LeeAnn Webster spent a week in Costa Rico in August 2007 working side-by-side with members of a village painting a community center and digging irrigation ditches.
She ate lunch and dinner with the village residents, and learned first-hand about their culture.
In 2008 she volunteered in an orphanage in Peru. Families living in the nearby mountains used the orphanage as a place for their children to live during the week so they could attend school. She also helped build clay stoves for those families.
These trips were possible because of her involvement in Globe Aware, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) develops short-term volunteer programs in international environments that encourage people to immerse themselves in a unique way of giving back.
Every activity is intended to promote cultural awareness and/or promote sustainability, according to globeaware.org. Chosen projects meet several criteria: safe, culturally interesting, genuinely beneficial to a needy community, and involve significant interaction with the host community.
The organization has no political or religious affiliation, and volunteers help to empower the host communities in creating renewable, sustainable programs, according to the site.
Webster, assistant director of marketing and business development at Mayer Brown, said each trip really changed her and how she lives her life. She typically spends one week working with Globe Aware, and a second week traveling on her own.
Most programs, she said, cost about $1,100 a week, and that includes accommodations and food for the week. But those who participate must also pay for airfare, but it’s tax-deductible.
She said Globe Aware really strives to put the money it receives back into community the volunteers are working in. She plans to go this year back to Costa Rico, but this time will work with a coastal program involving sea turtles. And she will bring her nephew, who just graduated from high school.
Globe Aware could be an option for those lawyers in-between jobs.
“It’s going to give them a unique experience, especially if they’ve never traveled somewhere like that, and an understanding of how these people live, how a different government structure or different supply structure can affect what you’re able to do,” she said.
“As a new attorney you suddenly get on [your firm’s] timetable … Your life really becomes usurped by the firm. This is their last opportunity to do something totally for them to help them gain a different perspective, and I think give them a different view of the world at really unique time. It’s hard to break away after you start practicing.
“And in the jungles of Costa Rico your BlackBerry doesn’t work. That is another reason I like these trips. You can really get away.”