Voluntourism's impact in Northern California

There is a great article in Northern California' s Times-Standard newspaper. The author explains the origins and evolution of the "voluntourism" concept, how volunteer vacations have made their mark in California and the importance of working with reputable, established firms such as Globe Aware:

Voluntourism is an exhilarating and satisfying adventure that appeals to people of all ages; there are meaningful experiences out there for everyone," writes Todd Metcalf, Volunteer Services Manager at the Volunteer Center of the Redwoods. "Typically, agencies such as "Globe Aware" and "Handsup Holidays" coordinate vacations, which are expertly planned and led by committed, knowledgeable professionals. Voluntourists are not required to have any special skills or speak a foreign language. The coordinating agencies prepare the destination prior to arrival and then accompany and work alongside voluntourists during their volunteer vacation."

Metcalf goes on to explain the origins and importance of voluntourism to the Eureka, California community:

Good news on the North Coast — the rains have stopped and summer is officially here. And it’s not too late to plan a summer getaway. Even in these interesting economic times, vacation bargains can be found and they are in the form of something called "voluntourism."

The first organization to introduce that term and concept was the Nevada Board of Tourism in 1998. The board was attempting to attract local residents to volunteering in support of the development of rural tourism in remote locations of Nevada.

Although this is quite different from what the term is currently being used to describe, it is an interesting bit of trivia nonetheless. As the word implies, voluntourism combines the best intentions of the nonprofit sector with the excitement of a tourist’s experience to create stimulating, service-oriented vacations that are becoming popular vacation options.

A Travelocity poll taken in December 2008 found that 38 percent of the 1,000 respondents had added volunteering to their 2007 vacation planning options.

Meanwhile, Travel Industry of America statistics indicate that 55 million people had volunteered during a trip with more than twice that number making plans to do so in the near future. The idea of combining voluntary service with travel is not a new concept. It can be traced back for many thousands of years in various cultures and religious orders throughout the world. Missionaries, healers and medical practitioners, sailors, explorers and countless others have rendered service in conjunction with their travels.

But what about modern-day voluntourism? In its current form, voluntourism received a big boost from the founding of Volunteer Service Overseas in 1958 by Alec and Mora Dickson, and from the creation of the U.S. Peace Corps, established in 1961 during the John F. Kennedy administration.

Subsequent opportunities include Service Learning, established in 1965; Study Abroad Programs, formed in the 1970s; the ecotourism vacations that became popular in the 1980s; and the Volunteer Vacations program developed in the 1990s. Voluntouring can take you almost anywhere.

You can:

  • Repair trails and roads in Nepal;
  • Build hospitals in Eastern Europe;
  • Work on irrigation projects in Southeast Asia;
  • Construct efficient ovens in Central America; or
  • Build schools in the Andes mountains.

For those a little less adventurous, here are some opportunities closer to home:

  • Friends of the Dunes in Manila are always seeking volunteers.
  • Serve as a mentor and counsellor for girls at North Star Quest Camp on the beautiful Mattole River.
  • Attend Humboldt "trail stewards" training for Hammond Trail and Cooper Gulch (volunteers help with trail maintenance, repair and construction).
If you would like more information about taking a volunteer vacation to Costa Rica, Romania, Peru, China, India, or you are interested in voluntourism in another country or on another continent, please visit Globe Aware’s Destinations Gallery for program and trip descriptions, dates and Minimum Contribution Fees.



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