After graduating from Grinnell College, Doug Cutchins and his wife worked as U.S. Peace Corps volunteers in Suriname, South Africa, for two years. Today, he is back at his alma mater serving as the director of service and social commitment. His 2001 article on the 40-year history of Grinnell and the Peace Corps caught the eye of the editor of Volunteer Vacations, and Cutchins has now been at the helm of the publication for its last three editions. Why does volunteerism matter?
It matters to the world. One of the ways we are going to restore what the rest of the world thinks about America as a country is to get out there and build one-on-one relationships to demonstrate who we are and that we care. What kinds of personalities are drawn to combining vacation time with volunteer work?
People who what to do good. People who are adventurous. People who are curious and want to learn about other places in the world and also want to teach other people in the world who Americans are and what we are like.
Misconceptions about Americans?
People oftentimes have an idea of who Americans are and what we are like. We’re all devastatingly good looking. We are all white. We’re all rich and we don’t care about much else in the world. And when you start to poke holes in that it can be surprising to people. Misconceptions about traveling to obscure places in the world?
I think people figure out a few things pretty quickly. Number one, that people tend to be happy wherever they are in the world; that you can live in poverty and still find ways to be happy and cope with that situation.
Second of all, people love their kids everywhere in the world. I’ve never been anywhere in the world where the kids aren’t loved or cared for … so many of the volunteer programs are focused on kids and education particularly. Are group trips better than solo trips?
It depends on who you are and the type of organization you want to sign up with. I think groups are really wonderful, especially when you have something in common with the people that you are traveling with and the likelihood you are going to see them when you come back. This type of travel, when you are going to do good, is going to change not only how you see yourself in the world and your place in the world, but how you see the other people you are traveling and working with as well. I just think that is wonderful and very important. How can readers get involved?
I think the easiest way to get involved is to start thinking about the parameters you have. Some people can only go in the summer. Some people only have $1,000 to spend and some have always wanted to go to Africa. Whatever it is, you have to start with your own parameters to finding your volunteer vacation. Anything else you would like our readers to know?
I haven’t really emphasized the huge scope of opportunities that are out there. There are so many organizations. If you really want to go to Belize in the summer and do architectural work, there are probably three or four different organizations that do that. So take a chance and get out there to investigate. You are going to find something that’s really interesting and fun to do.