Wednesday, March 26, 2008


When I agreed to lead a team of volunteers to Queretaro, Mexico, I had already traveled extensively to more “exotic” sites south of the USA border, mostly in Central and South America, and I relied on memories of an earlier trip to Mexico - many years before…. This recent service program experience in Mexico gave me the opportunity to re-connect and fall in love with a country that is so close to us, yet so full of surprises and riches!

Queretaro: A fascinating city of contrasts whose quaint “heart” pulses with the memories of an illustrious past still lingering in the many gorgeous colonial buildings of its historic center. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (neighboring San Miguel de Allende is a Mexican national monument) and many defining moments of Mexico’s history come to life in Queretaro’s restored mansions, monuments, and public landmarks. One can discover them along the pedestrian walkways or around the several squares adorned with fountains, statues, and carpets of flowers.. .From our hotel, located right across the street from the City Museum, we were able to safely explore this compact historic center, visit many of the churches, several museums, markets, while mingling with friendly families as they enjoyed the beauty and liveliness of their public places. But Queretaro – which I found very few Americans have ever heard of! - is also a fast growing, dynamic, and sophisticated metropolis of 1.5 million habitants that boasts a new international airport and hundreds of U.S., Canadian, and European companies with modern facilities that stretch into the mountainous Heartland.

Since 1988, Global Volunteers has been teaching conversational English at UTEQ (Universidad Technologica de Queretaro), and our host there is well organized, appreciative of the volunteers’ contribution, and intent on facilitating better communications and understanding between our two cultures. English as a second language is an important subject at the University, and students who become bilingual speakers will find better jobs. Our students appreciated the opportunity, the only one they have during their time of study there, to practice the language with native speakers. Depending on their level we were able to engage in interesting conversations which turned out to be quite an eye-opener to us. Most of the recent polemic we have been exposed to at home about Mexican/US relations, has focused on poor Mexicans desperate to make it across our borders or hiding from the authorities, and how to deal with this problem. Yet, the students we interacted with (and we were told that the majority came from very poor families) were quite confident in the future of their own country and their own contribution to it. When asked where they would like to travel to, they spoke of exotic places such as Egypt… not Texas or Southern California… Most of them felt confident that they would find employment in this rapidly growing area.

In Queretaro, the contrast between the pride of the past and the pull of the future is everywhere present, yet the Mexicans we interacted with seemed to have found a comfortable balance. We definitively felt a strong sense of responsibility to the family and a commitment for the young to help their elders. Catholicism is a grounding religion for most, and the town’s beautiful churches are often filled with worshippers, yet there are many very progressive social initiatives that “push the envelope.” We saw plays and dance performances sponsored by the city or state that were quite “unorthodox” and experimental, and exhibits that would have been censored in a City Museum here.

We were impressed by the sophistication of Queretaro’s cultural scene, the variety of venues that offered high quality events – many free of charge! Our team took great advantage of this. On a typical day, after the afternoon rest following our teaching schedule, when not eating at our hotel, we enjoyed delicious Mexican cuisine at a new restaurant, then attended a show or a concert at a nearby venue. We also could choose to watch a group of young people working on a spontaneous mural or make music, as part of a preventive state-sponsored program for “youth at risk.” Or we could join local people in the main square (we especially loved the children in their pretty clothes) to enjoy Latin music, and watch elegant couples perform the traditional “Danzon.” Most of the time we were the only non-Mexicans in the crowd, but everyone was gracious and welcoming.

Now in our 20th year of service in Mexico, Global Volunteers will be sending its 100th team soon.. I encourage you join us! Hasta Luego!

