How are Me to We trips unique?
Me to We trips are unique in that each trip works in collaboration with our charitable partner, Free The Children. An international development organization and educational partner, Free The Children has established partnerships with the communities where Me to We trips travel. The strong partnerships that Free The Children has with local communities and governments allow Me to We trips the unique opportunity to offer our participants the chance to truly interact and engage with developing communities overseas.
This partnership allows participants to see Free The Children’s sustainable Adopt a Village development model in practice, which is driven first and foremost by the local community and local needs. The purpose of each trip is to compliment and advance the work of Free The Children through meaningful volunteer opportunities. Free The Children’s on-the-ground operations employ fulltime and permanent staff 12 months of the year to ensure that local development projects are completed and to guide trip participants during their time as volunteers.
Furthermore, Me to We trips are driven by the goal of creating systemic change—for the participants and within the communities where they travel. We are different from other volunteer tour providers because we offer trips that aren’t just built for travelers, but built for the benefit of the communities that the trips travel to.
Each trip has four areas of focus:
- Community-based learning through interactions with community members where Free The Children works, and in-country discussion and education about the issues that affect developing countries.
- Volunteerism to learn about sustainable change in partnership with the community.
- Leadership development to equip participants with the tools they need to act on their education and experiences upon their return home.
- Access to a community of like-minded individuals upon return from the trip to give each participant a network that they can rely on and engage with to encourage lifelong active global citizenship. This community —which includes programming coordinators, We Day events, leadership academies, and more—offers tangible ways for trip participants to take real action to ensure that the Me to We trip is the first step in their own larger, sustained journey towards changing the world for the better.
How does Me to We work with Free The Children on these trips?
Free The Children and Me to We are partner organizations; Free The Children is a charity and Me to We is a social enterprise that supports that charity. While the two organizations work closely together, they operate independently from one another. Me to We and Free The Children each have their own separate board of directors, staff, accounting and auditing. A legal framework governs the relationship between Me to We and Free The Children.
Free The Children carries out international development work through a holistic and sustainable model called Adopt a Village. This model is supported by youth from around the world who fundraise to support these development initiatives, and the funds that are raised go towards creating sustainable education, healthcare, clean water, sanitation and alternative income projects within the communities where Free The Children has long-standing programs. As Free The Children’s partner organization, Me to We supports this model through trips where participants work on Free The Children projects. However, these trips are wholly operated by Me to We.
Half of Me to We’s annual profit is donated to Free The Children, while the other half is re-invested to support Me to We’s growth in offering trips and other choices for a better world. Moreover, 145,600 volunteer hours were proudly served by participants on Me to We trips in 2010.
What is Free The Children’s Adopt a Village development model?
The Adopt a Village model focuses on four pillars that are crucial to holistic development. Together, they empower entire communities to break the cycle of poverty. These pillars are education, alternative income, health care and clean water and sanitation.
Active since 1995, Free The Children selects their communities based on a needs-assessment in partnership with local community members. The work is carried out in rural or remote communities that suffer from a lack of social services, or with indigenous populations that have historically been marginalized.
The Adopt a Village model started with a focus on school-building alone. However, the Free The Children team quickly realized that girls could not attend because they had numerous household chores and responsibilities, such as fetching water (a job that can take hours each day), which prevented them from attending school as boys do.
That’s when Free The Children began to build water wells and clean water projects near schools, allowing girls to fulfill their responsibilities while also accessing a quality education.
By 2004, Free The Children had fully introduced its Adopt a Village model—holistic and sustainable, and in complete partnership with the communities in which they work. In addition to schools and water wells, Free The Children introduced the health care pillar (unhealthy children tend not to be attentive in class or even in attendance), and the alternative income programs to empower mothers to gain the financial independence, which ensures they can support their families and keep their children in classrooms.
However, the critical difference between Free The Children and other organizations lies in the fact that Free The Children employs staff in the Adopt a Village countries to work side-by-side with community members in all development projects.
Free The Children aims to work with each community on long-term development and create holistic, sustainable solutions. All elements of Free The Children’s Adopt a Village model are designed to be owned and maintained by the community, and self-sustained after five years of project implementation.
This level of self sustainability is achieved by:
- engaging and collaborating with local community members at the outset of any development project in order to address the issues that community members have identified as important.
- developing and building the capacity of community members to assume leadership and management of the implemented projects.
- providing families (especially women) with opportunities to participate in alternative income and micro-credit programs, and equipping them with the skills and tools—such as financial literacy training, business planning workshops and leadership seminars—to be successful entrepreneurs and give back to their community.
- developing the potential of “merry go rounds” (and other similar traditional lending and savings initiatives) to increase income and livelihood for families.
- tackling local environmental issues and providing solutions based on indigenous knowledge to ensure programs can be sustained by both community and the land.
How is the development work in which the participants are involved meaningful?
The goal of Me to We trips is to create systemic change for the participants and the communities where they travel. Our trips are not just built for travelers, but for the benefit of the communities they travel to. For that reason, Me to We strives to ensure that every element of the trip is truly meaningful, particularly the development work that trip participants carry out.
