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How To Get Started On Volunteer Holidays

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    About Volunteer Vacation

    With the mushrooming of for-profit and non-profit enterprises offering volunteer holidays, the traveler gets to choose from mind-boggling choices of trips catering for different budgets, destinations and types of work.

    Since the industry is unregulated, it’s tough to know which ones are worthy. The trick is to ask questions.

    Which program works for me

    Based on your interest, experience or skill, you can choose to work with communities, wildlife or the environment.

    Ask about the balance ratio between work and holiday — a vacation with few days of volunteering or a volunteer-only experience? And what do you hope to get out of this experience?

    Know your limits and boundaries

    Everyone has varying comfort levels — Some are OK with basic shelter, food and using well water for bathing, and some are not. Check with the operators. Ask about safety, First Aid access and emergency procedures.

    Choosing the operators

    A volunteer travel program run by a non-profit (versus for-profit) enterprise doesn’t always translate as being more reliable or better committed to the causes or communities they support.

    For-profit companies like Camps International (CI) shows that you can run a viable business and still provide a sustainable solution to the issues.
    Source: The Star

    More questions to ask

    It’s more important to ask the right questions: how much money goes back to the community? Does the program fit the community’s needs? Is there a long-term commitment or goal to the project? What is the organization’s level of control and accountability on the ground? And what are the tangible and intangible benefits for the locals?

    You can check with past volunteers.

    Matching aspirations with reality

    Some companies dress up their programs to entice participants. If the ad says “Get up close and personal with the orangutans”, don’t expect to cuddle the cute creatures in bed each night.

    In wildlife sanctuaries, your job might include fixing the animal shelters, recording census or making enrichment materials for the animals.

    Though you may think counting the number of wild orangutans spotted in the forest is boring, the data can be important to conservation scientists.

    Change takes time and patience is important

    If you join a two-week volunteer program and expect to save the world, you’ll be disenchanted. Of course, everyone can make a difference. But change doesn’t happen overnight.

    Guests who joined Pepy (Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself) Tours’ program to educate rural Cambodian villagers about the need to use water filters and not water pumps (for health reasons) didn’t see any behavior change after their one-week visit.

    “But one year later, not a single person in the village was drinking directly from the pump,” says Pepy’s co-founder, Daniela Papi. “Those changes take time.’’

    Sometimes community projects are not as simple as they seem. Some volunteers get frustrated when they feel things are not moving fast enough.

    Sustainability is the key to successful projects

    Take CI’s water project in a community school in Kenya’s Shimba Hills. The school has been without water supply for 40 years. CI took about two years to complete the rainwater-harvesting project and spent £20,000 (RM114,600).

    “We put in the first phase which provided water and it should have lasted them through the dry season,” explains CI’s managing director Stuart Rees Jones.

    “But the locals didn’t take ownership of it. After a matter of weeks, the gutters were hanging off the roof. I had turned up on three consecutive weeks and the tap was running.”

    CI then put the project on hold for a two-month assessment.

    When volunteers complained why CI didn’t just get on with it, Rees Jones replied, “I’m looking at this project based on long-term sustainability, not just to make clients feel good.”

    The benefits of the program to local community

    Ultimately, nothing beats signing up for a volunteer holiday.

    An English teacher in Japan, Aileen Cameron of Scotland, had signed up for several “voluntours” during her breaks. For two years in a row, she joined the one-week program with Cambodia’s Pepy Tours

    “The trips made me question the things that people do (when they claim they are doing good) and to understand that we can’t always take organizations at face value,” says Cameron, 24.

    What you will learn from being a volunteer

    “It also taught me that there is still a lot about the world that I don’t know or understand.”

    However, it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether a program is good or successful, Cameron added.

    “But the fact that Pepy allows participants to see for themselves whether their donations are being put to good use says a lot about the organization.’’

    Volunteer holidays and vacation related articles

    • Signing up as a Tibet volunteer art conservator – Are you up for the challenge in Tibet? Since Tibet is still a developing region in China, the volunteer travel program will be rather difficult and taxing. As a result you need to be healthy and strong in order to participate.
    • Learn more about voluntourism (volunteer tourism)? – Discover what voluntourism is and what you can do to make a difference and at the same time enrich your life. Find out if you should sign up one of these volunteer tourism programs.
    • How to find out which volunteer travel program is fit for me – With so many so-called volunteer holidays packages out there, how do you know which one is best for you. Learn about the detail of volunteer travel and find one that is working for you.
    • Volunteer vacation in Tibet – As we all know it, Tibet is still a developing region and there is still a lot of improvement that needs to be done. Find out some of these volunteer travel packages for Tibet and learn which one is really helping the local community.
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