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By Joannaline C. Young
Charyn Pfeuffer has decided to swap her Blackberry for a backpack. Read the exclusive interview I had with her about the Global Citizen Project.
1) Can you give me some background information not included on your web site that people may not know and/or be shocked to know?
I went to school for fine arts and stumbled into a writing career, with no more experience than high school English courses. As soon as I figured out there was a career where people would pay me to learn and write about topics that interested me, I thought I’d hit the learning-on-my-terms motherlode. I’ve been afforded so many experiences and interactions I would have most likely never had.
My favorite color is green. I dig hardware stores, mint chocolate chip ice cream, mid-century furniture, being near water, being near mountains, road-trips, the first night of staying solo in a new hotel, things that are salty, thank you notes, being barefoot, super comfy plush robes, all products relating to the almighty pig, Monday afternoon matinees, collecting stamps on my passport, meeting new people, studying maps, independent independent bookstores, beets, Marimekko patterns, hard cheese, raw fish, rare meat, Sin City in 72-hour spells, Scrabble, anything with bubbles, especially if it’s pink. My middle name is Ayn, after author Ayn Rand. I am an avid home chef, but I cannot bake to save my life. I don’t follow recipes and manage to botch precise measurements (the very core of baking success) every single time. Yeast is my nemesis in the kitchen.
2) What kind of research/preparation did you do in order to successfully complete the project?
I didn’t actually do a lot of research in advance. I’m very much a follow-your-gut, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants and make things happen kinda gal (okay, also a really strong-willed Taurus). For example, my first book, Breast Cancer Q&A was the result of an especially difficult day of answering the Information & Referral Helpline at the Women’s Cancer Resource Center in Oakland, CA. I decided that afternoon I wanted to write a book to help women recently diagnosed with breast cancer and within months had a book deal with Penguin Putnam.)
I’d been feeling unsettled about my career and was actively brainstorming solutions, when I stumbled across Kickstarter.com. (http://globalcitizenproject.blogspot.com/2009/12/what-is-kickstarter.html) Within a 48-hour window of time, I secured an invitation via soliciting strangers who’d listed Kickstarter projects on Twitter and within a few days, had fleshed out the logistics of what I wanted to do. (The Global Citizen Project launched right before Thanksgiving.) The concept is fairly simple – to volunteer with 12 community projects in 12 countries over a 12 month span – but I wanted there to be a collaborative element in determining where I go and what I do. That aspect has developed organically as time progresses. Honduras was first to hop in board in that regard, coordinating a promotion on their Visit Honduras Facebook Fan Page where fans could suggest volunteer projects and programs for a week. Then, I whittled the list down to the top five projects I’d most like to serve, and the public voted with Building a Future winning with 49% of the votes. (http://globalcitizenproject.blogspot.com/2009/12/its-official-building-future-is.html) I hope other countries and destinations are inspired to work with me in similar capacities to help determine my potential community volunteer projects – after all, it is the people from these countries and from within these communities that can best guide me on where my time and energies needed most.
The project’s success remains to be seen. It hinges on whether I reach my $20K goal in pledges by February 22, 2010. Right now, I have 24 backers, and $2,306 in pledges. I have a way to go, but I am fully committed to making it happen and plan to kick my fundraising and promotional efforts into overdrive right after the holidays.
3) What in your past (family, friends, experiences in work or personal life) has lead to Global Citizen Project?
My childhood travel were limited to summers in South Carolina, spring breaks at Disneyworld and Phillies’ spring training, and the occasion trip to the Bahamas. As a child, I was not instilled with an appreciation for volunteerism (unless being dragged to the senior citizen’s center one Saturday afternoon to make arts and crafts to fulfill some school project counts). It’s kind of a strange chain of intertwined events. The loss of mother absolutely spurred my desire to lead a life of travel. It also encouraged my first major volunteerism commitment with WCRC (every Wednesday for four years). My high-school sweetheart, whom I was dating at the time of my mother’s death, joined the Peace Corps after college and his stories/postcards had an affect on me as well. (We’re still very close friends, he travels like a fiend and I’m always inspired by his travels.) An irregular schedule the past few years has made it next-to-impossible to volunteer and I’ve sorely missed that aspect of my life. I’m a give-and-take kind of gal, and I’ve been taking too much from travels the past few years without giving much back in return, expect for the occasional suitcase of schoolsupplies or hats, mittens and scarves. It’s not enough. So, it’s my hope that I can bring personal passion and professional skills to the project and make a difference for 12 groups of people and use my journalism background to bring attention to the programs and causes.
