Naturally, the voluntourism industry aims to serve the largest number of people possible. It’s kind of like politics: one party trying to appeal to the largest demographic by riding the middle. As the market grows, more and more organizations are providing streamlined, polished, non-threatening excursions that get people excited without frightening them. This is great because it means more people are deciding to travel and volunteer. But for adventurous volunteers who are looking for something less polished—something challenging, remote, and raw—these voluntours may not be a good fit. These travelers are the third party voters, people who like small organizations that don’t compromise on specific issues (like adventure). For them I suggest Fronteering, an exciting volunteering organization that brings travelers off the beaten path to experience isolated cultures in remote areas.
Through volunteering, far away places become real to us. Every day it seems like we’re hearing about another international conflict—another community struck by hardship. Some of the hardship is civil, between governments and citizens. Sometimes it’s environmental, the result of a drought or natural disaster. Whatever the calamity, it’s easy to feel disconnected, like these stories are happening in another world. We go about our lives focused on what we do—our work and our families—immersed in our own everyday dramas. But for those of us who have volunteered, international conflict affects us viscerally, in real and immediate ways. We know that each of these places is as real as our hometowns and our back yards. We don’t just know it intellectually, we know it in our bones. UBELONG is a volunteer organization focused on promoting this kind of understanding. Their mission is to create “a world where people are united behind their shared humanity and committed to working together for positive change.”
It’s been a while since I wrote about a volunteer organization on the business side of the volunteering equation. The for-profit volunteer industry is one of the main engines driving our global increase in volunteer travel. These are travel companies that provide a vital service for communities in need while they offer great travel and volunteering adventures to their customers. The links between tourism and volunteering continue to blur as itineraries increasingly include volunteering stints amidst sightseeing and outdoor adventure. Often volunteering opportunities are half-time and include room and board, permitting a much more long-term vacation than would otherwise be possible.
I was shopping at my neighborhood co-op yesterday when I noticed a flyer pinned to the bulletin board. I don’t usually stop to read the apartment listings, tutor wanted signs, and ads for used kitchen items, but this flyer was different. It was bright yellow and it featured a picture of the cutest lion cub the world has ever seen being fed from a baby bottle. I was so taken with the cub’s expression (he was almost smiling!) it took me a minute to notice what the flyer was advertising. When I did (it was a flyer for Amanzi Travel, a wildlife and community improvement-based voluntour company) I had something of an epiphany. Why aren’t more volunteer companies using local community meeting places to advertise their programs?
You may not know it to look at me but I’m a pretty disorganized person. I manage to keep track of bills and work but when it comes to the less immediately critical things like where my clothes are, what I’m making for dinner, getting cat food, or remembering birthdays, I’m hopeless. I do my best—I keep lists, have about eighteen date books, and try desperately to integrate electronic calendars into my routine—but at the end of the day I always find myself sorting through random papers wondering why life is so darn complicated! This is why I love it so much when other people do the organizing for me. One day, when I’m rich, I’ll hire a devilishly organized personal assistant to ferry me from place to place, put the ingredients for chicken vindaloo in my hands at dinner time, and color code my closets. Until then, I’ll savor the free organizational services of projects like Go Voluntouring.