Twelve trips to change your lifeand make a difference
The U.S. Forest Service Passport in Time Program
Dates: May 20-24
If you relish the thought of trespassing in grizzly territory, know cold-water survival techniques, and love solitude, this five-day mission to Misty Fiords National Monument and Wilderness in Alaska's southeastern panhandle is your gig. By day, search with archaeologists for evidence of historic campsites, smokehouses, and rock art of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people. In the evenings, retire to the steel-hulled Tongass Ranger, a 45-foot research vessel, and watch grizzlies lumber along the shoreline while orcas follow schools of herring through icy water.
Dates: June 8-16, August 10-18, September 21-29
Not far from the fast water of the New River is Beards Fork, population 200, average annual household income $8,000. Volunteers work with students from the local Southern Appalachian Labor School to transform coal-camp shacks into affordable housing. The focus, says trip leader Carolyn Shapiro, isn't just on hammering nails: “You can't just go in and say, OK, this is how it's going to be done. Things move at a different pace here. You have to have patience.” Volunteers share dorm rooms at a local community center and have time to hike in the nearby Monongahela National Forest.
Dates: Weekly departures, February-August
Cost: $1,870 (includes airfare from Honolulu)
“The minute you walk outside you are surrounded by albatross. It's breathtaking,” says Marcy Englund, expedition manager for the Oceanic Society, an organization responsible for monitoring five of the seabird species that nest on the white sands of this six-mile-long atoll—including the world's largest colony of Laysan albatross. You'll count the birds, monitor nests, and observe chick hatchings. And when your ornithological tasks are done, you'll snorkel amid monk seals on the half-mile-long public beach. Participants stay seven nights in former U.S. Army barracks.
Seeds of Memory: Sousson Foundation, California
On September 11, 2001, the National Park Service had a problem: a refrigeration system failed, forcing 15,000 sequoia tree seedlings out of dormancy. By the end of the day the Sousson Foundation, a Templeton, California, nonprofit devoted to national-park preservation, and the NPS hammered out a solution—plant a memorial forest at various locations throughout Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks in remembrance of the thousands of World Trade Center, Pentagon, and hijacking victims. On this six-day camping trip (catered by two chefs), plant seedlings for two days, and then join a guide for multiday forays into the backcountry. 805-434-0298; www.sousson.org Dates: April-June, September-November Cost: $595.
Dates: February 16-23, June 26-July 6, November 23-30
Some scientists believe that climate change, disease, and other environmental stresses will kill off the world's living coral reefs by the year 3000. But don't let that distant date numb you into inaction—you can help now by assisting researchers in an ongoing study of coral bleaching in the Bahamas. You'll spend four to five hours a day in the water, mapping sites where scientists test water temperature and acidity. “My conviction about the value of volunteers has been well rewarded,” says Tom McGrath, the project's principal researcher. “They've plunged in, learned the corals, delivered solid data…and still managed to have fun.” You'll bunk at the Bahamian Field Station on San Salvador.
GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS, ECUADOR
Dates: Eight weeks, late June-late August
Cost: $3,990 (includes round-trip airfare from Houston)
Marine iguanas and giant tortoises get top billing in the Galápagos, but English-speaking humans are also a crucial link in the Darwinian chain. Of the thousands of Ecuadorans who live here, those who can communicate with tourists have an edge in the job market. Log time in the cradle of evolutionary theory by living with host families and teaching English to residents on Cristóbal, Santa Cruz, Isabela, and Floreana Islands. “veryone was so eager to learn,”says Sue Schiele, a volunteer and retired schoolteacher, “hat after three days I knew a large percentage of the population.”
Dates: May 18-June 1
Since his triumphant 1953 Everest summit with Tenzing Norgay, Sir Edmund Hillary has worked to improve the lives of the Khumbu region's Sherpa people. Help maintain the legacy of the lanky New Zealander, whom locals call Burra-Sahib (big in stature, big in heart), by rebuilding a school he founded in 1961 in Khumjung, a village five hours by foot from the town of Lukla. This project, when complete, will allow students to attend school to age 15. “[The Nepalis] know education is the key,” says Amizade executive director Michael Sandy, “but they can't afford it. We are partnering with them to help fill a need.” Volunteers camp or stay in local homes.
Volunteers for Peace
Dates: May 18-June 1
Dates: April 1-15
In Khao Yai National Park, a remote forest 120 miles northeast of Bangkok, poachers and poor villagers snare birds, baby monkeys, and tigers (for their penises, which are highly prized in Chinese medicine). You'll help put a stop to this illegal trade by walking patrol with park rangers, assisting researchers with animal counts, and teaching farmers to cultivate vegetables as an alternative to poaching. But be forewarned: Changing community views is not an overnight task, says Patrick Fransson, founder of Greenways, VFP's partner organization, which oversees the volunteer efforts in the field. “Some people will turn around now,” he says, “but most likely it will be their children.” Volunteers stay in park dorms and with host families.