4) What in your hometown and/or where you are now contribute to the Global Citizen Project?
I don’t have a lot of ties to my hometown (Berwyn, PA). After my mom passed away, my dad moved to Baltimore and remarried. I moved to the west coast nearly 10 years ago, and returned to Seattle, WA about a year-and-a-half ago. Unfortunately, I spent most of that time traveling, so I’m not as involved with the local community as I’d like to be. (I was actually just home for four straight weeks – a first since my boyfriend and I moved here.) There is a large community of extremely talented travel writers in the Puget Sound area, who’ve been extremely supportive thus far. I plan to continue to reach out to people here, as well as other places I’ve lived (Monterey and San Francisco, CA, Philadelphia, PA, Baltimore, MD). I’m very lucky to have a large network of friends all around the world, both professional and people I’ve met randomly in my travels, so I’m definitely reaching out to my worldwide circle of contacts.
5) Why and how did you start using social media (like Twitter) to support your project?
Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter have been incredibly effective, far-reaching tools for me both personally and professionally. I’ve received story leads, gotten assignments, and made contacts I probably wouldn’t have otherwise via these methods. Twitter, for me, is kind of like this almighty, “Ask and ye shall receive” tool, where if you throw something out into cyberspace, something very cool and unexpected may come back. Or maybe not. But, when it does, it’s pretty darn cool.
I initially learned about Kickstarter via Twitter and there is a bit of a buzz about it right now as the “fundraising platform for hipsters” on Twitter (I’m by no means hip or a hipster), so it seemed like an appropriate forum for promoting TGCP. As for Facebook, it’s a more personal forum for me (I don’t know who many of my 1170 followers are on Twitter, versus I know something about every single one of my 614 friends on Facebook.) As a result of using Twitter as a means to promote TGCP, I’ve made several cyber friends with folks around the world who’ve either pledged funds or turned me onto worthwhile volunteer opportunities. These people then RT (retweet) my posts about TGCP to their network of friends and the possibilities of whom my message reaches is limitless.
I also realized a few weeks into the project that as far-reaching as social media networking tools may be, there is still a necessity to use old fashioned methods, like pitching the local community newspaper. There are people who don’t use computers or social media (typically older generations) who may very well take interest in The Global Citizen Project and have funds stashed away for a cause just like this.. A lot of people have pledged money and then commented that they wished they had the nerve to do something this ambitious or the flexibility or the time or insert countless other reasons here. The desire to live vicariously through my travels and experiences has been a constant comment from my friends, family and social media friends and followers, so it makes sense that an older demographic may feel inspired to pledge.
6) Are you targeting a specific service for the Global Citizen Project? Why?
Right now, I need monetary pledges to help reach my $20K goal.. I’m also seeking donations for “Rewards” (or incentives) for people who pledge funds to my project. Donations start at $1, so pledges and reward donations can be as small or as big as a supporter wishes. The Global Citizen Project is an ambitious project and I can use (and appreciate) every bit of help I can get. The cool thing about Kickstarter is that people pledge whatever amount they wish, but if I don’t meet my goal in the designated time period, they funds revert right back to the backer and I don’t see a cent.
7) Are you targeting a specific geographic location for the Global Citizen Project? Why?
I’m focusing my efforts on Central and South America countries. I’ve probably spent about a third of my time traveling throughout these areas over the past few years. I’ve seen the incredible beauty of these places and people alongside extreme poverty, and although I know I could never give these people back as much as they’ve given me, I’d sure like to try. Also, I have beginner Spanish speaking skills, which I’m stepping up right now thanks to Rosetta Stone (love this system). I feel that the better command I have of the local language, the richer my experiences will be and the more I will be able to contribute to the communities I serve. I’m not ruling out non-Spanish speaking countries by any means; the volunteer projects are ultimately what will determine the destinations. I just want to be as useful as possible.
