Volunteer vacationing has become a style of travel so popular it now has a nickname, voluntourism. According to the GlobeAware (www.globeaware.org), 55 million adults have volunteered during a trip.
According to David Clemmons, director of Volunteerism.org, several organizations offer 20 trips or more a year with participation numbering in the hundreds. Because voluntourists are donating their time to a charitable cause, their entire vacation is generally tax deductible.
Volunteer projects range from spending an afternoon serving in the kitchen of a homeless shelter or planting trees to overseas programs that may last several weeks.
“There is a cynicism around international volunteering trips. But truthfully, what we hear again and again is that the greatest impact is on the volunteers. It is a life-changing experience.”
Genevieve Brown, Executive Director International Volunteer Programs Association
The following are examples of volunteer vacations:
• Volunteers with Habitat for Humanity (www.habitat.org) have been building homes for low-income families since 1976. Serving more than 3 million people worldwide, the organization’s volunteers have helped to build or repair over 600,000 houses.
• GlobeAware is a not-for-profit organization offering a range of eco-focused vacations. The following are example projects:
– Building hospitals in Eastern Europe
– Building schools in the Andes
– Constructing efficient ovens in Central America
– Irrigation projects in South East Asia
– Repairing trails and roads in Nepal
GlobeAware destinations include Brazil, Cambodia, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, Romania, Thailand, and Vietnam. Trips are for seven days and cost $1,050 to $1,390, including accommodations and meals.
VOLUNTOURISM Volunteer Vacations in USA Photo Gallery
• World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoof.org) provides members with listings of farmers seeking workers for chores such as weeding vegetables, picking currants, milking cows, and making cheese. In exchange, volunteers get free accommodations that range from stone farmhouses without running water or electricity to B&Bs where workers are treated to haute-cuisine meals.
• Trips sponsored by Wilderness Volunteers (www.wildernessvolunteers.org) involve removing invasive plants from sensitive habitats and trail-clearing projects. Volunteers for a project at Dark Canyon Wilderness in the Manti LaSal National Forest (Utah), for instance, removed invasive Salt Cedar (tamarisk) trees that are choking out native plants and robbing the riparian areas of water. Participants in a week-long invasive species-clearing trip to Kauai, Hawaii, stay in the heart of Koke’e State Park.
• The Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org) offers volunteers projects running the gamut – from challenging nine-mile hikes to a base camp where participants perform trail maintenance in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness to less taxing trips on Martha’s Vineyard where volunteers can stay on a 90-acre farm and collect native seeds for the on-site nursery. Among the most popular volunteer trips are those to the U.S. Virgin Islands. In its St. Johns service trip, volunteers spend half of their time engaged in projects like maintaining trails and clearing brush from 19th century sugar mills on national park land. Afternoons are spent snorkeling or kayaking the Caribbean, hiking the petroglyph-dotted trails, or sipping the local rum during happy hour at the ecological station on the island’s remote southern side.
Other organizations offering volunteer vacations include Experience Mission (www.experiencemission.org), Global Volunteers (www.globalvolunteers.org), HandsOn Network (www.handsonnetwork.org), Me to We (www.metowe.com), and Voluntary Projects Overseas (www.voluntaryprojectsoverseas.org).
Hotel-Coordinated Volunteer Programs
In 2008, The Ritz-Carlton launched a chain-wide program called Give Back Getaways, which offers guests the opportunity to volunteer in programs that deliver social or environmental contributions. Ritz-Carlton locations worldwide have at least one volunteer option. The following are among the programs that were offered in 2016:
• Back to School (Shanghai, China)
• Be a Fort Clinch Friend (Amelia Island, FL)
• Become a Soup Savior (Dallas, TX)
• Blue Iguana Recovery Program (Grand Cayman)
• Conservation and Recuperation of Marine Animals (Barcelona, Spain)
• Friday Night Supper Club (Boston, MA)
• Give a Ghaf, Plant a Tree (Dubai, UAE)
• Giving Back with the Battery Conservancy (New York, NY)
• Harvesting Vegetables for Children of Sun Village (Beijing, China)
• Making the Difference (Cleveland, OH)
• Monuments, Memorials and Parks Program (Washington, DC)
• Nourish New York (New York, NY)
• Planting Seeds for Koruncuk Village (Istanbul, T urkey)
• Preserving the National Historic Sites of Old San Juan (Puerto Rico)
• Protecting the Waters of Grande Lakes (Orlando, FL)
• Save the Sea Turtles (Coconut Grove, FL)
• Second Chance Rescue (Doha, Qatar)
• See & Serve ‘The Save’ (Dallas, TX)
• St. Bernard Project (New Orleans, LA)
• Supporting Philabundance (Philadelphia, PA)
• Supporting Sea Turtle 911 (Sanya)
• Supporting The Primavera Shelter (Dove Mountain, AZ)
• Supporting the Work of Berliner Tafel (Berlin, Germany)
• Volunteering with MPC Social Services (Moscow, Russia)
More than 5,000 vacationers have participated in Give Back Getaways.
International Volunteer Programs Association, P.O. Box 811012, Los Angeles, CA 90081. (646) 505-8209. (www.volunteerinternational.org)
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