Domino Features Volunteer Vacations

Cynthia really tried to capture the essence of a volunteer vacation in her article below, we talked a lot during the whole process and I think its a great summary of voluntourism. To read the full article have a look at:

giving vacation

I couldn’t believe it took only two days to construct a stove.

Every so often I look out my cubicle window at all the skyscrapers and think, How did I end up in corporate America? Wasn’t I going to save the world? It might be too late for that (besides, I like my husband and my comfy house), but maybe not for a new kind of vacation I’d heard about, where you do a mini Peace Corps–type stint—as short as a week, as long as a year—and even get to have some fun. After a little research, I called an agency named Global Vision International and signed up for two weeks in Guatemala.

“Stovers and teachers, up to the terrace,” said our group leader, a charismatic Owen Wilson look-alike. All 15 of us were gathering at the staff house, a typical expat flat with tiled floors and scrounged furniture. A British computer programmer who’d already been there for six weeks led me upstairs, where I was introduced to an airline executive from Los Angeles and a middle-school teacher from Nevada. Local hosts were putting us up in Antigua; each morning, we’d be driven to the villages to help the Maya, who make up a majority of the country’s population, and who, in many communities, have an illiteracy rate of 80 percent and earn about $1 a day.

The women cook on open fires in the middle of their small bamboo-and-cane huts. Not only is the smoke extremely carcinogenic, but kids sometimes fall into the flames.

For our jobs, we got to choose between teaching Spanish to Mayan children or building stoves. Choosing the latter was a no-brainer (and not just because I don’t speak Spanish well). A stove, which pipes the cancer-causing smoke out of the hut, can add 15 years to family members’ lives and cut firewood usage by 70 percent, saving tons of trees in an area that’s rapidly being deforested. Figuring out how I felt about the rest of my situation was more complicated. The thing I like about traveling is what Spalding Gray called the “perfect moment”—that sudden feeling you sometimes get on a trip when you are so alive, so at one with the universe, that you can go home knowing the possibility of perfection is out there. Would I get it from being in homes so devastatingly different from my own? Or would I simply feel guilty about my fat-cat First-World life?

CNN Features Voluntourism Again

It’s that time of the year for the mandatory alternative spring break article, interesting though how its about domestic volunteering and not international travel this year.

FYI – Better Homes & Gardens’ March issue has a whole story on international voluntourism in the back as does Delta’s in flight mag.

(CNN) — This spring break, thousands of college students will ditch the bars and the beaches to do something more meaningful with their vacation time.

Brad Vonck (bottom, left) and other student volunteers worked with the Cherokee Nation in Stilwell, Oklahoma.

Brad Vonck is one of them. A sophomore at the University of Illinois, Vonck will travel to San Juan, Texas, in a group of 13 students to volunteer with La Union del Pueblo Entero, an organization that helps strengthen the communities and lives of farm workers and their families.

“Learning about different cultures is very important to me,” Vonck said. “I like to engage in different areas of life that I don’t really understand.”

Every year, more and more college students, like Vonck, are choosing to spend their valuable time off from school participating in “alternative spring break” programs — community service-based opportunities dealing with the most pressing issues of the day, including hunger and homelessness, disaster relief and global warming.

“If you can name a social issue, then students are doing trips around it,” said Jill Piacitelli, executive director of Break Away, an organization that trains and helps colleges across the United States promote alternative break programs.

For the past six years, these programs have been growing in popularity among college students. Break Away estimated that this year, nearly 65,000 students will participate in its alternative break programs, an 11 percent increase from 2008.

“It’s a student-led social movement. … This is a group that very much wants to be involved in the world around them,” Piacitelli said of the volunteers. “They’re solution-oriented. They want to innovate and lead and involve their peers.”

The average domestic trip costs around $250 or $300, Piacitelli said, which includes “housing, travel, social activities, food and often a donation to the community.”

Many university programs offer financial aid and the option to raise money to help pay for trips. “It is rare that anyone who wants to go on a trip cannot go,” Piacitelli said. The affordability is part of the reason why so many students return for second or third trips.

