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What do you know about volunteer vacations?

Volunteer vacations or ‘voluntourism’ are exactly what they sound like; individuals spend anywhere from a few days to a couple of months working on social and environmental projects.

Oct 18, 2016, 04.26 PM
Source: Moneycontrol.com

Would you rather spend your annual two weeks of vacation sipping sangrias on a tropical beach or building greenhouses in the mountains? Would you opt to spend your time on a luxurious Caribbean cruise or teaching school kids in a remote area? Today more and more people are signing up for the latter options, in line with a rapidly burgeoning tourism trend known as volunteer vacations.

Volunteer vacations or ‘voluntourism’ are exactly what they sound like; individuals spend anywhere from a few days to a couple of months working on social and environmental projects.

What do you know about volunteer vacations

What do you know about volunteer vacations?

These can include building houses, bathrooms, and other amenities, teaching children as well as the underprivileged important skills, studying the environment or animals and even typing up data; an exercise which may seem dangerously close to your regular job.

Why are more and more people choosing to spend their vacations working, rather than indulging in some well-deserved relaxation? Perhaps society is developing a stronger social conscience; in a world where celebrities are quick to pledge themselves to causes, and educational boards demand their students get involved with social work, several individuals prefer spending their free time improving the lives of others to make a difference.

Aside from the feel good factor, volunteer vacations are the perfect way to experience a particular place in an entirely unique way. Travelling in the 21st century is no longer about following a structured itinerary that takes you through all the regular tourist traps in a city. Today, travelling is more about authentic experiences – volunteering vacations allow travelers to interact with locals in an organic way teaching them more about their culture than any regular resort stay would. While travelling is always an opportunity to broaden your horizons, volunteer vacations will introduce you to entirely new approaches to life and ways of living.

When it comes to ways of living, be prepared to rough it out should you decide to take a volunteer vacation. As most organisations which take volunteers for short amounts of times are non-profit groups, they’ll offer humble digs which one may have to share with other volunteers. Food is typically simple, and while most volunteers do get leisure time, the work can be tough and challenging. Additionally, most volunteers are required to pay the organisation for the chance to volunteer; the payments are used for boarding, supplies and sometimes partially as a donation to the cause.

Despite these considerations, people across the world – especially the youth – are getting on board with the concept. There are various organisations to look to if you’d like to explore the idea of volunteer vacations yourself; WWWOOF India, for instance, aims to improve the practice of organic farming in India while Dakshinayan in Jharkhand asks volunteers to teach health education as well as basic Maths and English skills to the local population.

If you’re looking to volunteer overseas, Projects Abroad is a platform for a variety of organizations which require volunteers in countries like Italy, Romania, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Kenya, Morocco and Fiji. Global Aware is another international organization which offers international programs as well information about volunteer vacations.

These organisations are always looking for enthusiastic volunteers to commit to their cause; if it seems up your street, there’s no nobler way to spend your days off.
Tags  Caribbean cruise vacation

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A Volunteer Vacation can be a life-changing experience

Seventeen-year-old Madison Leatherwood took a two-week working vacation in the rainforest of Costa Rica with Globe Aware. She relates her remarkable adventure with the  Morris Daily Herald of Morris, Illinois:

MINOOKA — When some people go on vacation, they think of relaxation — but not 17-year-old Madison Leatherwood of Channahon, a senior at Minooka Community High School.

This summer, Leatherwood took a two-week working vacation in the rainforest of Costa Rica. She could have opted for working with turtles on the beach in Guatemala or a surfing vacation.

Instead she chose a remote village, high up in the mountains, with only 60 residents scattered around a tiny “town” called El Sur.

The residents of El Sur originally lived deeper in the rainforest, but were forced to relocate as part of a movement to preserve the land.

“A lot of people left (the community) because they didn’t want to re-establish their lives,” Leatherwood said. “They are very poor.”

As they try to rebuild in a different area, residents are aided by volunteers through an organization called Globe Aware.

Leatherwood used the opportunity to work with Globe Aware so that she could travel. In this way, she can satisfy her travel bug and help people around the world at the same time.

