Established by UCLA's Global Center for Children and Families in 2006, the program aims to build lasting ties between Americans and families in developing countries.
By Kelsey Sharpe for UCLA Today
Families and individuals interested in getting more out of international travel than a souvenir and some photos have a new option to consider — one that adds community service and relationship building with foreign families to the experience.
Global Buddies, established by UCLA's Global Center for Children and Families in 2006, is a program that aims to build lasting ties between Americans and families in developing countries.
The UCLA Semel Institute’s Global Center for Children and Families grew out of the Center for Community Health, and aims to promote the well-being of children and families both in the United States and abroad. As part of this goal, the Global Buddies program gives families and individuals the opportunity to travel to foreign countries and experience the daily life of people living in small towns and villages in Africa, China and Cambodia.
“We wanted to turn people’s natural urge to travel into something that would provide a deeper, more meaningful experience for travelers and locals alike,” said Diane Flannery, who is not only the director of the GCCF, but also the co-founder of the Global Buddies program and a trip leader.
The program now includes yearly trips to locations within South Africa and Uganda, and the 2010 schedule includes two new destinations — China and Cambodia. The trips typically last between one and two weeks, and vary in price from $1,500 to $4,900. Through connections GCCF has made with NGOs, Flannery and co-director Mary Jane Rotheram-Borus have crafted itineraries that mix travel, community service and relationship building. On a 2009 trip to Uganda, for example, adults worked on a service project to help construct a community water pump while the children of the visitors and residents learned and played together.
Flannery decided to develop the program after watching a lasting friendship grow between her daughter and a girl from a South African township over a number of years. Flannery frequently visited the township for her work with the Center for Children and Families. By organizing a travel agenda that includes both activities for families and for parents and children separately, Flannery hopes to give them a trip that will become “the basis for a new sense of identity for the whole family.”
American travelers aren't they only ones benefiting from Global Buddies — local residents that may be cut off from the outside world because of poverty or geography are able to share “meaningful experiences as equals,” Flannery explained. Additionally, student and teacher alumni at the Mirman School in Los Angeles have helped to create a global citizenship curriculum that includes setting up pen pals between students at the school and in Africa, joint education projects and fundraising programs.
Once they meet, the families continue to connect via e-mail, text-messaging and even repeat trips. Participants' positive reports led to the expansion of the program. Flannery hopes not only to add new countries and communities, but also to expand the diversity of the travelers and bring foreign families to Los Angeles. She is working now on bringing several South African youths to L.A. this year.
“When people from different backgrounds connect around their children, in an atmosphere of trust, barriers crumble and they discover how much they share,” Flannery said.
More information on the Global Buddies program can be found at its website. Among those encouraged to participate are adults traveling without children, teachers, grandparents, schools and other groups interested in customized trips.