Voluntourism in Appalachia

I recently watched the Diane Sawyer special on Appalachia, it got my attention enough that I tweeted a simple note wondering why we send people to volunteer abroad but Appalachia needs our help just as much. In reply to that tweet I got a bunch of volunteer operators saying they would love to get involved in Appalachian programs but they don’t know of any good partners. I also got a reply from Rachel Gossett of the Appalachia Service Project saying they needed volunteers. I asked her to write a little blurb for me, so have a look below.

It’s an interesting option for voluntourism operators – as people are keeping their budgets tighter but still want to volunteer – why not introduce some domestic opportunities?

Appalachia Service Project (ASP) is a home repair mission organization that makes houses warmer, safer and drier at no cost to families in need, while offering life-changing experiences for the families, volunteers, and staff alike.  Each year, ASP brings 15,000 volunteers from all over the country to repair 500 homes throughout Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.  High school students can serve with ASP during our summer Youth Program, and we also offer a program designed specifically for adults that operates September-May each year.

Even with all the volunteers and resources we have today, ASP can serve only one in ten families that apply for our home repair assistance. Choosing which family we serve (and which nine families we have to turn down) is a difficult decision, and we base it on a number of factors, including proximity of the house to the center and hardware store, depth of home repair need, whether children are present in the home, monthly family income, and the list goes on and on.

The communities in which ASP serves generally have poverty rates up to three times the national average. In the Central Appalachian region we serve…

  • 8,500 homes lack adequate kitchens
  • 9,000 homes lack complete plumbing
  • Nearly half of the families have household incomes below $20,000
  • One in four lives below the poverty level – more than 50,000 children, 90,000 adults, & 15,000 elderly

For more information on ASP’s Adult Program please visit: or call Rachel Gossett at 423.854.4408.

Assessing Volunteer Tourism (Voluntourism) and Traveler Philanthropy

Please see below for a great article written by Daniela Papi – the original had a great graphic to help convey her ideas and it shows up on the blog half of the time. So if it’s not below visit:

Assessing Volunteer Tourism (Voluntourism) and Traveler Philanthropy by Daniela Papi of PEPY

I recently read a blog, one of many, which was striving to analyze how positive “voluntourism” can be. The questions tend to revolve around one core question, “If volunteers are unskilled or getting involved in unnecessary or low priority work, and they themselves are getting a lot out of the experience, are they really doing good?”

As I was thinking about this and trying to put my ideas into words, an image popped into my head: a spectrum of “positive impact” that ranges from 100% financial contribution to 100% volunteer contribution. This implies that if your volunteer time is:

a) necessary and high priority for the organization or community,

b) introducing locally unavailable skilled labor or

c) providing volunteer services that would otherwise be costly to the organization, then financial support in addition may not be necessary. However, if none of the above applies, then there should be a donation requirement offsetting the costs of hosting volunteers. In either case, financial contributions help sustain ongoing project needs, thereby making the volunteer trip valuable beyond the activities taking place during short-term volunteer projects.

Does that make sense? If it doesn’t, perhaps this chart will illustrate the point. Based on my experiences, if volunteer tour operators or traveler philanthropy projects fall on or above the dotted line, they will positively impact their partner projects through the introduction of skilled and necessary labor on one end of the spectrum, significant funding on the other end of the spectrum, or a combination falling somewhere between the two.

Volunteer Tourism (Voluntourism) Assessment

Volunteer Tourism (Voluntourism) Assessment At PEPY, participants volunteer time to a short-term project with the understanding that the most significant part of their contribution is the funds they provide to sustain ongoing projects. Additionally, they receive on-site education which, ideally, translates into future involvement. We believe that everyone, even “unskilled laborers”, has the ability to contribute. Even if volunteers lack knowledge about the issue or program, they can contribute by learning more and promoting awareness to others, and by providing financial support.

