My Volunteer Trip Amy Copperman, Adobe Spark Editor, teams up with CHOICE Humanitarian

This October, I had the incredible opportunity to join CHOICE Humanitarian on the NGO's first public expedition to Meseta Andina, Peru. CHOICE stands for Center for Humanitarian Outreach and Intercultural Exchange and its mission is to end extreme poverty in rural areas throughout the world. CHOICE expedition volunteers work hand-in-hand with motivated villagers on a variety of important development projects on 20+ trips per year to seven countries worldwide.

The main goal of my involvement was to create concierge content for CHOICE with Spark Video and to participate in the expedition as a volunteer. Along the way, I gained valuable insight into the challenges facing non-profits, evangelized Spark to participating organizations and volunteers, and experienced a personally and professionally rewarding challenge.

I created 11 videos from the experience (with more in the pipeline). The following videos were shot on an iPhone 6 or GoPro and edited by me on Spark Video beta. Shout-out to The Ben Watkins One-Hour Film School, which proves a few tricks and couple clutch tools are all anyone needs to make impactful videos.

The CHOICE Humanitarian Expedition Experience in One Minute

Got a Bit More Time? See The Full Story

Rangrayo is a rural community consisting of 84 families situated in Meseta Andina, a 10,000-feet-high plateau in the foothills of the Andes in Northern Peru. The nearest town is Frias, a four-hour truck ride across dirt, switchback roads. During the rainy season, the roads become impassible, further isolating the area.

Even in dry weather, we had our fair share of trouble on the way there.

As the first public expedition in the area, this was the first time many of the community members had met foreigners.

Electricity arrived a mere three years ago. And you can forget about cell phone reception. Life is simple and serene in the village.

And the people warm, welcoming, and humble...and eager to have their picture or video taken.

CHOICE Humanitarian has been working with the Rangrayo community for a year and is the first NGO to tackle the troubled area.

In Meseta Andina, 74 percent of people are malnourished and five out of 25 children don't make it through the first year.

After CHOICE identifies a community to work with through an extensive screening process, the first step is identifying the greatest needs with leaders and creating a plan based on development projects, helmed and executed by the local community.

What I loved seeing from CHOICE employees is their utmost respect and regard for the way of life in the community. The organization prioritizes the dignity of people above all else.

On this expedition volunteers, CHOICE employees, and community members worked together to build stoves. We built twelve stoves in three days, but the community continues the project long after volunteers leave. Each stove-building team was led by a member of the community so he could continue the work after CHOICE leaves.

Stoves cost around $60 each to make, which are paid for by volunteers' expedition fees and are made of adobe, mud, brick, and a metal chimney.

New stove technology is an important first step out of poverty for many rural areas. Learn more about its significance:

Another major issue affecting the people in Meseta Andina is lack of nutrition, access to high-quality seeds, and education around sustainable farming practices. Community leaders study agriculture in vocational schools and work with in-country CHOICE team members to bring farming education to the community.

During the expedition, we created 13 organic family farms in an effort to diversify the community's diets.

Often extreme poverty affects women and girls most, so CHOICE prioritizes gender equality programs and only works with communities who give voice to the issues facing women and girls.

One major issue facing many rural areas in South America (and throughout the world) is lack of feminine hygiene resources and sex education. Non-profit and expedition partner Days for Girls estimates women miss out on 3,000 days of school and work in their lifetime because of lack of education about their bodies.

During the expedition a Days for Girls representative and CHOICE's CEO Leah Barker conducted sex ed and self-defense training with women, as volunteers assisted and distributed feminine hygiene kits. Grandmothers, moms, girls and babies gathered in the community center for a sweet afternoon of girl talk. And each woman left with a polaroid keepsake as a "graduation" gift.

Three dentist volunteers, sponsored by healthcare organization Kool Smiles, set up a two-day dental clinic. It was staffed by volunteers, community members, and the professional dentists. Check it out:

About half of the volunteers on the expedition were CHG Healthcare employees, a corporate sponsor. CHG's corporate responsibility program subsidizes CHOICE expeditions for employees who apply. It was heartwarming to see coworkers of all levels bonding in a profound way.