Francoise Yohalem
Volunteer Team Leader

Monday, March 24, 2008

Adventure in Hainan

My husband, Roy and I began traveling through China for 6 weeks from Feb 24 - April 7, 2007. We flew from Ft Lauderdale/Newark/Hong Kong...... then depart for Xi\'an, and Hainan, where we will spend one month. We will be working with Global Volunteers ( for three weeks teaching conversational English. Last year we taught with this organization in Kunming, China.It is a terrific organization to work with and teaching the Chinese is a totally rewarding experience. I enjoy writing about our daily experiences and try to capture the beauty of the people, cities and culture with photos...come along and enjoy! Follow my blog here

- Marilyn Williams, China volunteer

Friday, March 21, 2008

Advice to volunteers: Stay open-minded

Volunteers are often asked what their goals are. That is a better question in our Western world than when we go overseas, because having high expectations may get in the way of the actuality. On a short-term project we may be tempted to think "Oh yes, if we work hard, we'll be able to finish that project in our two weeks." But that's a Western attitude that rarely applies when we're in an African or Asian or South American setting. Rather, I think a personal goal should be to become sensitive enough and adaptable enough to settle into the pace of the people with whom we're working. If you're disappointed in the lack of progress, you'll be disappointed in your entire experience. But if you can tune in to the people you're working with, you may have a different and richer experience than as if you finished your project in the allotted time.

WorldTeach says: "Expectations are not right or wrong. They just are. But unless we are aware of them, they more often hinder than help us. They can keep us from seeing possibilities that are challenging and different. They can even prevent us from enjoying the surprises of life."

Let's stay open and flexible and ready to enjoy surprises wherever we happen to be volunteering.

- China and Tanzania volunteer Dorothy Conlon, Author of "At Home in the World: Memoirs of a Traveling Woman"

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Value of Volunteerism

A simple accident of birth has given me a life which has included all the opportunities available to male Caucasions in the U.S. to improve our station in life, to enjoy good health, obtain good education and acquire a satisfactory standard of living during our working years.

In my lifetime, I've witnessed the world progressing from a collection of cultures, each going along at its own pace, to a troubled world communtiy which will eventually have to accept the fact that we're one people sharing the abundance of this planet called Earth. Not in my lifetime, but surely a reality which can be achieved. It's because of these beliefs that I feel I should attempt to give back or share with others which was given to me by this simple accident of birth.

I've served in over 10 countries with Global Volunteers. Some of these were somewhat affluent, but most were considered disadvantaged when compared to the U.S. I've realized great personal satisfaction by serving others and seeing measurable progress toward the host country's goals. I sincerely hope that my small efforts will lend themselves to the realization of world peace and progress for the betterment of all.

- Bill Gibbs, frequent volunteer from Oregon

Friday, March 14, 2008

Wrap up at Glencree, Ireland


As we wrap up our work at Glencree Centre for Reconciliation, we share the “thought for the day” left by our teammate Joan Moore on Monday morning:

“Although deeply conscious of their past, the Irish have come to terms with the modern world. In the future, their buoyancy and creative energy seem to assure them a prominent place in Europe, and the world.”

Joan didn’t indicate if this was her personal reflection, or one quoted from resource material, but we agree that those we’ve met in these two weeks surely embody resilience, vision and brilliance to meet Ireland’s future challenges.

Tuesday brought a new synergy as the three remaining members of the team set out about our remaining tasks. Ann painted the men’s bathroom in the Wicklow Wing, while Michele and Susan went down on hands and knees, scrubbing the kitchen floor with paint remover and soap and scraping with razor blades. After many, many hours of work, the floor once again looked like a kitchen floor rather than that of a construction site. We left the floor to dry during dinner and then returned at about 7:00 PM to apply the first coat of tile sealer. We barricaded the door against latte night visitors and went to bed, planning to arise early to recoat the floor before breakfast and the later arrival of the new furniture. The new furniture arrived just shortly after the second coat of tile sealant that Ann and Susan applied had dried. All were amazed by how well we were able to “rehabilitate” the dingy kitchen floor. With the new window blinds installed, the gathering space looked “cozy” again, and surely will be well-used by the international long-term volunteers. The satisfaction and gratitude of the Wicklow Wing occupants was warm payment, indeed, for our significant effort the day before!

This morning’s task was to clear out refuse in the “arches” area at the Glencree campus entry; left-over craft and project materials from previous beautification efforts. The sun broke through the gray clouds momentarily from time to time – long enough to show our shadow and warm our hands and noses a bit. If we weren’t certain why Ireland is so green before this program, experiencing the persistent spring and fall rains (and snows) leaves no questions!