For me, the essentials for successful volunteer tourism are honest marketing (ie: being open about what portion of participant fees are going to the projects they visit and the relationships involved), setting clear expectations both for the communities/programs visited and the travelers, and an understanding of the diagram above. If volunteers are not contributing resources otherwise unavailable (i.e. high-skilled labor), then funding is needed to maintain an overall positive impact. Those organizations operating in the red area have a tendency to focus more on the needs/wants of the travelers, often conveying a false sense that their impact is extremely positive and necessary, without following through on the commitment to make that statement true. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. What do you think about this chart and these ideas? Please comment below.

* If you are a voluntourism operator and would like to contribute to the creation of a self-check tool on Volunteer Tourism Effective Practices, please contact we’d love your input to help make all of us better volunteer tour operators and participants!

Thin U.S. job market translates study abroad into work abroad


WASHINGTON — As job prospects thin at home, American college seniors and recent graduates are looking overseas for work, even of the unpaid variety.

Organizations that send volunteers abroad are noticing a significant jump in applications for their programs compared with earlier years.

Applications to the Peace Corps are 16 percent higher this year, and late last year twice as many Americans applied to CUSO-Voluntary Service Overseas, Canada’s largest volunteer-based international development group, compared with the same period in 2007.

Looking abroad is just one way that the young are trying to cope with the worst economic landscape of their lives.

Volunteers also are traveling nationwide. Teach for America saw a 50 percent increase in applications last year for its program, which sends college graduates to teach in under-funded school districts.

A month after President Barack Obama’s calls for more service inspired a flood of volunteering at nonprofit organizations across the country, the lack of paid work at home seems to be inspiring a surge in volunteer service abroad.

When job prospects falter, young graduates gravitate toward “doing something meaningful rather than perhaps doing something menial,” said Katherine Stahl, the executive director of American University’s career center in Washington.

Students who graduate this spring will find themselves “looking at one of the worst job markets in recent memory,” said Tony Pals, a spokesman for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the nation’s pre-eminent institutions, which often sees lines of recruiters each spring pursuing graduates, reports a 15 percent decrease in recruiters on campus while internship offers and projected salaries are shrinking, said Melanie Parker, MIT’s executive director of employer relations.

Because new graduates see volunteerism as a boost to job prospects, they reason that the experience offsets lost incomes and travel expenses incurred abroad.

Stacey Hollis, a Warren Wilson College graduate and Peace Corps applicant, said that Peace Corps service was “a way to have a one-up” over other job seekers, plugging her into a network of past corps members and demonstrating her passion and commitment to larger goals.

“I think that young people are savvy and do see how beneficial it can be,” said Laura Lartigue, a Peace Corps spokeswoman.

It’s a discussion starter in job interviews and a way to avoid gaps in resumes, said Susan Ellis, founder of Energize Inc., a Philadelphia-based volunteer association that coordinates overseas and domestic service.

Young volunteers also earn moral capital by devoting significant time to volunteering overseas.

“There’s absolutely a halo effect,” Ellis said.

For-profit teaching overseas also is seeing a boost among college grads. At the Teaching English as a Foreign Language Institute in Chicago, teacher training has increased by 50 percent in the last six months.

Despite the global economic downturn, schools in developing regions are “throwing money at people to come,” said Bruce Jones, a spokesman for the institute.

Graduating teachers without domestic job offers and recent graduates of master of business administration programs are deciding to “ride out the storm” by completing a six-week program before heading overseas to teach, Jones said.

The Internet also is fueling interest for these tech-able grads. Traffic for, a networking and employment-listing Web site for volunteer and nonprofit organizations, increased by 22 percent in the last four months. After the site experienced a 500 percent growth in new user profiles last year, ads promoting volunteer opportunities rose by 40 percent.

However, one organization saw its inquiries jump while its applications remained stable.

Amanda Masello, the marketing and communications director at United Planet, a Boston-based organization that specializes in sending volunteers overseas, thinks she knows why.

“A lot of them are holding on to the hope that there might still be jobs out there,” she said.