Giving Through Volunteer Vacations
Service trips allow donors to make a difference in the world and feel more connected to their giving. The next time you imagine the perfect vacation, picture yourself teaching conversational English in Poland, helping to build affordable housing in Zambia, or working with scientists to preserve the ranching culture in Brazil.
No, it's not exactly Club Med. But more and more vacationers are taking so-called service trips or volunteer vacations; giving back while they get away.
"It's a wonderful way to get into a culture beyond the taxi driver and the hotel front desk," notes Barb Degroot, media relations manager for Global Volunteers, a St. Paul., Minn.-based organization that sends nearly 2,000 volunteers to 19 countries every year for two- to three-week service projects. "People today are just much more globally aware. And, frankly, how many pleasure trips can you take? These are people who sincerely want to make a difference in the world with their presence. This is one way they can do that."
Volunteer vacations can be meaningful and magical, and fairly inexpensive as well. Habitat for Humanity's Global Village program, which places volunteers at homebuilding projects around the world, generally costs $100 a day, plus airfare. A Global Volunteers service trip will range from $1,395 to $2,600. And a typical expedition offered by Earthwatch Institute, which engages people worldwide in scientific research and education, will cost $1,850. The fee paid to the nonprofit sponsor is fully tax-deductible.
At Global Volunteers, most participants are over 50, well-educated and predominantly female. Global Village attracts mostly women, 26 to 49. And Earthwatch, which encourages intergenerational teams, mixes up its teams according to age.
The experience offers as much learning as service. Most folks travel out thinking about how much help they can be and they come home thinking about how much they've received. They realize out in the field that the love and hope, and the relationships and the spiritual and emotional connections they make with people of another culture are something they would never otherwise get.
Adapted from an article for Community Foundations of America, Copyright 2005