Turning Vacations Into “Voluntours”

SMU Alum Kimberly Haley-ColemanThey help Buddhist monks teach poor children in Thailand, make wheelchairs for victims of Vietnam-era landmines in Laos and build stoves to save families from respiratory illness in Peru.

And during their trips abroad, Globe Aware volunteers also find time to be tourists.

In 2000 Kimberly Haley-Coleman (M.A., art history, ’97) founded Globe Aware, a Dallas-based nonprofit organization. The group sponsors weeklong volunteer-work vacations in Costa Rica, Cuba, Nepal, Brazil, Vietnam and Cambodia.

As its executive director, she runs the “nonpolitical, nonreligious” organization with two principles in mind.

“We promote cultural awareness, which means we work to appreciate both the real beauty and challenges of a culture,” she says. “And we promote sustainability, which means we train people using local resources; we don’t create dependence.”

Globe Aware grew out of Haley-Coleman’s experiences as an international businesswoman and volunteer. The Dallas native, who also earned an M.B.A. from the University of Texas at Dallas and a B.A. from Emory University, has worked for companies including Infotriever in Canada, CNBC.com and the Capstone Japan Fund, where she often focused on strategic partnerships and development. During business trips and between job changes she squeezed in volunteering internationally with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Volunteers for Peace, which usually require commitments of at least several weeks.

“I always came back thinking there had to be a better way for busy Americans, who have almost the least vacation time among developed nations but are the world’s most generous volunteers and donors,” Haley-Coleman says. Through her travels, she built a network of like-minded volunteers – many of whom now serve on Globe Aware’s board – and together they launched their first weeklong program in Thailand in 2000.

Today Haley-Coleman, who has devoted herself to the organization full time since 2003, communicates with coordinators in the field and develops and evaluates programs, such as this year’s new trips to Romania, China and Africa. She seeks out communities that are safe and culturally interesting, and with needs that they want groups of volunteers to address.

Community service has been a significant part of her life, says Haley-Coleman, as has SMU. Her parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents and great-grandparents are all alumni of the University. She recalls hours spent analyzing art with University Distinguished Professor Emerita Alessandra Comini and Associate Professor Randall Griffin. “They helped reinforce my passion for truly examining and appreciating cultures.”

Learn more at globeaware.org.


  1. Avatar
    Duncan August 23, 2008

    Good article. The world needs more people like this.

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    Costa Rica Real Estate Tico March 13, 2008

    Thank you for all the things you’ve done in Costa Rica. You made difference to the place and the people there.

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    African safari March 13, 2008

    Most people think that an African safari can only be done through big established tour operators. The truth is that by coming to Africa as a volunteer, you can also take time off and do a safari, so you end up achieving a lot at one time.

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    JENNIFER DAZET February 09, 2008

    I would be interested in doing this myself someday.
    Thanks for the great read.

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    Costa Rica October 25, 2007

    Thank you to all the voluntourist for choosing Costa Rica. May God be with you always!!!

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    African voluntourist September 18, 2007

    I love that word voluntour or voluntourist. Tour while you volunteer. I checked the word on google and its not really used. Volunteering is a great way to make a difference and still have fun.

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