Voluntourism: Getting What You Give
Philanthropy-oriented travel, also called “Voluntourism,” is no day at the beach…and that’s exactly the point.
Voluntourism holds that promise, elevating the way you plan and experience philanthropic efforts to a more personal level. With careful planning and preparation, the voluntourism experience can beget you the most precious souvenir—the memory of making a real difference in somebody’s life or community, working toward a cause you take to heart. And while yoga retreats can help you recharge and re-evaluate your life, adding a volunteer element to the personal journey can take you to an even deeper place.
Globe Trooper (globetrooper.com), which structures and organizes volountourism program tours around the world, has pointed advice for those interested in their programs, and any volountourism program: Do your homework. This is important, especially as some aspects of the voluntourism trend has come under fire because intended beneficiaries–people, communities and even the environment–end up exploited rather than genuinely helped. To start you on the right path, here are some places to begin your research, and your own path to enlightenment.
i-to-i (www.i-to-i.com ) focuses on helping travelers make connections with other people in other cultures through volunteer projects. This company sends more than 5,000 people a year to volunteer on some 500 projects in 30 countries. The user-friendly site features a search box where a client can type in the country, type of volunteer project of interest, and preferred length of trip, then see what pops up. The company also has several vacations in the Meaningful Trip category that include a day or more volunteering at a local project.
The United Nation’s World Volunteer Web (www.worldvolunteerweb.org) is self-described as “a global clearinghouse for information and resources linked to volunteerism that can be used for campaigning, advocacy and networking.” Through this site, a traveler can link to dozens of organizations that list volunteer travel trips, and service-based trips and vacations.
Based in Los Angeles, Samuel Uretsky, senior advisor at Kuchanga Travel (www.kuchangatravel.com) is a 35-year veteran executive management consultant who helps clients structure community projects and manage relationships with corporate partners and philanthropies. His background in operations, technology, product development, marketing and media.
Globe Trooper offers a variety of interesting options for professionals in the medical field. Their programs enable volunteers to assist in health care giving mostly in small local community health care “Health Care Centers’ in Kenya. Volunteers provide health education, assist doctors and help administer medical treatment to patients. While working on this project, volunteers will share knowledge, time, skills and talents with the health care staff of the centers.
Seva Yoga trips (http://www.sevayogatrips.com/) focuses on philanthropic journeys to Costa Rica for causes ranging from empowerment for girls to community building to environmental activities. Although packages include daily yoga classes, fresh and healthy meals, lodging and ground transportation to and from the airport, you can create a customized experience by not only selecting the “Seva” (service) charity that speaks most to you, but also adding on excursions beyond your tour base. With your “Seva” project, you will be part of a group engaging in a variety of socially responsible activities that will allow you to leave the place you visited just that much better than you discovered it.
The pan-African organization VICDA (Volunteer International Community Development Africa, vicdakenya.com) offers programs enabling people to get involved in expansive community building projects that include assisting in the construction of service buildings including medical center (is in the process of renovating an old block into a medical facility for the IDP’s at Giwa Farm), organizing activities for children at a local camp and applying skills fields of medical care, teaching, childcare, construction, and agriculture.
Malaysa and Borneo are fantastic destinations for those interested in wildlife and environmental preservation. The Juara Turtle Project (organized by www.goabroad.com) and Help Our Penyu (http://www.helpourpenyu.com), get volunteers involved in almost every aspect of these endangered animal rescue endeavors, from relocating eggs to burying eggs, releasing, and taking care of any resident turtles (handicapped in some way). Volunteers can also help maintain and expand the various gardens around the project, take night-time boat missions to deliver hatchlings to their native beaches, tend the gardens or engage in productive business networking activities that will benefit the area.
While The Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is one of Borneo’s most popular and spectacular tourist destinations, The Great Orangutan Project (www.orangutanproject.com) offers concerned volunteers 14- or 28-day experiences rescuing and nurturing endangered orangutans and other animals that share the habitat. The program is intensive, team driven and hands on, with activities that involve animal husbandry, enrichment and infrastructure so that they can be productive in the process of the animals’ rehabilitation and release.
There are also plenty of excellent opportunities to consider within the U.S. The Travel Industry Association of America cited the 2005 National Public Lands Day event as a highly successful effort. That year, 100,000 volunteers headed to U.S. National Parks to build bridges and trails, plant trees and remove invasive plants. While New Orleans has been a popular U.S. voluntourism destination in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Philadelphia Convention & Visitor Bureau made voluntourism an integral part of their 2009 Fiscal Year Planning Guide, making it the first U.S. city unaffected by a natural disaster to officially commit to voluntourism.