Alumni Profile – Madison Graboyes!

We are so excited about this Alumni feature! Madison is an alumna of both Global Routes and Windsor Mountain! We remember her from her first summer as a camper at our International Summer Camp in 2001 – and now she is helping to organize one of the coolest literacy organizations out there: Lit World.

Madison working with Lit World in 2012

How did you hear about Global Routes?

I heard about Global Routes during my time as a camper at Interlocken (now Windsor Mountain), between 2001 and 2003.  Since my first summer, I always knew that I wanted to go on a travel program when my time at summer camp was over. During morning meetings at camp, sometimes we would read stories of the amazing experiences Global Routes participants were having “outside the bubble” of Interlocken, and I would see the incredible photos of people our age in places I couldn’t even imagine.  I knew I wanted to have that experience too.  When I had my chance, I chose to spend a month in Belize in 2004.

What was one of your favorite aspects of the program?

My trip to Belize was my first time outside the US, so I think my favorite aspect of the program was having an incredible new experience everyday!  The training for our service work – building a library in a rural refugee settlement – was incredible.  We had the chance to visit the ruins at Tikal, Guatemala (you might recognize them from the beginning of one of the Star Wars movies) and canoe through caves lined at the top with skulls hundreds of years old, which was a little scary and really fun.  Every day during our service project we got to walk through our village and meet new people, spend time with our host families, and dance to music while we mixed cement and watched our library grow.  And at the end we got to celebrate!  Every day was unique, eye-opening, and fun.

How about one of your silliest moments?

One moment I still talk about all the time 9 years later came during our program wrap-up, when we spent a few days in Caye Caulker, Belize, debriefing our experience.  We went snorkeling, and I was floating around on top of the water, when I saw one of our guides below the water (he could really hold his breath) waving his arms at me.  All of a sudden, all around me was gray.  Swimming no more than a foot below was a HUGE manatee, but for a second I really thought it was an elephant.  I mean, this creature was REALLY huge.  I froze!  It was so beautiful and special – our guide told me later it was only the second manatee he had seen in his years and years as a diver.  I felt pretty silly for thinking it was an elephant, but really lucky for the experience.

What was the biggest challenge for you on program?

I think the biggest challenge I faced was adjusting to a way of life outside of my comfort zone.  In my home stay, out of 7 family members only our mom spoke english.  We didn’t have plumbing, just a spigot for a shower and an outhouse, and we all shared just two rooms that during the day became the bakery for the town.  Coming from normal home in the suburbs of Philadelphia, even after spending a few summers at overnight camp, this was a big challenge!  I had to learn new ways to communicate and open my mind to being “uncomfortable” sometimes without being unhappy.  It was a big learning experience for me, and something that has allowed me to travel a lot throughout my life with the confidence that I can make the most of any living situation!

Has your Global Routes experience stayed with you?  How? 

I think my Global Routes experience has definitely impacted the path I have taken in life.  I am not sure if I would have developed an interest in traveling, human rights, or education without having my eyes opened to a world different than my own at such a young age.  It also definitely gave me “the itch” as I call it, or the urge to adventure.  My trip was my first time leaving the USA, and since then I have traveled to 35 countries!  I still and will always love to travel and have new experiences, thanks to my first trip.

Your work at LitWorld is AWESOME, can you tell us more about your role and the organization?

It is awesome! Here at LitWorld, an international literacy and advocacy organization based out of New York City, I am the Global Community Builder.  At LitWorld, we have developed a program called LitClubs, which are literacy and empowerment workshops for boys, girls, and moms, which help people build the confidence  to share their own story and use that story to change the world.  

My work specifically involves helping to launch our LitClubs, both here in the United States, and abroad in places like Kenya, Ghana, the Philippines, Haiti, and Kosovo.  I get to work with our wonderful on the ground partners, and sometimes visit our programs to make sure they have absolutely everything they need to help children and adults be strong and successful.  I also run some of our programs here in Harlem, including a LitClub for teens, and develop and run our LitCamps, which are free summer camps for kids ages 7-14.  Last year our camps ran in Harlem and Kibera, Kenya, and they were both amazing (Adam and Alissa of Global Routes/The Cookbook Project were counselors at the Kibera camp!)  

We also advocate for global literacy and girls rights through our international advocacy days – World Read Aloud Day (March 6th!) and Stand Up for Girls (October 11th!)  You can email us to get involved or check out a video about WRAD here: 

What is one piece advice that you would pass on to students considering a Global Routes program?

My piece of advice would be to keep adventuring.  All of the most important and impactful lessons I have learned so far in life have been from new people and new experiences.  Keep getting outside your comfort zone (safely!) and gathering the stories that will help you find your path in life and help you change your world!

Madison in Belize in 2004
Stay in the Loop!
Join us for special offers, updates, and inspiration!