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Earth Day: Connecting the World Through Voluntourism

©istockphoto/MShep2

©istockphoto/MShep2

Earth Day is right around the corner and you might be wondering how you can give back to good ol’ Gaia. While hundreds of businesses use Earth Day as a day of volunteerism, taking to the trail or a local rive to cleanup, replant of renew, many other people look further outside of their communities in order to lend a helping hand in a growing industry known as voluntourism.

Since the creation of the Peace Corps in 1961, Americans have travelled far and wide in the name of altruism. And while volunteer organizations, and particularly Americans volunteering abroad, have undergone their share of critique, one thing is certain: voluntourism is a growing form of volunteering. And as globalization increases, over 1.6 million Americans are renewing their passports, filling their backpacks, and setting out to volunteer abroad.

While some people backpack around Europe after high school, others people, like Jennie from Crested Butte, Colorado look for “more meaningful” ways of traveling abroad. Although some young Americans volunteer for the Peace Corps or the UN Volunteers, most people who voluntour aren’t able to commit several years of their lives.

Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia, especially countries like Thailand and Nepal top the list of places people go to volunteer. With plenty of great things to explore outdoors and wonderful beaches and mountains, Southeast Asia is a place worth visiting. In terms of volunteering, organizations like United Planet in Boston offers various volunteer opportunities ranging from teaching English to (with the right background) providing free dentistry to those in need.

Sub-Saharan Africa
When Jennie left for Ghana with AFS after graduating form high school, she was hoping for a cool travel experience but found much more. “I got to live with a host family and I worked in an orphanage,” she explains. But while she felt empowered and independent, Jennie struggled with her role as an outsider. “I definitely felt uncomfortable at times, with my role as a volunteer and as a white, privileged American” however, “I really feel that Ghana gave me a different perspective as an impressionable teen”. Many people who volunteer in sub-Saharan Africa spend time working in orphanages, teaching English, and providing medical and social support to those affected by HIV and AIDS.

Western Europe
For those less interested in humanitarian work, organizations like WWOOF offer the opportunity to volunteer on organic farms around the world. In exchange for your help, hosts will provide room and board for stints that range from weeks to years. Some of the most popular destinations for WWOOFers are countries in Western Europe such as France and Italy. If you’re interested in wholesome food, good company, and hard work, WWOOFing might be the voluntour opportunity for you.

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