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December 5 is International Volunteer Day. A day to tell the world about the impact of volunteering by showing all of the wonderful actions of volunteers all around the world. We, at Ugly Ducklings Inc, want to contribute to this by sharing the stories of two big-hearted volunteers with you.
Via an organization she supports called Sanctuary for Kids, she heard about Volunteer Nepal. This organization is involved with Nepal Orphan’s Home that aims to improve the lives of children in Nepal and provide them with a quality of life that so many people take for granted. Laura has arrived in Kathmandu not more than 1,5 weeks ago, and when I talked to her she was busy settling in and finding her way in the foreign country.
Laura tells me that she has always wanted to volunteer:
“I like the idea of maybe being able to give something back to people that aren’t as lucky as me.”
For Laura, the volunteering experience is about giving something back, as well as a unique chance to see more of the world:
During my stay I’ll be helping children with homework, teaching at a local school and I will also be doing some sightseeing.”
Laura will be staying in Nepal for four weeks. We wish her all the best and can’t wait to hear her stories when she gets back home!
Alison is a 20-year-old Bachelor’s Degree student and day care employee from Illinois, USA. She grew up with volunteering as it is something that is passed on to her by her family. Via her church, she came into contact with CALMS, an American-based organization working to spread the gospel in Central America.
The organization works alongside the community members and together with them they set up Bible studies and youth groups, provide necessary school supplies, medical and dental care, and construct new schools and other facilities that the community needs. Alison stresses the importance of working alongside a community:
“We don’t step in to do all the work. We work alongside the community members to show them how to do these things, so the community can be self-sustained. If we show them how it’s done, then they can continue the work after we leave.”
During the eight weeks Alison partook in the volunteer project, she taught English to elementary and secondary students at a Lutheran school, set up a high school/college Bible study and organized all kinds of outings and events for the students there. Some other work she did was in nearby communities where she would bring food and water, and spent time with the people there.
“Most of the things that stand out to me about this trip aren’t specific instances. Instead, I remember a LOT of warm hugs, so many crazy tickle fights, kids’ faces lighting up with excitement about learning, and the lasting connections I made with people there. Guatemala became my second home, and the people there feel like my family. My heart is there with them, and I need to return as soon as I can.”
Alison highly recommends becoming a volunteer:
“whether it’s giving back locally, nationally, or internationally, you really do have the ability to help people. You can change the world for one person at a time. Volunteering is the most fulfilling thing I do, and you will come away with a full heart.”
A bit of advice to people who want to volunteer in another country
“Living in Guatemala for those 8 weeks was a challenge, honestly. I didn’t speak the language very well, and I didn’t know very much about the culture. The most important thing I learned was to put myself out there and not be afraid to look stupid.
There are things you won’t know, and you need to accept that. Make a real effort to learn the language and interact with people as much as you can. If you don’t know a word or even if you say the wrong word, the people there will help you. They may laugh at you (they’ll probably laugh at you), but they’ll help you, and they will appreciate the fact that you’re trying to connect with them.
Don’t be afraid to be yourself and be goofy. Make people laugh. Make them smile. Show them that you are just like them. We are all humans. We all have feelings, thoughts, emotions, and opinions. We are so much more alike than we think, and by connecting with people and forming new friendships, that will become extremely clear.”
We would like to thank both Laura and Alison so much for sharing their stories with us. It inspired us, and we hope it inspires you too!
As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when you consider volunteering. On the other hand, it can be such a rewarding experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life. We would love to hear about your volunteering experiences in the comments below!
Ugly Ducklings Inc’s Research Assistant
Ever considered applying for volunteer work, but not sure yet about the what, how and where? Hopefully this guide to volunteering can answer some of the burning questions you might have as we, at Ugly Ducklings Inc, celebrate International Volunteer Day.
Read on to find out more about volunteering and find out how two volunteers experience(d) their volunteer work abroad
Volunteering, what is it exactly?
Simply said, volunteering is giving your time to help out without expecting a payment in return.
Volunteer work can take on many forms and can take place in your own community or even abroad. Volunteering opportunities really vary from being a dog walker, to building schools in developing countries, and everything in between, and beyond.
Why would I want to become a volunteer?
It might sound like an overly utilized cliché, but as a volunteer you can really contribute to society. Even the smallest involvement can have a huge impact on someone’s life. Other aspects to realize is that it can help you forward as well, as you are able to develop new skills, practice your talents, improve your self-esteem and self-confidence, make new friends, and even increase your employability chances (yes, volunteering really does look good on your CV!).
