Volun-tourism, it’s all the rage in the tourism industry right now. But why should families spend their hard earned vacation time, and money (these experiences usually cost money as well) to spend time working? Lots of reasons: to model giving back, to immerse in all things local, to spend bonding time doing something to make the world a better place…just to name a few.
Seamus meeting members of the Machiguenga tribe in the Amazon Rainforest, Peru
Traveling is an education…it’s eye-opening for kids to see how kids in other parts of the world live. When we first visited Africa, our kids noticed that the kids there had very few school supplies. They questioned how they would learn without them. And if they couldn’t learn, they said, how were they supposed to make a better life for themselves. That’s when they started the Re-Pack Project. Now, every year, they collect school supplies that are being thrown away at the end of our school year and clean them up and pack them into backpacks to take with us on our travels. Last year, they involved several schools and packed up more than 15,000 supplies!
While you don’t have to go to that extreme to help less fortunate kids, volunteering at every level teaches kids compassion and that what they do matters. It shows them that they can make a difference in the world. Volun-tourism takes this to a new level…combining the benefits of volunteering and immersing you in a whole new world as a family. Experience the fun and adventure of a destination while working side by side with locals to help those that are less fortunate. Whether it’s building houses in South Africa, working at a school in Peru, or taking care of elephants in Thailand, volun-tourism shows kids they have the power to form the world around them…that with their help, the global community can lift each other up. Here are five opportunities to volunteer as a family that you can do both while traveling and ideas to translate that volunteer work to home.
Seamus teaching math at a school in Namibia
1) Teach Kids
: We have had the opportunity to interact with kids at schools around the world including South Africa
and more. And while our kids’ teaching may have been more playing, there was cultural and knowledge exchange that made an impact. The kids taught the local kids about where we were from. They taught them words in English and learned a lot of words in the local language. And while we went in thinking of all the things we could teach them, we came out realizing how much we could learn!
Do it at Home: Volunteer to help homeless children with their homework. Many shelters offer programs where kids can help younger kids with their homework or read to the little kids.
Nathan feeding rice ball to elderly elephant at Elephant’s World in Thailand
2) Care for Animals
: We took a couple days out of trip to Thailand
to help care for elderly and injured elephants at Elephant’s World
in the Kachanaburi province. We helped plant banana trees and other farming, picked food, made rice balls for the elderly elephants, fed them and bathed them. The experience was unparalleled…it’s not often you get the chance to get up close and personal with such a gentle giant…and between caring for an animal and planting trees…we felt the impact of giving back!
Do it at Home: Volunteer at your local animal shelter. Many of the humane society and city pounds need extra hands to clean cages, take animals on walks, etc.
Cleaning up the beach at Laguna Beach Resort, Utila, Honduras
3) Clean it up!
On many occasions, we have had the opportunity to participate in beach and ocean clean ups. Many of the hotels we have stayed at have had clean up days for the kids as well as many of the dive operators with whom we have worked. By far the most creative was Zombie Apocalypse Diver
, a program the kids did when they were at Kids Sea Camp in Honduras. Although the program focused on family scuba dive safety, there was a very fun twist on conservation. The message was loud and clear…help keep the earth clean…but it was presented as a sort of contest preparing the kids for a zombie apocalypse…the kids ate it up (excuse the pun!).
Do it at Home: When you are out on walks, bring a long a trash bag and ask the kids to pick up stray trash. If you want something a bit more structured, many parks sponsor clean up days…a great way to get the kids cleaning up and involved in your local park system.
These are just three ideas, but there are lots of other ways to help make the world better…building houses, planting trees, caring for elderly, etc. I’ve seen through the years of our kids’ developing the Re-Pack Project what a sense of purpose and responsibility it has given them to help other kids and I encourage you to get involved locally and perhaps take a trip to an exotic locale where you can volunteer your time as well…you’ll be amazed at what you get out of it both spiritually and culturally.