Volunteer vacation is a term which stands for the experience of spending a holiday as a volunteer. One travels and works with local communities and indigenous societies on a number of different issues. When done in the right spirit, it can be a life-changing experience.
 Why should I be aware of this?
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Volunteer vacation is closely aligned with the concept of sustainable tourism.
It is all about taking a step towards making a genuine contribution while learning about a new place and people. They involve different kinds of projects and themes to volunteer in.
From teaching children basic English in a village in India to working with endangered species. From helping a local community rebuild earthquake affected villages in Pakistan to helping control soil erosion in South America, there is no dearth of subjects and topics.
This feel- good, do –good vacation trend which is also known as volun-tourism gives people a choice to choose the kind of charity work they want to do, the place they want to travel in and also the kind of experience they would like to have.
Research trips are another type of volunteer vacation where most often you work on an academic or scientific project as a volunteer. These include trips like whale watching, dolphin counting, archeological digs etc.
 How does this affect me?
Despite the novelty factor inherent in these vacations, it is imperative to remember a few key points. Research and planning is crucial with at least three months of preparation. One should get all the necessary information about the work, place and people involved before signing up. One should also be very careful about the skill sets required. If one is clear that one wants to work within the zone of familiarity, that should be conveyed as early as possible to the organizers. There are many organizations that can help people plan these volunteer vacation.
 All about volunteer vacations
Once the place and work has been identified, look at the finer points carefully. What kind of lodging is provided is dependent on the project and location. It can vary from tents and dorm style living to family homes and inns and hotels. But you should find out about it in advance.It does not help if after reaching a foreign country, one discovers unpleasant details about the accommodation, food etc. The organization that one signs up with, must also provide all the program information is asked for. Only if one is completely satisfied with all the points and information provided and have done an independent background check on the place and the work, should money be paid to register.
Also insist on seeing a breakdown of how your program fees are spent and understand the details. And remember, volunteer vacations are not about work. All volunteers get days off, which can vary from one day or twice a week and they can spend it in whichever way they want. And local guides and program coordinators will assist you in choosing interesting activities for the free time. In almost all cases, there would always be local coordinators who are there to welcome and help with all information required.
 Why to pay to volunteer
Though it sounds strange to find out that one has to pay to volunteer, the money paid by a prospective volunteer not only goes towards direct financial contributions to local communities' on-going projects but is also used to fund the expenses of the volunteer themselves. These expenses food, boarding, transportation costs, program materials, the services of a trained team leader, and administrative costs.
The payment amount varies from a relatively small fees when the living arrangements are basic and to a few thousand dollars when the comfort and safety factors are elevated and luxuries provided.
But there a few volunteering opportunities that pay a minimum stipend as well.
 Volunteer vacation themes
The Themes that you can work in are varied. Depending on where your particular interest lies, it could be with :
- Animal conservation projects,
- Children’s issues
- Medical missions
- Environment related projects
- Community development
- Women’s self empowerment projects
- Management Consultant
- Language teaching
- Post calamity rehabilitation
- Agriculture and others
So much so that some countries, like Belize, that consider their natural resources as a major tourist attraction, themselves promote many eco tourism volunteer projects. They offer coral reef and rainforest education workshops and live in educational programs. Visit t[ravelbelize.org] for more info.
Some of the Individual project examples are –
- Helping save Rhinoceros in a natural wild life park in South Africa
- Working with the Big cats on a Cat survival trust in England
- Working with rescued animals including Gibbons in Thailand and Koalas in Australia,
- Help track Migratory birds in Migratory Monitoring stations in Canada
- Help save Chimpanzees from extinction with the Earthwatch Institute
- Restore Coral Reefs in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia
- Work as medical practitioners in Tanzania with babies suffering from AIDS and HIV
- Build a school for a local community in Peru
- Help teach English in rural Chinese
- Work with orphans, Street and Abandoned children in India
- Participate in an archeology dig or restoration project in the Sahara desert.
- Volunteer vacations are about making a meaningful change in the world.
- One gets to understand and learn about new cultures , people and places and they in return leant things about you and your background.
- New friendships and bonds are formed that can be life affirming.
- One learns a lot of new skills and discovers hidden talents in oneself that one never considered or even thought existed.
- One of the best things about volunteer vacations is that even a normal, ordinary person with no real special skills can opt to go to any place in the world and work which results in a positive difference being made.
- It encourages the building of cultural bridges among people
- Encourages " giving back" to society in a practical, compassionate way.
- Contribute to the successes of local development work.
 What can I do?
- Do your pre-trip homework
- Do be open to new experiences and be ready for all kinds of challenges.
- Don’t think that volunteering has to be a group effort. You can start your own volunteer program and do it on your own time.
- Do be persistent. Sometimes coordinators are busy and may not have time right away but do not give up and get disheartened.
- Don’t expect to start at the top. Be open to all kinds of responsibility
- Do Attend the orientation and introductory seminars and meetings. It will help you in the job ahead.
- Do take necessary training classes. Be interested in everything and ask questions if in doubt.
- Do be prepared to learn some new skills if required.
- Do be responsible. Show up on time and follow through with your commitments. People will be depending on you.
- Don’t underestimate the challenges that might be a part of your volunteer experience.
- Do be respectful of local customs and traditions even if you find them strange and different.
As someone rightly said- when living in a global village, it only makes sense to be a thoughtful neighbor.
- Volunteer Vacations
- Global Volunteers