Sucheta Rawal has a passion for traveling, food and helping others. She’s combined her passions and created Go Eat Give, a not-for-profit movement that brings together people from around the globe through food and community service.

MNN was fortunate to catch up with Rawal for an interview as she was getting ready for an exploratory trip to El Salvador. She wants to learn how the perception of El Salvador matches up with the reality. From this research trip, Rawal hopes she’ll bring back information to use for future Go Eat Give volunteer trips.

On the trips, which Rawal organizes and leads, travelers sign up for short vacations to foreign countries where they spend some of their time interacting with the locals through volunteer projects and community service. Rawal realized there was a need for trips for professionals who can’t take a lot of time off from work, but who want to do a one- or two-week trip where they can experience another culture and also do some good while they're there.

“People have life-changing experiences on these trips,” says Rawal. She has led projects like delivering food door-to-door to poor people in Peru or teaching English to women in Spain. One of the travelers on the trip to Spain had never been outside the United States before. Now, that person is going to move to Spain to continue the work she started. Rawal believes the woman's experience with Go Eat Give gave her “empowerment to take that risk.”

Volunteering is an important component of the trips that Rawal plans, but so is eating.

“Sharing the meals is very important,” believes Rawal. “Food brings everybody together.” So on a Go Eat Give trip, travelers eat at local restaurants and also get home-cooked meals. Everyone is always surprised by the real cuisine of a culture.

“The food that you receive in a home in Morocco differs from the food you’d receive at a Moroccan restaurant in America or even at a tourist restaurant in Morocco.”

Because she thinks an authentic eating experience enhances a trip, Rawal likes to eat where the locals eat, not where the tourists eat. She shares these five tips for staying away from restaurants that cater to tourists and for finding the places where the locals gather.

  1. Peek through windows to see who is inside. If you see a big group, there’s a good chance it’s a tourist group. Skip that restaurant.
  2. Take a look at the menu. If it has French fries on it, it’s probably trying to cater to tourists. If it has pasta with a side of French fries, it’s definitely trying to cater to tourists.
  3. Keep away from main streets and away from main attractions. The restaurants close to where the tourists go usually cater to tourists.
  4. Look for hole-in-the-wall places away from the main thoroughfares.
  5. Finally, if the menu isn’t in English, it’s usually a good indication the restaurant isn’t going after the typical tourist crowd.
Rawal says there are other companies that offer similar services to Go Eat Give, but there a few things that set her organization apart. Many other organizations organize trips that are months' long; the length of her trips is more manageable for professionals.

She tries to book nicer hotels or rents houses because she realizes that the experience is still a vacation, not just a volunteer trip. She brings in local chefs, and travelers can help out in the kitchen, creating a dialogue while they come together with locals from the community.

Rawal is excited about Go Eat Give’s upcoming excursions. One of the volunteer vacations will take travelers to Bali where they’ll stay at a boutique resort and spa and spend time volunteering at Bali’s Children’s Project for a few hours each day. Another will have volunteers working with women in Kenya when they’re not on safari or learning Swahili cooking.

Read about other innovators and ideas at The Leaderboard. If you have a story suggestion for this year-long project, please contact us.

Related post on MNN: How to plan for a volunteer vacation

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Go Eat Give connects people, plates and hearts
Sucheta Rawal's Go Eat Give brings people from around the world together through food and community service.