There’s a reason why the volunteer vacation is one of the fastest-growing parts of the travel industry. In the global village, we are becoming more and more committed to giving back when we travel; to contributing to communities rather than taking from it.
Volunteer vacations are also a way we can give back to ourselves. Whether it’s helping to save Leatherback sea turtles in Costa Rica, delivering crucial medical supplies to an orphanage in El Salvador, or helping to build a hospital in southern Thailand, each trip allows us to get up close and personal with those in need. We can make a real difference while exploring the world with a real sense of adventure.
These are truly vacations with a purpose, many of which allow families to participate together. Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of those who take volunteer vacations don’t just take them once. They travel year after year, applying their vacation time to experiences and projects that help others, while thoroughly enriching themselves in the process.
For more than four years, Peter Greenberg has served on the Board of Directors for Airline Ambassadors International (AAI), a non-profit organization affiliated with the United Nations and recognized by the US Congress. It is a network of airline employees and others who volunteer as “Ambassadors of Goodwill” in their home communities and abroad.
AAI provides humanitarian aid to children and families in need, as well as relief and development to under-privileged communities worldwide. They escort children in need, hand-deliver humanitarian aid to orphanages, clinics, and remote communities, assist at special events and involve youth in humanitarian efforts around the world.
OTHER VOLUNTOURISM ORGANIZATIONS
American Hiking Society
The American Hiking Society offers a wide variety of 4, 7, or 10 day trail work trips from January to November. Join other dedicated volunteers as they experience working on a trail and conserving a legacy in America’s most remote wild places. All trips are $275 ($245 for American Hiking Members).
Amizade has partnerships with 13 sites in 11 countries, including the U.S., Brazil, India and Tanzania. Individuals can join existing programs or groups can customize a program, such as youth empowerment, construction and maintenance, or hospice visits. 888-973-4443, www.amizade.org
Best Friends Animal Society
This sanctuary is located ona 33,000 acre ranch in southern Utah. Funded funded entirely by donations, Best Friends Animal Society is home to about 1,500 homeless dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, birds and other animals. Volunteers are welcomed to visit the animals, take them hiking, and even borrow a dog for a sleepover. 435-644-2001, http://www.bestfriends.org
Centre for Education, Research and Conservation of Primates and Nature
This non-profit operates a Nigerian sanctuary that researches and aids the conservation of primates. Short-term volunteers (three months or less), are welcome if they can manage their own accommodations and meals. Skilled longer-term volunteers of six months to a year are offered room and board. http://www.cercopan.org
Cross-Cultural Solutions is focused on promoting cross-cultural exchange as a way of improving the world. So while volunteers participate in mostly health and education-oriented endeavors, most trips include some cultural and learning activities as well. Cross-Cultural Solutions offers trips in Asia (China, Thailand, India) as well as Africa (Ghana, South Africa, Morocco, Tanzania) and Latin America (Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, Costa Rica). 800-380-4777,
Earthwatch Institute organizes volunteer expeditions to mine data in rainforest ecology, wildlife conservation, marine science, archaeology, and more. Family, senior and teen-specific expeditions are also available.
Globe Aware operates in about a dozen countries, with a strong presence in both Latin America and Southeast Asia. They even operated in Cuba until a recent clampdown by the Bush Administration, and may again. Globe Aware trips usually require few skills and therefore appropriate for nearly all travelers. 877-588-4562,
Global Volunteers, founded in 1984, now mobilizes some 3,000 short-term volunteers annually to work on long-term development projects on six continents. Work projects focus on service at-risk children and their families and include caring for babies in orphanages, nurturing disabled youth, teaching conversational English skills, assisting local health care efforts, and a wide array of labor projects, including painting, landscaping, building playgrounds, repairing community buildings, and improving public works. www.globalvolunteers.org
I-to-I offers volunteer vacations involving working with sustainable, locally-run community projects, environmental conservation efforts, teaching children abroad and building schools and homes in developing nations.
The Oceanic Society offers research expeditions, conservation efforts and educational workshops. Volunteers can participate in dolphin research in the Bahamas, tracking humpback whales in Costa Rica, and monitor sea turtles in Suriname, among many other projects. There are also family-specific expeditions, such as Belize Family Week in which parents and children ages 10 and older can work with biologists to study dolphins and manatees and exploring the coral reefs by snorkel. 800-326-7491, www.oceanicsociety.org
The Sierra Club is one of the oldest grassroots environmental organizations in the country, offering everything from family backpacking trips in your own state to wildlife safaris in Kenya to volunteering on a Hawaiian farming community.
Wild Dolphin Foundation
Make some waves. Volunteer with dolphins, whales, turtles and coral reefs as a field researcher to help conserve, protect and study marine life. Duties may include gathering data, identifying species and recording behaviors and activities. 808-306-3968, http://wilddolphin.org
Global Service Corps
Volunteer abroad in Tanzania, Thailand or Cambodia with Global Service Corps, a successful leader in international development, service-learning, and cultural immersion since 1992. GSC’s Volunteer Vacation experience is an affordable alternative to our Service-Learning Programs and can also offer the conventional tourist a window to a new way to experience a country. GSC offers participants an opportunity to teach English to children or novice monks, or assist young people in schools and orphanages while learning about the local culture and participating in a variety of sight-seeing opportunities. Choose to volunteer with GSC for 2 or more weeks; programs are offered year-round with flexible start and end dates. For more information about GSC Volunteer Vacations, check out our website.
Idealist.org offers a comprehensive list of global volunteer opportunities from a variety of non-profit organizations and communities.
GiveSpot.com provides links for projects around the world. Find a volunteer vacation for adults, kids and teens, “celebrity causes,” donation opportunities, and disaster relief information.
www.charityguide.org/volunteer/vacations.htm offers information on volunteer projects, as well as some paid positions and tips on how to help make a difference in the world.
The Council on International Educational Exchange lists International Volunteer Projects for college students throughout the world. Projects, which range from serving as an assistant at a summer camp for people with disabilities to helping to restore a medieval castle, are typically scheduled for the summer months and last two to four weeks. 1-800-40-STUDY, www.ciee.org
If you’re not sure what you want to do, try Volunteer Match, which can pair you up with a project that suits your interests, schedule and location. 415-241-6868, www.volunteermatch.org