Even before I turned 40, my world travels caused me to be more sensitive to the haves and have-nots in every country I visited – including the U.S. Though I haven’t done it yet, I’ve considered joining the Peace Corps or teaching abroad. Today, it seems more and more travelers (especially women) want to vacation with a purpose. As a result, “voluntourism” has become a popular trend. As I continue to research volunteer vacations that I’d like to take, I’ve come across opportunities that may also peak your interest. (Photo:Micato Safaris senior concierge Jane Nyambura Gachunji helps guests arrange safaris in Kenya and other East African countries. Courtesy Micato Safaris)
- Women in Progress – provides short-term volunteer opportunities for women to use their skills to help women and their families in Ghana. Their “Global Mamas” fair trade project markets products hand-made by women in Ghana to help them form sustainable livelihoods.
- Peace Corps – since 1960 this U.S. government organization has helped 139 countries with more than 200,000 volunteers. The volunteers and host countries also cultivate a better understanding of their respective cultures, helping to form lasting friendships and moving toward the goal of world peace.
- Global Volunteers – offers short-term volunteer programs for one to three weeks. Programs include caring for infants, working with youth and painting or repairing buildings.
- Bridge Volunteers — Connects travelers with meaningful community projects around the world. Outreach programs include teaching, health, sports and animal rescue.
- Micato Safaris “Lend a Helping Hand on Safari” program — travelers can do a one-day visit to the Nairobi slum of Mukuru and plant trees and donate needed supplies.
- Cross Cultural Solutions — helps you find programs you can volunteer for abroad, like teaching students with disabilities in Peru.
- Charity Guide “Volunteer on Demand” – provides volunteer opportunities for the person who doesn’t have much time to commit. You can volunteer whenever you want, from wherever you want. They even give a list of things you can do right away, like keep fast food certificates in your car to hand to any homeless person you come in contact with.
Hotels are getting in on the trend as well. For example the Ritz Carlton’s “Give Back Getaways” program allows guests to spend a day volunteering with a local charity, for example: preparing meals with the Dallas hotel’s chef at the North Texas Food Bank. www.ritzcarlton.com. And for an overall look at where to find the volunteer vacation that best fits you, what to know before you go, or how to develop your own volunteer program, visit www.VolunTourism.org. The site is packed with information, and the blog is a great resource for all of your volunteer vacation questions. I find that when I help others, I help myself in the process. It’s a wonderful way to remember to count my blessings. So consider traveling the world while helping to change it. And remember: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness” – Mark Twain.
Kalin Thomas is Women at Forty’s Travel & Leisure Editor. She is also Senior Writer/Photographer for SoulOfAmerica. Before starting her own multimedia company, Kalin spent 17 years at CNN where she won several awards for her work as producer/correspondent for CNN’s weekly travel program, CNN TravelNow. She is currently writing a book about her travels. For more information on Kalin, visit www.seetheworldproductions.com.