Volunteer vacations continue to grow in popularity.
After all, they are a great way to experience local culture and also enjoy a rewarding volunteer experience helping others.
But while traditional volunteer vacations do not require special skills — other than a desire to help others — skilled volunteer vacations actually utilize the unique qualifications of individuals to ensure even more meaningful results for everyone involved.
Many volunteer vacations that involve special skills tend to be longer in length, often requiring a commitment of at least four to six weeks (compared to as little as one week for other voluntourism projects), but volunteers who are willing to make the time commitment can truly make a lasting impression.
So check out this sampling of just some of the available volunteer vacations for the highly-skilled.
BOTANISTS & ENVIRONMENTALISTS
The skills that botanists and environmental scientists possess are desperately needed all over the world to help repair polluted beaches, wetlands, and indeed, entire ecosystems.
Because their skills are so much in demand, botanists and environmentalists can find themselves very far afield, working in remote Borneo jungles or on Madagascar’s beaches; yet there are plenty of volunteer opportunities closer to home for the less adventurous. In fact, thanks to the nature of most conservation programs, even amateur green thumbs can often be useful additions to many environmental projects.
For a project close to home, check out: Volunteering in New Orleans: Wading Through Wetlands With Common Ground Relief
Skilled environmentalists can often act as advisers to groups that promote responsible eco-tourism, which will contribute to long-term economic stability as well as promote even “greener” eco-tourism. Organizations like Earth Watch and Global Volunteers both focus heavily on environmental recovery efforts. Many of these programs also have the need for relatively unskilled help for the unglamorous, but necessary, work of building and maintaining trails, counting plant and animal populations, and more.
While nearly all of the major volunteer organizations offer some type of environmental work, Global Volunteers, Sierra Club, and Earth Watch have programs in many parts of the globe. So if you think you’d like to volunteer to help the earth, start with these websites:
Keep in mind that many environmental projects can use volunteers for even minimal amounts of time, such as a week — which makes it a good option for those who can’t spare the time for a longer vacation.
SHIP CREWS & MEDICAL CREWS
Medical professionals of all types are especially welcome on Mercy Ships, though non-medical professionals can help, too, in a variety of roles. Mercy Ships are essentially what they sound like: floating social services. While they began as ship hospitals traveling from port to war torn port, this innovative program is presently expanding.
For example, one Mercy Ship recently docked in the war torn African nation of Liberia in late 2005. The medical staff immediately began treating the many victims of the long civil wars (and general lack of medical care) in the capital city port of Monrovia. Newly seated Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, herself a former UN aid administrator, came aboard to inspect the ship. She praised the volunteers for their work “helping her people.” While in Monrovia, doctors and nurses have aided thousands of people, fitted many with prosthetic limbs, and performed dozens of surgeries.
For more ways to help, don’t miss Volunteer Vacations: Disaster Assistance in Haiti, Chile & China.
Mercy Ships, however, not only provide medical care. In fact, engineers, technicians, and even deck hands of the Anastasis are now helping European Union aid workers train and assist the workers rebuilding the White Plains Water Treatment plant. The plant, which supplies water to Monrovia, a city of more than one million, was running at around 25% of its capacity. With help from the engineers, new pumps have been installed and existing ones upgraded to ensure a steadier flow of water to the capital. So whether your skills include helping build a water grid, or saving lives, Mercy Ships could use your help. For more, check out their website: www.MercyShips.org.
Medical professionals might also try Health Volunteers Overseas, which focuses exclusively on putting these sorts of skills to use. Most HVO programs involve training local medical technicians, pharmacists, nurses and even doctors in new techniques, but a variety of opportunities are available. On the web, that’s www.HVOUSA.org.
The unglamorous side of voluntourism: Volunteer Vacations: Save the Sea Turtles, Save the World?
BUSINESS & MARKETING
Business and marketing personnel also have crucial skills that are needed to help developing nations. Whether it’s giving lessons in customer service to workers in the office of tourism, or helping design their new English language website, marketing people use their skills to assist often newly minted fellow marketers. While Eastern Europe has been a huge area for this type of development assistance, many former Communist nations are now quite competitive globally and no longer need the assistance — though a few, like Ukraine, could still use it.
There are many other parts of the world where the assistance is needed, too. For example, in Jordan, one of a handful of Middle Eastern nations with a peace treaty with Israel and a fairly liberal king (who is also a motorcycle enthusiast), the International Executive Service Corps had great success. It’s widely credited with creating or “saving” almost 10,000 Jordanian jobs, in addition to helping improve the business climate. As an added bonus, many of Jordan’s best trained and successful business leaders got their starts with help from Westerners, which can’t be bad for international relations.
The IESC caters to business professionals, so many of their programs would be appropriate for marketing folks, PR people, and MBA types. Click here to go to the IESC website.
UN Volunteers is looking for experienced business professionals to assist them in developing businesses in poorer nations. This could be a good project for recent retirees with years of business experience, considering that most business professionals today can’t take several months off their job to do the work. For more information on programs offered by UN Volunteers, click here: UN Volunteers
JOURNALISTS & MEDIA
If you’re a journalist, or work in another media branch, you can use your skills to boost the professionalism, standards, quality, technology level, and independence of media throughout the developing world.
For example, in Sri Lanka, i-to-i volunteers help train journalists and work to increase the online presence of a fledgling local English-language paper. Some volunteer vacations even allow you to work for a music magazine in Bangalore, or various English-language newspapers from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to Accra, Ghana. To find out more about these opportunities, visit www.i-to-i.com and search for “Media” opportunities.
While journalists and media-makers can help promote freedom of the press, art-related projects can help promote freedom of expression and assembly, making them quite appealing for many independent minded artistic types. Many projects for art and artists are smaller in scope and resources and seem to come and go with greater frequency than many other types of opportunities.
Artsy types might be interested in the i-to-i program in Brazil that helps local groups create huge murals in the Brazilian slums, or favelas. For more on this “Painting the Favelas” project, click here.
i-to-i offers a variety of programs in this arena, with other projects in Honduras, such as painting orphanages and children’s homes. To find one that works for you, select “Community Development” from the Travel Options menu on the homepage.
Whether you dream of C++ or just haunt Wikipedia, the tech-savvy can put their skills to use in a truly innovative new program. Money Magazine called the tech-savvy volunteers at Geekcorps “a Peace Corps for Generation Net.”
Harnessing the power of the nerd, high-tech workers geeking out together can do things like wire remote broadcast outlets in the Sahara to give them Internet access. Dozens of volunteers have descended on Mali to put the country’s 14 radio stations online.
For IT workers who are used to water cooler chitchat, stringing cable up makeshift radio towers on the sands of Timbuktu could be the adventure of a lifetime. An outgrowth of the IESC, click here to see how Geekcorps can help make it happen.
So no matter what your skill set, it, and you, can be put to good use in one these volunteer vacations.
By Matthew Calcara for PeterGreenberg.com.
And check out more voluntourism opportunities: