When I was a kid, National Geographic was one of my favorite magazines. I thumbed through the pages looking at pictures of exotic plants, animals and people in faraway places and couldn’t wait until I could explore this whole wide world. I also developed a passion for the ocean and waves at an early age growing up in Florida. Since then, I’ve had a chance to travel to different places surfing and exploring but rarely giving back to the communities I visited. That was until I met and worked with nonprofit Surf For Life which sponsors educational and community driven development projects in coastal communities.
Recently, I organized a once in a lifetime trip to the remote fishing village of El Cuco, El Salvador for LinkedIn and Salesforce.com employees to construct their first ever high school. Prior to this school being built, kids had to take a 20 minute bus ride to the nearest town in order to attend classes after the 8th grade. Minimum wage is $2 an hour in El Salvador so most families can’t afford to send their kids on a $7 bus ride. For most kids in El Cuco, the last day of 8th grade also represented the last day of school which really limited their opportunities.
Our group covered all the costs of this trip including tools and building materials through individual fundraising efforts and generous company matches. We spent 8 days in the hot and humid jungle completing the roof, installing tile and painting. We also installed windows, doors and electric systems to add the finishing touches.
My colleague Debbie Borges said “It was a great experience that combined two interests of mine – traveling and volunteering. With our efforts, more kids will be able to attend high school, stay off the streets, and raise their own standard of living. That’s incredible.”
One of the best parts of the experience was the opportunity to get to know locals on a level that tourists don’t get during traditional vacation. I met a fisherman the same age as myself named Chepe who shared his experiences growing up in El Cuco during the Civil War. El Cuco was the geopolitical boundary where the two conflicting parties met and was torn apart by war. Chepe has two kids that will be attending the school we helped build. Thanks to Surf For Life “voluntours” and the ongoing support of local government agencies, these kids will have access to a quality secondary education beginning in 2013.
We’re planning future projects for the Spring of 2013 in El Salvador, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. If you’re interested in joining one of these transformational trips please feel free to contact me on LinkedIn.