“I really wanted to experience a different culture and felt like this was the best option for me,” she said.

There is only one phone, a pay phone, in El Sur. Just five years ago, they got flush toilets; seven of them serve the community. They have electricity, even some TVs, but the power goes off and on.

The town has a church, a store that doubles as a tavern with an adjacent make-shift pool hall, a one-room school and a town hall building used for community dinners and meetings. The library inside the town hall is a single shelf lined with books.

Leatherwood stayed the first week in a large (by El Sur standards), one-bedroom cabin built for Globe Aware volunteers, along with a small group from three different states. The bathroom and shower, sans hot water, were underneath the raised living area.

The other volunteers went home during Leatherwood’s second week, so she stayed in the home of Gilda, a resident and representative for Globe Aware. Because she is underage, Gilda and Leatherwood’s guide Mario worried for her safety.

Gilda’s home was much smaller and more run down than the volunteer cabin. An opening between the walls and roof allowed air to circulate, but it also made it easy for critters to get inside. A huge spider didn’t faze Gilda as she swatted it off Leatherwood’s bed, saying it was nothing.

Two of the nights she was visited by a vampire bat while she was in bed. She had to keep shining a flashlight on it to startle it away.

“I didn’t sleep much,” she said.

The work Leatherwood did to aid the people of El Sur was varied. She milk cows and learned to make cheese from it. She worked at the town sugar mill, helping to prod along the oxen as they walked in a circle, turning gears that ran rollers to pulverize the sugar cane.

Some days she worked directly with the cane, straining it as it liquefied or stirring it as it turned to a consistency of syrup.

She dug shallow drainage ditches alongside the roads and helped construct small wood boxes that were used as frames and filled with cement. The cement squares were then embedded with water pipes to use in homes, protecting the pipes from swelling and bursting.

“I tried pretty much all the jobs,” Leatherwood said.

Every bit of supplies were used and re-used, she said.

“We took all the nails out of the wood, scraped the cement off and reused it,” Leatherwood said. “We also reused all the nails. That’s how limited they are.”

Leatherwood learned an entirely different way of life in El Sur. She awoke at 5 a.m. to get her work done before the rains set in around noon. During the down time, residents did a lot of relaxing, she said.

By late afternoon, the sun came back out and it was time for dinner and a little fun, like a community soccer game most nights.

Leatherwood often went horseback riding when she had free time. One day her group followed a stream through the rainforest to a waterfall. They jumped into the lake below and swam.

The locals chose a specific horse for Leatherwood to ride — white with black spots.

“They said it was like me because it had freckles,” she said.

The best part of her adventure was the many people she met and came to care about. Like her guide Mario, who did much of the construction around town; and Robert, the town carpenter who built amazing pieces of furniture with not much more than an electric saw and a few hand tools.

Gilda taught her to make cheese, peel cocoa beans for hot chocolate and strain fruit from the rainforest into delicious juices.

“Everyone was so nice. I met friends I would like to go back and see again,” she said. “(But) there’s also places like Australia. Someday I want to go to Ireland or New Zealand. I want to see how different it is from here, in as many places I can afford to go.”

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Globe Aware volunteer: Building Inspiration for the Children of Ghana

Congratulations to Tiffany Schivley from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii for being selected as a winner of the Travelocity “Travel for Good” $5,000 voluntourism grant.

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Globe Aware: A season for Asian travel

Globe Aware was featured in a June, 2011 spotlight in the International Herald Tribune:

For students longing to take time off before starting college or university or working people who would like a complete change from their daily occupation, taking a ‘‘gap year’’ can be a rewarding, lifechanging experience, especially if the time is spent volunteering.

Teaching English, for example, is a huge help in poor communities in Asia and requires little training. Other projects may include sports coaching, community building projects and working with handicapped children.

According to studies by such leading universities as Harvard, students who take a year off before college are more focused and motivated when they begin their studies than those who don’t.

Globe Aware, a nonprofit organization based in Texas, organizes volunteer programs around the world.

