A volunteer returns from counting keystone species of fish that share the dolphin habitat. Wild Dolphin Foundation
“The greatest volunteer force in the western world is people in their retirement years.” Elderhostel
Short-term volunteer vacation ideas and operators are among Travel with a Challenge‘s most popular themes. In recent years, such travel options have broadened dramatically to embrace the interests and abilities of adults at all stages of their lives. A big bonus for many would-be travelers is the low-budget cost of such vacations once you reach your volunteer destination. Be warned! Such “holidays” are definitely habit-forming and empowering. Older volunteers generally sign up for three compelling reasons:
a strong interest in a particular cause, project or subject area, often related to a long-time hobby or an earlier career;
a desire to visit a region in a “grassroots” way not easily accomplished with other types of pass-through travel;
a wish to give back something significant to the world.
Aerial behaviors reveal the activity state of dolphins. No kidding! Wild Dolphin Foundation
Based on Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands, the Wild Dolphin Foundation, is doing globally-respected research on the marine environment, and leading conservation efforts for some of the Pacific Ocean’s many high profile marine mammal species. These include Hawaii’s own spinner dolphins, humpback whales and green sea turtles. This nonprofit foundation’s volunteer and internship programs are open to a wide variety of people of all ages and stages of life who feel conservation and environmental protection of dolphins, whales, turtles, coral reefs and their habitats may be part of their life mission.
For both whales or dolphins, observations are logged to determine the effect of marine mammal and human interaction. Wild Dolphin Foundation
At the present time, volunteers must offer a six-week minimum commitment. See the foundation website’s volunteer pages for complete information about volunteer programs. No one has to be a Jacques Cousteau in or under the water, but being comfortable in small boats and enjoying snorkeling will allow volunteers to get the most out of this service adventure. There is no cost for participation, but living arrangements and expenses as well as daily transportation are the responsibility of the participant. The foundation is willing to offer advice on suitable area accommodations, including vacation rentals. Some accommodations offer better rates to people who are working with the Wild Dolphin Foundation.
Turtles are photographed and then identified by the unique pattern on the side of their faces. Wild Dolphin Foundation
Good news for those who love an excuse to visit Hawaii and to volunteer their time in a great cause! To service the growing number of volunteers, the WDF administration will be diversifying its program and accommodation options by the Fall of 2006. This will include some shorter options and self-catering accommodation at the foundation’s headquarters in Waianae, a pleasant coastal community of 10,000 on the west shore of Oahu. Watch for an announcement of this expansion in a future issue of Travel with a Challenge.
Nonprofit, charitable organizations from all over the world are working hard to change the way people travel, encouraging them to get involved with communities they visit and contribute directly to the grassroots economy in a way that mainstream tourism rarely does. Interest in volunteer vacations is expanding at a rapid rate with something stimulating and meaningful for just about everyone.
CCS volunteers connect with local communities in Peru (above) and India (below). Cross-Cultural Solutions
To demonstrate the vigor and diversity of this tourism sector, here are some fresh developments to share with readers:
U.S.-based Cross-Cultural Solutions, www.crossculturalsolutions.org, now has staff residing in Britain. This well established organization operates volunteer programs in ten countries (Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru, China, Ghana, India, Russia, Tanzania, Thailand and Guatemala) where volunteers work side-by-side with local people on locally designed and driven projects.
The Restoration Works International, www.restorationworksinternational.org, also offers opportunities for travelers to get involved in communities where restoration of culturally important buildings is the primary focus. Innovative projects include CRTP’s effort to restore a Buddhist temple in Mongolia, all but destroyed by a communist regime in the 1930s.
Thanks to volunteer tourism, CRTP is funding the restoration of the main temple with visitors working alongside local community members. Volunteers live in gers, the traditional housing of the nomadic Mongolians and eat authentic meals prepared by a Mongolian cook.
Buddhist temple ruins are the focus of the Baldan Baraivan Restoration Project, Mongolia. CRTP
A brand new project for CRTP is the Chairro Gompa Restoration Project in Nepal where the Takhali people of Mutang and volunteer vacationers are working to preserve a centuries-old monastery building and its priceless artistic contents.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
The Alaska Raptor Center has recently opened an impressive expanded facility for the care and rehabilitation of injured bald eagles and other wild birds. It not only provides medical treatment, primarily for injured raptors including owls, hawks, and osprey, but also conducts bald eagle research and carries out a highly successful mandate to educate people throughout the U.S. about bird environments and conservation.
Each year more than 200 birds receive medical treatment with the goal of releasing patients back into the wild. When that is not possible birds may join the “Raptor in Residence” program, providing frontline education to 40,000 annual visitors and 15,000 schoolchildren in Alaska and elsewhere.
