By Anis Salvesen
Earlier today I was browsing through my Gmail, and at the top of my screen was the following quote: “Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.” (JFK) I’m not sure what the context of that particular speech was, but the words certainly apply to my life. I often associated giving of my time, volunteering, as giving something up – giving up a Saturday to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, giving up a lunch hour to volunteer at a soup kitchen, giving up a weeknight to help a child learn to read. Don’t get me wrong, I did not believe volunteering was some great sacrifice made possible only by extreme dedication to a particular organization or cause. I believed that the rewards far, far outweighed anything I had to give up in exchange. My point is, I saw volunteering as equivalent to simple (albeit not necessarily huge) sacrifice.
I confess that associating volunteering with even just a tiny bit of sacrifice made it harder for me to volunteer. Sure I wanted to help a child learn to read, but did I really have the ability to give up one night a week? In written form it seems rather selfish, but in the real-life context it seemed much more legitimate a concern. What if the kid lived in a gang-ridden neighborhood so that I needed my husband to drive me there and back, but he had to work late on that particular night? What if at work we got a new project or I was going on vacation, so I had to work late? What if I had the most stressful day imaginable at work and got one of my migraine headaches and just needed to be home and rest? What if it was one of those weeks that my husband and I really needed a date night and that was the one night we had free?
I admit that I tend to be more of a worrier than most, but I suspect the notion of giving something up in order to give to others is not unique to me. That is why I was so excited when I came across a blog post all about the topic of voluntourism. I encourage you to read the blog post itself, but I will mention here some really great statistics mentioned in the post.
It seems that more and more people are catching on to this trend of combining work and play in one trip. “According to the Travel Industry Associations of America (TIA), more than 55 million Americans have taken some form of volunteer vacation and nearly twice as many are considering doing so.” To put that number in perspective, 55 million voluntourists is roughly the equivalent of every person in the states of California, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Arizona combined!
I’ll let that number sink in for a minute. Then I’ll share just one more impressive statistic mentioned in the blog post. A survey sponsored by msnbc.com and Condé Nast Traveler, which polled more than 1,600 people, revealed that 20% of those polled had taken at least one volunteer vacation, and 62% more said they are likely to take one.
After reading the Travelanthropist blog, I naturally went on the UniversalGiving website, and I found a wealth of great volunteer travel opportunities! How about volunteering in Belize as part of a bio-diversity conservation project? Or how does a coral and coastal ecology volunteer opportunity on Silhouette Island, a little-visited island in the Seychelles archipelago sound? For those who prefer to stay a little closer to home, we also have volunteer opportunities in the United States. For example, we have a volunteer opportunity called “Development Projects in Native American and First Nation Communities,” which would allow travelers to volunteer with the Navajo nation in Arizona, among other opportunities.
I could go on about various volunteer + travel opportunities, but I’ll let you check out our site for yourself. Thanks so much for reading this blog post. Happy travels, and don’t forget to pack sunscreen!