I recently had dinner with a friend who mentioned she was considering spending her vacation volunteering with a wildlife conservation program in Zambia, Africa. She was excited about the idea of working with lions or elephants, and this program promised both:
You are paying for the privilege of working (including cleaning up after the animals or preparing food for them), and it’s not cheap: about $600/week for 2-4 weeks, not counting airfare to Africa, but you do get meals and accommodations (basic) and some of your fee is supporting the project as well. The reviews on the site were glowing, but you should look for independent reviews as well. Although some of the sites I found with reviews of Amanzi Travel and the lion release program pointed back to the Amanzi site itself, there were a few on sites like www.TripAdvisor.com, and a Facebook presence that seemed robust with happy customers writing about their experience. The Amanzi site was reasonably informative and descriptive about what was actually included. All in all, it seems an organization that has a good reputation, meriting further consideration.
Here’s an excerpt of Giving Back about volunteer vacations:
Typically, volunteering is something you do in your own community, and you find the time to work it in around the other commitments in your family’s life. If you’re able to take a bigger chunk of time out to focus on a volunteer experience, it can be a memorable and very fulfilling experience. One possibility is to take a volunteering vacation, where your family devotes a week (or more, for most international programs) to serving others. There are many organizations that offer such mission trips and take care of making the arrangements for you. Relying on their experience is a good way to go, unless you have a very specific project in mind and are willing to do extra legwork to handle the coordination, food, housing, and local transportation arrangements. Unless you have previous ties to a project and a specific invitation to come, showing up on your own is unlikely to lead to a rewarding experience.
The first steps in planning your volunteering vacation are determining the amount of time you have available, the type of work you’d like to do, and what part of the country or world you’d like to visit. The ages of children participating in the trip will also affect your options. With this basic information in hand, there are several websites listing organizations that offer trips:
- Volunteer Guide (www.volunteerguide.org) does a nice job of offering a selection of different organizations within each cause and approach.
- Abroad Reviews (www.abroadreviews.com) offers reviews from past travelers. They have dozens of candid reviews for the most prominent organizations, some of which warn you away from particular trips because of issues of safety, organization, or inflated cost.
- The International Volunteer Programs Association (www.VolunteerInternational.org) is a portal site permitting search by region, country, cause, and duration.
There are also books dedicated to volunteer vacations, and given the expense and prospect of a miserable (or unsafe!) week or two, checking out one or more is a good investment. Highly rated guides include:
- Frommer’s 500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference by Andrew Mersmann (2009).
- Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others by Bill McMillon and Doug Cutchins (2009, 10th edition).
- Mapping Your Volunteer Vacation: A Workbook by Jane Stanfield (2009)
- The 100 Best Volunteer Vacations to Enrich Your Life by Pam Grout (2009).
Going as part of a team from your religious group or local service organization can add to the excitement. Plus, when you return you have a built-in base of collaborators, if you decide to continue your involvement through fundraising or awareness building, as many international volunteers do.