THE STORY OF GVI
It started with the tough questions — What am I doing here? Why am I doing this? Is what I’m working on really making a difference?
“When I turned 18, I volunteered with an organization in Patagonia for three months. Although I had a great experience and would recommend it to anyone, what affected me was that the projects we were working on didn’t really seem to have any community benefit. One of the things we did was build a bandstand in a remote village. I remember thinking, as I was chopping up logs for this bandstand: Why are we building this? Why is no one in the local community coming to see it? Why are they not involved? Is this really necessary?” — Richard Walton, Founder Of GVI.
A few years later, Richard, the born-explorer, moved from his native Britain to a remote island in the middle of Lake Malawi which you could only get to once a month by boat. There, he set up a few bamboo huts which he rented out to backpackers. As he got to know the local community, he learned more about their ongoing project and challenges and was again faced with the issue of international travellers visiting a local community, but not contributing to their development.
This time, he decided to do something about it. He picked up the phone and contacted his college friend, Ben Greig, a marine biologist carrying out research off the coast of Honduras. They had both had a similarly enlightening experience volunteering abroad as young adults. Richard shared his frustrations and together, they decided to try their hand at running a volunteering project of their own which was more in line with their values.
They looked first at running a community development volunteering project with the Malawian community Richard had developed a connection with, but their commitment to health and safety ruled this remote location out. Instead, they looked at setting up a marine conservation project in Honduras.
One of the first 21 volunteers who joined this pioneer GVI project was Andrea Mackay. When asked about the experience 20 years later she said, “There is certainly a sense that we were so very fortunate to have been part of that particular expedition. There was a certain magic created by that particular group of strangers coming together at that particular time in that particular place”.
Sadly, Ben passed away soon after the highly-successful program ended. His enthusiasm for conservation and environmental education still lives on in our commitment to this very task. Afterward, Richard continued setting up connections with local organizations and communities around the world and recruited many passionate individuals along the way, including Steve Gwenin, a marine biologist who would eventually become our CEO, and Shayle Havemann, a volunteer sector specialist, who would become our Director of Programs.
20 years later, GVI has engaged over 35,000 participants, set up 600 community partnerships, and currently runs 21 programs in 13 countries worldwide. Richard and Ben’s vision to not only facilitate global citizenship and leadership skills in young adults, but to allow them to have a truly positive impact on local communities and environment is very much alive.
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