Seattle Works

A blog that documents all things Seattle Works…and much much more!

Volunteer Service Trip to Peru Where “One Week Just Wasn’t Enough” November 9, 2012

Filed under: Service Trips,Volunteer — seattleworks @ 3:46 pm

A view of Vicos, Peru.

We’re back! From October 19 to 29, a team of seven volunteers joined the 2012 Crooked Trails Service Trip with Seattle Works, traveling to Vicos, Peru. Our group had the opportunity to participate in an incredible cultural exchange experience and lend our support to an amazing project: building improved stoves for local families.

Here’s some history behind this project: Last year, Pablo Tadeo Cilio, a member of the Vicos tourism association (and one of our homestay hosts),  saw a model of a stove that could replace the open-fire cooking that is common in many households. It occurred to him that such a stove would be easy to build in Vicos using almost entirely local materials and building practices- an important consideration, since the main goal of the community’s tourism initiative is to promote environmental, cultural, social and economic sustainability. Furthermore, the stoves could be funded in part through volunteer tourism, and would significantly improve environmental and health conditions in local homes. So he went home and built a prototype in his kitchen (really), and created a design that could be adapted to the needs of each house in which it was built. (Read more about the project from Peru-based partner organization Respons here.)

Pablo and one of the homeowners in front of a newly constructed stove.

The Vicos tourism association conducted a community evaluation to identify families that would significantly benefit from a cocina mejorada (“better kitchen”), focusing on serving households headed by single mothers and families with many children. Selected families made their own adobe bricks to contribute to the project, and the individual women who would primarily be using the stoves gave significant input as to what design would work best for each of them. Our team felt privileged to be able to learn about the skills needed to build with adobe, and to have a chance to try our hand at mixing mud, stacking bricks, and pitching in wherever we could! In just a couple of days, we assisted in constructing eight new stoves in collaboration with many dedicated community members.

It wasn’t all hard work, though! In addition to the service project, we had the opportunity to enjoy Vicos and the surrounding area. We stayed with host families with whom we shared meals and chats around the fire in the evenings. And the day after we finished working on the stoves, members of the tourism association guided us on two incredible hikes. One group saw local ruins and learned about medicinal plants. And a few of us participated in an intense trek to over 14,000 feet, where we got a close-up look at a glacier and even got to see some cave paintings.

Our guide, Pedro, who is part of the Vicos tourism association, helped members of our group make it up to a glacier at about 14,000 feet.

On our last day, our hosts threw us a huge goodbye party, which made leaving Vicos all the more difficult. Many of us have talked about returning someday to reunite with our homestay families and enjoy the stunningly beautiful Andes mountains. One week just wasn’t enough.

After we departed Vicos, we spent a day relaxing in the city of Huaraz. And since no Seattle Works adventure would be complete without a little beer, we celebrated at the Sierra Andina Brewing Company.

Ursula and Joey enjoy local beer at the Huaraz brewery to celebrate the end of a successful trip.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this year’s service trip an amazing experience!



Service trip to Peru with Crooked Trails: Deadline extended to Tues 9/11! September 6, 2012

Filed under: Service Trips — seattleworks @ 9:56 am

Join a team of traveling volunteers to Vicos, Peru, a small town in the beautiful Andes mountains. The deadline has been extended to this Tuesday, September 11th! This trip is being planned by Crooked Trails, a local nonprofit with years of expertise in global travel, service, and cultural exchange.

In Vicos, volunteers will work alongside community members to build “smokeless ovens.” Traditional Andean kitchens are open fire pits, which cause a lot of health problems due to smoke inhalation and require lots of wood. These new kitchens include a new stove, constructed in adobe with a chimney to carry the smoke outside improving family health, saving money and conserving natural resources.

The itinerary also includes adventurous options such as rock climbing, rafting, biking, checking out historic art districts, amazing sea cliff views and more. Top it off with an extension to the breathtaking Machu Picchu at the end of the program and you’ve got a great opportunity to explore, have fun and travel with a purpose!

For more details about the trip and to apply, visit and contact Angela Dollar at Hope to see you in Peru!

Volunteers making new friends in Vicos, Peru.


