Across nations, continents, and cultures, perhaps the most unifying emotion of the human experience is empathy. The ability to share the burdens of others lies at the root of human connection and understanding. With the frequent bombardment of human rights crises in recent world news, it is more important than ever to show empathy to the disenfranchised, and now there are more ways than ever to get involved.
Juanita Galvis was fortunate enough to discover a way to turn her empathy into action. During a conversation with her sister, Galvis expressed her frustration at the constant inaction of people and governments in the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe. On a whim, Galvis decided to travel with a volunteer group to a refugee camp in Greece. She said, “When I stepped onto the plane to Greece I was truly frustrated and full of desperation. But I remember feeling that I have to do something for someone in order to not feel this way.”
The refugee camp was located two hours outside of Athens in “the middle of nowhere” as Galvis describes. The volunteer group had plans to build a small school on the site to allow the children living there to have some sense of normalcy. Galvis recalls one specific conversation with a refugee woman at the camp that sparked an immediate understanding between the two of them. After the woman shared her heartbreaking experiences during her travels in Afghanistan, Galvis knew that this connection was the reason why she had traveled across the world, and discovered a new life calling in social impact travel.
The second Galvis returned to the states, she sought a career change that focused on the importance of human connection and empathy. Now, she works as the Head of Social Impact Advocacy and Impact Travel for The Assemblage in New York City. Her mission is to make others aware of their potential to make a difference through compassion and empathy. A significant portion of her job lies in organizing mission-based trips that provide opportunities for people to give back and form connections with those that they help.
Galvis recently organized a trip to Puerto Rico in collaboration with 109 organization and Plenitud. While there, the volunteers visited Las Marias, a small village in the mountains three hours from San Juan. Plenitud is an environmentally-friendly service organization that builds renewable energy systems and sustainable practices based off of different environments and the needs of certain communities. In Las Marias, Juanita’s volunteer group built a rainwater-collecting system to aid 60 families.
Galvis is planning an upcoming trip to Mexico City where travelers can join the group to refurbish a school in collaboration with The Assemblage. In addition to the impact work, the volunteers will also enjoy cultural immersion and wellness activities, including museum visits, food tours, visitations with Mayan ruins, daily yoga, and more. Juanita acknowledges that social impact travel may not be for everyone, but encourages anyone who is interested in dedicating their time and labor to the initiative. She says, “This is more nurturing than anything you can do for yourself.”
This article originally appeared in Electrify Magazine as a part of their “Awakening” Series with The Assemblage.