No matter how you want to change the world, there’s probably a volunteer travel opportunity to go with it — from renovating apartments in a poor New York City neighborhood, to repairing damaged rain forests in Central America, to providing health care in Calcutta.
Whatever the project, you’ll experience something beyond the traditional Fodor-guidebook vacation.
Volunteer travel tends to be less relaxing and luxurious than regular travel, but is also more inspirational. As Jimmy Carter said in his book Everything to Gain, "The challenge lies in figuring out how to combine further education with the pleasure of traveling in distant places, and, on occasion, helping to make the lives of the people you visit a little better."
Interested in dumping the tropical resort scene for a more meaningful adventure? Begin by exploring the thousands of opportunities in the states and abroad.
Thorough research on the projects you’re interested in will ensure you’re setting yourself up with a good match for your physical stamina, pocketbook and personality.
Below is a sampling of the types of projects being offered in 1999. While just one volunteer experience is listed for each sponsoring organization, larger establishments often host many more trips (the American Hiking Society, for example, has 65 trips scheduled this year alone).
Check out the organizations’ Web sites for other ideas. Be aware that transportation to the site may not be included in the price. Also, projects in Third World countries are based on immediate needs; you might sign up to teach English and end up constructing an outdoor latrine. In the spirit of volunteering, be ready to be flexible.
ROAMING FREE IN SOUTH DAKOTA
Live, play and work among wild horses and learn from those whose mission is to protect them. At the 11,000-acre Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary for unadoptable horses, volunteers assist with chores — mending fences, greeting visitors, feeding horses — to keep this nonprofit preserve going. The terrain is filled with canyons, prairie, cliffs and rivers (think Dances with Wolves).
Dates: Year-round (schedule your own arrival and departure).
Location: Southwest of Hot Springs, South Dakota, in the southern Black Hills.
Lodging and meals: Furnished log cabin overlooking the Cheyenne River; provide your own food.
Contact: Institute of Range Management and the American Mustang, PO Box 998, Hot Springs, SD, 57747; 800-252-6652; email@example.com
Web site: www.gwtc.net/~iram
TEACHING ENGLISH IN JAVA
Under the direction of an Indonesian community group, volunteers teach English to children and adults. In this relatively unstable part of the world, inadequate education, overwhelming poverty and medical shortages are the norm, so volunteers are occasionally called upon to work in other areas, such as construction or health care. Locals are warm and friendly, and volunteers become enmeshed in local customs and culture.
Dates: March 5-24 and May 7-26 (two- and three-week programs).
Location: Indonesian island of Java, in the rural town of Cilacap.
Lodging and meals: Guesthouse with shared indoor toilets and bathing facilities; meals provided.
Cost: $1,645 for 12 days; $1,745 for 19 days (includes food and lodging).
Contact: Global Volunteers,
375 E. Little Canada Road,
St. Paul, MN, 55117;
Web site: www.globalvolunteers.org
CLEARING TRAILS IN MONTANA
Volunteers backpack four miles into the Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness to set up camp, and, from home base, dig, clear and sweat along the Lower Lake Fork Trail.
Working parallel to a stream running through Custer National Forest, you’ll clear brush, remove downed logs, fix drainage structures and reconstruct trails.
Late afternoons and evenings are free for exploring the nearby glacial lakes of the Beartooth Mountains.
Dates: August 9-17.
Location: Custer National Forest in Montana, west of Billings; borders Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.
Lodging and meals: Primitive camping (temperatures drop to 40 degrees at night); volunteers bring camping gear; food provided.
Cost: $75 (includes food)
Contact: American Hiking Society, PO Box 20160, Washington, DC, 20041-2160; 800-972-8608, ext. 115; AHSMMBRSHP@aol.com
Web site: www.ahs.simplenet.com
LENDING A HAND IN GUATEMALA
In a valley surrounded by mountains, volunteers promote cross-cultural relations by working with local residents to construct a preschool. Natives lead the project, so an ability to speak Spanish helps.
Local families host volunteers, making the experience especially unique. While this small agricultural village of 2,000 wasn’t damaged by the recent hurricane, some workers may be sent to a neighboring community for hurricane relief work.
Dates: March 3-17 and July 7-21.
Location: San Juan, a two-hour bus ride northeast of Guatemala City.
Lodging and meals: Private homes (no electricity, running water or indoor toilets); central location for meals, which are prepared over a wood fire in a village kitchen.
Cost: $950 for two weeks (includes food).
Contact: Global Citizens Network, 130 N. Howell Ave., St. Paul, MN, 55104; 800-644-9292; 651-644-0960; firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: www.globalcitizens.org
RESTORING MONUMENTS IN SOUTHERN FRANCE
Save the fortress! Above the tiny village of Saint Victor la Coste in Provençal France, volunteers work on a medieval castle in need of restoration.
A multinational group of workers is rebuilding walls, reconstructing cut-stone doorways, clearing rubble and paving castle paths.
You can enjoy daily life in a French village while learning and practicing traditional stone masonry.
Dates: June, July, August; choose a two-week period.
Location: near Avignon, in Provence, France.
Lodging and meals: Simple rooms in a restored stone house; home-cooking by an in-house chef.
Cost: $535 to cover the cost of room and board
Contact: La Sabranenque, Jacqueline C. Simon, 217 High Park Blvd., Buffalo, NY, 14226; 716-836-8698; email@example.com
Web site: www.sabranenque.com
When checking out volunteer vacation possibilities, always ask about the following:
Many organizations require a participation fee (which varies from nothing to $2,000 or more) that covers food, lodging, project materials and/or administrative costs. The good news is that participation fees and travel expenses to the site are often tax-deductible.
• TIME ON THE CLOCK
Hoping for free time to explore the surrounding terrain and hang out with the locals? Some programs ask you to work 40 or more hours a week; others, just half of each day. Some programs even offer free outings for volunteers on days off.
While the atmosphere largely depends on the participants, try to gain perspective ahead of time. Will you work independently or as a team? Does the program attract scholarly types, New Agers, college students or yuppies? Do most volunteers speak English? Talk with the project leader and call former participants to ask questions.