‘‘Gap-year volunteering broadens horizons, strengthens résumés and brings the kind of perspective that can change lives,’’ says Catherine Greenberg, its vice president of volunteer communications. ‘‘Kids who volunteer internationally realize how fortunate they are and gain insight into what’s truly important in life — not money or greed or luxury items, but community, compassion and hard work.’’ Each project aims to promote cultural awareness and/or sustainability. Cultural awareness, explain the organizers, means learning to appreciate a culture but not changing it.

‘‘By promoting volunteerism,’’ says Greenberg, ‘‘we’re promoting active civic engagement in disadvantaged communities in an exciting and different way.’’ Combining travel with volunteering has become popular enough that a conference on ‘‘voluntourism’’ will be held June 28 in Denver, Colorado.

‘‘This is the first time there has been a conference held that focuses solely on voluntourism,’’ says its organizer, Alexia Nestora.

Subject matter for the conference will include the economic impact of voluntourism, how it has evolved and how to create sustainable projects, as well as industry sessions on subjects such as the marketing of volunteer travel.

Nestora is a consultant on the industry Though the company is American, Asian students participate, too.

WLS International is a London-based organizer of volunteer-abroad projects that focuses on Asia, specifically Cambodia, China, Nepal, India, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Volunteering abroad, says the company, is a way to make travel meaningful and have a simple, affordable vacation. Many of its projects attract those taking a gap year.

Ben Mattress, a young volunteer from Australia, says his weeklong project teaching English to young children in Siem Reap, Cambodia, was a life-changing experience.

The children are ‘‘so happy and eager to learn, and very smart,’’ says Mattress, adding that he is eager to volunteer there again. An added benefit of this project is its location at the gateway to the ancient Angkor Wat temple complex, a Unesco World Heritage site.

Young people may spend several weeks or months abroad, but will certainly return with experiences that will last a lifetime.

Says Greenberg of Global Aware: ‘‘If our local young people can benefit from this experience, it’s one vital step toward reshaping our culture to be more green, more responsible and more caring.’’ and writes the blog Voluntourism Gal. She says that the industry has been very competitive and that conference participants ‘‘are showing their willingness to move into an era of cooperation that can only better serve the sometimes-at-risk and always needy populations where our collective projects are concentrated.’’ In Globe Aware’s Laos program, volunteers have the opportunity to work with orphans and schoolchildren in Luang Prabang.

In a weeklong program, participants work with local monks and perform such tasks as teaching English, assembling wheelchairs from recycled parts and distributing them to the needy, distributing books and helping to repair schools. There is also free time to visit the temples, Buddhist caves and waterfalls of this charming Unesco World Heritage site.

Adventures Cross-Country, a Californiabased youth-travel company, has been leading volunteer programs for gap-year students for nearly 30 years. Its Asia Gap Semester, for example, takes students to China, Thailand and Tibet, and includes such activities as helping mahouts and biologists rehabilitate elephants at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, and teaching English to Chinese and Thai students, some of whom have never met Westerners.

 

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Globe Aware: Making A Difference

Globe Aware was featured in a June article written by Lisa M. Dietlin, CEO of Lisa M. Dietlin and Associates, Inc., philanthropic advisor, author, for the Huffington Post.

Enjoy:

Making A Difference: The World of Giving — Voluntour and Do-Good Vacations

Posted: 06/ 7/11 01:12 PM ET

It’s summertime and many of us are thinking about our vacation plans. With gas prices still rising and travel becoming even more challenging, I recommend considering a Voluntour Vacation or a Do-Good Vacation.

Voluntour vacations or do-good vacations are fast becoming a popular way to plan your excursions and volunteer. Though Americans volunteer in large numbers annually, using a vacation into a volunteer opportunity is a new phenomenon that, surprising to many, is are often tax-deductible.

Here are some reasons to consider voluntouring on your next vacation:

Voluntouring is rapidly gaining popularity. Some studies indicate that as many as half of the people living in the United States intend to take a volunteer vacation at some point in the future.