On our departure day, we felt the misty weather appropriately matched our we took one last look at this center of hope and promise. Glancing over our shoulders as the car pulled out of the driveway one last time, we said "good bye" to Glencree and filed our memories away under "peace is possible."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Our Nature of Peace and Conflict

“What makes us moral?” Jeffrey Kluger asks in TIME magazine. His article examines the dark savagery as well as the morality and empathy written in humans’ genes. Our service here at Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in the mountains of County Wicklow, Ireland provokes our personal and individual reflection on human nature. Kluger writes:

“If the entire human species were a single individual, that person a long time ago would have been declared mad. The insanity would not lie in the anger and darkness of the human mind – though it can be a black and ranging place indeed. And it certainly wouldn’t lie in the transcendent goodness of that mind – one so sublime, we fold it into a larger ‘soul’. The madness would lie instead in the fact that both of those qualities, the savage and the splendid, can exist in one creature, one person, often in one instant.”

This profound conclusion is suggested here at Glencree as we listen to staff presentations and contemplate the current political and social developments within the country. In light of our own country’s recent past, and especially as we monitor the current presidential campaign from afar, we wonder where, indeed, is the “hallowed middle ground” that reason so often seeks?

Last evening, a Glencree Haitian long-term volunteer requested my help with her university class project. “What is the difference between attitude and ideology?” Marjorie asked. In my halting reply, I mused on the brilliant irony of me - a white American woman tutoring a black Haitian woman - on such a weighty subject in the Republic of Ireland’s highest regarded peace and reconciliation institution.

Examples of compromise overcoming ideology surround us here. Most notably, the power-sharing unity of Nationalist leader Martin McGuinness and Unionist leader Ian Paisley.

Kluger continues: “We’re a species that is capable of almost dumbfounding kindness. We nurse one another, romance one another, weep for one another. Ever since science taught us how, we willingly tear the very organs from our bodies and give them to one another. And at the same time, we slaughter one another. The past 15 years of human history are the temporal equivalent of those subatomic particles that are created in accelerators and vanish in a trillionth of a second, but in that fleeting instant, we’ve visted untold horrors on ourselves – in Mogadishu, Rwanda, Chechnya, Darfur, Beslan, Baghdad, Pakistan, London, Madrid, Lebanon, Israel, New York City, Abu Ghraib, Oklahoma City, and Amish schoolhouse in Pennylvania – all of these crimes committed by the highest, wisest, most principled species this planet has produced.”

And that, we conclude, is our paradox…. ideologies can often divide us to a greater degree than idealism draws us together. As Glencree CEO David Bloomfield advised in our first day on campus: “Managing conflict is about managing differences.”

Michele Gran, team leader and Global Volunteers co-founder

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

New Ireland Post

Friday, March 7, 2008 - Glencree, Ireland

We had originally planned to go to Belfast today, but the van had a mechanical problem and had to go into the shop; a trip to Belfast was arranged for Saturday.

Since we had worked a full day on Thursday and Friday was a scheduled day off, we decided to leave our paint brushes and tools idle and enjoy some rest and relaxation. We joined a high-energy school group of 15-16 year-olds from a Community School for breakfast. These teen-agers were from a public school in the suburbs of Dublin. The School is open to all who live in the district, but a teacher told us that all the students were Catholic.

After breakfast and making final arrangements for the Belfast trip, four members of our group (Jim and Mary, Bob and Joan Marie) went to the Wicklow Way hiking trail. We walked to the top of Knockree Hill, which provided a magnificent view of Glencree valley, Big Sugarloaf Mountain, the town of Bray, and the ocean. After enjoying a packed lunch, we hiked through a sheep pasture, where the sheep were not cooperative when requested to remain in the area for photographs. The trail continued along the fast-flowing, clear and cold Glencree River and ended with a climb through Frone Wood. We saw a wonderful rainbow overhead. It was a great opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the Irish countryside and experience the Irish March weather, which was periods of sunshine, interspersed with a couple of rain showers.

Susan and Ann hiked to a nearby lake and got caught in the pouring rain, but were rewarded by seeing a huge rainbow beginning at the Glencree Centre and ending in the valley.

A quiet supper at the cafeteria was enjoyed by all. It was a day of peace and tranquility.

