August 4, 2005: Headlines: Alternatives: Short Term Volunteerism: Litchfield County Times: A mini Peace Corps experience, the best vacation of your life

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A mini Peace Corps experience, the best vacation of your life

A mini Peace Corps experience, the best vacation of your life

Run by Bethlehem residents Stuart and Cynthia Rabinowitz, World Horizons International was founded in 1987 by Peace Corps veteran Judy Manning in order to give teenagers an opportunity to experience the joys of travel and service that are the hallmarks of the Peace Corps experience.

A mini Peace Corps experience, the best vacation of your life

Bethlehem Group's Trips Combine Fun and Service

By: Amy Mulvihill


BETHLEHEM-A mini Peace Corps experience, the best vacation of your life, an anthropological expedition beyond compare-these are just some of the ways to describe the individualized, service-oriented trips offered through World Horizons International, LLC.

Run by Bethlehem residents Stuart and Cynthia Rabinowitz, World Horizons International was founded in 1987 by Peace Corps veteran Judy Manning in order to give teenagers an opportunity to experience the joys of travel and service that are the hallmarks of the Peace Corps experience.

The Rabinowitzes took over World Horizons in August 2001 and have maintained, and expanded, its adventurous and altruistic spirit, while shepherding the organization through the post 9/11 travel scare.

Today, the organization offers service trips ranging from two to four weeks in length to eight different locales, including Costa Rica, Mexico, Iceland, Dominica, Utah, Boston, Bulgaria and Fiji.

In fact, the group's latest trip was to Fiji. Mr. Rabinowitz and 13 students from all over the United States journeyed to the Pacific island to learn about native life, to teach students, work on building projects for a village and deliver some special cargo-13 handmade "comfort dolls" made by Bethlehem resident Greta Albright for the children of the village.

"[Ms. Albright] is part of a group of 20 women nationwide who make these dolls," Mr. Rabinowitz explained recently, as he sipped a tall glass of juice on the porch of his Bethlehem home.

"They wanted to send these dolls to the areas ravaged by the tsunami," Mr. Rabinowitz said, "but found that the only way to do that was to pack them up in boxes, ship them out and never know if they would ever get to anybody."

"Then one day, she was in the library and saw our brochure and called me, and I thought it would be a great idea to deliver the dolls to children on our trips so that they would have a little something to cuddle," he explained. "So the first set of dolls went to Fiji."

Mr. Rabinowitz said the children were excited to receive the dolls, the students were excited to give them and Ms. Albright was excited to know that her dolls were being used.

"I promised her photos of her dolls being handed to the kids so that she can get them back to the people who made them and they can see that their doll went to someone and did what it was supposed to do," Mr. Rabinowitz said, noting that the dolls are "really lovely, unique, with really fabulous handmade faces."

Although the dolls are a new edition to World Horizon International's outreach efforts, Mr. Rabinowitz said the giving of the dolls fits well with the organization's mission.

"I think it's very important that Americans show that they are interested in helping others," he said.

To this end, World Horizon groups have completed tasks like building an addition on a Fiji village's community hall, counseling villagers about HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases in Costa Rica, working on reforestation projects with the Icelandic government and caring for animals at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah.

The projects, which are all paid for through the fees students pay to participate in the trip, often make an enormous difference in the lives of the villagers, and the trips often make just as much of an impact on the students.

"It's real cultural immersion," Mr. Rabinowitz commented when asked what World Horizons offers students. "It's an alternative to the backpacking tours a lot of teenagers do that go to four countries in three weeks."

Because World Horizons stays in one area for most of the duration of the trip, he said students get a much better understanding of local customs and attitudes.

"It's very important to me that when my students go [to a different place] that they be respectful and, as much as possible, follow the local customs."

Not that the trips are all work and no play-far from it.

In addition to being able to set their own agenda on weekends and most weeknights, the teens also get a special mini-break built into their experience.

"Our students do go to a resort as their reward for four days at the end of their trip," he acknowledged with a laugh.

In Fiji, he said the resort part of the trip is spent at the Beach Comber Resort, while on the Utah trip the kids spend a couple of days in Las Vegas.

"It's an opportunity for them to relax," he said, smiling as if to say they've earned it.

More information on World Horizons International and its trips can be obtained by visiting its Web site, or by calling 1-800-262-5874.

©Litchfield County Times 2005

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Story Source: Litchfield County Times

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