Yes, I apply for a volunteering project!
There are millions of volunteering activities to choose from. It’s therefore good to think about what you’re interested in and what your skills are before applying.
- Are you a people-person?
- An animal lover?
- A sporty type?
- Do you want to help out in your local community?
- Or would you rather go abroad?
All of these are questions you have to ask yourself before applying for volunteering work.
What’s the next step?
The next step will be to search online for more information about the projects you’re interested in. Maybe you know someone who did volunteering work before? Ask him or her about their experiences, and you’ll be surprised how happy they are to share their stories with you.
Another important thing to take into account is how you will manage your time.
- How long would you like to commit to volunteer work?
- A week, one month, a year?
- Would you like to volunteer part- or fulltime?
Never try to over-commit yourself. Remember that you probably have other commitments too, like friends and family, work, hobbies…
Other questions to think about are for example what skills are needed for a specific project. Do you already have these skills or are you willing to obtain them during your time as a volunteer? Would you need any training? How much will the trip cost, as well as health insurance, and living?
Of course, you’re not alone in this. There are many organizations that can help you sort out all the things you need. Therefore, I’ve set out some resources that can help you to find volunteering work that is right for you:
List of volunteering organizations and websites
National volunteering work
International volunteering work
And there’s more!
I have two inspiring volunteering stories to share with you ugly ducklings. One of them is Laura’s experience. She is currently volunteering in Nepal. And did you see the picture at the top? That’s my friend Allison, who did some work in Guatemala.
Come back and check our next blog post to get even more motivated about this wonderful work.
Ugly Ducklings Inc’s Research Assistant
In honor of mental health awareness month, I wanted to take the time to tell you about Stigma Fighters.
I am 35 years old. For as long as I can remember I have suffered from panic attacks and depression. My moods were like a roller coaster. Some days, I would wake up in a cold sweat with my heart racing. I was terrified. It was as if someone was chasing me and trying to harm me, only there wasn’t anyone.
It was just me.
The fear shifted, changed and morphed over time. I was afraid of contracting a terminal illness and dying. Then I was afraid of starving to death because I had no appetite.
That was panic.
There was also depression. I didn’t want to open my eyes. I couldn’t bathe myself for days. I stopped talking. I stopped laughing. I couldn’t laugh. I forced myself to do the things I “had” to do like go to school (and at later points in life work) but everything felt wrong.
I felt wrong.
The worst part about feeling this way was that I couldn’t tell anyone about what I was coping with. It was a secret. My mom and my best friend were the ones who knew the deepest darkest parts. For the rest of the world, I had to fake being normal. I had to pretend that everything was okay.
Finally, something within me snapped… in a positive way. I was tired of pretending. In my 30’s I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about how it feels to live with a mental illness and have to hide it. It was called Fighting Against The Stigma of Mental Illness. Readers wrote to me thanking me for my honesty. I then realized that we are missing a crucial piece of the mental health puzzle in our society.
So many people are living in fear about people finding out they have a mental health issue. So I started a community called the Stigma Fighters where people could break their silence and share their stories.
I encourage you to read the stories of the brave human beings on Stigma Fighters. They are living with bipolar disorder, depression, postpartum depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, PTSD and more.
Stigma Fighters is becoming a non- profit too! There will be chapters of Stigma Fighters at colleges and universities across the United States. If you want to share your story, please consider doing it on Stigma Fighters.
Sarah Fader is the creator of the popular parent-life blog Old School /New School Mom. http://www.oldschoolnewschoolmom.com Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Additionally, like about six million other American adults, Sarah lives with panic disorder. She is currently leading the Stigma Fighters campaign which gives individuals with mental illness a platform to share their personal stories. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to show the world that there is a diverse array of real everyday people behind mental illness labels. Find her on twitter @osnsmom
A few weeks ago, I went to the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids Flea Market. The event takes place in New York City, and is run by a charity that helps people with HIV and AIDS.
I was so excited because there was an auction to win two tickets to If/Then and then go backstage and meet Idina Menzel!
I went with my mom, and I had one thought in mind: I need to win that auction. I had saved my money -I was sacrificing birthday, Hanukah, and Christmas gifts for this.