Global Happy Hour! w/ Seattle Works, YPIN, and Crooked Trails August 9, 2012

Filed under: Service Trips — seattleworks @ 8:56 pm

Join us for a summer Happy Hour at El Camino in Fremont!  Meet people who are involved in global and local community programs and find out more about the work of Seattle Works, YPIN, and Crooked Trails.  Plus, learn more about a unique opportunity to join a team of volunteers on a service trip to Peru this Fall.  See you there!

When:  August 16, 2012 @ 6:30 – 8:30pm

Where:  El Camino – 607 N 35th St, Seattle, WA 98103

Cost:  Free and open to all!

Find out more information or RSVP on the Facebook Event.


Travel to Peru with Seattle Works July 22, 2012

Filed under: Service Trips — seattleworks @ 10:10 am
Tags: ,

This year, Seattle Works is bringing you a partner program opportunity with Crooked Trails to travel to Peru to build smokeless ovens in the village of Vicos, high in the Andes Mountains.

Crooked Trails is an expert in sustainable traveling!  They provide immersive travel programs in support of indigenous peoples around the world.  For their trips they allow the host communities to take the lead, meaning that you have been invited to come to the village of Vicos and the community has developed the project that you will work on.  It’s an experience of true cultural exchange unlike any other.

The team of volunteers will be creating smokeless cooking stoves for the village.  These concinas mejoradas or “better kitchens” are becoming necessary for improved family health, saving money and conserving natural resources. These kitchens are designed to replace open fire pits which are currently what most families in Vicos use to cook.

A “better kitchen” means a stove, constructed in adobe with a steel plate on top plus a chimney to carry the smoke outside.  The warmth produced by these stoves will keep the entire room up to 15 degrees warmer – and take a fraction of the burning material as the current set up does.

Each family that has been chosen to receive a “better kitchen” is responsible for making adobe bricks and providing local materials and labor to help. You will be helping the families to build, as well as fund the rest of the project.  In about two days, the selected family and up to four volunteers will be able to complete an entire kitchen.

It’s not all work and no play though! Your late afternoon and evenings will be open for you to visit neighboring farms and families, eat around the fire with your host family, explore the area and sing and dance with all the new people you’ll have gotten know.

An unforgettable Machu Picchu extension is available and highly recommended – it is truly one of the great wonders of the world.

The service trip will be from Friday 10/19 to Sunday 10/28 and the optional Machu Picchu extension will be from Sunday 10/28 to Thursday 11/1.

The application deadline is September 4th.  Find out more details about this unforgettable experience and sign up.

We will also be having a happy hour get together at El Camino in Fremont on Thursday August 16 from 6:30 – 8:30 PM.  Come meet people who are involved in global and local community programs and find out more about Seattle Works, Crooked Trails, and the Young Professionals International Network as well as our unique opportunity.

RSVP on the Facebook event.


Volunteer Team heads to Trinidad to help build a house! September 20, 2011

Filed under: HandsOn Leadership,Lead,Service Trips — seattleworks @ 5:00 pm

Last week, Juli Genovesi and myself, both Hands on Leadership graduates had the pleasure of leading a group of 6 volunteers on a Habitat for Humanity Global Village build in Trinidad.

The idea for this trip started last December as the capstone for Juli’s HOL class and I got looped in soon thereafter.  While we initially looked at builds within the US we eventually got more ambitious and landed on Trinidad because of it’s interesting culture and acute need for housing help.  The following eight months were a whirlwind as we took trainings from Habitat, sorted out tons of logistics, recruited volunteers, and threw a few large scale fund raising events including a benefit concert at the Triple Door (thanks to Juli’s amazing musical connections).

With everything in place, our team of 8, finally headed off for Trinidad on the 3rd of September.  We arrived on the island on Saturday, and got to spend our first night at a small hotel on the outskirts of the capital, Port of Spain.  The next morning we woke up early, grabbed breakfast, and set off for our build site in the southern town of Point Fortin, known to the locals as just “Point”.

In Point we had a small guest house to ourselves including three rooms and a common area.  The local habitat office rep, Sharlin, was with us the whole time there and went out of her way to make our experience amazing.

Our first day involved seeing the build site and meeting the future homeowners we’d be helping: Melissa Brown and her husband.  We then got to enjoy a little fun on the beach to relax and get ready for our hard work ahead.

