Partner Communities

Partner Communities

Why Homestays?

Walking Tree Travel sends groups of students to live with host families in partner communities around the world. This important facet of our programming is directly connected to our philosophy of facilitating meaningful cross-cultural interactions and supporting local communities. Living with a host family allows our travelers to truly immerse themselves in the culture of their destinations and to build lasting friendships with local people.

Reasons to stay with a host family:

1

Learn another language

You will be immersed in the local language like never before. Whether you already know the local language or not, you will undoubtedly learn (and laugh) along the way.

2

Try new authentic foods

There’s nothing like a home cooked meal, especially from your host mother. You will have the chance to try new and exotic foods that the locals eat every day.

3

A home away from home

You will immediately have a family who is there to support you whenever needed. There will always be someone to talk, laugh, and eat with during your stay.

4

New customs and traditions

Whether it’s learning how to properly eat with your hands in Senegal, or how to greet others with a kiss on the cheek in Costa Rica, you will learn how to adapt and communicate in a culture different from your own.

5

Build long-lasting friendships

By the end of your trip, you will wish you had more time with your new family. Before you know it, you’ll be planning your next trip in order to spend more time with your host family and new local friends.

6

Teach others about your culture

Not only will you learn about another culture, you’ll also have the opportunity to share your own home culture with others. You may end up laughing together at the perceptions of what each of your cultures is like

7

Become part of the community

You won’t simply be passing through, you will be actively participating in the community. Whether it’s working on a service project, attending a local soccer match or hosting a farewell party, the entire community comes together.

8

Live the local way

You will experience what daily life is really like in your host country, instead of just hearing about it from a tour guide.

How do we pick a host community?

WTT puts a lot of thought, research and work into choosing a host community. A typical community where travelers stay is rural, small and off the beaten path, and is rarely frequented by tourists. We chose these locations and build relationships for several reasons:

When a community is off the beaten path, it enables our travelers to experience the local culture in its true form – not fabricated or glamorized for tourists. Small rural towns are much less influenced by modern western culture, making them the ideal place to experience the authentic local culture.

In a small town where everyone knows each other, there is a much greater sense of community and friendliness. Locals are very welcoming towards our groups, especially since tourists rarely visit them.

These communities offer opportunities for our travelers to partake in important service projects. Smaller villages receive very little funding for public works projects, so our groups have the ability to make a meaningful difference in the community by completing a service project.

WTT Host Families On Average…

400

Average community size

5

Years on average hosting students

2.5

Number of kids in a typical household

75%

Have hosted for more than 3 years

Examples of Past Service Projects:

  • Bringing rural community centers up to code by making them handicapped accessible. Building ramps, constructing an accessible bathroom, widening doorways, etc.
  • Adding on a room to the local health clinic which will be used by doctors to see more patients.
  • Working with a local housing alliance to build a home for a local elderly woman.
  • Constructing a playground from the ground up, providing the first official public play area for local kids.
  • Collaborating with a local village to build soccer stadium seating, which in turn helped to generate income for the community.
  • Building irrigation lines to help with local agriculture and reforestation efforts.
  • Repairing buildings that were damaged by earthquakes, which would otherwise be easily shut down by local governments if no action was taken.
  • Creating community gardens so villagers can cultivate fresh produce year round.

Country Spotlights

Costa Rica Overview

Spotlight of a Typical Community

The relationship that we have formed with our host communities allows participants to truly experience the authentic, rural Costa Rican culture first hand. We send our groups to communities which are “off the beaten path”, meaning most tourists never find their way there. The typical host community has anywhere from 300-600 people, meaning participants will quickly become integrated into the community. Generally, the town is centered around a church, community center, and soccer field with houses fanning out from the center. Usually, there is a small pulperia, or convenience store where you can find basic food, snacks, toiletries, etc. Most families work in agriculture as fruit, vegetable or dairy farmers, while others may work in construction or tourism.

Spotlight of a Typical Family

Our host families are always very excited to receive student groups. It is just as much as an experience for them as it is for our participants. Families are very close knit in Costa Rica, and there is a lot of importance placed on spending time with both immediate and extended family. Although all families are different, a typical host family usually consists of a mother and father and 1-3 kids ranging anywhere from 1-20 years old. About 90% of our host families in Costa Rica have children. Even if a family does not have children they will undoubtedly be surrounded by kids, whether they are extended family members or neighbors. Some of our host families are non-traditional families, meaning they may be single mothers or grandparents raising their grandchildren. Regardless of how your host family is structured, you will be welcomed into your new home and be seen as part of the family.

This is the Mora Zúñiga family from the village of Herradura.  They have hosted students for more than 5 years now.  Osvaldo (father) works in agriculture and Yetty (mother) is a housewife for their two daughters Brigzy (12 years old) and Briguitte (7 years old).  The Mora Zúñiga family is pictured here with Bridget Dexter and Diane Louvar who are participants from the 2014 South Lyon East High School custom trip.

