Volunteer Vacations Abroad Can Change Your Life
. . . and Maybe a Little Part of the World as Well
When we think of an ideal vacation trip many of us imagine white, sandy beaches with exotic drinks and delicious meals and fine entertainment. The place should be filled with beautiful and smiling women (or deeply tanned beach boys) in skimpy bathing suits. And of course it should be an amazing bargain so that we can tell our friends about how much we got for next to nothing!
I have been both participant and guide on several trips of this type over the years.
I have also participated in and led a number of very different kinds of trips in which the goal was not only to enjoy but also to give back to our hosts and their community in ways that were beneficial to both parties, trips that give host and visitor the opportunity to connect with one another in immediate and genuine ways.
My volunteer vacations have generally been less luxurious and more strenuous than the storybook kind. Yet working with other travelers and community members on a worthwhile project has been significantly more rewarding than a typical tour. Many peoples lives have changed (Im one of them!) as a result of the contacts made and understanding gained during these short sojourns in someone elses territory.
The volunteer component of a volunteer vacation might involve helping to build a clinic for cane cutters in the Dominican Republic or repairing a trail in the national park in Costa Rica or teaching African teenagers about the dangers of AIDS or protecting sea turtles from extinction or excavating the site of an ancient civilization with a global team of volunteers.
Because Transitions Abroad believes so strongly in the benefits in this type of travel, we have gotten together with one of the major volunteer vacation organizations, Global Volunteers, to sponsor a pilot travel opportunity for Transitions Abroad readers. I have volunteered to go along on the trip and to serve both as an additional facilitator to focus some of the groups discussion and learning around the issues of responsible travel.
Volunteer Vacation Organizations
Global Volunteers has for 16 years provided communities throughout the world with volunteers who assist in such projects as working with at-risk children in Romania, improving healthcare in Jamaica, sharing business experience in the Cook Islands, teaching English in Vietnam, or restoring historic buildings in Ireland. All projects are requested by the host community, and volunteers work together with local people. Global Volunteers, 375 E. Little Canada Rd., St. Paul, MN 55117-1628; 800-487-1074, fax 651-482-0915; email@example.com, www.globalvolunteers.org.
Amizade is dedicated to promoting volunteerism, providing community service, encouraging collaborations, and improving cultural awareness in locations throughout the world including Bolivia, Brazil, Australia, and in Navaho country. Contact: Volunteer@amizade.org; www.amizade.org.
Volunteers for Peace promotes International Voluntary Service through connecting adult volunteers of all ages to over 2,400 low-cost programs set up by local communities in over 90 countries around the globe. Volunteers live simply and work together with teams from a variety of nations as well as local people. Projects include such things as construction of community buildings, organic farming, working with children, the elderly, and refugees, doing AIDS education, historic preservation, and archeological digs. Volunteers for Peace, 1034 Tiffany Rd. Belmont, VT 05730-0202; 802-259-2759, fax 802-259-2922; firstname.lastname@example.org, www.vfp.org.
Global Citizens Network sends teams of volunteers to rural communities to learn about becoming a Global Citizen while helping to honor, preserve, and assist developing communities in Guatemala, Kenya, Nepal, Belize, St. Vincent, and the Yucatan as well as several Indian reservations within the U.S. Global Citizens Network, 130 N. Howell St., St. Paul, MN 55104; 651-644-0960 or 800-644-9292; email@example.com, www.globalcitizens.org.
Amigos de las Americas. In 1965, 181 U.S. and Canadian teen-agers went to Honduras to attempt the impossible to stop an epidemic of polio. They inoculated more than a half-million children and adults against a variety of deadly diseases and developed strong bonds with the people they helped. From this effort developed Amigos de Las Americas. Currently youth are sent to Latin American countries. Amigos de las Americas, 5618 Star Lane, Houston, TX 77057; 713-782-5290 or 800-231-7796, fax 713-782-9267; firstname.lastname@example.org, www.amigoslink.org.
The Global Classroom offers a variety of opportunities within the U.S. as well as in Mexico and Costa Rica. In recent years their volunteers have built composting toilets near the Sea of Cortez in Mexicos new National Park and assisted sea turtle hatchlings as they begin their lives in the ocean. The Global Classroom, 39 Glasheen Rd., Petersham, MA 01366. Tel./fax 978-724-3530; email@example.com, www.ravenadventures.com.
Within the Earth Island Institute Network are a number of programs and projects that support the environment and the human rights of people in various parts of the world. Examples include:
The Borneo Project (1916A Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94703; 510-705-8987; firstname.lastname@example.org, www.earthisland.org/borneo) works with indigenous groups in Borneo to promote human rights, ecological justice, and self-determination through citizen diplomacy, mapping workshops, educational exchanges, and legal support.
Global Service Corps, www.globalservicecorps.org, volunteers work on village-based environmental and social justice projects in Cambodia, Tanzanian, and Thailand.
Japan Environmental Exchange (www.jeeeco.org/indexE.html) coordinates citizen exchanges of environmentalists to work on protection and restoration projects.
To learn about other Earth Island Institute projects contact: 415-788-3666, fax 415-788-7324; email@example.com, www.earthisland.org.
Airline Ambassadors help people around the world by delivering food, clothing, medical supplies, and seeds to communities in areas as diverse as the Guatemalan Highlands, the Masai of Tanzania, a Philippine orphanage and a medical clinic in Haiti. They also escort children in need of medical treatment in another country. Airline Ambassadors, 4925 Greenville Ave. # 1030, Dallas, TX 75206; 214-361-1488, www.airlineamb.org.
The Resource for Nonviolence has worked for years to support movements for positive political change through nonviolence in hot spots throughout the world. They recently sent an international team of nonviolence trainers to Aceh, a province in the Republic of Indonesia on the Island of Sumatra at a particularly tense time in their history. Resource Center for Nonviolence, 515 Broadway, Santa Cruz, CA 95060; 831-423-1626, fax 831-423-8716; firstname.lastname@example.org, www.rcnv.org.
The Center for Global Education offers educational programs for teachers, students, and interested citizens in locations throughout the world. They often organize opportunities for North Americans to join independent international election observers to support free and democratic elections. Recent trips have been to Guatemala and Mexico to observe and learn about the political, social, and economic issues faced by the local people. Center for Global Education, Augsburg College, 2211 Riverside Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55454; 800-299-8889; email@example.com, www.augsburg.edu/global.