Backpacking for global impact

Joanna Comparelli and Amy Van Barneveld are backpacking this summer to give back and make a difference in the world.

Two Houston girls will travel with Operation Groundswell this summer. Amy Van Barneveld travels to East Africa to help with AIDS relief and learn about the effects of civil war. Joanna Comparelli travels to India to help with women's rights and learn about India's religions.

Joanna Comparelli and Amy Van Barneveld are travelling this summer to give back and make a difference.

In mid-July, both girls will head out on a 40-day trip with Operation Groundswell, “backpacking with a purpose” in different parts of the world.

Operation Groundswell is a non-profit organization for young “backpacktivists” to travel and take part in both tourism and cross-cultural volunteer work. The organization runs programs in 16 countries and is focused on solidarity and partnering with organizations in host-countries to meet real needs.

Comparelli heads to India in a “Gender and Religion” program focused on women’s rights and learning about India’s religions.

Van Barneveld heads to East Africa and Uganda in a “Discovery” program focused on human rights, AIDS relief and learning about the after-effects of civil war.

Van Barneveld and Comparelli agree that the mixture of “work and play” drew them to Operation Groundswell.

Comparelli says it will be a fun balance and give them a chance to experience the world and make a difference in it.

“As someone who was born and raised in Canada, I take a lot of things for granted, like health care, education, having food and clean water,” Comparelli said.

“I have so much, and for me to go to third world country and give back is the least I can do.”

The trip is also to help them with life decisions.

Comparelli is 18 years old and Van Barneveld 20, and for them this trip is partly to help them decide what they want to do with their lives.

“It’s so hard to figure out what you want to do when you’re so young,” Van Barneveld said.

“Why not take this time while we can to experience and travel and get to know where you want your place to be and figure out what you want do with your life.”

Comparelli agrees.

“I have no idea what I want to do with the rest of my life… but I feel like this trip will help me decide what I want to do.”

Comparelli heads to India July 12 with a team of 12 young people.

They start in New Delhi and travel to Rajasthan, Rishikesh, Amritsar which is known as the spiritual capital of the Sikh religion, and the Kangra Valley in the foothills of the Himalayas.

They work with organizations focused on gender equality, education and social services for women, preventing violence against women, and education for Tibetan refugees.

They will also travel to temples and key religious sites of Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, which all originated in India.

Comparelli says she will also visit the Taj Mahal and Golden Temple, sip chai on sand dunes, and ride camels in the Thar desert near Rajasthan.

She is most excited to ride camels and see the Taj Mahal and Golden Temple.

“But the big thing is just going to India… actually experiencing it,” she said.

“I think it will be an amazing experience to interact with the locals and actually be a part of something good that will help a couple women… and hopefully [I will make] lifetime friends.”

Van Barneveld will have a completely different experience with her team in East Africa starting July 13.

They start in Nairobi and travel to the Kakamaga Rainforest before heading into Uganda where they go from Kampala to Jinja to Gulu.

She will volunteer with Rescuing Widows, Elderly, Youth and Orphans with AIDS (RWEYOWA) in Kampala, and a youth organization in Gulu focused on the social issues and after-affects of civil war.

She will also work with two human rights organizations that fight injustice through media and politics in Kampala.

She will take an African safari, visit Hell’s Gate National Park which inspired the The Lion King setting, and raft the rapids on the Nile River in Uganda.

“The joy of it is that it’s half volunteer, half vacation,” Van Barneveld said.

“I’m passionate about just getting there and helping.”

The top two things Van Barneveld says she is excited about is the safari and volunteering to help people suffering with AIDS.

As required by Operation Groundswell, both girls are fundraising an extra $750 for the communities and organizations they visit. Their team will decide where the money should go at the end of their trip.

“It feels kind of like a community builder,” Comparelli said.

“The money I fund raise from this community is going to another community across the world. It’s like a connection.”

Comparelli says she believes their trips can make a difference.

“I am just one person, and going with a team of ten people. The population of India is crazy… we’re not going to make a world of a difference. But if we can help maybe two or three women, we would have made a difference.”

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