VOLUNTOURISM

Making a Difference – The World of Giving
By Lisa M. Dietlin
President/CEO, Lisa M. Dietlin and Associates, Inc., Chicago, IL
Philanthropic Advisor, Author and Television Personality
Making A Difference: The World of Giving – Take a One-of-a-Kind Vacation AND Do Good! 
With summer in full swing you may be someone who hasn’t yet decided on your summer vacation plans (or vacation plans for later in the year).  There’s a tremendous opportunity to have a very special vacation, meet amazing people, see places you’ve never seen before and make a difference by taking part in Voluntouring or in a Do-Good Vacation.
What is Voluntouring?  In some ways, voluntouring grew out of the commitment to making a difference that started with the Peace Corps, which began in 1960 when John F. Kennedy (at the time Senator Kennedy and not yet President) challenged students to serve their country and the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries.  The Peace Corps, a federal agency, grew out of his challenge.  While it’s been a dream of many to participate in the Peace Corps, it requires a commitment of more than 2 years.
Voluntouring is a chance to experience, and participate in, programs around the world that make a difference for a much shorter time – anywhere from 1 week to about 3 months.
If you’re voluntouring, since you’re donating your time and effort by working with a nonprofit organization, a significant portion of your vacation costs may even be tax deductible.  Yes, you may save money by taking a one-of-a-kind vacation in a far-away location!
Here are some other things you should know about voluntouring:
  • You will be working side by side with a community and its residents; a unique and very special way to give back which might even change your life
  • Voluntouring vacations are available around the world – in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia – almost everywhere, with opportunities to volunteer in countries like Cambodia, Cuba, Ghana, Peru, Guatemala, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Morocco, Romania, Russia, Nepal, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam and many more
  • The projects cover many important areas, such as children, the environment, healthcare, education, senior care, construction and others
  • Voluntour participants often talk about building tremendous new friendships that last for many years
  • While some trips are for adults only, there are many that are appropriate for families
You might also want to consider a Do-Good Vacation, which includes travel to more common holiday destinations in places like Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland and Spain, with nights in historic castles as well as visits to lesser-known areas. These vacations are different from voluntouring in that you will be working with a nonprofit to raise money for a particular cause and not be working in a local community.
Here are a few well-respected organizations you may want to look into if you’d like to voluntour:
Cross-Cultural Solutions was founded in 1995 and works year-round in 12 countries with more than 25,000 people who have participated in their programs.
Globe Aware  offers volunteer vacations, service vacations, working holidays and service trips with projects such as building schools in the Andes and repairing trails in Nepal.
USA Today has called Global Volunteers the “granddaddy of the volunteer vacation movement”.  They are focused on programs for children, work in over 100 communities worldwide and have partnerships with such organizations as the United Nations and UNICEF.
United Planet (www.unitedplanet.org) is focused on creating a world “in which all people understand, respect, and support one another.” Their volunteers work in over 40 countries and have provided over 600,000 hours of international community service through voluntouring. 
Started by students as a way to do something meaningful during a “gap year” between school and “the real world,” Projects Abroad (www.projects-abroad.org) is 20 years old and, while still mostly focused on students and the recently graduated, there are people of all ages who volunteer in conservation, journalism, and human rights projects, among their many focus areas.
For a Do-Good Vacation, you might consider a program from the World Bank called Stay Another Day which directs tourists to pre-evaluated activities that benefit local communities. For instance, vacationers can tour an orphanage in Cambodia and, if they wish, purchase goods such as the silk products the locals have made. The visit is free, but you’ll be expected to make a donation.
Here are five recommendations and tips so you can Make A Difference (M.A.D.) through a Voluntouring vacation:
  1. Find an organization that matches your passion and has a proven track record
  2. While most organizations are above board, there are fraudulent organizations that you need to look out for.  You can visit the websites above as well as www.gooverseas.com or www.govoluntouring.com to learn more, or read a book such as “Volunteering Vacations” for additional information
  3. Select a trip that suits your abilities and interests and be prepared to work!
  4. Speak with people who have been on the excursion before or worked with the company you choose
  5. Learn about local customs – even a bit of the language – before you go, but be prepared for a trip that may be tremendously different from what you might expect … be open to new experiences
Bonus Tips:  A voluntouring vacation is very different from holidays you may be used to, often with none of the comforts of home.  Recognize that voluntouring is a chance to be part of a way of life you wouldn’t otherwise know!
Bonus/Bonus Tip:  With many of us doing “stay-cations” due to the economy, consider the benefits of incorporating a volunteer experience into your plans.  Many of us say, “If only I had time, I would volunteer at X to do Y.”  Well now is your chance!  

People who voluntour often say that while they went to Make a Difference (M.A.D.), they found that the work they accomplished didn’t begin to match the value to themselves and their lives.  Don’t you want to have an amazing holiday and be M.A.D. today?
Lisa M Dietlin
www.lmdietlin.com


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