Volunteer program promises philanthropy and adventure
Lilly Necker / Sun Star Reporter
Sept. 20, 2011
Makahu Sparks came to Alaska from New Zealand to open UAF students’ minds to a different way of going abroad.
Sparks, 29, is a recruitment coordinator for the non-profit organization International Student Volunteers (ISV). “Our program combines two weeks of meaningful volunteering with two weeks of incredible adventure travel,” Sparks said.
He held information meetings once an hour during the Sept. 15 workday in the Wood Center Ballroom to explain the opportunities students could have in eight different countries. Students could help protect the rainforest in Costa Rica, build and repair schools and playgrounds in South Africa, teach English to underprivileged children in Thailand, support medical projects in the Dominican Republic, monitor the humpback whale population of the Ecuador coastline, develop outdoor education centers in Australia or build nest boxes for New Zealand’s national bird, the kiwi.
UAF paralegal studies student Abbey Stark, 19, came to one of the meetings because it’s better to hear anecdotes in-person instead of just clicking through the website, she said. Stark would love to go to Australia. “It may sound a little stupid, but Australia reminds me of Alaska — just with a tropical and warm setting,” Stark said, “and I heard of the friendly people Down Under as well.”
Takae Nakajima, originally from Japan, is studying biology during her second year at UAF and is interested in the volunteer part of the program. “I would love to work with the animals — no matter if it’s feeding animals in Thailand or helping the sea turtles in Costa Rica,” Nakajima said. “Besides that, I think it’s a great experience to go abroad.”
Biology and preveterinary student Jenny Klecka traveled to Ecuador with the ISV program this summer. “I had the time of my life and brought back so many stories I can tell,” she said.
The ISV program requires applicants to have a passport and be 18 by departure date.
“You don’t even need to be a student. We also don’t have an age limit. Once we had a 78-year-old man in the program who wanted to have an experience of a lifetime before he dies,” Sparks said.
It’s necessary to apply early, because space is limited and the organization doesn’t take everybody.
“We want to give people this extraordinary opportunity who are really willing to help and to make a difference,” Sparks said. The program looks for people with friendly and refreshing personalities, he said.
By the end of the day Sparks had more than 300 students sign up for more information about the program. Students interested in one of the limited spaces can check the program’s website, www.isvolunteers.org. The site provides information on both trips and costs.
“It sure isn’t less money, but there are a lot of possibilities to get a sponsorship from communities or companies. And you get something for your money. Not just 24-hour support in the country you will go, but food, accommodation and help in any other way,” Sparks said. “You will experience something that will change your life forever.”