Making service vacations part of New Year’s travel resolutions
By Georgina Cruz, Special Correspondent
This is the time of the year to start making some resolutions for 2015, like perhaps losing weight or quitting smoking. For those who would also like to make some New Year travel resolutions, here is an idea: a volunteer vacation.
Participants in this type of trip, sometimes called “voluntourism,” have opportunities to mix with the locals in many countries, living and working in communities on a variety of projects and activities –from teaching English to caring for youngsters in orphanages and from taking part in community improvement projects to assisting in conservation efforts. The experience gives the opportunity, as one organization put it, “to see the world through a new lens.”
Trips are generally short-term: one-, two- and three-weeks in length, though some companies can arrange for longer service periods. Typically, no prior experience is necessary to participate.
Here are some offerings for those who would like to volunteer during their vacation to make a difference in other people’s lives. Prices for the trips vary; contact the organization for details (and costs may be tax deductible –check with the company and double check with your accountant).
· Globe Aware Adventures In Service – This is a non-profit that has been developing short-term volunteer programs internationally for 15 years. The trips provide opportunities for people to immerse themselves in a unique way of giving back. Activities are intended to promote cultural awareness and/or sustainability. Recognizing the beauty and challenges of a culture and helping others to stand on their own two feet, teaching them skills rather than reliance. The organization’s criteria for choosing projects include trips that are safe, culturally interesting, genuinely beneficial to a needy community, and that involve significant interaction between participants and the host community.
Optional cultural excursions are available on every program. Among the organization’s service trips in 2015 are programs to the Inca city of Cuzco in Peru, near the legendary Lost City of Machu Picchu, as well as projects in Costa Rica, Guatemala and many other destinations. Info: www.globeaware.org.
Kimberly Haley-Coleman, founder and Executive Director of Globe Aware, recently sat down with Jessica Wynne Lockhart, contributing editor at Travel with Purpose’s Verge Magazine to discuss how to make the most of Volunteer Travel and a volunteer vacation. The Q & A is below.
How to be an effective global citizen during the holiday season.
As the holidays approach and the fiscal year draws to an end, it’s a natural time to think about how we can support our global community. But with thousands of charities to choose from, how do you select a reputable organization to donate your time or money to?
It’s not an easy question, which is why we called in the experts: Nick Beardsley is the Project Advisor for Gapforce, a provider of structured gap years and summer abroad programs; Justine Abigail Yu is the Communications and Marketing Director for Operation Groundswell, a non-profit that facilitates service-learning experiences; and Kimberly Haley-Coleman is Founder and Executive Director of Globe Aware, a charitable organization that mobilizes small groups of volunteers to promote cultural awareness around the world.
Nick, Justine and Kimberly shared with us how they believe we can be effective global citizens this holiday season:
Why do think it’s important to reflect on global citizenship during the holiday season?
Nick Beardsley, Project Advisor for Gapforce: It should be important at all times to both pursue and reflect on global citizenship in one way or another. What the holiday season does is offer us the opportunity to think about others at a time that is infamous for being selfless. It is a time to remember those less fortunate than ourselves. It is the perfect time to transcend geographic, political, and cultural boundaries and recognize oneself as a citizen of the global community.
Each year, the popularity of “charitable giving” instead of “gift giving” increases. What are your recommendations for choosing a charitable organization to support?
Nick: You should choose an organization that means something to you. It may be that you have a personal connection to the cause or it may be that the organization has simply touched you in some way. Choose with your heart.
Kimberly Haley-Coleman, Founder and Executive Director of Globe Aware: Start with what you know. If you belong to a trusted community centre, school, animal shelter or faith-based organization, this is a wonderful place to start.
If you are just now setting out to find an organization, know that this takes time. Ask friends and family whom they support and why. Make a list of what world issues most concern you and which entities seem to do a good job of addressing those issues. Look at the publically listed financials to get a better understanding of how the organizations spend their revenues. Don’t hesitate to call the organizations to find out more about them. If you aren’t ready to make a financial contribution, see if you can volunteer with the organization to get a better feel for how they operate.
Justine Abigail Yu, Communications and Marketing Director for Operation Groundswell: Really do your research here and look at the actual impacts of the organization. First of all, does this organization’s values align with your own? Are they addressing the problem they set out to solve? Do they show evidence that demonstrates that their approach is effective? How do they measure their progress? Does the charity receive feedback from the people it intends to serve and are they using that feedback to improve their programs?
I know that it’s fashionable to assess an organization by looking at how much of donors’ dollars are being put towards overhead as an indicator of efficiency and legitimacy. The thinking here is that the lower the percentage that’s going to things like administrative costs, the more effective an organization is. But that’s not necessarily the case. I would challenge people to look deeper than that and ask harder questions. Although keeping a low overhead may be important, the bottom line is that we all want to support organizations are actually solving the social problems that will change our world.
For those who are going away for the holidays, how can they turn their vacation into travel “with purpose”?
Nick: My suggestion is to learn about local traditions and join in. It could become a new tradition that you practice even when you return home.
Kimberly: Picking an eco-conscious hotel, bringing needed donations to a community that has requested them, steering clear of handing out candy and money (which only builds dependency), reaching out to connect with locals in a non-consumer fashion (attend a local faith service or eat a meal with a family) and, of course, volunteering.
