Sunday, January 24, 2010

The value of volunteer vacations

I just had to review a book for one of my freelance jobs, and the book was The 100 Best Volunteer Vacations to Enrich Your Lifeby Pam Grout. Normally, I'm instantly put off by any "100 best" kind of titles (they remind me too much of the See-Before-You-Die types of books, which I really dislike), but I had this one to review, so I opened it.

Now, as far as "100 best" guides go, it's still a bit annoying, but it's one of the better ones. It lists a hundred different organisations or tour operators that offer opportunities for volunteers, with a good long blurb about what they get up to there and including some interesting history or anecdotes. It's definitely a good place to start if you're thinking of doing some volunteering on your holidays (and the book quotes a 2008 study saying that 40% of Americans would like to. 40%? That's a lot, is it really true?).

Anyway, the point is that this book got me thinking about volunteering holidays again. I still haven't actually done it - that is, not gone somewhere specifically to volunteer in some way - but I would like to in the future. The closest I've got is an attempt to somewhat selfishly volunteer at the 2004 Athens Olympics - I mean, it's not like going somewhere needy, I just wanted to be part of the Olympics - but the costs became a prohibitive factor to me - the only accommodation I could arrange was basically a tent on a rooftop (really!) and the cost to stay there for the necessary three weeks was just way out of my budget at the time.

Speaking of cost, I remember when I first started looking into volunteer holidays that I was shocked to see how much they cost, and I think many people would have this reaction. "I'm giving up my time to help these people, and they want me to pay?" But my attitude has definitely changed, and as I read this book I started thinking that some of the volunteer programmes they listed were in fact too cheap!

These days I accept happily that there are numerous costs that occur when a volunteer arrives somewhere to do some work, and if we are the "wealthy" ones coming in to a poorer place, it is perfectly legitimate to at least ask us to cover the basic costs of accommodation, for example (and obviously to pay your own airfares, too) - otherwise it hardly works out as a benefit for the group involved. Other kinds of volunteer work like counting turtles in the Galapagos are more a privilege than a sacrifice, and paying for the chance to do something amazing like that strikes me now as perfectly reasonable too. Perhaps there are some organisations which are trying to profit from volunteers rather than just facilitate them, and I don't think that's fair, but basically, paying to volunteer on your travels now seems a reasonable ask to me. What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. The Galapagos Islands are the most incredible living museum of evolutionary changes, with a huge variety of exotic species (birds, land and sea animals, plants) and landscapes not seen anywhere else.

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