Operation Groundswell
95% Rating
(90 Reviews)

Operation Groundswell

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Operation Groundswell is all about backpacking with a purpose. With ethical travel at the crux of our philosophy, Operation Groundswell designs financially accessible programs that tell a story, addressing key challenges unique to each region and community we work with, told from diverse local perspectives. Each of our programs has a dynamic blend of solidarity-based community service, meaningful learning experiences, and off the beaten path adventure.


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This was my first time to South America and really my first time travelling and it was the best experience I have ever had. Ecuador is beautiful and every town we visited was gorgeous and absolutely so welcoming. The food was great, local, and fresh!!! I learned so much from visiting OG's partners and helping them farm and plant. It was interesting to see the different ways people live around the world and truly realize the privileges I have living in Canada. Our program leaders were the most wonderful, knowledgeable people!!! I made so many great friends on this trip I would 100% recommend OG to all my friends!

Yes, I recommend

Operation Groundswell allowed me to have a unique and educational backpacking experience that differs from any volunteering overseas program I have ever heard about. The trip itself was dedicated to culture immersion while still acknowledging the privilege we have as travelers and how we impact the places we travel. I enjoyed learning from the NGOs based in Tanzania that we visited, instead of simply attempting to make a lasting impact through a one-time charitable visit. Operation Groundswell is for travelers who are contentious of their global impact and who want to make a difference in themselves instead of blindly hoping that what they do will be the difference that saves the world. It was a truly eye opening and fun experience that I think back on every day.

Yes, I recommend
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One of the most impressionable 2 weeks of my life will be the time spent in northern India with Operation Groundswell. After traveling several times with a volunteer abroad organization over the years I was initially drawn to OG’s “traveling with a purpose” message as that is something I deeply resonate with. Then seeing that one of their programs was in India, a country I’ve dreamed about visiting since I was young, and that it incorporated the country’s rich traditional practices of yoga and meditation into the program, I knew that I was supposed to be on that trip. Over the course of those 2 weeks that feeling of synchronicity was justified time and again.

India is not a country that one can jump into lightly, I was challenged initially by the intense climate and pollution but more so by trying to understand the controversial societal norms surrounding gender and class that are deeply rooted in India’s culture.

One of the reasons that OG stands out among the many other volunteer abroad organizations is its dedication to focus on the participants growth of knowledge through experience of the country’s social, economic, political, and environmental challenges through direct involvement with NGOs they partner with. The partners we worked with and learned from gave such a personal insight into India’s challenging caste system that systematically leaves so many uneducated and in poverty. But the partners we worked with are actively striving to confront the unjust system and bring education and healthcare opportunities to those it’s been denied.

The second reason are the incredibly competent, open minded and hearted Program Leaders OG places in each program. My program had a few things go wrong that threatened the overall positive experience of the trip but what brought peace and security back to our group were our amazing PLs and their clear and focused problem solving abilities that always put the group’s safety and concerns first. The trip would surely not have been the same without our PLs and I have OG to thank for putting those truly incredible women in my life.

My favorite memory is of time I spent learning a Bollywood dance and performing it for the children at the organic farm we spent a week at near Rishikesh that gives refuge and education to children of India’s lowest caste.

Being in India those 2 weeks with some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met allowed me to be challenged and ultimately grow in ways that will affect the way I live as a global citizen and practice as a spiritual person for the rest of my life. For that I will always be grateful and will continue to recommend OG to those who are looking to join the “backpactivist” movement.

My only regret is that I did not stay longer.

-Treva Appugliese

Yes, I recommend
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My trip to East Africa was unforgettable to say the least. Let's start at the beginning, in Nairobi, Kenya. It was a bit of a culture shock at first, as Nairobi is a chaotic, bustling city. We stayed at the YMCA. I couldn't sleep for the first week because my body was adjusting to my malaria meds. This doesn't happen to everyone, but it's really important to keep taking them if it does. While in Nairobi, we visited a very cool art collaborative called PAWA254, walked through the slums of Kibera, and got thoroughly ripped off at the souvenir shops (at least I did - I recommend bargaining hard if you want to buy anything but be respectful of course). The slums of Kibera were truly eye-opening. Be prepared to have swarms of children run after you; they're very friendly! We visited Carolina for Kibera, an organization that does amazing work to provide healthcare and other services in the slums, and helped distribute sanitary pads to schoolgirls.