Voluntouring is thought of as a “mini-stint” in the Peace Corps — you will be working with a community and its residents side by side. It is a unique way to give back.

A voluntour vacation is about helping and learning both in terms of aid, and cultural experiences. Most voluntours are taking place in Third World and developing countries such as Peru, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Morocco, Romania, Russia, Nepal, South Africa, Thailand, or Vietnam.

Remember it is very important, if you plan on doing this, to consider ways to respect and connect with the communities and people you are trying to help.

Your experience can last from 1 to 12 weeks.

Alternatively, Do-Good Vacations are money raising adventures combined with European vacations to Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland and Spain and include nights in historic castles and visits to lesser-known areas. Do-Good Vacations are about traveling to a distant land, working with a nonprofit outfitter to raise money for a cause — unlike voluntouring you will not be working with the local community and its residents.

You can start by finding a reputable organization that works in the area in which you want to explore. Here are a few for a voluntour vacation:

  • Cross-Cultural Solutions was founded in 1995 and has an outstanding reputation. Their tag states:
  • “Volunteer Abroad – work side-by-side with local people and experience another culture like never before. It’s the experience of a lifetime.”
  • They work with over 4000 volunteers annually, have a staff of more than 300, and work in 12 countries.

Globe Aware, which started volunteer missions in 2000 but has been working in this area since 1993, provides short term weeklong adventures in service, focused on cultural awareness and sustainability. Their tag line is:

“Have Fun. Help People.”

Their website states:

  • All costs including air fare are tax deductible
  • You need no special skills nor do you need to speak a foreign language.
  • People can go solo or with families such as multi generational trips.
  • Enjoy befriending people in new and interesting countries and experience the reward of helping them on meaningful community projects.
  • Promote cultural awareness and promote sustainability; cultural awareness means recognizing the beauty and challenges of a culture, but not changing it; sustainability is the idea of helping others to stand on their own two feet; teaching skills rather than reliance.

According to USA Today, Global Volunteers is the:

“granddaddy of the volunteer vacation movement”.

Their tag line is:

“travel that feeds the soul”

Founded in 1984 and facilitated more than 22,000 volunteers on six continents.

You can teach conversational English, care for at risk children, paint, build and repair buildings, provide health care services, work with young children including infants and toddlers as well as teens, adults and elders.

Families, students, solo travelers, Baby Boomers and groups are the types of people that participate.

You can have an experience in Europe, North America, South America, Central America, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.

For Do-Good Vacations, consider these:

  • For a Cause’s mission is to energize and inspire people to make a difference in the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS and Breast Cancer so that no one faces these battles alone.
  • The World Bank runs a program called Stay Another Day that directs tourists via a website and booklets to pre-evaluated activities that benefit the local community. For instance, vacationers can tour an orphanage in Cambodia, playing with the children and, if they wish, purchase goods such as the silk products the locals have made. The visit is free, but tourists are asked to make a donation.

Here are five recommendations and tips on easy ways to Make A Difference (M.A.D.):

  1. Find the best organization that matches your passion and has a long standing commitment to that area.
  2. Select a trip that suits your abilities and interests.
  3. Speak with volunteers who have been on the excursion before.
  4. If traveling to a non-English speaking country, try to learn the language or at least some phrases; even though it is not required, it is a great way to begin getting prepared.
  5. Research local customs and mores, but recognize that reality can be different from what you read in a book or online.

Bonus Tips: Expect none of the comforts of home. In other words, you will be “roughing it” so go with an open mind and see how your heart is transformed. It can be the vacation of a lifetime!

By taking a voluntour or do-good vacation, here are some benefits to you:

  • You know you will be making a difference through your efforts.
  • Studies show that volunteering adds years and health to your life.
  • You will be traveling to places with unique cultures and in some instances, especially with voluntouring, you become immersed in the culture and community.
  • Your trip could be tax deductible.
  • You will make lifelong friends!

Doing something for someone else always adds value to our life! Consider adding a voluntour or do-good component to your next vacation! You just be might surprised at how vacationing can lead to making a difference! Are you M.A.D. today?

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