It is not every day that there is an auction to go backstage and meet your idol after her Broadway show
I was shaking while holding up my bidding paddle. I didn’t think there was any way for me to win. When they announced that I won, I was elated! Actually, “elated” does not even describe how I was feeling.
I was going to meet Idina Menzel backstage after If/Then!
When the big day came, it was my third time seeing If/Then (if you have not seen it, you should – it is absolutely amazing). This time was different; I was enjoying the show, of course, but I was more focused on what was happening after it was over.
When If/Then ended, me, my mom, and one man (who was an acquaintance of Idina) were taken into a small room, which had different clothing items for the actors of the show. We waited there for about 10 minutes and then Idina Menzel’s dresser came in and brought us into Idina’s dressing room.
There were a few men in the room, my mom, Idina’s dresser and me, all waiting for Idina Menzel to make her appearance. That was when LaChanze (another star in the show) came into the dressing room with her cousins. Idina Menzel came out, greeted LaChanze’s cousins, and then greeted us. First she greeted the men in the room, then my mom, then me. She even hugged me.
Then we had a chance to talk: told her about a club my friend and I started for her charity “A BroaderWay”. A BroaderWay is a charity that sends underprivileged girls to camp for 10 days. At the end of camp, they put on a final performance. This camp is put on by Broadway stars including Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs.
My friend and I started a club for this charity because we think it’s such a great cause! Idina was so happy, which made me so happy. She also took a picture with me! We hung out in her dressing room for probably 20 minutes, then she hugged me goodbye and I got to go on stage! Standing on a Broadway stage is awesome! It was amazing.
It was a night that felt out of this world, and worth every penny, especially since the money went to a great charity. And Idina Menzel was so incredibly nice! She is such an inspiration because even though her life is filled with fame and glory, she is incredible down to earth; she was not a diva, and did not seem full of herself. I could not have asked for a better night.
Allison is one of the 10 members of Operation Turducken, an essential part of the creation of The Ugly Ducklings Inc.
The word can mean so many different things to people today. Troll.
In fact, when I asked Ugly Ducklings about what a troll meant to them, these were their answers:
- “A fairytale creature on fantasy shows and movies”
- “A doll with fantastically fluorescent hair”
- “An incredibly disrespectful person that enjoys hurting others with words”
I never thought that after asking the question, three completely different meanings were going to show up.
Also, I certainly wish with all my guts that I were going to talk about the awesome mythical creature that has made it into epic films like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or even the Neverending Story, and Labyrinth.
Even better, I wish the company that made the funny troll toys (I remember I had one with fuchsia hair!) were paying me to write wonders about these little funny, hairy little dolls so their sales would drastically go up.
The horror of bullying
It’s October, and it’s time to sadly remind ourselves that there is a Bullying Prevention Month, which not only refers to the normal bullies kids find at school, but it includes the myriad of people that use the internet and the social networks to harass, attack, intimidate, offend, and mock other web users.
But then, one day, one man stood up, and used even more powerful words.
His name is Shane Koyczan. He said in an interview that the genre that can best depict what bullying is and feels like is horror. He knows it. He had to endure every second of the suffering. The unmeasurable agony that no one sees.
On how to conquer bullies and trolls
If you suffered from bullying at some point in your life you will probably agree with this:
If you are still struggling, both online and offline, simply remember that:
- You are not the only one, and you are not alone.
- There will always be someone willing to help you: family, close friends you can trust, a counselor, a psychologist, a priest, a hotline.
- Even though it seems endless, there will be a moment when it will all end.
- Karma, fate, destiny, life or whatever you want to call it actually exists, and the bullies will not escape the consequences of their actions.
In Shane Koyczan’s beautiful and heart-rending piece ‘To This Day’, you can both cry and understand what goes inside a child that is suffering from this type of violence.
And then came Troll, his latest work. Amidst the pauses he makes, the moments he breathes before he keeps reading, the beautiful music, and the breathtaking graphics, you will understand how words can become the secret formula to vanquish these creeping web creatures.
Leave your comments and tell us which was the part of the poem that struck you the most.
Sun, sea, beach, relaxation, hotels, airplanes, sightseeing… All things you think about when it comes to tourism, right? But this industry involves so much more than that.
Tourism is all about people -from all layers of society- destinations, experiences, environments and even governments. It has social, cultural, economic and political value. To emphasize the importance of this industry in all of the previous mentioned facets, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNTWO) introduced World Tourism Day in 1980.