- Bob Thompson

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Our team-leader, Michele, finished her meetings with people from Corrymilla. Bob and Joan and Jim and Mary left at about 6:30 AM to meet a tour bus in Dublin that would take them to Belfast. Once in Belfast, they took a “Black Taxi” tour of the peace murals and the wall.

When Michele returned to Glencree after lunch, she drove Susan and Ann to Bray, wherein they took the DART north of Dublin to Howth, and then south to Greystones before returning to Bray. The coast ride between Bray and Greystones was particularly scenic. Michelle, Susan and Ann stopped at a pub along the water’s edge in Bray and had a very tasty dinner and some Guinness.

Mary and Jim and Bob and Joan returned from their Belfast trip around 6:30 and then stopped for dinner at a fast-food Chinese restaurant before returning to Glencree.

Sunday, March 9, 2008 Dateline: Glencree, Co. Wicklow, Republic of Ireland

Sunday was a workday for us as Friday and Saturday had been left free for the planned trip to Belfast. After breakfast we reconnoitered to recall where we had left our tasks and to see where we would pick up. Since we had made good progress, Geraldine had added a few tasks to the list. To finish the first list, we needed to clean up the kitchen and paint the ceiling in the corridor. It was decided that we needed some additional trim and radiator paint and a good scrub brush for the kitchen floor. Michele and Susan headed to Woody’s DIY for the supplies while Bob and Joan, Jim and Mary and Ann commenced on the kitchen and hallway.

Susan was pleased to see Woody’s, which turned out to be much like a Lowe’s or Home Depot in the US, if not quite so large. We got our paint and scrub brush, but failed to find the deodorizer for neutralizing the reminders left be the resident cats. On the way back we stopped at SuperQuinn, the grocery, to pick up scones and more soda bread. The bakery section was brim full of all sorts of great looking baked goods, all made on the premises. One last stop in Enniskerry for a mocha latte, then back to Glencree to pitch in on the work.

The Volunteers Kitchen was shaping up nicely. Several of us were working on scrubbing paint spatters off the floor left by our crew and many others before us. Mary took advantage of the afternoon sun to clean the windows, and Jim and Joan took turns painting the corridor ceiling.

Given the good progress and the nice weather, Jim and Mary knocked off a bit early to get a walk in since today would be their last day in Glencree. True to its form during our stay, the weather changed while they were out, and a shower brought them scurrying for shelter.

After a dinner of fish pie and chocolate cake with whipped cream, we gathered for a last evening meeting before the departure of four of our team tomorrow. We reviewed the team goals we’d set our first day to evaluate our progress toward meeting them. We all agreed that we had all experienced Ireland, by hiking and touring and visiting pubs and various other cultural sites. Our second goal was to learn about the mission of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation and to participate in peace building. The group all agreed that we had learned a tremendous amount about the work of the Centre and were all grateful for the time spent with us by the entire Centre’s staff. The third goal was to serve in our roles as volunteers. While we all feel as though we have worked hard and gotten work done that will improve the situation for the longer term international volunteers here at Glencree, the group is unanimous in its feeling that we have also been served very much as well and have benefited even more than we have given.

After discussing the possibility of watching a movie, we agreed to call it a night. The one-week team members went upstairs to pack.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Departure day for four members of the team started with breakfast. We were all pleased that the monster storm we had been expecting last night seemed to have past during the night with powerful winds and driving rain. We thanked Michele for her leadership with a photo of a Glencree horse, she had admired in the coffee shop. She was very touched and told us the story of why the picture had appealed to her so much. While we waited to meet with Glencree staff, the Irish weather presented us with a snow squall of the biggest snowflakes any of us had ever seen. After breakfast, the Glencree staff gathered to thank the team and to present the departing members with Peace Bonds to remind them of their time here. Pat gave each of the departing team a Glencree heart he had made- necklaces for the women and keychains for the men. Jim and Bob both spoke for the team, thanking the Glencree staff for their time and for the opportunity to come here to work and to learn that we have all enjoyed so much.

As Michele and Amer left to take those leaving to Dublin, Ann and Susan toured with Geraldine to confirm our remaining tasks. We commenced to painting the volunteers’ bathrooms and spent the rest of the day so occupied.

