Emma Sarran Webster writing for Teen Vogue explores how to turn spring break into a truly worthwhile, beneficial vacation through a volunteer vacation with Globe Aware and other working vacation facilitators.
6 Spring Break Ideas That Allow You to Give Back While You Vacation
From a Kindergarten in Argentina to the health campaigns in Ghana.
This Spring Break, take the opportunity to travel and help others, through a volunteer vacation. The combination of volunteering and travel is growing in popularity as an increasing number of companies offer the chance to explore and make a difference. You can take your pick from working at orphanages in Africa, assisting in wildlife conservation efforts in South America, or protecting natural environments right here in the States. “Volunteering overseas is, without a doubt, one of the top experiences anyone could hope to undertake in their lifetime,” Dr. Ken Dorman, a board member of service travel organization Globe Aware, wrote on their website. “Even a short-term volunteer adventure can change your life and world perspective. Few things can give you a greater sense of meaning.” So as you plan your Spring Break, consider gaining perspective through one of these six companies that offer service trips at home and abroad.
Globe Aware offers 8-day, Saturday-to-Saturday international volunteer vacations — perfect for a full and fulfilling Spring Break. The company focuses not on giving charity, but on helping host communities build renewable, sustainable programs. “The goal is not for volunteers to change the host communities, but rather to help them in the needs that the host community has identified as important,” the Globe Aware site states.
As a Globe Aware volunteer, you can travel to places like Cambodia to help with reforestation efforts; Brazil to help build a community center; or Romania to help teach English. And fear not: You don’t need any special skills or prior qualifications to join; the volunteer coordinators will help you throughout the process. Book your trip as a solo traveler, with your family, or even a group of girlfriends.
Projects Abroad, a company that sends more than 10,000 volunteers overseas every year to work on service projects, offers week-long Alternative Spring Break Trips designed specifically for college students. Sign up to volunteer at a kindergarten in Argentina or Fiji; help with public health campaigns in Ghana; participate in renovation work in Morocco; or help protect sea turtles in Mexico, among other options. Not in college yet? Check out Project Abroad’s High School Special programs.
Fathom gives travelers the chance to head out on a cruise — with a purpose. Depart by sea from Miami to one of two Caribbean destinations: the Dominican Republic or Cuba. While on board the ship, you’ll get to know your fellow travelers, learn about your destination and its customs, and participate in orientation activities and lessons that will prepare you for your on-land experience. Sail to the Dominican Republic to serve the local communities through projects like working with a women's collective on their successful artisanal chocolate business, or helping locals gain access to clean water. Or immerse yourself in Cuban culture through visits with Cuban professionals, entrepreneurs, and family business owners to learn about education, economics, the role of government, and more in this country that was, until recently, mostly off-limits to American travelers.
Sierra Club Outings
Sierra Club is the country’s largest grassroots environmental organization, on a mission to “explore, enjoy, and protect the planet.” As part of that mission, Sierra Club Outings offers environmentally friendly, outdoor excursions throughout the year — among them, inspiring and adventurous service trips. Head to Big Sur State Park to help with trail improvements; to New York City to assist with maintenance and invasive species removal in the Thain Family Forest; or to Florida to work on restoring the ecosystem on the island of Cayo Costa.
Earthwatch Institute gives adults and teens alike the chance to work with scientists on various expeditions focused on protecting the planet and its species. As a “citizen scientist” on an Earthwatch Expedition, you can explore the impact of climate change on the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park; research ocean health as it pertains to whales and dolphins in Costa Rica; or learn about wildlife and ecosystems as you help conserve river dolphins and monkeys in Peru’s Amazonian forests.
American Hiking Society
American Hiking Society (AHS), a national organization that promotes and protects foot trails and the surrounding natural areas, offers volunteer vacations focused on building and maintaining trails throughout the country, with a healthy dose of backpacking or day hiking. Explore AHS’s Project Guide to find a trip that’s right for you, whether that’s assisting with boardwalk maintenance at Virginia’s Kiptopeke State Park; protecting the sand dunes at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore; or helping construct a new trail at the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Tennessee.
AHS also offers Alternative Breaks, open to groups of 8-15 students who sign up together and are touted as “part volunteer work project, part kick-back outdoor vacation” on the website. Though the Spring Break trips are full, summer trips to places like Texas, Florida, and California are open — perhaps a sign to get a head start on your summer break planning?
Volunteer vacations are called many things, you may see terms which generally mean the same thing, depending on the organization which uses the term, such as voluntourism, service vacations, international volunteering, volunteer travel, working vacations, gap year travel, volunteer travel, volunteering abroad.
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Never heard of volunteer vacations?
Does the idea of paying to volunteer strike you as odd? Don't worry, that's a common first reaction.
First, for more on why you pay for a volunteer vacation.
Of course people have been volunteering for years, whether in their neighborhoods, their hometown, and even internationally. Super organizations have engaged in helpful missions to those in need for as long as history has been written. More recent, well-known examples: the Red Cross, since 1881, has organized volunteer relief efforts; Habitat for Humanity (building homes) and Doctors Without Borders (medical practitioners providing relief) have been in existence since the 1970s. And all of us are surrounded by terrific opportunities to give back to the communities in which we live, where our children go to school, and the churches we may support.
The history of the term "volunteer vacations" is hard to define as it is a relatively new term in the English lexicon. Many churches have conducted missions for both general help and for religious conversion. The American government recognized the positive effect on its own citizens and the world when it was created. According to this government organization, "the Peace Corps traces its roots and mission to 1960, when then Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship."