This is the Araya Marin family from the village of La Legua. They have hosted students for more than 6 years. Alvin (father) is a dairy farmer and Kattia (mother) is a housewife. They have three children: Valery, Marisel and Nicole. Danie Thomas from the 30 Day program in 2013 is pictured with them above.

Spotlight of a Typical Home

Typical modern homes are made of concrete and cinder blocks with tin roofing.  They are made this way in order to withstand earthquakes. Traditionally, houses were made of wood with clay tile roofing. In rural areas it is much more common to see traditional style housing, whereas in the city it is very hard to find. Generally, homes are sized modestly with a living area, kitchen area, cuarto de pilas (utility room) and 2-3 bedrooms. Parents often share a private bedroom, but depending on the size of the family and income, kids may share a bedroom with parents. Kids will often share a bedroom, especially when they are younger.  It is considered normal to live with your parents until you get married, meaning that it is not strange for someone in their late twenties or early thirties to live with their parents. It also may be common for elderly family members to live with their children if they cannot take care of themselves. You will find that in small towns family members will construct their houses very close to their other family members, which creates a greater sense of family within the community.

Kitchens are generally very basic in small towns.  Gas or electric countertop stoves are most common nowadays, but you may find that some families still stick to the traditional wood burning stoves.  The kitchen will almost always be found within the home unless a wood-burning stove is used.  In this case, the kitchen may be partially outside the home. Ovens, toasters and dishwashers are not common in Costa Rican kitchens.  All dishes are hand washed.  All houses are equipped with electricity, running water and indoor plumbing.

Internet may hard to come by in host communities, but some families may have internet. Very few families will have a computer. Most people in rural areas of the country access the internet using smart phones, which have become much more accessible for people to purchase over the last few years. Cell phone service can be spotty at times,  but most families will have a home phone line in addition to a cell phone.

Spotlight of a Typical Service Project

WTT groups have the unique opportunity to live and work together with the local host community. The service project depends completely on the needs of each community and can vary greatly from year to year. Service projects are planned together with our Country Director and community liaisons. The project will always benefit the entire community and is chosen and approved by community leaders. Projects are always proposed by local community leaders as they are most in tune with the needs of the community.

Service projects are intended to be both challenging and rewarding for participants and community members. Generally, the work entails renovating or replacing an existing structures (health clinic, community center, school, etc.) that needs work. Usually there are little or no funds available to complete these projects, so WTT plays an important role in the community. Some past projects include renovating health clinics, constructing bathrooms, building sidewalks, repairing decaying retaining walls, and constructing a soccer stadium.

Ecuador Overview

Spotlight of a Typical Community

Host communities in Ecuador are located in the Andes mountain range a few hours outside of the capitol of Quito. Our host communities reflect what rural agricultural life is like in Ecuador. The people in these host communities have traditionally dedicated themselves to agriculture, though many now work in small local businesses or commute to Quito on a weekly basis. The host community is small and consists of only a few thousand habitants. The community is centered around a plaza, community center and soccer field as well as a few convenience stores.

Spotlight of a Typical Family

Host families in Ecuador are extremely warm, friendly and welcoming. Family is very important in Ecuador and most host families consist of a mother and father with young and teenage children. It is considered normal to live with your parents until you get married, meaning that it is not strange for someone in their late twenties or early thirties to live with their parents. It also may be common for elderly family members to live with their children if they cannot take care of themselves. You will find that in small towns, family members will construct their houses very close to their other family members, which creates a greater sense of family within the community.

This is the Castillo Aguilar family from Nanegal.  Hilda (mother) is a housewife and Abraham (father) works in agriculture.

Spotlight of a Typical Home

Typical homes that are constructed nowadays are made of concrete and cinder blocks with tin roofing. Generally, homes are sized modestly with a living area, kitchen area, utility room and 2-3 bedrooms. Generally, parents will share a private bedroom, but depending on the size of the family and income, kids may share a bedroom with parents. Kids will often share a bedroom, especially when they are younger. Kitchens are generally very basic in small towns. Gas or electric countertop stoves are most common nowadays, but you may find that some families still stick to the traditional wood burning stoves. The kitchen will almost always be found within the home unless a wood-burning stove is used. In this case, the kitchen may be partially outside the home. Ovens, toasters and dishwashers are not common, but sometimes present in kitchens in Nanegal. Dishes are normally hand washed. All houses are equipped with electricity, running water and indoor plumbing.

Internet may hard to come by in host communities, but some families may have internet. Very few families will have a computer. Most people in rural areas of the country access the internet using smart phones, which have become much more accessible for people to purchase over the last few years. Cell phone service can be spotty at times,  but most families will have a home phone line in addition to a cell phone.