The dwindling group of “Globals” as we are known by the Glencree folk, gathered for dinner to feast on a wonderful Irish stew that Wendy, the chef, made for us. We all retired early tonight, happy to be indoors as Pat said we are promised more very high wind and rain over night and tomorrow.

- Susan Kiefer

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Thursday, March 6, 2008

We appreciated an early start and today was entirely devoted to our team's tasks in the Wicklow Wing – painting three kitchen walls bamboo green and the fireplace wall a light brown color called ‘baking day’. The stairwell to the International Volunteers rooms is now completely white.

Amer and several other year-long residents of the Wicklow Wing expressed their appreciation of the results. Majorie, an international volunteer from Haiti, brought in the textbooks for her correspondence course. She questioned us about the meaning of such words as ‘inherent’ and 'discriminate' and we talked while we worked.

Our muscles are sore and we are all looking forward to a restful evening and a good night’s rest.

We are learning the alternate options for our Glencree trip to Belfast on planned for Friday and Saturday. Did I mention our muscles and joints are sore and we are all looking forward to a restful evening and a good nights rest?

- Joan Moore

Thoughts about Peace with Justice


This blog is dedicated to the proposition that true peace is impossible in the absence of justice, and that any semblance of peace unless accompanied by justice is merely a transitory, cruel delusion.

A philosopher from the past once said: “Injustice will not end until those who are not injured become as incensed as those who are.” So those persons concerned with justice and human dignity must, if they would be successful, become one in spirit with those who suffer.

That’s easy to say, but difficult to accomplish, since literal mountains of ignorance, inertia, and prejudice stand in our way. Why do we not become incensed over the many gross injustices we hear of every day? Why do we not act against poverty, oppression, wage injustice, and the excesses of global corporate capitalism?

Perhaps we do not act because we do not care beyond the confines of our own personal welfare. Maybe we care but do not know how to act. Possibly we accept massive transfers of wealth from poor to rich as the unfortunate but inevitable cost of economic progress. Perhaps we are so isolated from the reality of the human experience that we become paralyzed against action.

Allied with our own apathies and pathologies as causes of our inability to effectively either care or act is our membership and participation in human structures such as businesses, churches, social groups, and families of origin. These powerful structures often prescribe the way we perceive the world and the actions we are willing to take. They do our thinking for us.

Most of us respond favorably to appeals for charity, especially if we can emotionally involve ourselves with the need. We give our money, but what of our bodies and souls? Charity is good for both giver and receiver, but by itself will never solve problems such as global poverty. We need more than charity--we need advocacy that will take the causes of the sufferers to the highest levels of corporate power and human government.. And along with advocacy we need solidarity with those who suffer sufficient that we become willing to be with them in their trouble—not only in spirit but also in body.

At Glencree we are participating in a worthy effort to bring peace and reconciliation to troubles areas of the world. As we work and ponder, let us not forget another well-known quote: “For injustice to triumph it is only necessary that good people do nothing.”

So let us perceive our efforts here as the building of a beautiful cathedral of justice, forgiveness, mercy, and hope; not as the simple wielding of paint brushes or a brick-laying trowels. So “be not weary, for you labor not in vain.”

Jim Jordal - Glencree team March 2008

Updates from Ireland

Wednesday, March 5, 2008-03-05

As I looked out the window this morning, I thought of Louis Armstrong singing: "What a Wonderful World."

First we heard Eamon speak on educational development in Glencree’s plans reach into the business community and the youth to facilitate in finding their own solutions to “The Troubles.”Glencree is a place of safety, neutrality, a space away from their troubles, a place of isolation and history and transformation. Negative peace is a lack of something and positive peace is about equality, justice, human rights and dialogue. He said reconciliation is whatever it takes to get on with your life.

Michele, Paddy, Jim and I took a run into town for more work supplies and wonderful brown bread while the rest of the team tackled the painting and cleaning in the Wicklow Wing. What a Wonderful World.….

After lunch, Phil Killeen, the Women’s Program Coordinator, spoke to us on how women have been marginalized throughout all of “The Troubles.” She's formed groups through Glencree to begin to empower women across the island. What a Wonderful World.

We then spent an hour brushing and rolling in the kitchen and hallway.

At 5:00, Collin Murphy talked to us about the church role in “The Troubles.” He talked of all the damaged relationships and how can Christian churches that profess to believe in the "Prince of Peace" hate each other so much.