The date, every year on 27th September, was chosen since it indicates the end of the high season in the northern hemisphere and the beginning of the season in the southern hemisphere. On this day, we celebrate tourism, and maybe even more importantly, we address the eight Millennium Development Goals set up by the United Nations:
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- Achieve universal primary education
- Promote gender equality and empower women
- Reduce child mortality
- Improve maternal health
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
- Ensure environmental sustainability
- Global partnership for development
We leave our footprints with everything we do. Tourism in general leaves an enormous footprint on planet Earth and can have drastic consequences. ‘Sustainability’ is a word often related to tourism, as we want “to develop tourism in the most sustainable way possible”. But what does the word ‘sustainability’ actually mean? It’s a vague concept, but simply put it means that tourism needs to take full account of the economic, political, cultural, social and environmental impacts it has. An almost undoable task, made harder even by people and government’s personal interests and corruption.
But I’m not here to only point out the negative aspects of the industry. Tourism is two-faced. World Tourism Day is also a day of celebration. The WTD blogger competition for example showcases some of the success stories of this incredible industry. From voluntourism to community development and from community based tourism to rewarding traveling experiences, it’s all there.
My life and tourism
I have a rather long history when it comes to the concept of ‘tourism.’ About 16 years ago, when I was six, I started playing ‘travel agency.’ What I did was getting all the travel brochures my parents had collected over the years and an old computer keyboard out and I got creative with crayons and paper.
My parents and friends had to browse through the travel brochures, I would ‘check’ availability for them and ‘book’ their hotel and flight ticket. I even gave them some extra information about the destination they were traveling too (all made up with that crazy imagination of mine) and print their flight tickets (writing down some random letters and numbers on a piece of paper).
Later on, I became really interested in meeting people from abroad and learning about other cultures. That’s why I started to look for pen pals online and joined the travel website Virtual Tourist (‘’Meeting the People Behind the Places’’).
My Name is Shannon. I am a daughter, sister, wife, and mother. I am outgoing, loving, loud, and stubborn.
I am all of these things but I am also a Survivor.
When I was 23 years old, I met the man who would be my partner in life and my soul mate, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Things could not be any better!
Then, during my annual women exam, my doctor was concerned with the pain I had been experiencing, and ordered a CT scan and ultrasound. That was when they found the tumor. While scared, I knew that my mom had had some cysts and things so I assumed I had them too. A few days after having the growth biopsied, the doctor called me with the news.
- “I’m sorry Shannon….but it’s cancer…”
Wait WHAT?! No.. this wasn’t right! I just found the love of my life; my life was on the right track for once! Since the cancer had already progressed pretty significantly, I really didn’t have too many options.
I had surgery to remove the tumor, but they had to remove a large portion of one of my ovaries and fallopian tubes. I then proceeded to have radiation therapy because in my young mind nothing would be worse than to lose my hair. I also chose not to have a full hysterectomy. At the time it seemed like a rather stupid choice, however later it would prove to be the best thing I could have done. The next 8 weeks really went by like a blur: a whirlwind of cancer treatments, doctors’ appointments, working a full time retail job and at the same time trying to maintain the relationships I had built.
Fast forward to 2012
I had been happily married for 8 years, and after 3 years of infertility issues and being told I would never carry a child, we were blessed with a beautiful little boy who had just turned 2. I had renewed my faith and trust in the Lord and felt life could not be any better!
I had done it! I had beat cancer, defied the odds and had a baby, I had a wonderful new career and my marriage was truly a happily ever after with my prince charming.
In August of 2012, I went for my women exam like I do every year and told my doctor I had some tenderness, as well as other symptoms. Concerned, my doctor ordered a full range of tests just to be safe. I went home that day sort of on pins and needles, however trusting in God to see me through.
The next week we took our son for his 2 year checkup, and that’s when our world started to change. After talking to our son’s doctor, he confirmed our fears for our little man: that his delays were not just that he was a late bloomer, but that he might be autistic.
For a while I felt so angry. How could God do this to us? Was he punishing me for all the bad things I had done? Then, I realized that he had done nothing to us, he only gave me my heart’s desire to be a mother in the form of a sweet little boy whose brain worked a little different than everyone else’s. It was this special little boy who would give me strength in the darkest hours to come.
The next day my test results returned. Again, I received the worst phone call a person can get from their doctor.
