Note (October 2007): This travelogue was moved from its own site to here.
From early 2001, I worked for a few months, through Geekcorps in Ghana. Before heading out, I spent new year's with family in Portugal.
All this might be interesting, I hear you say, but what might be the reason for this absurd combination of travel literature and web design?
Luckily, it's not that hard. I like to think of myself as a traveling man. In practice, it means that the traveling is very often interrupted by large stints of the plain old office job. However, I had plans, mid 2000, to change all that.
Making a plan
Already when I still studied at the Technical University of Delft, the Netherlands, a feeling had been creeping up on me that I might very much feel like starting my own company. Living in the Netherlands, on the wrong side of the Internet Boom, time wise and geographically, I had no idea what my company would do. I started working for Procter & Gamble, in Brussels, Belgium.
It soon became clear that Procter & Gamble wasn't my perfect environment. Sure, I was working in international teams filled with intelligent people, but a couple of things felt wrong. Not only was the incentive to innovate missing, many (older) people mainly seemed primarily to focus on how they could cover their ass. These people were working in a company that had a global impact and they themselves couldn't comprehend even a fraction of a global picture. Nor, as it seemed, did the company as a whole.
When two friends of mine, who had started a company back in 1996, told me they were now looking for their first men for hire, I jumped in (after traveling for six weeks in Russia), and I became the first employee of Bi-Cycle.
At Bi-Cycle, my task was twofold. As salesman, I had to cover the UK; as a web developer, I had to design, build and implement the company's website. Both were rather interesting, but at some point I concluded that selling the company's software package to large players in the process industry wasn't my 'thing'. When it was hinted at that I was going to be offered a position in our upcoming office in the US, having to focus on sales, I figured it was time to move on again.
Feelings of starting my own company started creeping up on me again. In the past couple of years, I had grown a passion for web design and web development, something I really enjoy to do, still. I was going to try and make a living as an independent web developer
An other side of the coin
Already for years I believe that, as a more fortunate member of our society, I should spend time building opportunities for the less fortunate or support people in a way that can improve their life.
I have been a blood donor for almost 10 years now and when I was living in Belgium I was a volunteer on a suicide helpline. Only after touring through South Eastern Europe for a week and building a house together with Habitat for Humanity, for a married couple in Beius, Romania, did I realize that there is so much more to be done in the world where I can make a difference.
I had decided to finish my job at Bi-Cycle come December 31, 2000. In October I received an invitation from a company called Geekcorps to do a phone interview for their next project, in Ghana. Early November, I was asked to join. In order to go, I had to be able to be in the US mid January 2001.
It was an easy decision; being a freelance web designer just would have to wait a little bit longer. And whatever, I was supposed to be doing 'my thing' in Ghana anyway. This was going to be like a six month holiday. Or not quite, this was going to be like a six month holiday, where I would learn a lifetime.
If you're interested to do similar work as I did in Ghana, you can start by looking at the Geekcorps website. You can also look at similar organizations, such as VSO and Habitat. However, if you 'just' want to get involved in some humanitarian plan, chances are that your neighborhoods or city is filled with organizations looking for passionate individuals like yourself