This week’s topic comes to you from my mentor, Lisa Fletcher. She’s amazing and always willing to lend a hand, or a pen, or even a keyboard in this case… Given the events in the last couple months, from hurricanes and earthquakes to terrorism at home and abroad, it’s important to think about the things we can do to give back and to promote good in the world. With a story on voluntourism, take it away, Lisa!
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Last year we visited a luxury resort in Jamaica as part of a group there for a meeting. Prior to going, we discovered that we could bring school supplies to help a local school that the resort was sponsoring. What a nice idea! We were glad to contribute and our group collected quite a nice stash of supplies for the local kids. When we travel, we can indeed help others. Depending on the destination and the need, there are many ways to do this. Today, I will cover three.

  1. Support a local organization through your resort

    We recently visited Sandals Whitehouse, a luxury resort in Jamaica. This resort is built along a beautiful beach in the midst of a primarily poverty-stricken area. Resort management gives training to and hires locals to give them employment they would not otherwise have, thereby improving their quality of life. They also reach out to the community through The Sandals Foundation with donations to enable and support local schools. They provide a list of school supplies that guests may bring to donate to the school. They also offer opportunities to their guests to visit these schools, volunteer for an afternoon to read to children, or to do whatever needs doing. Many resorts have a similar program, I mention Sandals because I am familiar with it.

  2. Buy handmade crafts from locals

    You contribute to the well-being of locals when you purchase the handmade items from them. For example, in Mexico, I had the choice to purchase small woven bracelets made by local women or visit a typical touristy gift shop. By purchasing the bracelets, I could give some happiness to several women in the area and contribute to their income. Support the local artists, wood carvers, weavers etc. with at least some small purchase. A purchase is a business transaction and gives people some pride in their work, as well as a few dollars in their pocket.

  3. Participate in volunteer travel

    What is volunteer travel? Most of us have heard the term. Basically, it’s travel where you give something back to the local community you are visiting. You learn about another culture, another country. You give of your time, skills and knowledge, which benefits others and helps your heart grow a few sizes – remember the Grinch?? There is even a new cruise line called Fathom that incorporates hands-on volunteer opportunities into its weekly schedule in the Dominican Republic. Options include teaching English, pouring cement floors into local homes, assisting locals in a chocolate factory and re-forestation by planting trees…what a great way to enjoy a new place and make a difference at the same time!

There are many reasons to volunteer while you’re traveling and there are literally thousands of charities and organizations that look for help from passing travelers. For example, the Maui Humane Society has the “Helping Paws” program where visitors can come spend time with the animals. Some, who are staying on Maui for a longer time, can actually “temporarily adopt” a dog or cat for their whole stay. Most end up taking them home with them at the end… Where can you find out more? Do a search on “volunteer travel”, and many opportunities will appear. Churches also offer mission trips and encourage members to participate as a group, usually in some specific area such as building a school.
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We may not have a lot of time to give, but maybe if we each look for some small opportunity, we can make a difference. The next time you take a vacation, consider asking what you can do to help. We are happy to assist you in learning about these opportunities as you plan your vacations. Have you ever participated in a program that you would like to share? Let us know and we will put it “out there” for all to see!

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