- “I am so sorry Shannon, but the cancer is back…”
I was stunned and dazed. WHY? I did not spend a lot of time trying to figure it all out or process, it was just too much. I just gave it all to God and hit the ground running. I made an appointment with an oncologist for later that same week.
Since there was no tumor this time and only cells, we were able to just do Radiation treatment for 6 weeks. While exhausted I was still able to work. I successfully completed my 6 weeks and things were looking good. I even took a trip to Jamaica to celebrate!
There are people who are very skeptical when it comes to cyber friends and meeting people you’ve only talked to via a computer screen.
Well, The Ugly Ducklings are an exception…
This past summer, Maaike, Maressa, and Marie had the incredible opportunity to meet each other, defying long distances (in the case of Argentina, especially), and other tiny obstacles. Below you’ll read the three diaries of these three duckies who got this great chance to meet.
Having some of my best friends living abroad is a unique experience to say the least. Everything feels exactly the same as with friends living close to you, except for the *bloody* concept of distance (who came up with that anyway?).
You cannot just ring your friends on the other side of the world to ask if they feel like going out or to meet up. Conversations are only possible via text messaging applications or social media, and face to face contact is limited to online video chats. It’s weird feeling so close somehow, but so far away at the same time.
But sometimes… sometimes luck is at your side.
That moment when all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, and you can actually be together with friends you love so very much. It happened to me this summer when I was the most fortunate girl in the world to be able to spend some time with my dear friends Maressa and Marie (a.k.a. Sisters from other Misters).
Last summer, Maressa and I were on a road trip for a week in her home country Switzerland (and we also shared our experience with The Ugly Ducklings here!)
Right away we agreed that we would meet up again next summer too, regardless of where that would be. Well, since Maressa never visited my home country, the Netherlands, we agreed that she would visit me this summer. We planned some day trips and even visited my second home, London, where I used to live in 2012. It was once again an amazing experience that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss for the world.
Then there’s this other peculiar case of faith I need to tell you about. Our dear Colombian friend living in Argentina (still following?), Marie, happened to attend a wedding in Rome in July… at the exact time Maressa was in the Netherlands. Everyone can do the math, right?
Exactly! Marie also took a flight to the Netherlands. I’ll spare you the details, but the journey to Europe entailed a lot of work and stress for her. But finally, she made it and the three of us were reunited.
I really have to say, it felt so natural to have these girls with me. So perfectly normal. Like we’re not living 450 and 7107 miles (!) apart, but just next door to each other. I was then also extremely sad to see them leave.
I had an amazing time with my Sisters and loved to show them my homeland. Also looking through their eyes at my own country and its culture taught me so much. It’s good to reflect upon these things from time to time and to open your eyes to your own country’s beauty and its unique aspects.
Friends enrich your life and having friends living so far away makes you appreciate that fact even more.
Maressa and Marie, I felt extremely privileged to be able to show you my country and to have you around me. Het was gezellig! Love you girls to the moon and back!
Don’t you feel like you just lost a long-life friend?
Someone who taught you how to laugh, how to cry? How to laugh and cry at the same time?
Robin Williams passed away yesterday, August 11th, and according to media reports, he had been fighting some depression demons for a long time.
You think that people who are always doing funny things and making people laugh are just showing the rest of the world what they are experiencing inside… well, sometimes it’s just their own way to cope with the problems and aches they have inside.
Don’t ever hesitate to reach out if you feel depressed
“I’m sad”. We all go through moments when we cannot deal with our inner feelings and we look for ways to escape. Perhaps we can’t seem to see an exit door. Here, at Ugly Ducklings Inc, we have been fortunate enough to create a supportive community, where people in need might come to us and ask for advice. At the same time, we have some amazing group of people who are willing to say some words of encouragement at the moment they most need it.
- Ariel got some help recently
- And so have our dear ugly ducklings who have shared their stories with us.
After the sad news of Robin Williams’ passing, and how everyone has felt touched by his leaving us, it is very important that we reinstate, and encourage you to look for someone who can help you, as there will always be someone willing to be there for you. As Sky Williams said in his video “A message to the Depressed”, always try to look for someone who is near you, a friend, a therapist, a relative. If not, you can try the different hotlines available.
We have a list of resources that you can turn to if you need to. Just click here.
And to all those who have been in close contact with depression, either because of a friend, a relative, or because you yourself are suffering, this message is for you…
“I’d like to live in a world where happiness is as easy as buying a soda in a vending machine. But it’s harder than that.”