Next, we took a bus ride to Kimende. I should mention that most of the bus rides on this trip were extremely long and uncomfortable, but I kind of enjoyed the discomfort as part of the experience. Just try to stay mindful and positive. In Kimende, we stayed with local families and did a few activities like planting trees and weeding. The hospitality was incredible. We stayed here for a few days before taking off to Uganda!

In Kampala, Uganda, we worked with RWEYOWA to set up an HIV testing clinic. Our job was to walk around certain neighbourhoods and distribute flyers to promote our clinic. Again, people were very friendly. It was also very hot! The ground is covered in orange dust, so I recommend wearing shoes that you can wash or don't mind getting dirty. Kampala has a great nightlife, which some of us explored, but I loved that there was no pressure at all for those who didn't feel comfortable.

Next, we went rafting on the Nile! This was SO. MUCH. FUN! Highly recommend. Some people also went bungee jumping but I chickened out.

In Gulu, Uganda, we worked with United Youth Entertainment (UYE) to produce and screen a silent film. I found this leg of the trip to be quite long and slow. This is where you really start to experience a different pace of life but be patient and try to relax. The extra free time lets you do some exploring. Gulu's nightlife is also great.

Then, everyone had ten days off to do what they wanted. Three of us decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. I could go on about this part forever but let's just say this was one of the most challenging and rewarding weeks of my life. It's a little pricey but 100% worth it. We finished off our trip with some camping in Kenya before heading back to Nairobi. Overall, this experience is perfect if you're looking for adventure and not afraid of feeling a little tired or outside your comfort zone at times. Our program directors made all the difference; they were always there to listen and help us adjust. Thank you, Shamira and Julius!

Since returning home, I've discussed my experience with many: friends and family (of course), job interviewers, and I even wrote about it in my (successful) applications for graduate programs at the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics. If used properly, this experience can be an asset to boost your CV. However, expect that some people will be critical. Voluntourism is controversial - for good reasons, in my opinion. But I've always felt that my experience with Operation Groundswell was not a classic voluntourism trip. We didn't go in and build a school where there was no need for a school. We partnered with local organizations on projects that were already underway, for which there was real demand. It's useful to emphasize this if faced with criticism. I would also keep in mind that this program is not the most effective way to help communities in East Africa. You should be clear that you are doing this for yourself as well as to have a social impact. With that in mind, I do think we helped!

Yes, I recommend
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I wasn't sure what to expect with this program, as it was my first volunteer experience abroad. The program was to be dedicated to volunteering in sustainable organic agriculture, yoga, meditation, and hiking. Of course it delivered these things, but what sets Operation Groundswell apart is its dedication to meaningful learning and integration with the local culture. To elaborate, over 2 years later, the activities and discussions in which we partook still resonate with me. The delivery, combined with 2 INCREDIBLE group leaders (Gordon and Meg, you two are the bees' knees!!!), are exceptionally important to create a profound experience that you will take with you back into your own community, and future backpacktivism.

This program is not something that will be handed to you in a nice little package, but rather an invitation to engage with a new environment, new people, a new culture. OG goes to great lengths to ensure you truly have the opportunity to integrate with local communities, with the goal of great impact on both parties.

While the physical labour we offered the farm was certainly helpful for their progress, equally important was our understanding the challenges they face, especially in engaging their own community with their goals. Be prepared to be fully unplugged and immersed during this process!

In addition to volunteering, you will be signing up for some great adventuring - we climbed many a'mountain, with some yoga and meditation along the way! Overall, I must say the personal growth opportunity is exceptional in this program, and I am confident that OG has done an outstanding job structuring their trips to benefit everyone involved.

If you are considering becoming a backpacktivist, rest assured that OG is the right organization to take you on that journey!

Yes, I recommend

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