Travel enhances our worldview, broadens our mind, sharpens our perspective and, of course, provides many social, visual, auditory and gastronomic pleasures along the way. But opportunity also exists to travel with a direct commitment to positive change, even, of course, to work in foreign communities, for a weekend, a month or a year. To do so, we must choose among many competing alternatives, and the wide range of options and amenities that they offer.
This initiative has been designed with a two-fold goal: the first is to help travelers understand why this type of travel is so important and so difficult to get right. The second is to help you learn to identify the organizations which not only offer when, where and how of a volunteer trip, but which are in line with these goals. We want to help you build a trip with thoughtful human connections and true positive change at its core.
This is no simple task. Volunteer travelers are essentially working on the front lines of international development. This conjures up images of large scale NGO humanitarian efforts, as opposed to the lighthearted scene of the traveling volunteer working with the children of a remote village. At their heart though, both of these endeavors have the same goal, albeit on different scales, and share the responsibility of ensuring that their projects are effective and sustainable. This is serious work and needs to be approached as such.
This responsibility, of designing sustainable and beneficial development projects, does not fall to the volunteer, but to the organization sponsoring their trip. What does fall to the volunteer is the responsibility to ensure that their time, money and effort are not wasted, to hold the practices of all travel organizations up for close scrutiny and select a project that meets these standards.
There are many different facets to volunteer projects and development projects in general, and it is no simple task to discover what works and what does not. The goal of The Humanity Initiative here is to illuminate this process and provide a method for travelers to evaluate their volunteer options.
Here are a few tips from THI board member Jacqueline Wigglesworth, taken from her experience both as a volunteer and as staff in various locations across the globe:
- Take half the stuff and double the money. That’s a very handy piece of advice to bear in mind before leaving. You definitely want to travel light and you can get by with surprisingly little and will be grateful of that when you’re carrying your bag around in remote places. If you leave anything important behind or discover that you’d overlooked something, chances are you can get it from a town somewhere near your project site before you get started, and having a little extra money for a treat or any unexpected eventuality is always a good idea.
- Take only photographs; leave only footprints. A huge part of travelling with a conscience and having a positive impact is respecting the local culture and environment, collecting wonderful memories, taking only what you need and leaving the place a little better by your presence. In that way your experience becomes a ‘win win’ situation and deserves the title of ‘travel for positive change.’
- ‘Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” - Confucius. Immerse yourself fully into the experience; live it to the max. Take obvious precautions to stay safe and healthy but go and have the time of your life by throwing yourself into the adventure. The adage “what you give out, you get back” couldn’t be more true. Put in 100% and you’ll reap huge rewards. Doing project work half-heartedly doesn’t serve you or the local community and isn’t half as much fun, so dive in with enthusiasm and you’ll have a magical time.