As I was sitting there, I looked on the wall at the list of 15 characteristics of an effective team and decided that our team has all of them. What a Wonderful World!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Report From Ireland

Global Volunteers Ireland, March 1-15, 2008

It’s Tuesday, March 4 at Glencree, and we’re painting like crazy. We’re all slopped up with paint, but we’re happy and productive, I hope. Everyone seems to be forming a real team spirit, and the hours fly by. This morning we heard a very informative discussion of our upcoming Belfast trip, coupled with handouts on the Irish political parties and their views. Our leader, Tricia Anderson, works with international peace and reconciliation programs patterned after the Glencree model. I was especially interested in the multiple Irish political parties and paramilitary groups and their often fruitless efforts to capture the public imagination. Most Americans, I think, conceive of the “Troubles” as mainly religious in origin, but we learned of what she called “the systematic impoverishment” of the Irish Catholic population by the British dominators. So the “Troubles” also have their root in economic and social oppression, as do most other such critical public issues. All together, a wonderful day.

Monday, March 03, 2008 dawned a brisk morning. Several team members went for morning walks and discovered an ice coating on the puddles by the roadside; by breakfast, snow flakes were falling fast and furiously.

After breakfast, we met with Dr. David Bloomfield, the new CEO of Glencree. Dr. Bloomfield is a native of Belfast but has lived in several countries before returning home to Ireland. Quoting from the Glencree’s January Newsletter, Dr. Bloomfield “has worked in the field of conflict and peace building as a trainer, practitioner, policy advisor, analyst, author, academic, consultant and NGO director in a variety of contexts.”

Although “peace has broken out”, Glencree’s work is far from completed. Dr. Bloomfield told us something about the widening circle of Glencree’s work and methods. For example, continuing on their success in teaching conflict resolution concerning sectarian issues to children, Glencree recognizes the challenge of teaching those children to take those skills and apply them to conflicts regarding racism towards Ireland’s growing immigrant populations including Polish, Latvians, Africans, Latin Americans, and Muslims. Glencree continues to work with victims of domestic violence, and with groups of survivors and former combatants, but must continue to reach out to, for example, the isolated people of NW Ireland, where attitudes are still very polarized.

Based upon its repuation within the international community, some other nations have asked Glencree to help them think about conflict resolution. Glencree is working with local peacemakers in Afghanistan, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Columbia, Liberia and Israel and Pakistan. For example, some members of the Knesset and Fatwa met at Glencree for several days last fall and then had a follow-up meeting in Jerusalem last December.

Dr. Bloomfield notes that the challenge for Glencree is to expand its resources to meet these needs at the same time that international funding for this work is coming to an end.

Our hour with Dr. Bloomfield passed far too quickly; nevertheless, we were eager to begin our work assignments. Edel Kinsclla, program director, showed us the entryway, hallway and kitchen that we would be painting; we gathered supplies and got to work! Sheri took charge as paint foreperson, Pat became mechanics foreman, and Susan headed up the cleaning crew. Dishes were washed; cupboards cleaned, floors swept, cobwebs cleared, and walls washed, all to ready for painting.

After a break for lunch, we joined in a community meeting of on-site staff, interns and volunteers from Haiti, Afghanistan, Poland, the US, and Palestine. During introductions, we were warmly welcomed by all, and then sent back to our work. By the end of the workday, the priming was halfway completed in the kitchen and Michelle made a run for supplies to ensure a productive work day Tuesday.

We were served a delicious dinner of colcannon and then met again as a team for a short time. Jim shared the message for the day by leading us through a discussion of justice and peace by reflecting on these quotes:

1. “Without justice there can be no peace.”
2. “Injustice will not end until those who are not injured become as incensed as those who are. “
3. “For injustice to triumph, it is necessary only that good people to do nothing.”

We talked about possible recreational activities during “off” hours and ended our evening with Sheri on the computer, Michele, Bob, Joan Marie, Susan and Ann watching video while Jim and Mary retired for the evening.

It was a very productive day, but more importantly, we were enriched by our discussions with Dr. Bloomfield and other staff and volunteers.

And the snow continued through the day and night.