8) Can you describe the exact moment you decided to do the project (sensational, where were you, what were you doing)?
I’m a bit of a night owl (always have been). I keep late, vampire-esque hours and get my best writing done between 6 p.m.-3 a.m. I also have a tough time turning off the wheels that constantly spin ideas in my head, so I suffer from insomnia when I’m feeling especially creative – which is often. I was working late one night at our dining room table, drinking a glass of cheap Trader Joe’s white wine (don’t tell anyone, my boyfriend is a sommelier) asking myself “What do I love about my career and travel?” and “Why am I in this funk?” I scratched down lists and words and ideas (I’m a list girl), until it clicked that there’s nothing wrong with my career or travel, really. Sure, the unpredictable pace and timing of taking 150+ flights per year (24-hours in Cozumel here, 48-hours in Florida there, oh, and Australia on 18-hours notice) finally caught up to me. But, when I thought about what it was about travel that really sparked my enthusiasm, it came down to the people and places whom (by our standards) live simply, yet they’re hardly poor. It’s a different reality than what we’re accustomed to and often times, their simple contentment is enviable.
Here’s a link to a story I wrote about the impact of a trip to Peru:
9) What do you plan to do when you come back from finishing the project?
First and foremost, I want to make a difference in 12 communities. Ideally, I’d like to write a book that would convey the stories of the peoples, places and projects I’ve experienced in each of the 12 destinations, but also promote volunteer travel and responsible tourism via my editorial outlets. I cannot recommend the value of travel enough (the world is one big classroom/opportunity for learning in my opinion), but believe I’ve taken so much pleasure from my travels/experiences/interactions over the years, that’s it’s time to give something back to those who’ve inspired and made me think. If TGCP is a success, who knows where it will segue? The idea of two weeks at home and two weeks on the road volunteering sounds like a mighty fine way to live, and compared to the past few years, definitely more stable (if you can believe that).
10) Do you have any tips or recommendations to travelers wanting to do service abroad?
I’m basically a virgin when it comes to volunteer travel. When it comes to travel in general, I can hold my own (my friends dubbed me, Global Girl Scout, because of my travel preparedness). I’m doing my best to research the organizations I want to volunteer with and keep an open mind (read: realistic) about what the experiences could be. I know this a far cry from covering 400-thread count sheets for a destination wedding article, but I’m a fearless traveler who’d swap a fancy five star hotel for the cultural experience of a home stay any day.
11) Are you traveling alone?
As of right now, I’m flying solo. Several people have expressed interest in joining me for specific projects (including a travel writer from Texas that I met via Twitter and a friend’s 17-year old daughter) and I’m more than game for some inspiring co-traveling/volunteering company.
12) What kind of services will you do abroad? Is there one you will most likely focus on or is of special importance (ie, conservation). If so, are there any specific ways you know you can help?
I just posted this yesterday about nailing down the specific projects:
All of the areas I’m planning to volunteer with have been given considerable thought, talked through with people who’ve had first person experiences or with people with ties to the actual communities/causes. If you were to list the areas of volunteer service available around the world, it would be never-ending, so I did my best to narrow the areas down to the 12 that are personally most important to me, and that I feel I can best serve.
On a side note: Several people have asked me why didn’t I decide to just volunteer with one project for a longer term. I feel that I can bring skills to and successfully serve all 12 projects and use my platform and far-reaching network as a writer/blogger to raise awareness for 12 different causes and communities versus limiting myself to just one. I’m kinda of a “Go big or go home” kinda gal and I always tend to take the ambitious route in life. I’m well aware of the fact that it’s impossible to save the world with bite sized stints of service, but I think I can make 12 small dents and hopefully raise awareness and create interest for others to follow my lead.
As for the skill sets I can bring to these projects: An eagerness/extreme curiousity to learn more about the chosen causes and cultures, openmindedness, flexibility, familiarity with underprivileged communities, marketing/outreach savvy to help raise awareness about the causes and communities, compassion, writing/blogging/social media skills (again to help raise awareness about the causes and communities), teaching skills (I’ve guest taught travel writing classes on numeroous occasions), listening skills, enthusiasm, desire to serve, extensive travel experience, extensive volunteering experience, etc.