As a teenager and young adult, Mimi Gendreau had always dreamed of joining the Peace Corps and traveling to Africa, but life’s encumbrances prohibited that option. As she approached her 49th birthday, she longed to make a global impact. When she read about “volunteer vacations” that didn’t require a two-year commitment, she was convinced this was her answer.
She and her husband, Eric Noyes joined Global Volunteers’ short-term team in Pommern, Tanzania.
The trip was everything Mimi had hoped for… and even more. Three weeks of teaching English and doing manual labor opened her eyes to Africa’s profound needs and potential. And now, Eric’s heart sang with hope for the little highland village. On the plane trip home, they vowed to continue helping the children they had worked with, and who now dominated the couple’s thoughts.
The village needed a potable water system... a huge, costly project to be sure. Renouncing the recession, Mimi and Eric promised Global Volunteers and local leaders they would raise the funds to bring clean water to Pommern. And, they would need to engage everyone in their social network to help them.
How to rally their Detroit co-workers, friends, family members and wider community, weighed down in debt, to support this project nearly half a world away? This is their inspirational story.
Why did you choose a “volunteer vacation” to fulfill your lifelong dream of service in Africa?
Shorter trips are wonderful for those of us who are still working and cannot take two years off to join the Peace Corps. We both wanted to focus on “service” for and with the community. Very important to us, the mission of Global Volunteers and its volunteers is to foster international people-to-people contacts and to “wage peace” through better cultural understanding and genuine service.
How do you describe your service experience in Tanzania?
The Pommern community, teachers and students were so warm and welcoming to us that we quickly felt a strong connection. The teachers are very committed to preparing students in their studies and completing their education. It was very clear that students really want and appreciate their education, despite having to live in very meager circum-stances. We taught not only young children and teenagers, but also many young adults who needed to complete their secondary school education and we enjoyed interacting with the students and hearing about their dreams. We found these parents are like parents around the world who want to better their children’s future, and they know education is the key to prospering in the future.
What convinced you to adopt the Pommern Water Project?
Because of a strong connection we felt with the Pommern Community, we wanted to continue our work after returning home by helping with a project that would be long-term and sustainable, and would benefit not only the Secondary School but the entire Pommern Community. The U.S. dollar stretches far in Tanzania, and we thought if we could donate our own funds and raise money from other generous people, it would allow Pommern to undertake a sustainable project. This project would be important to supporting better health for the community, as well as improving the educational dreams and goals of the community for its children.
Why a water project?
This was a project the local people identified to Global Volunteers as critical for their long-term development. The current water system was built in 1970 and was intended for only 600 people. Now over 4,000 people are drawing on this water system, resulting in overuse and inadequate water.
The system often breaks down and only temporary repairs can be made. Students and villagers must often walk long distances to the river for water. This is valuable time that the students could better use for preparing their school coursework. Moreover, if the unclean water is not boiled or otherwise treated, it can transmit numerous water-borne illnesses.
How did you start the Project fundraising?
It was agreed that we should raise $70,000 in U.S. funds to build the water system. So... $70,000 became our goal!
Then we discussed our ideas with Global Volunteers’ Minnesota staff. We created a new fundraising page on the Global Volunteers website and Eric created our own Pommern Water Project website. Later, we created a Facebook page.
The social media led to one Global Volunteer’s benefit garage sale which netted nearly $500. Another former Tanzania volunteer (a retired water engineer/university professor) made several major monetary donations.
We started a matching fund campaign with our family and friends, and were moved by our first donation to come from our cousins who are raising six adopted and seriously disabled children. They are probably the least able to donate with so many other responsibilities. Yet, they did not hesitate. A local physical therapy clinic donated all the proceeds of their annual fundraising event.
When we reviewed the past year’s work, it still totaled only $15,000. We had to acknowledge that while our first efforts were successful, we needed new avenues if we were going to raise the $70,000.
So, we decided to approach non-profit foundations. However, neither one of us had written grant proposals, so we first needed to learn about fund-raising. We took a library course on how to search the Foundation Center Database, and how to write grant applications. Eric took over the grant writing and I continued searching the database to find foundations to apply for grants.
The Global Volunteers staff reviewed all the applications and provided answers to questions about governance and policies. In November 2010, we were thrilled and thankful to receive a $10,000 grant from the Sundance Family Foundation in Minneapolis, whose mission is to support and strengthen family stability worldwide.
How did you finally reach your fundraising goal?
The Sundance grant award inspired more donations from our steady supporters and major donors. When we unexpectedly received a $5,000 donation from some former Global Volunteers in Alberta, Canada, we knew that the fundraising goal was met!!
What was your biggest challenge?
The downturn of the economy, just as we were beginning fundraising, was discouraging. However, we were encouraged by our friends in Metro Detroit where the economy was the worst in the country. For example, we received a $50 donation from a friend whose spouse had been unemployed for over a year. Another acquaintance whom we had not seen in many years donated generously. Another Global Volunteer to Pommern offered $1,000 given in lieu of wedding gifts.
What is next for you with the Pommern Water Project?
We are leaving this month to participate with Global Volunteers and the local community to help build the water system. We want to encourage more people to volunteer with Global Volunteers and go to Pommern to continue building the water system as well as teaching in the Secondary School. Our work will continue through others!
Global Volunteers, founded in 1984, is a international development-assistance organization in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations. Volunteers serve on teams, ranging from 5 to 15 individuals, starting on Saturdays around the year.
Couples, families, individuals of all backgrounds and ages assist with sustained, locally-directed development projects such as teaching conversational English, caring for at-risk children, planting and maintaining community gardens, repairing community buildings, modeling appropriate hygiene and much more.
Volunteers pay a tax-deductible service program fee. Everyone is welcome! For more information: www.globalvolunteers.org or call (800) 487-1074.