In our world of beaten-track travel, many tourists are looking for alternative holiday experiences where they can learn about local culture while giving back. “Volun-tourism,” as it is now known, is a growing trend that blends volunteer work with travel. It’s a chance for foreigners to pitch in, get their hands dirty and help the local community while on holiday.
No matter what your interest, there are volunteer opportunities in all parts of the world. From environmental protection to animal rights, archeological digs to organic farming, there’s something for everyone.
Here are a few interesting opportunities to earn some Karma credits:
Global Volunteers is a non-profit, non-religious organization specializing in short-term volunteer placements across 21 countries. Anyone can participate in its projects, regardless of skill or profession. Care for orphaned children in Romania, build playgrounds in Jamaica, help the elderly in the Cook Islands, or work on an organic coffee co-operative in Costa Rica. Visit www.globalvolunteers.org.
PRETOMA, a non-governmental organization (NGO), offers volunteer placements aimed at protecting endangered sea turtles. From June to December, along the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, tourists can take part in hands-on conservation programs that monitor and secure turtle nesting beaches. Prices range from $330 a week to $970 a month (they recommend at least two weeks), with accommodations in cabins, hotels or homestays. Visit www.tortugamarina.org
Grab your hammer and tool belt! Habitat for Humanity’s “global village” program has volunteers labouring to build affordable housing for disadvantaged people around the world. Teams of volunteers are sent on trips of one to three weeks long. Fees (which include food, accommodation and ground transportation) vary according to location. From Paraguay to Tajikistan, Cambodia to our own Canadian backyards, this non-profit initiative is creating change, one nail at a time. Apply for upcoming trips online at www.habitat.ca.
Offering experiences from two to 12 weeks, Cross-Cultural Solutions places volunteers in a variety of programs: Promote female empowerment in rural Tanzania, work with kids in Morocco or teach English in China. According to its website, its philosophy of sustainability ensures that 90 per cent of the fees go to the volunteer program, not to exorbitant overhead costs. Visit www.crossculturalsolutions.org
Freelance writer Julia Dimon is editor of The Travel Junkie and host of Word Travels, a new reality TV-series to be broadcast on OLN in 2008. Contact her at www.thetraveljunkie.ca.