Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Australia Delegation Safe: We Keep an Eye on Disaster

Every year about this time we hear of some catastrophic event happening around the world. When it involves a country or a city we plan to visit during our travel season, we jump into action.

This year the flood in eastern Australia has demanded our attention, and the attention of families of students who plan to participate in one of our Australia delegations this summer.

Fortunately it appears now that the Australia programs will not be negatively impacted by the floods over the past several weeks. With the exception of the town of Horsham, the latest reports indicate the worst may be over and the water levels have started to subside.

From the information we have gathered from our partners, all major attractions will still be visited. We are also exploring opportunities for our students to engage in some form of community service to support our friends in Australia later this summer.

How We Handle Disasters
I’ve said this before but it never hurts to repeat it: If an event poses a risk to your child’s safety or health, we would not hesitate to cancel or reschedule the program to remove that threat.

When traveling to over 60 countries on all seven continents, something seems to come up each year that requires our immediate and full assessment of the potential impact.

Based on current events in Australia, I thought I would take a moment to share with you what steps we do take to ensure the safety of our students and to ensure the destinations in question are suitable to visit.
  • When an event happens, key representatives of the organization are immediately notified. Sometimes the information comes to us directly from one of the many partners we work with around the world and sometime from a government organization like the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) at the US State Department.

  • Once we have knowledge we immediately seek more relative information from our partners within that country.

  • We then work with our partners to determine if an event will have lasting repercussions or if our itinerary can stay intact. If necessary, we devise plans to off-set any scheduling or itinerary changes that may be needed. In the case of Australia, early indications seem to indicate there will be no alternation to the scheduled programs. (If anything, we may have to change sites planned to see Koala Bears or something to that extent.)

  • We then bring a team of executives together to evaluate the alternatives. Last year we were faced with the ash cloud over Europe caused by the volcano in Iceland. In that case the out-come was less clear at the point the volcano erupted, so our executive team went to great lengths to plan how students would be housed and transported to and from Europe with special emphasis on designing a program that would never leave a student alone. As you can imagine, that plan was very detailed and in the end, it wasn’t used. The ash passed and the event did not impact our programs.

  • Even if a situation appears stabilized, we prepare for the case if a problem worsens or materializes as we forecasted. In 2009 we had a similar plan when we heard of the first reported case of Swine flu in Mexico. We had no way of forecasting the magnitude that event achieved but we planned none the less. In that case the plan was executed and worked well to protect the interest of our students and their families.
I hope knowing that we take each of these situations very seriously helps ease any concerns a parent might have for allowing their child to visit Australia. My son will be traveling there this summer and he is extremely excited. He has also started reading the newspaper to stay current as the events down under unfold. We are excited, too, because we know People to People Ambassador Programs goes to great lengths to make sure students are going to be safe and not impacted by these tragedies.

In the meantime, our hearts go out to those families impacted by this historical event and most especially to our close friends and partners who we work with to deliver our unique life changing experiences in Australia.

As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health & Safety

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

PTP Welcomes Registered Dietitian April Davis back for 2011

[Above: April holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa on her recent adventure with our Mediterranean Traditions delegation]

Who is April Davis?
Last year, April brought People to People Ambassador Programs valuable insight into health and nutrition for our delegates in response to feedback from our delegates and their families. She not only reviewed our meals and recommended changes to provide better and tastier meals on program, but field tested it with delegates on an actual program to make sure it was appropriate for them. Our commitment to a great travel experience runs that deep!

April’s current credentials include being a Registered Dietitian, Certified Dietitian, and American College of Sports Medicine Clinical Exercise Specialist®. For delegates and their parents, her blog posts showcase successful meal planning on our programs, and provide long-term education about healthy living and meal choices. Topics to be covered in upcoming blog entries include:
  • Nutritional food remedies to common travel ailments;
  • An introduction to micro- and macronutrients and why each is important during travel;
  • How to make healthy choices at a buffet;
  • Nutritional values in regional cuisine differences; and
  • Many more important topics you won’t want to miss.
April's update is below. We're glad she's on board!
- Mike Bowers Senior Director of Health & Safety

According to April:
"Last year I worked with People to People Student Ambassador Programs to assist in making recommendations for quality improvement in student acceptability to overseas meals.

[Me with my delegation in Pisa last summer]

"I began by reviewing proposed menus that students follow while traveling. After submitting my suggestions, several adjustments were made as an initial stepping stone to improving post-travel evaluations related to food intake during travel. I also began writing monthly blog posts on the Health & Safety Blog to the parents of delegates to provide nutrition and physical activity recommendations pre- and during travel, along with general tips on hydration, healthy travel snacks, and basic macronutrient education.

"This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel through Italy and the French Riviera with a People to People Student Ambassador Delegation and observe nutrition practices, meals served, and overall acceptance by students. It was important to consider these factors in conjunction with their daily schedule and emotional and physical states. I also assessed adherence to meal plans, portions, presentation, palatability, hydration status, and quality of foods served, as well as student satisfaction. There were numerous positive experiences and reactions that I saw while observing the delegation. Some of these included adequate portion sizes, friendly and efficient restaurant service, agreeable palatability, and several unique food presentations.

"Reflecting on this experience, I am reminded how grateful I am to have had this unique opportunity as a dietitian. It encourages me to spread my wings and delve into any and all possibilities with an open, creative mindset. I whole-heartedly believe that life is what you make of it – so make it something worth remembering and find ways to explore the world (literally or metaphorically) through your knowledge of food science - I look forward to sharing with you in 2011!"
- April Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES®

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Deadline for Health Forms: It’s not the Tax Date but every bit as important

Happy New Year to all our delegates and families. Can you believe it is already January 6th? In just less than 5 months our first student programs take off for their life changing experiences. In preparation for the launch of our 2011 travel season, we wanted to share with you a most important reminder that will help us ensure the health and safety of each delegate.

[Image Credit: MoonRhino via Flickr]

Pretty much everyone in the USA knows the importance of the date, April 15th. That’s the day each American’s tax return must be postmarked and sent to the IRS. (This year the deadline is being moved due to a holiday so tax payers will have until midnight on Monday, April 18th to mail their returns.)

Well here at People to People Ambassador Programs we have an equally important date and that is January 15th of each year, and no that date isn’t changing. January 15th is the due date for each enrolled student Ambassador to submit a health form to their local leader.

The leader then makes a copy of both pages of this important form and keeps the original health forms and then ships a copy the Health and Safety Department at the Program Office. The purpose of making a copy is to allow the leader to carry the original with them for each student in their care in the unlikely event a medical situation arises. That way any listed medications or allergies or other important medical background can be shared with the medical professional treating the student in the foreign country.

Adhering to this date is important. The information on each health form must be reviewed and entered into our computer system. (We are working on a new process which will allow for students to fill in the health form online, dramatically improving the collection process starting later in the year.) Once the health form is imputed, the computer system scans for any of over 300 medical conditions. If a student should have one or more of these conditions a medical hold is then generated.

If you would like to learn more about the medical hold process, you can review, “Navigating the Health form, a Vital Step in Your Child’s Safety,” a blog entry made by the Health & Safety Supervisor, Wendy Armes, posted back in September for more information and background.

My son will be traveling on the the Journey through the South Pacific program in June and we filled out his health form last night. He will be turning it in during his first orientation meeting which just so happens to be scheduled on January 15th, so we won’t be late.

Using Cellhire and don't have a cell phone number yet?

While filling out the health form (which I helped design by the way), I did notice one difficult question to answer. On the form it suggests you consider renting a cell phone for your child for safety reasons, which I support. It also asks you to supply us with the cell number that your child might be taking along with them. My son is planning to rent a Cellhire GPS phone with the new Panic Alert button on it. We won’t have that number until a couple weeks prior to travel, though.

Sometimes as much as we run simulations and plan, it takes participating as a parent of a Student Ambassador to get some of the minor annoyances to our system out. We will be modifying the health form for 2012 so that we don’t ask for the number yet.

Anyway, no worries, Casey will be able to provide the leader the number when he meets in the departure city so that the leader has his contact information in the event he ever needs it. It doesn’t happen often but like any parent I want Casey to be as reachable as possible in any situation.

Besides, the Cellhire phone will be local to Australia so the phone rates I get will be much less than if he were to take his personal cell and have me activate the international calling option. I have to admit that since I helped guide the development of the GPS tracking options I can’t wait to track my own son with it!

I will be able to see the same road he is standing on and freak him out by sending a SMS message commenting on something he is looking at from my home in Spokane. Talk about being a helicopter parent!

If any of you are interested in renting a Cellhire cell phone, just go to and view all the many phone options you can select from.

So remember, get the health form in by January 15th. My staff is waiting with anticipation for them to arrive on-time in the program office so we can check that step off your list of things to do before embarking on your wonderful life changing experience with People to People Ambassador Programs.

As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!