Working with Avian Program Coordinator, Forrest Wentzel, “Raptor in Residence” juvenile eagle, Sitka, is the Center’s latest educational ambassador. Alison Gardner
A bird testing healthy wings at the Flight Training Center. Alaska Raptor Center
Last year 65 volunteers from around the world contributed 3,500 hours of their time toward the Center’s mission of rehabilitation, education and research. They sign up for a minimum of one week of 30 hours per week helping with trail and building maintenance, servicing the birds and their facilities, and working in the extensive gift shop, to name just a few tasks.
The Center is not directly responsible for volunteer accommodation, but it is very helpful in directing volunteers to their choice of campgrounds, bed and breakfasts, self-catering suites, and even apartments for longer staying visitors. Sitka and the surrounding coastal area, located mid-way up the Alaskan panhandle, is a strikingly beautiful, historic town with plenty to see and do. Indeed, icing on the cake when you volunteer at the Raptor Center. It is an exciting and fulfilling way to get to know this 49th state and appreciate its wildlife and pristine wilderness. www.alaskaraptor.org.
“Try a volunteer vacation. The world will be a better place and so will you.” Ed Asner
“Education is a journey, not a destination” runs the slogan of this well-established nonprofit program of vacation-sized educational and volunteer options. Its focus is the always-fabulous “Four Corners” states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. While there are year-round itineraries for a variety of ages and vacationing interests, it is encouraging that 65% of participants are over 50 and 60% overall are women. Family programs have at least a 50% grandparent/grandchild mix.
The inter-related Southwest Ed-ventures specialize in eco-tours with an educational mission, including rafting, hiking, cultural experiences and service work. Archaeological programs are particularly popular with a 50% return rate, but also check out the Animal Communication & Photography Seminar, Hopi Arts & Culture, Mapping Ruins on Ute Tribal Lands and several river rafting options.
There are discounts for returning clients, and credits are available on some programs for university students and educators. Since 1984, Four Corners School has served some 25,000 participants, ages 6 to 90, while providing countless hours of service for trail and land rehabilitation and protection of archaeological sites on public lands. www.fourcornersschool.org
“Traveling as a volunteer departs from conventional adventure travel and cultural immersion experiences by serving, and thereby learning first hand about the host community, often in an unconventional setting. It is a true exchange of ideas, cultures and hopes for the future.” Elderhostel
Global Volunteers, www.globalvolunteers.org, is coordinating a wide range of volunteer vacations to provide alternative travelers with the perfect excuse to visit some of the loveliest islands in the South Pacific while offering their time and creative energy to serve others and meet local people. The Cook Islands Ministry of Health and several local organizations have invited Global Volunteers to the main island of Rarotonga to bolster educational, health-care, environmental and cultural services. There is literally something for everyone in this enriching menu of projects! Here’s a sample:
Literacy: Volunteers work in a school setting with students from third grade to high-school age on phonetics and reading skills. Teachers, parents, employers and the students themselves have identified tutoring in reading as vital to procuring a job and advancing in the workforce.
History: Volunteers are needed in several libraries on Rarotonga, including the National Library, the Cook Islands’ Library Museum Society and school libraries. Projects range from routine cleaning and straightening of shelves to protecting and filing archival documents.
Environment: You can volunteer in the remote interior Conservation District, blazing trails or assisting with organic gardening in the municipal gardens, or head for the sea to help with a new work project at the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation (CCRC) studying the status and population identity of endangered humpback whales in the central South Pacific.
Elder Care: Mamas and papas (respectful names for senior citizens) are well cared for in the Cook Islands, usually by their families, so there is little need for institutionalization. However, volunteers are needed at a seniors’ day center to encourage mobility maintenance and to help with stimulating activities. Visit Global Volunteers’ Cook Islands web pages to learn about these projects in more detail.
Bill McMillon’s Volunteer Vacations, Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others, 10th edition, (Chicago Review Press, 2009). This invaluable and inspiring 400-page book covers all kinds of volunteerism, from eco-action in Costa Rica and trail building in Colorado to service projects in Calcutta, Kenya and Croatia.
Four richly-illustrated feature reports about personally-experienced volunteer vacations will inspire readers browsing our own Travel Article Library archive collection:
A Global Citizens Network volunteer vacation lends a hand on native reservations in Arizona and New Mexico.
An Earthwatch Institute volunteer vacation in Barbados reveals an island’s history and slave culture from the inside out.
A Global Service Corps project in Tanzania focuses on sustainable agriculture.
An Earthwatch Institute cheetah conservation project in Namibia aids the fastest animal on earth in its race against extinction.
LEAD Adventures’ local specialists offer over 30 different volunteer and adventure travel programs in Ecuador for individuals or groups. Volunteer with us and experience Ecuador’s four worlds: Andes, Amazon, Coast, and Galapagos Islands! Consider our Grown Ups programs or Multigenerational Family programs with added attention to luxuries and privacy older adults seek. www.lead-adventures.com.