Spotlight of a Typical Service Project

WTT groups have the unique opportunity to live and work together with the local host community. The service project depends completely on the needs of each community and can vary greatly from year to year. Service projects are planned together with our Country Director and community liaisons. The project will always benefit the entire community and is chosen and approved by community leaders. Projects are always proposed by local community leaders as they are most in tune with the needs of the community.

Guatemala Overview

Spotlight of a Typical Community

Santa Clara La Laguna, is a traditional, indigenous town made up of approximately 10,000 inhabitants located in the highlands of Lake Atitlán. The primary language is Ki’che’, with most locals being able to communicate and understand Spanish. The town is centered around a plaza with basketball courts and the church. This is also the main plaza where the market is held on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. Most inhabitants are religious (some deeply so), and the primary religions are Catholicism and Episcopalian. Most women are amas de casa, or housewives, and as a cultural norm women in the society do not drink alcohol. Clothing is very modest, with older people wearing traditional dress. More children dress in modern clothing, which are mainly second-hand clothes from the United States.

Spotlight of a Typical Family

Family and community is very important in Santa Clara. Some people live with their extended families. It is common for everyone to know what is going on in the community (at least among the tight-knit community of host mothers). Most host families consist of a mother, father, and 1-3 kids, though it is not uncommon for other family members (grandparents, aunts, cousins, etc.) to live within or close to the home as well.

This is the Cholotío Peneleu family form the community of San Juan La Laguna.  César works in agriculture and Juana is a housewife. They have been hosting for Walking Tree groups for the last three years. César and Juana are pictured here with Yusra Saleh and Alexis Berlin, participants from the 2016 Guatemala 10 Day Service Program

Spotlight of a Typical Home

In Guatemala, most homes are constructed of concrete, cinder blocks and brick with tin and red clay tiles used for roofing. In rural Guatemala housing styles vary; you’ll still find homes made of adobe, though nowadays cinder block houses are becoming increasingly popular. Most of the rural houses in Guatemala have 3 bedrooms, a kitchen and a small living area. A shared bathroom is the norm. Students may have to share a bedroom with a host sibling of the same sex, but will always have their own bed. Finally, in Guatemala it is very common and normal to live with your parents until you get married as well as for the elderly to move back in with their family.

Most of the houses in rural Guatemala, aren’t that modern; wood and gas stoves are quite common and in many cases the kitchen is outside. Some homestay families will have microwave, TV, toasters and other types of kitchen utensils, however don’t expect to have dishwasher, all laundry is done by hand using the sink that is located outside the house. All the houses are equipped with electricity and running water, even though some villages do struggle with water shortages.

Spotlight of a Typical Service Project

WTT has partnered with our long-time friends at Guatemala Housing Alliance, a non-profit organization which works in our host community. Service projects in Guatemala are organized through the GHA and students will work under the watchful eye of a foreman and alongside a handful of community members to build a new home from scratch for a family that desperately needs it. According to GHA, it is estimated that there are well over a million houses in Guatemala cobbled together with cornstalks, cane, and scavenged materials. During the wet months – from June to November – wind driven rain blows through the wall, drips from the roofs, and often turns dirt floors into parasitic muck. Students work with local community members to build homes from the ground up!

Peru Overview

Spotlight of a Typical Host Community

The host communities we work with in Peru are all located in the Sacred Valley outside of Cusco. Incan ruins can be found throughout the hills surrounding many sacred valley towns, including communities where Walking Tree visits. Host communities are either nestled in valleys or perched on hills that overlook snowcapped peaks can be seen from several viewpoints. Incan culture and traditions are alive and well and many community members continue to speak with one another in Quechua, but almost all speak Spanish as well. Communities are small and rural and range from 1,000 to 9,000 members depending on which community you will stay in.

 

Spotlight of a Typical Family

Families in Peru are very warm and welcoming, especially in rural communities. Many of our host families are descendants of the Incas and their native language is Quechua. Almost all families are bilingual (Quechua and Spanish) and still preserve many customs and traditions of their Incan ancestors. The family unit is very important in Peru and it is not uncommon for families to have many children. Families also tend to live very close to their extended family members and sometimes under the same roof! The majority of the families who host for us have small children who are always eager to talk, teach and play with students.

2012 Peru Immersion Family

Spotlight of a Typical Home

Living conditions in Peru are quite different than those in the USA and varies slightly depending on each family. Many homes may be made of adobe brick, while others may be constructed of stones or cinder blocks. Those made of adobe bricks may be more breezy, as they are not as insulated as brick or stone constructions. All host families will have running water, indoor bathrooms and electricity. A typical home consists of a kitchen, dining/common room, bathroom and bedrooms.