Me to We ensures that the development projects are meaningful by working exclusively on Free The Children’s Adopt a Village projects—projects that are driven by the local community and local needs. The collaboration and sustained involvement of community members ensures that the development projects will be successful. Since they have been engaged every step of the way, local community members are proud, equal partners in these holistic projects. This results in local support for the development projects, which leads to community upkeep and long-term ownership of all initiatives.
Additionally, the experience teaches participants and community members valuable global lessons. Through Me to We’s community-based approach, trip participants are given the unique opportunity to work alongside community members, which helps to expand their world views by experiencing different culture, language and customs.
Me to We trips gives participants the chance to explore the diversity that exists in the world by exposing them to the joys and challenges faced by our host countries. They gain hands-on experience with access to communities in need, which often results in a greater sense of empathy, compassion and understanding. Many participants remark that they gain a deeper respect for the environment and commit to sustainable living as a result.
During the trip, participants engage in leadership training, skill-building workshops and action planning to equip them with the tools and knowledge they need to give back to their own communities once they return home. Recognizing that the most important aspect of the experience begins after the trip, Me to We also offers resources and opportunities for sustained engagement with Me to We and Free The Children.
All trip participants have access to a community of like-minded individuals upon return from the trip. They are connected with a network of programming coordinators, facilitators and like-minded travelers. Together, they learn to give back and stay engaged through a variety of campaigns, conferences, events and more.
Me to We trips leave a powerful impact on participants, but most importantly they motivate individuals to change the world for the better.
How do you ensure that communities are not dependent on the services provided by trip participants?
Me to We’s policy is to promote solidarity, not charity. By this we mean that Me to We encourages trip participants to work alongside the community members as their equal peers, and not to bring donations or gifts.
Free The Children is the charity and development organization that oversees the fundraising required to ensure financial stability of the development projects. However, on a Me to We trip, participants are not travelling to offer handouts or to change the ways of others. They travel to learn and share with community members in order to gain a valuable experience.
Does building continue on the projects when the trips aren’t in-country? Who takes care of them?
Yes, building is carried on all year round by local contractors and construction workers. The build schedules and logistics are overseen by on-the-ground Free The Children staff to ensure that the projects run smoothly and that donations are being allocated to the communities in the most need. The contribution made by trip participants is just one aspect of the process.
What kinds of resources are available to participants upon return from a trip?
The most important part of the journey is when trip participants return back home. We know the value of the contribution travelers make once they return from a trip, which is why Me to We offers comprehensive reintegration and engagement resources and support.
While still in-country, travelers are provided with extensive training and action planning workshops that equip them with the tools and knowledge they need to take action once back at home. They are also fully briefed on reverse culture shock, a common experience for many travelers, and are provided with the support and counsel they need to get through that difficult time.
In addition to becoming part of a network, Me to We and Free The Children each offer tangible ways for trip participants to take action.
What is the expected impact and outcome of a Me to We trip?
Me to We trips are built for travelers and for the benefit of communities. The lessons learned and experiences gained through these travels are immeasurable.
For trip participants, the positive impacts include gaining hands on experience in sustainable development through community based learning, benefiting from leadership training, volunteering with community members, receiving cultural education, and much more. The connections with community members and fellow travelers that are made on the trips are a further positive outcome whereby travelers gain lasting relationship with others.
For the communities that we visit, there are countless positive impacts. Local community members benefit from the feeling of solidarity they experience with their peers from overseas, who have travelled far to help their communities. Through this, community members are empowered with a sense of pride for their land. Another clear outcome is how community members benefit from the contributions that travelers make to development projects. In 2010 alone, trip participants contributed 145,600 volunteer hours to development projects in Free The Children communities.
How do you offset the environmental impact of travel of a Me to We trip?
Me to We understands the environmental implications that international travel has on our planet and, in turn, we are committed to reducing our ecological footprint as much as possible. Me to We offsets the carbon foot print of each trip through organic produce grown in gardens at our centers used in preparing meals for participants, and through our tree nursery, which supports reforestation projects. In Kenya alone, Me to We plants 80,000+ trees a year.
But we don’t stop there. At our office in Toronto, we guarantee that all our literature is printed on recycled paper and we use public transportation or hybrid vehicles to travel locally.
How do you ensure that the services provided by trip participants on the ground are needed in the community?
Me to We ensures that the development projects are needed by working exclusively on Free The Children’s Adopt a Village model—projects that are driven by the local community and local needs. In other words, development projects are identified by community members themselves.
From there, the collaboration and sustained involvement of community members in the development projects help to ensure that the entire community values the projects. Because they have been engaged every step of the way, local community members are proud, equal partners in these holistic initiatives. As such, entire communities embrace the projects, resulting in the upkeep and long-term ownership of all projects.
Me to We trips range from 14 to 21 days. Is this really enough time to make an impact in the community and create real change?
