Global Citizens Network: volunteer vacations and working holidays for mature travelers.
Global Citizens Network: volunteer vacations and working holidays for mature travelers.
Ricki gathers firewood
on the Cheyenne River reservation

Once you get Ulrike (Ricki) Lavorato Perdomo started, she just can't stop. She's been on three Global Citizens Network volunteer vacations, all in the U.S., and she wants to go on yet another.

"Here I'd traveled so much and I realized I didn't know that much about the United States." Ricki, as she's called, had been to Europe many times, but her desire to explore parts unknown in the U.S. took her first to Tohatchi, a Navajo reservation in New Mexico, in June 1998.

Fence painting on a working holiday in New Mexico.
Volunteers spruce up a fence on the Tohatchi reservation.

There a Navajo man asked her, "Why are you here?" She replied that she had never been to New Mexico and wanted to learn more about their culture and the region. And, she added, if anyone was interested she wanted to share her life in return. The man was pleased with her answer and said that a young woman had once replied to the same question that she pitied the people on the reservation for the sins visited upon them by the government. He didn't like that answer.

"Everyone is idealistic at first on these trips", Ricki reflected. "Then you see real life with real people with real problems on their own territory." She had to put aside the Indian myths, the idealistic images, all the partial truths she had acquired through her life, and "relearn history - and see the people as they are now. When you're in it, you learn so much more."

There was the stark, stunning landscape. Ricki found herself a little disoriented at first, but couldn't figure out why. Then she realized that if she stood in one place and turned around, she could see the horizon all the way around - a far cry from her home in urban West Orange, New Jersey, not far from New York City. Here she is an ESL teacher to adult learners.

Ricki came to the U.S. from Germany when she was six. Like her students, other cultures have been plaited into her own: that of her Italian first husband, and her Colombian-born husband with whom she recently celebrated her first wedding anniversary. "I always tell my students that learning about the U.S. does not mean giving up their own culture - they can learn to live with both."

Ricki was looking for some way to make her travels meaningful. She wanted to contribute in some way, not merely be a tourist. GCN provided the way. She liked their passion and commitment, and their realistic philosophy about their mission. Her experience in New Mexico whetted her appetite, so two months after the trip to Tohatchi, she joined an exploratory team to South Dakota testing out a possible new GCN venture.

Digging dirt can be part of a volunteer vacation.
Working holidays create camaraderie
and dirty nails!

Then she went on a third trip in June of 2000, to Shungopavi, a Hopi reservation in Arizona. Since the first trip she had become fascinated with the sun dance, practiced in each of the communities she visited. In Shungopavi, a Hopi man explained to her that if one can make it through the grueling dance, the next time one is faced with something difficult it is not so hard. Ricki encountered one man who had been an alcoholic for 30 years and after the sun dance, he stopped drinking cold turkey.

Relaxing with a Hopi friend on a working holiday.
A Hopi friend braids Ricki's hair.

Ricki echoes the Hopi man's wisdom. "Everything prepares you for another trip", she says. Her experiences on the reservations readied her to visit her husband's family in Columbia. When you're faced with rudimentary living conditions, and you manage to manage, "It makes it all that much easier to roll with the punches."

She dreams of returning to one of the reservations to learn how to weave. "Just talking about it", she says, "gets me antsy. I think it's time for another trip."

Mary Jo Pehl is a former writer and actor for Mystery Science Theater 3000, nominated for two Emmy Awards. Her work appears in the anthology, Life's A Stitch (Random House, 2002); her commentaries have been featured on National Public Radio's All Things Considered, and Public Radio International's The Savvy Traveler. Pehl is co-author of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Guide (Bantam Books, 1996), and her writing has appeared on-line and in print in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Funny Times, and Minnesota Women's Press. Email:

Global Citizens Network Volunteer Vacations

Since 1992 the Global Citizens Network,, has been arranging volunteer vacations in Kenya, Nepal, Mexico and Guatemala, and in several U.S. states. Enthusiasm is the only special skill required! Projects range from setting up a library to short term teaching to building a health clinic or a community center. Projects usually last from 1-3 weeks. About 50% of volunteers are older adults.

Looking for other Volunteer Vacation Ideas?
Logo for LEAD Adventures, volunteer vacations in Ecuador.
LEAD Adventures'
local specialists offer over 30 different volunteer and adventure travel programs in Ecuador for individuals or groups. Volunteer with us and experience Ecuador's four worlds: Andes, Amazon, Coast, and Galapagos Islands! Consider our Grown Ups programs or Multigenerational Family programs with added attention to luxuries and privacy older that adults seek.

The Land Conservancy of British Columbia logo. Operating throughout British Columbia, Canada, The Land Conservancy [TLC] is a charitable Land Trust whose mission is to protect ecologically significant environments as well as properties with historical, cultural, scenic or recreational value. TLC offers memorable "conservation holidays" in locations ranging from small islands to large ranches to ecoforestry sites.

Volunteer feature articles in our web collection:
Visit our richly-illustrated feature, Volunteer Vacations Worldwide, documenting a variety of well established opportunities involving physical and mental challenges, together with a huge dose of holiday satisfaction. Wild dolphin research in Hawaii, orphanage outreach in Peru and India, archaeological excavation in Mongolia, raptor rehabilitation in Alaska, teaching in the Cook Islands, and natural lands restoration in British Columbia, will surely set the motivational juices flowing! Check out our latest volunteer vacation feature article profiling Global Service Corps on a sustainable agriculture project in Tanzania and the Global Volunteer Network and its visionary founder, Colin Salisbury. Or share the insights of an Earthwatch Institute volunteer about the effects of the former slave culture on present day rural Barbados.

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