesting way.
Early in the morning each day a baker comes to the school to make baguettes, croissants, pain au chocolat, and other pastries. This was started by a French-Peruvian couple, the bakery being their key to sustainable funding.
Above the school are two dorm-style rooms where volunteers live. Each morning the all-foreign volunteers don a basket full of pastries and baguettes, heading out to the city to sell the subsidiaries for the education of the future generation of Peru. In the afternoon, the volunteers usually play with the kids and help out in the kindergarten as well.
Why did you choose to get involved in this high level of volunteer work?
I spent a lifetime before this trip not really giving back at all. I knew I was luckier than most, but in the West it’s often easier to see your lack of fortune compared to others instead of your amazing fortune compared to most. I’ve always been empathetic, but rarely took any action.
When I decided I needed to go out and travel, working toward maximum happiness, I knew it wouldn’t be sustainable if I moved from place to place like a hobo taking pictures. I had to get involved in the local community in each place I visited. I do this by volunteering as it allows me to walk a mile in their shoes and understand them and humanity in a new way. Too many travellers seek to suck as much as they can out of a destination. I seek to give as much as I can and hopefully leave it better than I found it.
Each story I have mentioned is different, but I have never been too picky in selecting where I volunteer. As long as the organisation is doing something positive and is helping to solve a problem, I want to see how they do it and learn from them. What I’ve found so far, has changed everything I thought I knew about the world.
What are your plans for the future?
Great question. As 2013 is just getting started, I have big plans for this year.
I’d like to put all I’ve learned into a book, so all this learning can be shared with humanity. I have always seen my ability to travel as a gift, but also as a responsibility. In the beginning it meant sharing picture and stories with friends and family. As I’ve evolved, so has what I’ve learned. I want to try to put that all into a book.
I also want to start my own non-profit organizations. I have two in mind that are at the very initial stages of planning. My organizations bear no resemblance to the ones I’ve volunteered for so far, but I hope to spend the rest of my life paying off the debt of all the amazingness and awesomeness I’ve been privileged to experience along the way.
What advice would you have for people in regards to travel and the possibility of making a difference while they did that?
I think there is no better way to understand local people, culture and traditions than by volunteering or getting involved in some way.
Many people travel to answer questions deep inside or to get to know themselves better. Gandhi said “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” It’s quite easy to get lost in the rat race despite its familiar, daily paths. If you want to find the path – your path – help others along the way. Hopefully you’ll keep this mentality and work toward making your own community a better place when you get home!
I know I for one have been left pretty darn impressed with not only Adam’s experiences and accomplishments, but also his dreams for the future.
As the organisations that Adam has had a chance to work with show, it is absolutely remarkable what can be achieved when someone starts using the internal language of possibility instead of looking at the obstacles that may be faced. - Ash
If you have something in the area of social justice you would like to share, make sure you contact me so we can get the word out and inspire others!