CHOICE aims to recruit more corporate partners under this model so I created an advertisement for the program based on interviews with CHG employees. (In-progress draft)

One of my favorite experiences of the trip was spending a morning in the local school teaching English words through a dream workshop. Can you spot the Spark SWAG? ;)

The trip wasn't just all work. Afternoons were spent playing with children and relaxing with villagers. They loved getting their nails painted.

I could watch the women of Rangrayo weave all day. See the mesmerizing process:

Daily soccer games often lasted until after sunset.

And neighboring villages trekked hours to challenge CHOICE volunteers to a massive soccer tournament. (We lost terribly).

When not working or playing in the village, volunteers and CHOICE team members ate and slept in the community's one-room government center. Temperatures dipped into the 30s at night, but sleeping bags, wool blankets, and sharing a room with 25 people kept things cozy.

Read more about the expedition in the volunteers' words here:

Personal Take-Aways and My Adobe Spark Story

Personally and professionally, this trip was a dream come true. I've always had a travel bug and my eye on Peru. But most importantly, it's a rare privilege to dive deep into a topic or organization. The fast pace of internet writing is a challenge in its own right, but it's incredibly refreshing to spend a week of work laser focused.

Before I joined the Spark team, much of my freelance writing career was aimed at the goal of covering culture and travel. Sometimes I even got to go as far as Tahoe! When Sasha approached me about this job at Adobe a little over a year ago, I hesitated a bit in large part because I worried a full-time move to tech would mean losing sight of the writing career that I felt was just gaining momentum. Honestly, I took this job for very practical, responsible reasons--the on-paper financial stability was going to help me qualify for a loan that would keep my mom in our family home and preserve a central gathering place I'd known my whole life. While the job excited me in different ways and was ultimately an easy choice to make, I grappled with sacrificing soul-satisfying work I loved.

That worry was proven wrong long before the Peru opportunity as I saw how much there is to learn here, but the trip (and magnanimous managerial support from Sasha and Aubrey--as well as support from teammates like Thibault, Ben Watkins, and Annick) is a big example of the ways this job has exceeded my expectations, pushed me closer to career goals, and helped me discover new ones. I feel very grateful that I have a job that allows me to be there for my family in a profound way and affords creative freedom. I count Sasha's uncanny timing last year and professional support as possibly the biggest break of my life for what it allowed me to do.

And to top it off, the very dream I thought I was putting on hold, showed up within the first year of working here.

The Spark product itself has also changed the course of my career. Before Spark, I had never made video on my own before, but I knew the kind of work I wanted to do would increasingly go to multimedia pros. I feel stretched and supported as a thinker and storyteller thanks to this organization and more competitive because of the tools.

I should perhaps stop now, but in the spirit of the openness I've seen from the Spark community and internally, I'm inspired to explain further what this work has meant to me and the surprising ways this organization has supported me...at the risk of TMI. 2016 was a painful year--it seems for just about everyone. For my family, it's been our hardest yet as we faced complicated illnesses. I'll spare the details, but my youngest brother's acute struggle of late has been especially overwhelming--for him, foremost--but for all of us, too. As the older sister (we're ten years apart), I've always felt fiercely protective of him.

I didn't realize it until recently, but the trip provided much-needed distance and perspective that has helped me shift my energy away from things I can't control. It was such a blessing to be immersed in something meaningful, positive, and concrete even as I felt helpless (and remain so) at home.

It also reawakened the creativity and productivity that was squashed by my near-constant worry over the last eight months. Writing has always helped me process things, but through this challenging time, spending any amount of time in quiet thought after work or on weekends felt so daunting and hard, I often chose distraction or succumbed to anxiety. But working within Spark Video on a project that helped me through many sleepless nights has been the most un-hard, rewarding thing I’ve accomplished in months. This is partly due to the product itself. It's not just that it's easy; it forces you to take life 30 seconds at a time. Which, when you're feeling overwhelmed whether by life or the task at hand, is perhaps the difference between finishing a piece and never even feeling like you can start.

I've seen it over and over this year--in user stories, in Ben Forta’s classroom anecdotes, in messages and reviews from the community--this product has transformative power. It has soul. And it totally rejuvenated mine when I really needed it.

Thank you!

Created By
Amy Copperman
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