Travel Volunteer Spotlight – Sucheta Rawal
In July 2010, DIWYY and Travel Volunteer Search ran a contest to look for an international volunteer to spotlight. Sucheta Rawal was our lucky winner! In addition to her Amazon.com gift card prize, she will also be featured in a radio interview with Megan Schiebe of Travel Volunteer Search and on the DIWYY website. Read on to learn more about Sucheta, her past volunteering experience and her upcoming volunteer trip to Morocco.
Tell us a little about yourself:
I was born and raised in India by my grandmother and I moved to the US at the age of 17 in pursuit of higher education. Here I completed BBA and MS in Finance at Georgia State University. At GSU, I took leadership roles and held offices at student body organizations which exposed me to public speaking, organizing activities and community service. After college, I joined a multi-national bank in the area of bond trading, then started my own staging business (which I recently sold), and have been working as a human capital strategy consultant for the past 2 years. My hobbies include traveling, writing, reading and cooking. I have written for number of publications & taught cooking classes in the community.
What inspired you to get involved in volunteering abroad?
I love to travel, meet people and learn about different cultures. When I started reading about volunteer tourism, I thought it is a neat idea. You spend couple of weeks in an international destination, not just sightseeing like any other tourist, but by giving back to that community. Moreover, you get to interact with the locals, eat home cooked authentic food and learn about the culture. It sounded like a noble way to travel in the 21st century.
Can you tell us about your volunteer trip to Russia?
I went to Russia in May 2009 through Cross Cultural Solutions Insight aboard program. I picked Russia because I had heard about their large numbers of orphanages, in par with India where I saw the plight of orphans first hand at Mother Teresa’s homes. Since this was my first time and I was traveling alone, I decided to volunteer for 1 week and travel around for another. The base camp was in Yaroslavl, about 4 hours by car from Moscow. There were 4 other volunteers (females from US from age 18-60) while I was there. Each day we would be served a scrumptious breakfast at 8am sharp by the house keeper, after which our translators would take us to different sites. We went to boarding schools/orphanages, children’s hospital, women’s mental hospital and old person homes. Since we did not speak Russian, our interactions were mainly non-verbal through games, crafts and sports. We engaged the kids and adults in various activities that gave them a break from their daily routines. Some of the older women were very interested in conversing with me, so we did that through the translator. They wanted to know where I was from, if I was married, had kids and what I thought of Obama!
In the evenings, CCS arranged for us to go on city tours and to museums. We also had a few evenings and the weekends to make our own plans. One night, all the volunteers went to an Armenian restaurant to celebrate someone’s birthday. Unfortunately, the menu was in Russian and the waitress did not speak any English, but we still managed somehow!
What can you tell us about your upcoming volunteer trip to Morocco?
I have always wanted to explore Africa so 2 of my girlfriends and I picked the Morocco program through CCS. The home base is in Rabat, where we will be working with women and children. Although we don’t know the full details yet, we should be teaching English or working with women’s empowerment. Over the weekend, we plan to do a desert safari and visit Marrakesh. We can’t wait to go this October!
Is there any way for the DIWYY readers to help support your next volunteer trip?
Yes, of course! The program is not cheap and I have been trying to raise funds for my upcoming trip (check out Sucheta’s Girls to Morocco website). Readers can make a cash donation on my CCS Page or donate airline miles, vouchers or buddy passes for the very expensive flight. Anything would be appreciated!
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in volunteering abroad?
Do your research thoroughly. Talk to other people who have used the agency before, ask the coordinator questions about the program and what you will be doing. If you have a passion for something specific (like kids, animals, nature, etc), try to find a program that caters to it. Logistically, make sure your documents are not expiring and keep them in a safe if possible. Most of the volunteer programs cover your food and stay, so you do not need to carry much cash. I withdraw from the ATM only as needed. The weekends are your free time, so make use of it and travel around. Take a friend with you if you are not comfortable traveling alone.
After visiting 30 countries, I think I have learned a few tricks about traveling. I always carry earplugs and eye pillows. In Russia, the sun would set at 11pm and rise back at 3am, so it they came in handy! I carry an international phone in case of emergencies (like when I couldn’t find the driver who was sent for me at the airport). If you get into a situation, don’t panic, just smile your way out of it!
Are you active in volunteering at home?
Yes, I have been very active in volunteering since I was in college. Being in student body organizations and then large corporations has kept me actively involved in the local organizations such as United Way, Dress for Success, Hands on Atlanta, AIDS Walk, Big Brothers Big Sisters & CARE. In 2003, I organized a school supply drive for Afghanistan to help send kids back to school. Currently, I work with Community Consulting Teams & Refugee Family Services.
What has been your favorite travel destination thus far?
Austria – I loved everything about it! The countryside is picturesque and the art and music are the best in the world. Most museums and festivals are free. There is a café at every corner where some famous composer or writer wrote something. When you walk around in Vienna, you feel like you are in the 18th century where all the buildings and cobblestone pathways are brand new! The food has influences of the surrounding countries and was far better than I had expected. My advice is to go in the summer when it’s actually cheaper and the weather is perfect. New Years Eve is the peak season.
You’ve been given a private jet and can fly to any three places in the world. Where would they be and why?
Places that intrigue me but I still haven’t made it out to include the jungles of Africa & the top of Mount Everest. It would be neat to follow the migration of the animals from air through Kenya & Tanzania. Africa has so much to offer with its rich culture, wildlife, forest reserves-I could spend months there.
It would be quite an accomplishment to stand on the highest place on the planet. Although I don’t plan to scale Everest any time soon, I would like to be dropped off somewhere near the top. I wonder how a night sky would look from up there. I have visited 6 continents & would like to go to the 7th-Antarctica. I have heard it is like experiencing a different world. It is expensive & far to get to so a private jet would definitely help!