Each weekday, we’d get up at 7AM, eat breakfast which was provided by the Habitat affiliate, then head out to the site.  By 8:30 we would meet our foreman, Marcus Lucas, a habitat contractor, and start on the tasks for the day.  While the logistics and planning were not as rigorous as one may expect in the US, the whole team adapted well and went with flow.  Our goal was to get as far as we could on the foundation and included straightening up a trench, building re-bar for the hole by bending steel using our hands, then filling the entire ditch with hand mixed and bucket carried concrete.  In 95 degree heat with high humidity it was very taxing work for us Seattlites who’re not used to seeing the sun at all. Any cloud cover we got was a welcome break and passing showers provided us with a bit of relief as well.  The best part of the experience was being able to work alongside the family members whom we were building for as it made our impact more appreciable.  We really gelled as a team and by the end of the week exceed expectations by finishing the entire foundation.

After each workday, we had time to wonder around town and get a sense of the local scene.  We went to grocery stores, hung out in coffee shops, and even became addicted to the local street food called “doubles” which were served out of the back of a station wagon in the center of town.  One night we went us out as a team and got to experience a student steel drum group perform local music.

On Friday night, we went back to Port of Spain and took a one day excursion on Saturday to Tobago, a more touristy island.  While there we lounged on the beach and got to go snorkeling near a reef.  It was a welcome respite after a tough week of manual labor.  We returned to Trinidad that same evening, had a farewell ceremony hosted by the country’s Habitat affiliate, then woke up early the next morning to fly back to Seattle.

All in all, our Habitat for Humanity GV trip to Trinidad was an amazing experience.  It was a perfect mix of volunteering, immersion in the local culture, and a bit of vacationing.  While it was definitely challenging at times, with the skills we acquired in Hands on Leadership, Juli and I were set up well to plan and execute on this broad project.


And what do you know, we’ve got another service trip option coming up in November in Nicaragua if this sounds like something you’d want to do!


Lost in the Clouds of Thailand January 11, 2010

Filed under: Service Trips,Volunteer — seattleworks @ 10:46 pm

I’ve felt a little lost in my own world ever since I returned from Thailand. I wanted to write about the experience – but I still feel like I’m in limbo. For a month my travel moleskin with notes from the trip has been in my purse waiting for the magical moment when I’m done ‘processing’ to come and inspiration to hit. Today I reached the decision that it won’t come unless I drag my head back down from the clouds. Please join me as I take a journey to reconnect my head to the ground.

It’s slightly ironic – or perhaps just meaningful – that the first memory that drops from my head to my hands on the keyboard is of the sky. One of the most beautiful magical moments in Thailand was a moment when our entire group got lost in the clouds. It was a moment of mysterious rainbows that would not be captured by a camera. They demanded to remain free and to stay in the moment. They refused to be brought home and shared with our friends and family abroad. The beauty was only for us. It was only for that one moment on a deserted beach after a day of planting mangroves, sharing a meal with our Thai hosts, cracking and preparing coconuts, and before the magic of singing and dancing with Sea Gypsies fueled by whiskey. That moment of mystery was ours and ours alone.

I still can’t answer the ubiquitous question “how was Thailand” without feeling like it’s a cop out. I can talk about the amazing people on the trip. I can talk about the $6 manicure/pedicures. I can talk about the Burmese children, our host family, the food, or the work. I can tell stories about pink taxis, tuk tuks, river taxis, long tail boats, subways, trains, and tractors. I can talk about Seattle Works, Crooked Trails, and Andaman Discoveries that made the trip possible. None of that truly answers the question.

Not having the answer makes my eyes burn with frustration. It’s not just that I don’t have a good 30 second elevator speech for the trip. I don’t even know what to tell my nearest and dearest loved ones. I think there is a part of me (heart? mind? soul?) that is stuck in that “miracle” in the clouds. At first I explained the fog as jet lag, then it was the darkness at 4:30 compared to the near 12 hours of light when we were traveling, but I’m running out of excuses.

Somehow, the trip was easy. I mean – it wasn’t. I didn’t speak the language. There were toilets that were completely alien to me. I couldn’t drink the water. The heat made the treated water I drank drip from my body faster than I could replenish it. There were mosquito bites that made me consider gnawing off parts of my legs. And yet, my default answer to the ever-frustrating question is “Thailand was amazing”. None of the challenges seemed to matter. It was worth it.

