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Maine VolunteerFare

Vacation for a Cause

Published June 28, 2006

Vacation for a Cause

Ilona Biro, freelance writer

Original Article posted at:Microsoft Home Magazine

Can a teenage girl survive on one bucket of water a week? Sarah Gardner did, and got the experience of a lifetime when she and her family spent their vacation volunteering in a remote region of Guatemala. For a month she assisted the only doctor in Patzun, a town of 20,000 Mayans, helping out with daily clinics, caesarean sections and other medical procedures. She also found time to raise spirits at the orphanage and teach daily English classes to her peers in a local school.

Volunteer vacationing is becoming a popular holiday choice, especially among seniors and women. The thrill of travel to remote areas, experiences far beyond those available to even the most seasoned traveller and the sense of purpose and accomplishment that volunteering provides make its appeal obvious. In fact, according to Sarah's mother Alison, editor of Travel With A Challenge and a freelance journalist who often writes about alternative vacations, "it's hard going back to regular holidays."

The demand for volunteer vacations is growing steadily, says Barb DeGroot, media relations manager for Global Volunteers, a private, non-profit, volunteer vacation organization that just celebrated its 21st anniversary. "In 1994 we sent 694 volunteers abroad. In 2004 we sent more than 1,600. And although we had a downturn after 9/11, the recovery was amazingly fast," she says. "In fact, 9/11 made people realize what can happen when cultures don't understand each other. There's a sense that we need to build bridges between cultures to prevent war and conflict."

Frederic Hore got hooked on this type of vacation during a volunteer holiday in Costa Rica in 1996. Since then, regular vacations no longer satisfy him. "When I travel I want an intimate experience of a place," he says. Volunteering provides that experience, allowing access to places and people ordinary tourists don't get to see. Hore recently spent a vacation in Russia with five other volunteers studying the water ecology of Lake Baikal in Siberia. "We were essentially glorified fishermen, catching shrimp and bullhead fish, which we later separated and dissected. It was like reliving my high school biology classes!"

Explore an alternative experience

With trips as short as a week or as long as a year, almost anyone can find an ideal placement from the hundreds of organizations out there. The key is knowing what you really want to get from the experience, according to Doug Cutchins, co-author of Volunteer Vacations (Chicago Review Press, 2002).

Read on...