Peace Corps volunteers, for example, commit a noble 27 months of their life to on-site experience. The median age of the typical Peace Corps volunteers is 25, 6% are over 50, 91% are single. So many good things have come from Peace Corps volunteers. Many Globe Aware volunteers are returned Peace Corps volunteers. It's hard to imagine the world of international volunteering without this organization that had enough foresight to institute a government supported international volunteer organization.
One concern has been the recent emergence of unscrupulous groups looking to profit from the growing interest in volunteering. There are organizations which may charge $3,000 for little more than an address, who provides no onsite support staff, who follow no government mandated rules about nonprofits and limits of compensation, who do not feel responsible for how funds are used. Others are merely "brokerage houses" which "sell" programs organized and led by others, only adding administrative costs to your experiences. Some are principally concerned with religious conversion. Still more give lip service to safety without any real thought as to what that means. Additionally, some are more adventure for-profit companies which are not subject to the same regulations regarding scrutiny of use of funds and hence are not rewarded with 501 c 3 tax deductible status. All of these factors are among those you should strongly consider before giving your valuable time to an experience volunteering abroad.
Post 911, the interest in volunteer vacations has surged dramatically. In the wake of other catastrophic events such as the Thailand tsunami and Katrina, many want to give back in a way that is more concrete that writing a check.
Volunteering overseas is, without a doubt, one of the top experiences anyone could hope to undertake in their lifetime. Even a short-term volunteer adventure can change your life and world perspective. Few things can give you a greater sense of meaning and a greater understanding of a culture.
One thing you should keep in mind, however, is that you are not likely to cure cancer or fully teach or learn a language in a short time. Just as significantly, you should keep in mind that manual labor is usually in great supply in developing countries, and it may be frowned upon if you participate in an activity which takes away from what would have been a paid job for a local. You are likely to walk away from your experience feeling like you received more than you gave. It is almost a universal reaction when giving your time with a reputable organization.
Whether you decide you want to volunteer your time in the United States restoring wilderness areas with the Sierra Club or American Hiking Society, or feel you're up for the adventure that comes with long-term international volunteering with the Peace Corps, or scientific research related programs such as Earthwatch offers, or even short term volunteer vacations with a group like Globe Aware, you are likely to feel more profoundly connected to this wonderful planet we live on. It can be a challenge, but it's almost always worth it. And if you've already done lots of traditional travel, particularly organized group travel, you owe it to yourself to try volunteer vacations as an alternative way to experience and, most importantly help the world.
Written by Dr. Ken Dorman, Board Member, Globe Aware
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Several books on volunteer vacations you may want to consider reading:
Volunteer Vacations - Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others
Ninth edition Bill McMillon (Author), Doug Cutchins (Author), Anne Geissinger (Author), Ed Asner (Foreword by)
How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas"
by Joseph Collins, Stefano Dezerega and Zahara Heckscher (Putnam Penguin 2002).
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In addition to its fantastic volunteers, Globe Aware would not exist without the generous involvement of people and organizations such as those listed below. We appreciate your efforts and your contributions to a better world.
We'd like to give a special thank you to Fannie Mae's Dollars for Doers grants, with help from Will Portugal in making it happen. These funds will be used toward the making of a special documentary on Peruvian Sign Language that will be made and used here in the United States. Blythe & Tom met during a Globe Aware Cusco program and now the happy couple are expecting!
Michael DuShields met a local resident, Reyna, in Costa Rica and are now happily married!
And we hear countless stories of the volunteer groups that came together as individuals and now stay in touch with email newsletters between them. Share with us your stories.
July 2005: In honor of Sergio's birthday, in lieu of gifts for himself, Sergio requested help for the kids he was going to help in Peru. His loved ones, friends and family raised over $1600 for donations for the needy children Globe Aware helps in Cusco, Peru. BRAVO and THANKS!
Some of our Super Volunteer Coordinators
Andres H. Planas Lavie
Armando Munoz Mendez
Arnaldo A. Gonzales Padron
Bishwo Ram Khadka
Daul Matute, Embassy of Peru
Dr. Joel Duran
Dr. Jose M. Collera Vento
Dr.Osvaldo Cuesta Santos
Eduardo H. Retes
Helio E. Araujo
Javier Dominguez Mattinez
John Marshall Haley
Jose Ramon Perez
Kyra Cruz Meyer
Lilia de Larios
Lourdes Morales Arce
Margot y Amalia Urrutia
Maritza Sanchez Abillud
May Margaret Jackson
Michael B. Mckinnon
Norman A. Marquez
Raul Marrero Perez
Rita Olga Martinez
Rudra Kumar Nepal
Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal
Sherri and Will Sakson
Sor Ida Mercedes Giusti A.
Quilts for Kids
IAS PERU Asociacion "Instituto de Apoyo a la Salud en El Peru"
CODECE - Asociacion para Conservacion y Desarrollo de los Cerros de Escazu
Hogar Para Ninos Sordomudos
Las Obras de Nuestra Madre de las Americas, Inc
El Encanto de la Piedra Blanca
MVK Buddhist College, Wang Noi
Suan Kaew Foundation, Wat SuanKaew
Centro de Amigos para la Paz
ICAP - Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples
Nepal Earth Society
The Red Cross
Volunteer Center of North Dallas
Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
Travelpaths - Travelpaths.com is an Irish owned and operated Travel agency based in Meath, Ireland.
The Give-Back Solution:
Thanks to ExxonMobil Community Summer Jobs Program for sponsoring our intern Shanon in creating the documentary video on Peruvian Sign Language.
Flat Stanley 's not self conscious of being two dimensional. He may be a simple, flat man, but he's got the heart and soul of the kids who made him from a school in Houston, Texas. Flat Stan has been traveling the globe, and on his more recent travels, joined a Globe Aware expedition where, among other things, he helped construct wheelchairs for some needy kids in Cusco, Peru. More Pictures.