Friday, August 17, 2007

Holidays can ?make a difference?

Volunteer vacations offer more than photo ops

Express Staff Writer

Hailey resident Theresa grant works with orphan's in Tanzania

There are lots of different kinds of vacations to choose from in this world. A new trend is to do a combination vacation: Give and receive, as it were. The giving part can set off the rest of your vacation with a sense of personal satisfaction. The traveler who opts for a volunteer vacation gains priceless experience by being immersed in a local culture, meeting local people and sharing their lives. At the end of the stay, the greatest reward is the knowledge that you've made a difference in the lives of others and that your experience can be a catalyst for change.

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In fact, volunteer service can change the volunteer while it is helping others.

Hailey native Theresa Grant spent a year working through an organization called Courage to be You International in Tanzania and Zambia. At the end of her time there, realizing she needed to do more, she put together a new venture, which she is running from the Wood River Valley.

Grant's Make a Difference Vacations create the kind of trip that encompasses volunteer work and fun. There are lots of other organizations, but the fact that Grant is here, knows the locations personally and works directly with Africans makes her organization an especially appealing choice.

"If you're going to go to Africa, make a difference, have some fun, go to the beach, help children, go on safari, come home," she said. Even pricing is flexible. "There are different budgets for everything from camping out to catered accommodations."

Grant will be putting on a video presentation of her work in Africa helping children at orphanages and community schools at 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, and 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 19, at the Warm Springs Lodge after the Catholic Mass. Since founding her group, Grant has brought in close to 40 volunteers from around the world to help empower orphaned and vulnerable children. At the presentation there will be a raffle sign-up for a chance to win a free safari trip in Botswana.

One volunteer vacationer, Nancy Masner Whiton of Hailey, helped make 300 school uniforms when she was there. But that was only a pittance of what her vacation really was ultimately about.

"I called my friend Donna (Halow) in California to see if she'd be interested in going with me on this kind of trip," Whiton said. "We're both A types, so we wanted goals to accomplish something."

They left in early June 2007 carrying two hand-cranked sewing machines they'd bought on the Internet, three boxes of fabric donated by the Granary in Hailey and beads from the Bead Shop, also in Hailey.

After exchanging the fabric with an Indian merchant for uniform material, they started two sewing groups at the village YMCA and began on the uniforms the kids must have to attend school.

"Our first goal was to teach some of the women to sew in hopes they could later generate some income," Whiton said. "The women were eager to learn and picked up the skills quickly. Within two days they were cutting out patterns and making items for themselves and the local children. Our workroom had dirt floors, a rickety table and no windows. After a few days I didn't see the poor conditions or poverty. I saw a group of individuals who were eager to somehow better their lives. I remember smiles, shiny eyes and ladies with a sense of style."

The Y, which is basically a wooden shack, also launched a café called the Hot Spot this summer. Now they are working on getting books and laptops to teach computer classes.

"It makes me really appreciate education," Grant said. "What we honestly need are financial donations for Make A Difference. Most of the time I felt like I was on a battlefield and I had to try to figure out who to save and it can be hell. But then you hear a child laugh."

Whiton said the experience changed her life. She is now donating 1 percent of her yearly salary to Make A Difference.

"I encourage other people to do the same," she said.

For more information, go to, or call Grant at 788-2566.

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