Global Citizens Network
Dates: June 13-July 5, August 1-23; December 26-January 17, 2003
At the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, surrounded by vast savanna and game parks, is the Masai ranch community of Rombo—a village that has no electricity and no running water, and is some 20 miles by foot from the nearest health-care facility. In January 2000, villagers drew up plans to build a six-room clinic. Since then, Global Citizens Network volunteers have carried rock, dug ditches, and completed the structure's foundation. “Building the health clinic became secondary to building a relationship of trust with the people,” says volunteer Bill Johnson of Austin, Texas, whose best memories include chasing elephants away from crops at night and teaching games to local schoolchildren.
Habitat for Humanity Global Village
Dates: February 17-March 2
Not everyone in Fiji lives the Blue Lagoon fantasy. In fact, many residents are not allowed to own income-producing agricultural lands, thanks to reforms instituted by former president Mahendra Chaudhry. On 4,010-square-mile Viti Levu, the largest isle in the 300-island chain, volunteers help a local Habitat for Humanity affiliate group build simple, affordable, one-room concrete houses. “Volunteers come away with a renewed appreciation of what they have and how they live in relation to the indigenous Fijian people,” says program coordinator Amy Johnson. Before you return stateside, you'll have time to hang out, Fiji-style—diving, and surfing along Vanua Levu, the second-largest barrier reef in the world. Groups stay with local families or camp on cots in a one-room community center.
British Trust for Conservation Volunteers
Dates: April, September
European gray wolves have been hunted nearly to extinction by sheep farmers in the Low Tatry Mountains. Researchers with the Slovakian organization Large Carnivore Conservation and Livestock Protection Project are hoping to prove to the hunters that domestic animals form only a minor part of the wolves' diet and that, if livestock are protected more effectively, wolves, people, and sheep can coexist. You'll join scientists in Tatra National Park in the Carpathian Mountains to track wolves, collect scat, and assist with training livestock-guarding dogs, with time to hike 6,500-foot peaks, explore caves, and visit traditional villages. Accommodations are in a stone lodge in the national park.
Cultural Restoration Tourism Project
Dates: Two- or three-week trips, late May-September
Cost: $155 per day
In the sunny Khenti province of northeastern Mongolia, the Baldan Baraivan monastery lies in ruins. Built in the 1600s and once one of the country's most important Buddhist centers, the temple was destroyed by the Communists in the 1930s. Since 1999, the San Francisco-based Cultural Restoration Tourism Project has been dispatching volunteers to work alongside local craftsmen, engineers, and architects to rebuild the monastery, stone by stone. Participants live on-site in yurts and are welcome to join monks in Buddhist ceremonies. Guido Verboom of the Netherlands, who was part of a volunteer team in 2000, recalls an elderly Mongolian man who cried in gratitude at the work being done. “I felt embarrassed to be thanked for enjoying myself—but I realized I was helping to give these people a part of their history back.”
In this tinderbox world it might be tempting to lock your door, cozy up to your TV, and pretend life beyond your own tunnel vision doesn't exist. But Americans don't take the easy road: Since September 11, applications at long-term volunteer organizations have surged. “It's very heartening,” says Peace Corps Press Director Ellen Field. “In Chicago our applications are up 25 percent.” At New Rochelle, New York-based Cross Cultural Solutions, enrollment is expected to increase by 54 percent next year. Renewed altruistic vigor isn't the only cause for the upswing—Peace Corps ranks have grown in the last two years, largely with disillusioned or displaced dotcommers. Here are other options where a few months' or years' worth of work from you could make a lifetime of difference for someone else.
Cost: Fully subsidized by sponsors. Skilled volunteers from the high-tech industry are sent to Ghana for three to four months to assist small businesses in using the Internet, implementing e-commerce strategies, and preparing business plans.
Cross Cultural Solutions
Cost: $1,745Ð-21,000. Volunteers spend two weeks to six months in India, Peru, China, or Russia assisting in a wide variety of projects including HIV/AIDS education, caring for infants in orphanages, and coaching sports in shantytown schools.
Cost: $3,210-$5,993. Participants serve for ten to 20 weeks as research assistants to botanists and biologists conducting wildlife-protection and habitat-conservation studies in Madagascar, Tanzania, and Vietnam.
Roots & Shoots
Cost: Varies by country. Founded in 1991 by Jane Goodall, this 68-nation environmental and humanitarian program sends adult volunteers to spend three months to one year coordinating local community-service projects such as cleaning up parks and trails, working in soup kitchens, or raising money for animal shelters.
Teaching English as a Second Language:
Himalayan Explorers Connection
888-420-8822; www.hec.org. Places teachers in Himalayan village schools for up to four months.
650-723-3228; volasia.org. Recruits volunteers for one- to two-year stints in colleges and universities in Vietnam, Laos, China, and Indonesia.
Central European Teaching Program:
608-363-2619; www.beloit.edu/~cetp. Places teachers for a half or full school year in Poland, Hungary, or Romania.
For More Information:
413-256-3414; www.transitionsabroad.com. A bimonthly publication that focuses on opportunities for living, working, and volunteering overseas.
Volunteer Vacations by Bill McMillon (Chicago Review Press, 1999, $17). An exhaustive guide to organizations that offer short- and long-term volunteer opportunities. Plus sage advice on what to know before you go.
How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas by Joseph Collins, Stefano DeZerega, and Zahara Heckscher (Penguin Putnam, 2002, $17 ). Includes in-depth profiles of 65 volunteer-placement organizations.