Summer 2013 Reserve Magazine by Clare Curley "Traveling with Purpose: Volunteer Vacations"

Three years ago Kimberly Haley-Coleman and her two young daughters, then 4 and 6, took an unlikely trip. They traveled from Dallas, Texas, to southeast Ghana and immersed themselves in the local culture while building educational facilities for the children there.

Haley-Coleman ' Executive Director of Globe Aware, a nonprofit organization that plans volunteer vacations in Asia, Latin America, Ghana and Romania ' says trips like this have instilled in her daughters a unique cultural awareness. "They don' t take for granted that their way of doing things is necessarily the right way," she adds.

The volunteer travel market, also known as "voluntourism," offers an increasing diversity of niches for such philanthropic-minded travelers. "Volunteer vacations are definitely on more people' s radar," says International Volunteer Programs Association (IVPA) Executive Director Genevieve Brown. Every year thousands of travelers roll up their sleeves and lend a hand on projects ranging from wildlife conservation in Kenya to assembling wheelchairs for landmine victims in Cambodia.

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about volunteer vacations.

Q: How can I be sure the trip is in my comfort zone?

A: Even if you’re open to stepping out of your comfort zone, it' s important to consider the kind of environment that' s suitable for you. Accommodations vary greatly between programs, from homestays and modest hotels to luxurious, high-end cottages. Decide if you’d be comfortable in rural settings or staying in facilities without running water. "Even if you extensively travel abroad, you' re going to experience culture shock," Brown says.

Organizations should be able to provide ample

information on their trips and might even put you in contact with past participants. Asking these three questions will also help assess the quality of the program:

  1. How are the projects chosen?
  2. How long have you worked in the community?
  3. Why did you choose this particular community?

A well-researched volunteer trip can be as personally fulfilling as it is culturally enlightening. The right combination can be a real adventure.

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