Justine: Wherever you’re going this holiday season, take the time to find opportunities that get you off the beaten path to really connect with the local culture and people. Try local delicacies that you’ve never heard of and learn the local language—that genuine attempt at connection builds cultural competency and empathy. And if you want to get your hands a little dirtier, look for opportunities that combine responsible volunteering with cross-cultural dialogue and critical learning.
What are your favourite gift ideas for travellers and global citizens?
Kimberly: Take the time to experience a new culture with a friend or family member while volunteering abroad—this is a bucket list item I hope everyone gets the chance to experience in his or her lifetime. Or, for an easy and incredibly practical gift, I love the luggage scales you can get for less than $10. Highly compressible extra bags, gift cards for phone apps (with suggested list of latest travel apps), and travel guidebooks are awfully nice too.
Justine: Find something handmade and artisanal from a place that means something special to you or to the person you’re giving the gift to. There are a lot of really great cooperatives and organizations that sell their goods through direct trade and this is a really great way to support the local economy of another country.
For example, we all love coffee here at Operation Groundswell. One of our partners, De la Gente, is this awesome agricultural cooperative in Guatemala that creates direct connections with buyers and consumers to improve the livelihoods of the small-holder coffee farmers they work with. All profits generated from the sales of coffee go directly to these farmers. It takes a little bit more research and thought to find these gifts, but it’s so worth it.
Travel abroad with young children? Are you NUTS? All the crying, nagging, and the money!! They won’t even remember it.
Why on EARTH would I do that to myself? What will they eat over there? Fried monkey eyeballs? No thanks! I get these responses all the time. I have been traveling with my children since they were infants all over the world. — all over Southeast Asia, Latin America, Europe, Russia, China, Africa.
Here are my two cents. First: young children are often more portable than older children. They still think you know something and they actually want to be with you. Second, until age 2, they can ride in your lap for usually 10% of the cost of a normal ticket. Third: with all the ipads/iphones electronic gadgets, keeping them happy with videos, games and more is much easier today on a plane than it was even 10 years ago. Fourth: You’re right, they may not remember all of it, but YOU will. Are •your* memories worth anything? Life is short, you never know what could happen. Take the chance while you can. Additionally you’d be surprised what they *do* absorb. Young globetrotters don’t take for granted what Perreault Magazine – 80 – language, music, dress or food is the norm.
They pick up on languages much faster than you do. Their palate is developing: at this stage and their capacity for learning, of course, is fertile.
Fifth: Interestingly they have fresh fruit, veggies, rice, and chicken, freshly prepared and usually not processed all over the world. Sixth: Traveling with a child is the greatest ice breaker there ever was. With the exception of a few Western Countries, most countries view children as a loveable, non-political human with whom to interact rather than as an irritant. Many more people will stop to talk with you simply because you have a child with you. Not too different in some ways than walking a puppy in the park.
Safety: I know some are worried that to travel with a young human is to dangle bait in front of human traffickers. But it’s all about common sense and where you go.
This topic deserves a whole chapter, but the sum of it is, staying safe abroad is usually not much more complicated than staying at home, it just takes knowing the danger zones. Seventh: because you will love it. Seeing your kids react to roaring lions on safari, or learning the joys of giving while building an adobe stove in Peru, or seeing food delivered by mini trains at Japanese restaurants in Tokyo is quadruple the fun. Bon Voyage! JOURNEYS 4 GOOD: CAMBODIA Journeys for Good is an original television series about transformative travel which inspires and uplifts. Each episode profiles a group of voluntourists, who travel the world to make a difference and reach across cultures to connect in a meaningful way. They go far beyond the tourist track to experience the heart and soul of a place, as was the case in 2012 when Journeys for Good traveled to Cambodia.
Voluntourism combines the adventure of travel with the purity of true charitable work.
Emmy award winning husband and wife production team Joanie and Steve Wynn have traveled the world together, producing stories that touch the heart.
Their mission is simple- they believe that engaging in a service project working alongside locals creates a unique opportunity for understanding and exchange, that volunteer traveler helps young people develop self-confidence, empathy and leadership skills, and that by sharing in sweat equity a deeper connection is forged between the volunteers and the communities visited.
Inspired by an earlier visit to Tanzania, the Wynn’s decided to develop Journeys for Good as a vehicle to spread the message of the importance of volunteer travel and to focus awareness on important underlying humanitarian issues and challenges facing communities globally.
In 2012, the Wynns embarked on another volunteer trip with their son Ryan. This Journey took them to Cambodia with the non-profit volunteer operator Globe Aware (www.globeaware.org). On this journey, the Wynns and a group of dedicated volunteers built wheelchairs for landmine victims, taught English to local school kids and worked on several short-term construction projects.
The result “Journeys for Good: “CAMBODIA” is the pilot for a series that the Wynns are currently developing for public television. After its original airing in 2013, the film garnered two regional Emmy awards, including best cultural/ historical program. Journeys for Good celebrates the everyday heroes who connect to the world in a meaningful way through voluntourism.
View half hour program on Vimeo HERE