The Real-Life Ways That Rustic Students Help Communities Worldwide
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The Real-Life Ways That Rustic Students Help Communities Worldwide

The Bribri indigenous people in Costa Rica are among those who have benefited from the volunteer efforts of Rustic Pathways students. For more than ten years, villagers in the country’s largest remaining indigenous tribe have welcomed Rustic students into their community and worked hand-in-hand with them.

Rustic students work on a service project with locals in the Bribri community in Costa Rica. Copyright: © 2016 Rustic Pathways

Among the projects they’ve completed is a three mile-long aqueduct and a 20,000 liter water tank that provides clean water. It took nearly three years and $30,000 in donations to complete the project.

The nonprofit Rustic Pathways Foundation works with donors, students, and families to make these projects possible. Over the years, funds from the foundation have helped tackle real-life problems including sinking schools, storm-damaged homes, a lack of clean water, and environmental degradation.

In summers past, Rustic students provided more than 180,000 service hours each year to dozens of these projects. After travel returned this year, things began to get back on track with more than 25,000 hours provided. These hours make a tangible difference on many fronts.

Providing an Education to Children

Around the world, many families are so determined to give their children an education they will hold classes wherever they can. During their travels, Rustic students have encountered places where local children have attended school in classrooms that are flooded with water or are under tarps. They’ve seen students walk for many miles to get to schools.

A number of the projects that occur during Rustic’s programs center on improving access to an education. In 2016, Cyclone Winston damaged the primary school in Somosomo, Fiji – a village where a number of Rustic students stay during their travels.

Be greeted like family in Somosomo village. Copyright: Rustic Pathways

Two years afterwards the village was still trying to provide an education with only one classroom standing and teachers living in tents and makeshift houses. Two Rustic families – the McDonald and Berg families – stepped up to provide a grant after their children visited the village. The Rustic Pathways Foundation coordinated efforts to use the money to build three new education buildings.

Similar projects have unfolded in other locations. In Cambodia, the Kong Maha Primary School was collapsing and children were attending school in makeshift classrooms under tarps. Again Rustic Pathways worked with donors and traveling students to build new classrooms.

It was a similar story in Prek Toal, Cambodia where a floating school was sinking, and Rustic students helped build a new school. In addition, a long-term relationship with this community has led to the building of homes and other structures.

Two of the children who benefited from a new home that was built by villagers and Rustic students in the Prek Toal Floating Village in Cambodia.

Across the globe in Peru, the Sacred Valley Project focuses on providing an education to girls. Rustic students there have provided a number of lessons to these students over the years.

Other programs to benefit children include the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home in Thailand that has helped indigenous children in the Karen community. Also in the past Rustic students were involved in the Refugee Youth Project in Baltimore where they provided language and enrichment lessons to children.

Tackling Conservation Challenges

On the environmental front, Rustic has partnered with several NGOs and government organizations to assist with ongoing environmental efforts. Here are some of the relationships that benefit students during their travel programs:

  • Students work with the Fundemar NGO in the Dominican Republic to restore coral reef formations.
  • They visit the Jane Goodall Institute in Tanzania to build beehives and tree nurseries.
  • Conservationists from Wildlife SOS in Asia have educated students on their efforts to save dancing bears used for street entertainment and elephants living in abusive  conditions.
  • Since 2016 students have been working in partnership with the National System of Conservation Areas in Costa Rica on the Turtle Conservation Project and other environmental efforts.

Students work with elephants in Thailand. Copyright: Rustic Pathways

In other regions, Rustic has established similar partnerships that enable students to do hands-on work improving the environment.

Launching Economic Projects and More

Aside from these efforts, Rustic students have been involved in a host of other endeavors designed to help local communities. They’ve helped build chicken coops and piggery projects and held workshops for women to improve economic opportunities.

They’ve also stepped up after other natural disasters. Rustic students helped rebuild homes in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, working with the St. Bernard Project in the region. They’ve worked with medical professionals to do health screenings in rural communities, have organized soccer games for children and have helped create fish farms.

Rustic students learn about healthcare in the Dominican Republic. Copyright: Rustic Pathways

In some cases students have had such a strong connection with locals they’ve spearheaded their own Rustic projects.

Going the Extra Mile to Give Back

Alumni Charlotte Maracina and Rebecca Rosenzwieg are among the students who were so inspired by their programs that they launched new projects after returning home. Both of them worked to open cafés that benefit villagers in the towns they visited.

Rosenzwieg traveled with Rustic to Thailand. Later when she attended college she was so inspired by her journey she used a $10,000 grant from the Davis Projects for Peace to give back more to the community. She worked with the Rustic Pathways Foundation to create a café at the Hill Tribe Support Base. There youth from the Karen hill tribe run the café to gain vocational skills.

Charlotte Maracina launched a similar endeavor in Fiji after her Rustic trip there. For her Girl Scout Gold Award, she spent months working with the foundation to create, develop and raise money for a nonprofit smoothie café called Sun, Sand, and Smoothies located on the Eco-Lodge’s property. The café became fully operational by the summer of 2018.

Photo: Charlotte Maracina

“Studying abroad provides lifelong impacts that a student may not even realize until later,” Maracina said. “My short two weeks in Fiji has been resulting in a domino effect like no other. As cliche as it sounds, my experience in Fiji was simply indescribable.”

If you’d like to donate to the Rustic Pathways Foundation or read more about its projects, please visit our website.

About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer

Mary is a Content Writer at Rustic Pathways. She has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. Prior to covering student travel, Mary created content for the music education company J.W. Pepper & Son. She also was a writer and producer at CNN International and a communications director for a social service agency and a K-12 private school.