Volunteer travel is something very dear to my heart. It gives something back, whether you’re working in remote rural communities or in underprivileged urban areas. Some volunteer trips will take you to endangered habitats and still others to drop-dead gorgeous places where the problems lie hidden beneath the startling beauty of sandy beaches and tropical islands.
But however you look at it, because we have the income and the resources to travel to these places, we can help.
It’s not that easy to find genuine volunteer travel opportunities. How to be sure the named charity is actually receiving the money? Or using it in the stipulated way? Are they bona fide organisations in the first place? And will the trip be well-run, taking into account the volunteers’ safety and health? All good questions to ask before you sign up to go.
We’re very lucky to work with a number of trips that we know are well run, honest to the core, and provide real help to the communities and environments they have set out to help.
But how do they work? How can a person really make a difference? Firstly these are not glamorous trips to exotic third world countries, with a little cameo appearance at an orphanage for a few hours to hug the children. All are part of a much larger picture where the aid work is ongoing, helped by regular visits by volunteer tour groups.
Mexico is a great example, where a volunteer group arrives and a house is built, usually in three days. The recipient family are involved and the community benefits as a whole. The shorter five day Mexico trips are all about building the house, with travel to and from the US included. Longer ten day trips allow time to do other volunteer work in the community, meet the locals, visit the markets and get a bit of sightseeing in as well. Groups travel from as far away as Australia and New Zealand, or you can meet up with a group in Los Angeles or San Diego. Prices are very reasonable, with the longer Mexico trip costing around $NZ2500, excluding airfares. This gives you some of your meals, your accommodation, land transport from California to Tijuana and back, and also includes an $NZ800 contribution to the building fund.
There are also trips to save the sea turtles in Australia and Greece, work in schools and orphanages in Russia and Uganda, to build houses in Cambodia or Fiji or rebuild a village’s shattered reef in Bali.
Volunteer travel is a great way to get to know the locals in a place, not just as spectators, but as contributors. It’s also an opportunity to get to know yourself a little better. And at the same time you can help to make their world a better place, whether it’s a new roof over their heads or a new reef out their front door to bring back the fish that feed their children.