“We must be the change we wish to see in the world,” is what Matthew Colling, program co-director of HELP International, tells people every day.
HELP International is a non-profit organization committed to empowering people to fight global poverty though sustainable, life-changing development programs. This summer they are bringing their country total to eight by opening programs in two new countries: Tanzania and Peru.
Opening the new area of Tanzania are country directors, Tyler and America Nelson.
“We are looking forward to the challenge of pioneering a new location for HELP International,” Brother Nelson said. “The thought of being first on the ground and setting a foundation for years of future work in this highly impoverished location is very exciting.”
Organizations like HELP International begin with people who have that kind of vision: in this case, Warner Woodworth, a social entrepreneur and organizational behavior professor at BYU. He has always been service-oriented and development-minded.
After earning a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, he decided that he wanted to take the skills that he had gained, and apply them to people who would never have the resources to pay for them.
“I asked myself the question, ‘How can I use what I’m learning to change the world?'” Brother Woodworth said. “And that question changed my entire life.”
In 1999, in an effort to relieve suffering caused by Hurricane Mitch in Honduras, Brother Woodworth and other BYU faculty started a class where students could use the skills that they had to help.
The initial group of 46 volunteers raised more than $115,000 and spent four months in Honduras conducting humanitarian aid work and administering micro-credit loans to those in need. These initial projects affected the lives of an estimated 4,000 people, providing relief to many people left homeless by Hurricane Mitch.
“But the work does not just affect the people in the countries we serve,” Brother Colling said. “It changes and improves our lives as well. We are better because of it.”
Since the initial project in 1999, many students have seen the difference they can make and have become involved.
“I think that volunteering with HELP helps kids become ready to serve missions, and be more committed to the Church,” Brother Woodworth said. “They are following Doctrine and Covenants section 58 and doing many good things of their own free will” (v. 27).
Brother Woodworth spoke of the life-changing experience it is for the volunteers, and how it can even give them the edge-up for future jobs and internships.
HELP has grown to be a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization serving in various projects including earthquake relief, micro-finance impact assessment, family gardening, adobe stoves, libraries, business training and teaching English as a Second Language.
This year, HELP will be serving in El Salvador, India, Uganda, Peru, Tanzania, Thailand, Belize and Fiji.
HELP International has a unique model; with the motto, “Fight Poverty, Empower People” they partner with locals in the community to make positive changes.
“In this way we are connected to the community, to help them help themselves,” said Mike Duthrie, finance co-director at HELP International. “We help bridge the gap between those who have time and money, and those who don’t.”
To volunteer with HELP International, one applies to the program and, once accepted, commits to funding themselves and giving 6-18 weeks of his or her summer in a foreign country. The program fee is the same no matter how long a volunteer chooses to go; this enables many to serve the entire summer.
The minimum age for volunteers is 18. While it is mostly students who have the resources and time to give their summer, HELP welcomes any who want to apply.
Program directors in each country have usually served with HELP International before and work as connectors between the program, the locals and the volunteers. They have experience in traveling internationally, and are trained to deal with emergency situations.
Brother Nelson and his wife volunteered in El Salvador last year and are serving as the country directors in Tanzania this summer. They are interested in HELP because they plan to work in global and social developmental programs for their careers.
“This is a great time to see other cultures, religions, ways of life, and also a great trial period to see how our family and marriage can handle living abroad for extended periods of time,” Brother Nelson said. “While it isn’t always easy, being there together probably made our experience that much more gratifying because we were able to rely on each other for support.”
In order to be strong teams of clean-cut volunteers doing quality work, HELP holds several remote training sessions in the months before departure. Program directors and volunteers learn about the new cultures they will be experiencing, codes of ethics, customs, emergency procedures, and the rules of HELP.
HELP is unique because it allows the volunteers to be a large part of the helping and planning process.
“We empower our volunteers to empower the communities,” Brother Colling said. “Volunteers can come up with methods to decrease poverty too; then implement them.”
This way volunteers use their unique education and backgrounds to help, and the teams can use the specific skill sets of each member.
The fundraising model of HELP is by volunteers raising money for their program fees. Most write letters and receive donations from family, friends and supportive people across the country.
“As a medical student I lack the financial solvency that I will have later in my career,” said Elliot Walters, who applied to go to Tanzania this summer. “I told my family and friends that I’ll provide the blood, sweat and tears, if they can just get me there.”
Many people would like the opportunity to go and serve, but because of different circumstances find themselves unable to. Sponsoring a young adult who is able to go is a way for those people to contribute.
“Some young families do not have the means to go,” Brother Colling said. “So they follow our blog and teach their children family home evening lessons about poverty and the things they can do to help.”
The last five years have been the toughest economic period out of the last 20, but HELP has not felt it. In fact, they have continued to grow and receive more and more support as more people go to help-international.org to learn how they can help. Because of this, their ability to alleviate poverty has increased through the recent economic downturn.
“We are doing well while some other similar organizations are not, because we don’t depend on corporate sponsors,” Brother Duthrie said. “We receive our support from real people; from the social networks of our volunteers.”