2011 Nicaragua

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About ODFL Summer Service Trips

Summer Service Trips

Every year, ODFL sends students overseas on a Summer Service Trip to help complete projects underwritten by ODFL. Typically a group of 12-18 students with at least 1 male and 1 female adult chaperone travel together for 10-20 days and work on the project. The chaperones are usually credentialed teachers. Students pay for their own travel expenses. If you would like to travel with ODFL as a student or chaperone to help build one of its projects, please contact Cathy Dwulet, Director of Global Field Operations, at cathyd@odfl.org.

For summer 2017, ODFL expects to conduct Service Trips to:

  • Nicaragua – one trip to Matagalpa: July 2-11, 2017 and one to Tipitapa: July 9-18, 2017
  • South Africa: June 11-28, 2017
  • Nepal: June 14-30, 2017
  • Click here for a summary of the Service Trips.



So often in life, it is hard to feel like we are making any real impact. Doing a good deed is always nice – returning a lost phone to a stranger, buying a homeless person a meal, helping an elderly person up a steep flight of steps – these acts all help somebody and make you feel good. But, what if your impact wasn’t just a temporary thing? What if it not only changed someone’s day, but changed their life?

Getting involved with ODFL starts with the decision to donate one dollar, but why not broaden your participation and actually HELP with the project construction? Imagine being abroad and hefting bricks funded by your friends and watching a classroom, birthing center or preschool materialize before your own eyes! Immerse yourself in the culture and food of the country while working side-by-side with local community members. An ODFL Summer Service Trip is truly a life-altering experience. Please see the tabs below for Student Comments and What Parents Say for feedback on ODFL Trips.


Past Trips

2014 South Africa

ODFL Summer Service Trip

Student Comments About Their Experience

Student Survey Responses to 2015 South Africa Trip


  • Life changing is the way I would explain my trip. It surpassed all my expectations.
  • This was an experience I will never forget! I had so much fun interacting with so many kids, and I noticed that even though they don’t have a lot, they are the happiest people I’ve ever met. In addition, it made me feel that I am actually improving the lives of many children, without working extremely hard. Overall, this trip has been the highlight of my year!
  • Excellently planned and life changing. Good job Cathy and Robert.
  • Prior to this trip, I was stuck in a small mental bubble where all I could think of was my obsession with boys, clothes, and school. My biggest concerns were what I should wear tomorrow to impress a boy, and what activities I should participate in to make my college application look decent. That small, immature mindset slowly melted away over the course of the trip.
  • This is my second year on the trip, but the impact it had on me was just as potent if not more so.
  • It really was life-changing and inspiring seeing kids and families who live in such dire conditions yet always appear joyful and hopeful. What was also interesting was the overall friendliness, welcoming nature, and happiness of the people considering their circumstances. That and many other things are very inspiring and cause a giant change in my perspective on life.
  • I want this trip to be the start of something I’m going to do with my life and helping others
  • Seeing people and children living in less-fortunate circumstances is an experience every person should have. It was inspiring to meet to connect with kids my age, and I will never forget them. It was fulfilling to get my hands dirty and paint murals on preschool walls.
  • For them to open up their home to us and prepare a delicious meal was just so amazing.
  • I will definitely remember this trip for the rest of my life. I learned many new things on this trip, about South Africa and 3rd world environments as well. This trip will definitely have a lasting impact in my life. Now I have perspective towards how privileged I am to be an American living in stable household.
  • I will remember this trip forever because it was my first experience seeing first-hand the extreme poverty that some people ensure. Working with younger children and teenagers my age really opened my eyes and made me appreciate what I have at home. I was also incredibly inspired by the strength and optimism displayed by every person we met, despite the fact that they are surviving in much less than I ever could have expected.
  • The effect this trip had on me changed how I thought I couldn’t do something, it was an extremely rewarding experience and I hope to do it again next year
  • To see the world with a purpose while changing it for the better was an amazing opportunity for me. My attitude on life has definitely changed; I came back from Africa with a renewed appreciation for life’s little blessings, whether it be heater systems in my house, running hot water, food always on the table, and paved roads. Things I take for granted weren’t always the things that people in Africa had.
  • An incredible experience.
  • I saw kids my age who lived in one room tin shacks, and I could not believe it when people told me that the food they just ate was their one and only meal of the day or even week. Despite all of these difficult living conditions, these people were the happiest people I’ve ever met. They all appreciated everything they had, and I really admired their tenaciousness to be living in that kind of life.
  • This trip taught me to appreciate how blessed we all are. It also showed me that the human spirit can thrive even in the worst of conditions. The people here may not own a lot or have any money, but they all have a deeper appreciation for life and family than anyone I have met before.
  • This trip was life changing in that I’ve never been happier than when I was giving back to the community. I became very attached to many people there. Although our work in South Africa isn’t going to save the world, every little bit counts, and my heart is nearly overflowing with love and happiness after contributing to the efforts of this trip.
  • This trip definitely changed how I see our world. We are so fortunate here, and what we would think is not a lot of help, can help the lives of many people. Even though they don’t have so much, they are really happy and kind individuals. We all made strong bonds that will carry out throughout our lives and hopefully never break.
  • The trip was great. I feel way more connected to the world. I do think this experience will have a lasting affect on me. I realized how I have so much and others have so little