It occurs to me that the reason I can’t wrap my brain around how to describe the trip is that I haven’t decided what it means for my ‘real life’. I do think it means something. It inspired me. But what am I going to do about it? I don’t know yet. I have a good life. I have family. I have friends – the family that I have created from wide arrays of interesting people. I have more than I need when it comes to physical possessions. I give back by volunteering. I work for a company that is working to improve things all over the world. Looking at my life on paper, there isn’t much that I’d change. I am blessed to have the life that I do, but since I’ve returned I still feel disconnected from it.

Suddenly, I feel like I just saw that miracle again. My epiphany: on this trip abroad I found something I hadn’t been able to find with the small projects I do here in Seattle – passion. It is that thing that keeps me from making excuses, and makes me fight my way through even if it’s hard. I fight through the struggle only because the experience is worth it. Passion is the source of our finest moments. Seattle Works and Crooked Trails provided me with an experience that allowed me to rediscover what passion really does for me in my life. Now, it’s up to me to figure out how that passion translates to my life. My head is back on my shoulders and my feet are back on the ground, I just have to start running.

“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.” G. W. F. Hegel

– Nora Robertson (Team Captain)


Part of something bigger. December 16, 2009

Filed under: Service Trips — seattleworks @ 8:47 pm

We’d just eaten an amazing meal of fresh fish and vegetables and rice. Oh, so much rice. We sat on the floor of our homestay in Tung Dap with our Moken hosts; Beautiful, airy beams; A home built by hand.

Our host asked us why we were there.

Why would ten farangs take two weeks to travel to the other side of the globe to spend a few days painting a school and planting mangroves?

Jan’s answer, as I paraphrase, was about family. In our culture we don’t live, with multiple familial generations, under the same roof. But we still seek that connection. That community.

We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

I’ve been taking these service trips through Seattle Works since they first gathered a group of people together to travel to Biloxi, MS in early 2007. It had been a year and a half since the storm devastated the Gulf Coast. I was deeply moved when I watched the storm coverage. I was glued to the TV, thinking about my cousins who live in Biloxi, thinking about the beautiful city of New Orleans I’d visited a few times with my family before the storm. So when Seattle Works decided to send a group to help hang drywall, I knew I had to sign up.

We stayed at a big church, most of us sleeping on mats on the floor. Taking four minute outdoor showers. Hanging drywall. Cleaning a nearby neighborhood. Meeting longterm volunteers who’d been there since just after the storm. Spending some time at the pub next door, playing cards – Apples to Apples. Being genuinely inspired by fellow humans from various walks of life.

One of our first nights there, a gentleman named David, who had just celebrated his 60th birthday by volunteering with his family in Biloxi, shared about Tikkun Olam.

“… There’s an important principle in Judaism – it’s a commandment of Jewish law – called Tikkun Olam. Tikkun Olam means to repair the world. The Talmud says: “It is not up to you to finish the work, yet you are not free to avoid it.” No one can fix it all; but we all have a part to play. What’s going on down here could not be more important as an example of Tikkun Olam.”

Upon our departure, I realized that experience changed me. I was definitely part of something bigger than myself.

I returned to the Gulf Coast that summer. Spending a week in New Orleans volunteering with Katrina Corps. Then went back once more, right before Mardi Gras, volunteering with Hands on New Orleans.

Seattle Works partnered with Crooked Trails last year, sending a team to Peru. I had some friends go and was convinced to take these experiences abroad. So, despite feeling like I had no vacation time and no extra money, I signed up to go to Thailand.

Thailand was amazing.

Now that I’ve been back a few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes these experiences so powerful. It isn’t just where we’re going or the work we’re doing.

It’s the people.

I’ve met some remarkable people in the Seattle Works community. Spending time traveling, serving, and bonding over beers (whether Chang or Abita!) takes you into some pretty profound relationships in a short amount of time. You learn a lot about someone when you’re spending every day with them. Often in less than luxurious accomodations. Challenging days. Sharing in breathtaking vistas. Reflecting on the work you’re doing, the people you’re meeting. Remembering what’s important. Finding shared values.

Then these lovely, overlapping social circles emerge when we’re all back in Seattle. You take a group of volunteers and recruit them for your kickball team. You take a soccer team and recruit them for your volunteer project. Before you know it, you’re attending feasts in church basements and friending inanimate objects on Facebook.

At some point, you’re not just a part of something bigger than yourself. You’re creating it.

– Noelle Smithhart