Inspire…Inform…Connect…Celebrating volunteer travel experiences around the world.

Monthly Archives: June 2012

Volunteer Vacations with the Washington Trails Association

Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake

Image source: Democracyforvancouver.org

My husband and I fell in love in a Washington forest. We’re both avid hikers and we met beneath the trees, I was searching for mushrooms in the leaf litter, he was peering up into the treetops, and we collided, our tin cooking pots clanking in the silent forest. We’ve been hiking together ever since, in the redwood forests of California, the evergreen forests of Maine, and the lush maple and oak forests of our native New York. But Washington will always have our hearts. This is why the volunteer opportunities with the Washington Trails Association jumped out at me. They offer volunteers the opportunity to spend their days on the trails, clearing brush, repairing tread, improving drainage, and even logging out fallen trees with a crosscut saw. To a forest lover like me, this sounds like an ideal opportunity for relaxation, meditation, exercise, adventure, and fun.

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Go Voluntouring!

Aaron Smith Founder of GoVoluntouring

Image source: Yourtravelchoice.org

You may not know it to look at me but I’m a pretty disorganized person. I manage to keep track of bills and work but when it comes to the less immediately critical things like where my clothes are, what I’m making for dinner, getting cat food, or remembering birthdays, I’m hopeless. I do my best—I keep lists, have about eighteen date books, and try desperately to integrate electronic calendars into my routine—but at the end of the day I always find myself sorting through random papers wondering why life is so darn complicated! This is why I love it so much when other people do the organizing for me. One day, when I’m rich, I’ll hire a devilishly organized personal assistant to ferry me from place to place, put the ingredients for chicken vindaloo in my hands at dinner time, and color code my closets. Until then, I’ll savor the free organizational services of projects like Go Voluntouring.

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Blue Ventures: Discovery Through Research

Blue Ventures Malaysia Project

Image source: Odt.co.nz

There is a close relationship between environmental conservation work and helping people. In many cases, like that of the Galapagos Islands, the restoration of habitats and rebuilding of populations leads to an increase in ecotourism that benefits a local region economically. In other cases, conservation directly impacts a community’s ability to find food, to farm, and to enjoy their own backyards. Conservation also has a watershed effect… literally. As habitats are cleaned up, the entire ecosystem improves, and that includes fresh water sources. Polluted bodies of fresh water harm humans just as much as they harm animals. If a community is located on the seashore, deep sea conservation efforts often have an immediate effect on the shallow fishery. More healthy fish means more food for humans, and it means a healthier economy to boot. The food chain is a complex system. When it is disrupted at any point, that disruption has a domino effect down the chain in both directions. Conservation projects teach us that humans are part of that chain. We suffer when it is disrupted too.

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ATTA Survey on Voluntourism: It’s Growing!

Micato Safaris

Image source: Ngadventure.typepad.com

I’ve been speaking with a lot of people in the voluntour industry lately and they all agree: voluntourism is an expanding industry. It’s an exponential equation: after people participate, they share their experiences with friends and family. Volunteering is infectious. We are inspired by the good deeds of others. I believe, deep inside, we all want to improve the world around us, even if we don’t know it or understand how. Seeing the effects of volunteering on the people we care about is transformative. It demonstrates the power and importance of something that might at first glance seem onerous or unappealing (like Paul Rudd in My Idiot Brother). I’ve been watching the industry grow. Every week it seems like there are more organizations popping up, and more volunteers are asking how to get involved. It’s very exciting to see the numbers reflecting my hunch… that more and more traditional tourism companies are incorporating volunteering into their programs.

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The Hero Projects: Adventure Voluntourism

Whales in Alaska

Image source: Theheroprojects.com

The world needs more heroes. Heroes are people who step up, who face challenges selflessly and with resolve. Heroes help others when they don’t have to. There are so many people with privilege in this world—people who have everything they need but don’t look beyond their neatly kept front yards. I don’t blame these people, in fact, often I am one of them. It’s easy to live, to move through each day focused on the little things. We are all concerned with our own well-being: our relationships, jobs, and dreams. Sometimes we need reminding that we live in a global context, that our privilege stands on the shoulders of other people’s need. We don’t all have to be Angelina Jolie, but we do have to do more. Inequality is an innate part of life but that doesn’t mean we should accept it. Fighting inequality is everyone’s responsibility and it starts with a simple choice: deciding to volunteer.

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