Student Survey Responses to 2015 Nicaragua Trip


  • This trip meant the world to me and made me see the world differently and made me feel more grateful for the things I do have instead of taking them for granted.
  • This trip meant for me a chance to explore a new country. It will have a lasting impact on me, and I had a great experience.
  • Entering Nicaragua, I had a strong idea of what I would expect – rampant poverty, lack of education and even havoc. Yet the people I met while working in the community and communicated with on the street held a level of positivity that I had never seen before. In the face of poverty, the Nicaraguans who I encountered had a stronger outlook on their lives and communities than many living at home.
  • This experience will ultimately make me value my family and community. The children were absolutely wonderful, as well.
  • This trip really opened my eyes to how people in a third world country lived. Many Americans believe that these people are automatically unhappy because of the situation they are in, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Many find happiness in what they have, their communities, and their families.
  • It amazed me to see that these people were much happier than the ones that live in America because they aren’t materialistic. Because of this, my attitude towards life has completely changed. I look more to what I have than what I don’t have.
  • This trip was my first dive into a world that only really existed in TV or books. Once you see the reality of things, you respond to them in afferent ways. I plan on doing more and more things to help anyone less fortunate than me in any way possible. They are just people – born into tougher circumstances than my own.
  • Loved it! Want to return!
  • It changed my perspective on life and my sense of community. This will definitely have a lasting impact on me, I will never forget this. Also, Mina and Chamba were the nicest and most welcoming people I have ever met in my life.
  • This trip meant a lot to me. I’m thankful I was able to have first-hand experience to what other people have to overcome to live. I think my attitude towards the little things like water and food have changed and I’m responsible for doing my part to save it. I think it will have a life lasting experience because I was able to see it myself and know the reality. I want to be able to travel again and help others.
  • I am forever changed by this trip because it has opened my eyes to how large the world is, and how many people need help. I am motivated to give back to the world more to show my appreciation for whatever placed me in such fortunate circumstances.
  • This trip has and probably will be the highlight of my life. My whole outlook and thoughts about life have completely changed. It’s different than when you see things on television and when your parents tell you things. I’m just so much more grateful for everything I have. I knew before trip I wanted to help people and make a difference but now I’m positive that I was put on this earth to help people and make a difference in other people’s lives.
What Parents Say About ODFL Trips


  • I absolutely believe this trip made an incredible lasting impact on my daughter. Not only giving her amazing memories to look back on and new friendships to cherish but it gave her a new level of respect, appreciation and gratitude. Opening her mind and eyes to a new culture and way of life, broadening her compassion for others, giving her a sense of pride that she can make a difference.
  • She was very happy to be part of a volunteer organization which is clearly accomplishing real things and having an impact on educational resources in this remote area.
  • My daughter had a truly transformative experience with ODFL. She said this was the best trip she’s ever had due to many factors: – bonding with new friends; traveling without family!; experiencing a new culture; learning what it is to be a minority. She came back and learned what had happened with the Black Lives Matter. Her immediate reaction was to observe that as a young blonde female in a rural Hispanic town she started to understand what it must feel like to be outside the norm of society. She could not get this experience without going on a trip like this in which she was supported and safe.
  • Fantastic experiences bonding with the other travelers and chaperones and meeting wonderful people in Nicaragua. Exposure to people that have very little material things / comforts very eye-opening.
  • My daughter says she wants to return to Nicaragua after college for a year to work on Spanish and help the people.
  • ODFL created a meaningful possibility for our kid to contribute
  • My son feels this type of organization (either SOL or ODFL) could be a part of his life’s work. He wants to research ways to get more involved!
  • I would highly recommend ODFL
  • I would definitely recommend the trip to other families. My child had a lot of fun and learned a lot about the culture. She also felt very good about being able to help out. Thank you so much.
  • I absolutely love what ODFL is about and as an educator, I would like to see all students accept this challenge and make a difference.
  • ODFL leaders are superb (Cathy is a class act!). Mr. Freeman is truly inspiring as well.
  • It opened her eyes to another culture, provided confidence in her ability to get along without her parents, make friends, make sound decisions, navigate outside the U.S.
  • Through the tears on the way home, my daughter said now she understands why people said that the trip would be life changing. She was feeling overwhelmed and contemplative. Although she was talking to us, it felt like she was in her very private cocoon. She recalled how beautiful and green everything is, how nice the people are, and how they worked as a community and not for individual gain. Throughout the ride home, she repeated “how little the people had, but yet they were so happy.” “We have so much here and they have so little, but seem to be happier.” She also told us how many wonderful friends she had made, and hoped that they would stay connected. When she returns to school and her hectic schedule, I hope that she will not lose the awareness and insight she has gained through this trip. Kids have so much and they do not really realize it. I hope this makes her think twice on some of her decisions, and that she doesn’t need all “this stuff” to be happy. Also, I hope it soften her edges through understanding when dealing with people less fortunate.
  • She was so happy and kept telling what happened on this trip. She will go again for sure.
  • It gave her a chance to see how people can live with much less than many people in the U. S. do.
  • My son made several comments about how different life in Nicaragua is than his life in Los Altos. How wonderful for him to understand that.
  • It was a great opportunity for him to be exposed to a different culture.
  • From what I heard and talked to our daughter about, the trip left a very strong impression on her. She was able to see how other cultures live and make do with few or little resources.
  • The relationships that were forged both with the other students and with the families in Matagalpa were very real. In fact, my daughter has suggested wanting to work with Seeds of Learning, perhaps, on a longer trip independent of ODFL between school years.

South Africa

  • I can’t possibly do the answer to this question justice. Connecting with the people she met in SA is at the top of the list. She says that her peer group does not have the same understanding of their place in the world as the teenagers she met in SA. How she views her own daily life is different. I will not be surprised to see this trip referenced on college applications as having profoundly impacted her outlook. The projects were key. On and on and on, I could go.
  • The trip was a real eye-opener for my daughter. One of her first comments to me after the trip was “Boy, things are sure different outside of the US.” That, in itself, is a valuable life lesson. But she was also very touched by families that she met, particularly the children. And, I think she felt like a little bit of a better person for helping out others in need.
  • One could only hope that she has a heightened sense of gratitude and appreciation for all that she has taken for granted. It was great that she got to experience how good it feels to work hard for a cause you believe in and the joy of giving.
  • My daughter spoke at length about the trip – so I know it made a huge impact on her. She has stated numerous times that she wishes she were still in So Africa. I hope the ODFL club will keep the momentum going during the school year so that the students can be involved in what is brought next year and they can have some say about the types of service projects they will do. I would like to see the students evolve to do more problem solving if they go again.
  • The first time leaving the USA is always a profound experience. Even the process of getting the documents together to leave is a good exercise. The nature of the trip in its goals to help and not be entertained, to live simply, and to care deeply and have fun doing it all were highlights and most likely to be lasting. I think my daughter now has two lifelong philanthropies: ODFL and Cuddle Trust.
  • I think a lot of great friendships were developed on the trip due to the shared experience and challenges of traveling. The cultural aspects of the trip (people, food, environment) were very interesting and did open my child’s eyes to other ways of life.
  • The experience really opened her eyes to how some people live in the world with so much less.
  • Great travel experience in that ODFL provides safe environment with ‘approved’ partners and offers wonderful way to be immersed in another culture.
  • great stuff they did, but most impressions probably came from experiencing and growing with a group of peers. travel and shared experience is very powerful.
  • My daughter said it was the best thing she has done in her life. It was very empowering and impactful on her.
  • Firstly, my daughter didn’t want to come home. Secondly, my daughter enjoyed the community service work and interacting with the people of ODFL and the people in South Africa.
  • What impacted my daughter was to see the world in a different perspective, and the little things in life that we complain about are nothing to compared to the families in Africa.
  • She has clearly come back with her eyes open as to challenges in other parts of the world.
  • To see poverty in real life is much more powerful than on tv or reading about it. Knowing that all the murals that our kids have painted will help provide more enrollment and income to the schools.