VolunTourism: Doing Good While Traveling the World
Mark Twain cut right to the bone when he said that travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.
Just as importantly, travel has begun seriously to give back to the communities and places it sends its travelers to.
For example, on my recent round-trip to San Francisco (5,426 miles) my plane and I were responsible for spewing .98 tons of Carbon Dioxide (CO2). So one green non-profit sold me $11.33 of carbon offsets, equivalent to my travel carbon footprint. They’ll use the money to plant trees, generate wind power and other green causes.
Giving back is big these days, and it makes good business. Toyota is one company that’s spotlighting issues that help and enable communities, and the travel industry is increasingly committed to the same ethic through VolunTourism, or volunteer travel.
Take Dr. Glenn Bubley, an oncologist at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He wanted to see Honduras with his wife, Lynn, a Registered Nurse. “But we didn’t want to travel there empty-handedly,” he said. “We knew there had to be a better way to get to know the country and the people than by just passing through it as tourists."
So the couple joined a medical team, and for five days, they worked in five different makeshift clinics that dotted the countryside. They treated people that rarely had any sort of medical care or medicine. As Lynn told me, “Our lives have been blessed. We have been given so much, we wanted to give back by volunteering,” a feeling that just about all volunteer travelers expressed in one form or another.
“VolunTourism” is relatively new. The trend probably started sometime in the 1990’s with small, “bite sized” vacations that gave travelers with no previous community or mission-driven experience the chance to combine their vacations with short-term work that would help the places and locales they were visiting. Most of these were developing countries or regions.
The idea got a big boost after hurricane Katrina in 2005 when thousands volunteered to help save New Orleans. They hauled trash, built homes, filled sandbags, and got to know New Orleans and its people in ways no tourist ever could.Continued on the next page