Over more than a decade of operating volunteer trips, we have learned that trip participants’ interactions with local communities, their contributions to development projects and education about unique culture and traditions will have a lifelong impact on both travellers and community members. Two to three weeks may seem minimal, but the knowledge and insights gained will last a lifetime.
During the trip, participants engage in leadership training, skill-building workshops and action planning to equip them with the tools and knowledge they need to give back to their own communities once they return home. What’s more, the true impact of the trip takes place once the participant returns from the trip. It may sound strange, but volunteering is not the main reason to go abroad. Rather, volunteering is a way to take action upon your return. The volunteering we do on our trips is amazing, but the real power is when we come back home.
Once participants are back at home, Me to We offers resources, opportunities and connections with a network of like-minded travelers to ensure sustained engagement. Together, they encourage one another to give back and stay engaged.
Who leads Me to We trips?
Each Me to We trip is led and facilitated by trained and experienced staff who help the group understand the history and politics of the region, guide them through cultural understand and, of course, help with translation. Additionally, all of our group will have language lessons while they are in-country. These lessons are a useful tool for beginners to learn simple phrases and pleasantries so that they are able to interact with community members.
Me to We facilitators travel with participants at all times. When travelling within the community, participants are also accompanied by local guide(s).
How long have you been running trips in these countries?
Me to We has been facilitating international volunteer experiences for more than 10 years. We have well developed infrastructure within all the countries and communities to which we travel. As well, we have positive relationships with the local governments and the communities where the development work is carried out. The local medical centres are all well informed of the nature of our trips in case of any emergency.
What is included in the cost of a trip?
The ground price is all inclusive, meaning it includes all accommodation, travel within the country, three meals a day plus snacks, purified drinking water, Me to We facilitators, security guards, all in-country materials (e.g. language books) and in-country excursions (e.g. safari). Except for spending money and proper documentation (i.e. visa, exit fee) participants will not need to purchase anything else.
The price that we offer is a competitive rate to similar experiences in similar regions for similar durations. The price is all inclusive, meaning that there will be no hidden fees once you are in-country. This provides peace of mind once our participants are on the ground.
A Me to We trip offers people unique opportunities to give back to themselves and to communities. The lessons that will be learned and experiences that will be gained are immeasurable. Some of the experiences that travelers gain from trips include:
- Direct involvement in development work: Volunteering with Free The Children projects allows participants to engage in international development in a hands-on way.
- Leadership training: Our unique training gives participants the tools to create change at home, enabling travelers to use the experience gained from the trip as a catalyst for social action.
- Community interaction and cultural education: We have strong ties and a history with all the communities in which we are involved. Me to We Trips gives young people the chance to explore the diversity and contrasts that exist in the world by exposing them to both the joys and challenges faced by our host countries. They will not only visit historic landmarks and cultural sites, but also get unprecedented access to communities in need.
- Hands-on volunteering and the opportunity to give back in a meaningful way: Our trip opportunities give young people a new perspective on the world and their place in it. We’re able to provide certification of participants’ volunteer work for resumes, course credits, etc.
- Social issues education: Guest speakers, facilitators and in-country staff share their knowledge of the country and the issues it faces through lectures, reflections, informal discussions and cultural experiences.
- Renewed sense of community: Helping to redefine the sense of empathy, compassion and a full understanding of the power of communalism.
- Action planning: All participants set goals and build personalized action plans for making a difference when they return home from their trip.
How do you ensure all participants are safe and secure on their Me to We trip?
Safety and security is the number one priority for Me to We trips and we go to great lengths to ensure safety measures are integrated into every aspect of our trips. Me to We trips has been in operation since 1999 sending over 3,000 young people overseas to Kenya, India, China, Arizona/Mexico and Ecuador without incident.
Safety measures include the following:
- In preparation for a Me to We trip, all participants are registered with their respective embassy to ensure accountability in case of emergency.
- Travel advisories are monitored by international and country offices at all times to ensure Me to We trip participants have a safe experience.
- Copies of all passports, medical and travel insurance, emergency contact information, dietary and medical requirements are collected well in advance of the trip by our international office.
- Communication is consistently open 24 hours a day between in-country teams and our international office.
- 24 hour security personal are present on all Me to We trips.
- Me to We Trip facilitators go through rigorous training before leaving North America. Each facilitator must participate in training twice a year, which is led by advanced leadership trainers and the Executive Director of Me to We Trips. During this time facilitators spend hours receiving standard first aid and CPR training, learn how to identify and work with youth experiencing emotional or behavioural challenges and spend hours learning about work place safety and proper building techniques. This training ensures that trip participants have a safe and life-changing experience.
- Each facilitator carries a comprehensive first aid kit at all times while on trip.
What kind of training do your facilitators have?
All Me to We facilitators have participated in Me to We’s extensive facilitator training program. Facilitators are first aid qualified, trained in emergency evacuation protocols, standard operating procedures and crisis prevention/management.
How do I book a Me to We trip?:
To learn more and book your trip, please Contact us for more details.