Spotlight of a Typical Service Project

An average service project depends completely on the needs of each community and can vary greatly from year to year. Service projects are planned together with the SSA Country Director and community organizers. The project will always benefit the entire community and is chosen and approved by community leaders. Walking Tree staff never decides what service project is done, rather projects are always proposed by local community leaders as they are most in tune with the needs of the community.

Service projects are intended to be both challenging and rewarding for participants and community members. Generally, the work entails renovating or replacing an existing structure (health clinic, community center, school, etc) that needs work. Usually, there are little or no funds available to complete these projects, so Walking Tree plays an important role in the community. Some past projects include renovating health clinics, constructing playgrounds, building sidewalks, reforestation, or repairing decaying retaining walls.

Senegal Overview

Spotlight of a Typical Host Community

A typical community can vary in size and structure. There are villages that are small as 200 residents and some 2500 or more. Every village has a chief and an Imam (religious leader). In the center of town there are usually a couple of shops where people can get basic needs (rice, salt, spices, soft drinks, fruits, vegetables….)

Spotlight of a Typical Family

Senegalese hospitality has its own untranslatable word, teranga. Teranga means, essentially, that Senegalese people will give up whatever they have to make a guest more comfortable. For example, participants often find that their families give them far more food than they are able to eat: this is one of the many ways in which Senegalese families try to make visitors feel at home.

Senegalese families tend to be large: two parents and often four or more children, plus a host of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who come and go. Family is a term used more loosely here, and participants sometimes have trouble figuring who, exactly, is in the family. Though Americans tend to overuse the proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child” is absolutely the attitude of our host families.

Senegal Host Family

Spotlight of a Typical Home

Living conditions in our host communities are clean and simple. Houses in our northern host communities are made of poured concrete and have either corrugated metal or thatched roofs. In the southern communities we work with, most homes are huts made of mud walls, cement floors, bamboo roofs covered with hay. Many families have small front yards of sand and will sit outside on a mat enjoying a soda and the breeze in the evening. Walking Tree participants will usually be given a bedroom of their own. Most families prefer to keep doors and windows closed overnight, so they provide fans to ease sleeping in the heat.

Spotlight of a Typical Service Project

An average service project depends completely on the needs of each community and can vary greatly from year to year. Service projects are planned together with the SSA Country Director and community organizers. The project will always benefit the entire community and is chosen and approved by community leaders. Walking Tree staff never decides what service project is done, rather projects are always proposed by local community leaders as they are most in tune with the needs of the community.

Service projects have been, painting a school, building a school library, village cleanup, working with peace corps volunteers on developmental projects ie gardening, environmental projects, live fencing…  Students will work on projects alongside locals, chosen by the locals.

Thailand Overview

Spotlight of a Typical Host Community

Host communities we send our groups offer a view into what authentic rural culture is like in the Thai countryside. Generally, the host town consists of few hundred habitants. Most people work in agriculture or own little food shops in the nearby village. Community members live in harmony with the environment in small towns tucked away in the mountains. Convenience stores are available in town for snacks, drinks, etc. Host communities are unfrequented by tourists, so locals are always eager to host participants who are coming to discover their culture.

Spotlight of a Typical Family

Host families are always very excited to receive new students and are eager to share their culture with foreigners coming to their home. Family is very important in Thailand, so they will always make sure that everything is ok, especially when it comes to food! Usually most of the extended family lives under one household. Many of the older family members help out in raising children and providing for the whole family. Many of the families are very close, but all host families are different. Regardless of which family you will live with, there will be no shortage of people to talk with and learn from!

This is Pa Rhom Sai pictured with her grandson Big Bike, she has been hosting students for the past few years and really loves sharing time with her students.  She is the main cook in her town of Ban Chong Sadao, Kanchanaburi and loves teaching how to prepare her favorite Thai dishes.  She is pictured with Tehuila, Lydia, Alysha and Maddy from the 2016 16-Day Elephant Expedition.

Spotlight of a Typical Home

Most host families have big concrete houses. The kitchen is always detached and located outside of the main home structure. Depending on the home, students could share the bedroom with 1 or 2 other students. The bathroom will be western style, but no hot water will be guaranteed. All students will eat at one same house in the middle of the host community. One of the “aunties” from the community will cook every meal for everybody, and students are more than welcome to help to prepare the food if they wish. All houses have a little patio area where usually members of the family and students gather to chitchat at the end of the day.

Spotlight of a Typical Service Project

WTT partners with Bring The Elephant Home, a Thai NGO that aims to better the chance of survival for Asian elephants, are working together with our host community. BTEH is at the head of the only community-based wild elephant conservation initiative in Thailand. Together with our host community, we will work on the solutions that they found to solve the human-elephant conflict. Service projects may vary depending on the need of the local community, but tasks such as seeding, planting trees, building check dams, and construction of beehive fencing might be needed. Generally, the work is quite physical but very satisfying at the end of the day.

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