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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine March/April 2001

Volunteer Vacations Abroad Change Lives

...and Maybe a Little Part of the World as Well

Volunteer to help children in Uganda

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 people’s lives have changed (I’m one of them!) as a result of the contacts made and understanding gained during these short sojourns in someone else’s 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 group’s discussion and learning around the issues of responsible travel.

Volunteer Vacation Organizations

Global Volunteers has for many 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,,

Amizade is dedicated to promoting volunteerism, providing community service, encouraging collaborations, and improving cultural awareness in locations throughout the world including Bolivia, Brazil, Ghana, India, Tanzania, and in multiple U.S. locations. Contact:;

Volunteers for Peace promotes International Voluntary Service through connecting adult volunteers of all ages to over 3,000 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,,

Amigos de las Americas. In 1965, 181 U.S. and Canadian teenagers 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,,

There are a great 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 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 allows volunteers to work on village-based environmental and social justice projects in Cambodia and Tanzania.

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 medical clinic in Haiti. They also escort children in need of medical treatment in another country.

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.

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,

Japan Environmental Exchange coordinates citizen exchanges of environmentalists to work on protection and restoration projects.

Selected Related Articles on Volunteer Vacations

The Volunteer Abroad Section features years of articles, selected resources, and articles from the magazine archives, including those below:

How to Evaluate International Volunteer Programs and Organizations

How to Find a Worthwhile Voluntourism Experience Overseas

Volunteer Vacations: Seniors Have a Different Agenda

Volunteer Vacations: How to Choose an Ethical Program

How to Select Volunteer Vacations

How to Make the Most of a Volunteer Vacation

Choosing a Volunteer Abroad Placement Organization

The Cost of Volunteering by the Director of Amizade

How to Choose the "Right" Volunteer Program Abroad

Related Topics
Volunteer Abroad Advisor
Responsible Travel
More by the Author
The Ins and Outs of Volunteering: An Interview by Dr. Clay A. Hubbs with Dianne Brause
Ecotourism Guidelines: Choosing an Organization

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