I volunteered with DREAM Project Foundation for 4 months earlier in 2012, and without a doubt it was one of the most rewarding, emotional and fun experiences of my life so far.
Most of my time was spent at DREAM House, a children's home in Thailand, near the Myanmar border. There are many reasons these children are in care; some are orphans, their parents killed due to the issues in Myanmar, others have parents but are not able to look after them properly, and some were just found wandering around a market and were picked up by a caring local.
Places like DREAM House exist to keep these children safe, give them access to an education, and providing hope they will be able to grow up and lead a life free from the fear of having no food, no family, or of being trafficked.
Volunteers are always in demand to teach and care for the children, giving out as many hugs as possible!
In Land Rovers and on foot, climb Central Asia’s mountains in pursuit of snow leopards. Volunteers search for the elusive green-eyed cats by tracking their footprints, scat, and prey: the argali (mountain sheep) and the Altai ibex. The expeditions provide data that can be used to help protect the endangered cats. At night, retreat to a base camp at 7,500 feet. Snowy peaks tower overhead, and the immense, open steppe stretches out below. —Kellie Schmitt
Mountain Ghosts: About $2,700 for two weeks, including food and lodging. (800) 407-5761, biosphere-expeditions.org.
Photo from Biosphere Expeditions. This story appeared in the November/December 2011 issue.
This riverside orangutan rehabilitation camp is usually reachable only by boat. For times when the Sekonyer Kanan River runs dry, volunteers are building a 2.5-mile boardwalk to the camp. Workers are often approached by two curious orangutans, a welcome interruption following a busy day in the humid rain forest. —Kellie Schmitt
The Orangutan Foundation: About $1,400 for six weeks, including building materials, lodging, and food. 44/(0) 207-724-2912, orangutan.org.uk.
Photo by Daniel Kleeman. This story appeared in the November/December 2011 issue.
Last fall many villages in Siem Reap suffered damage from severe floods. Hôtel de la Paix, a boutique property in the city, supports community projects such as the Life and Hope Association (LHA), a nonprofit run by the monks of Wat Damnak, and the Green Gecko Project, an organization that educates and feeds children. A three-night package includes a Khmer meal, a temple tour, and a visit to one of the projects. Guests with more time can arrange to work at LHA’s Children’s Development Village, which is now home to kids orphaned by the floods.
Hôtel de la Paix, 85/(5) 63-966-000, three-night community packages from $1,190. Photo courtesy of Green Gecko Project. This appeared in the March/April 2012 issue.
Six years after Hurricane Katrina, nearly 200 families in New Orleans are still living in FEMA trailers. The St. Bernard Parish, located about 10 miles from downtown, was one of the communities most severely affected. The St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit dedicated to rebuilding homes in the area, relies on up to 250 volunteers daily. In one day, volunteers might install a floor or paint the walls of a small house. Skilled volunteers may assist with plumbing and electrical projects. The time commitment can be as little as a half day or as long as a month. Volunteers are responsible for their own lodging but receive discounts at partner hotels.
The St. Bernard Project, (504) 277-6831. Photo courtesy of St. Bernard Project. This appeared in the March/April 2012 issue.
Get ready to learn about elephants if you volunteer with these rescued elephants. You will feed them, bathe them in the river and help with chores around the sanctuary PLUS eat some of the best Thai food around. It is an amazing experience and helps support Lek's dream of helping injured elephants. The 2 week stay is $800, which includes delicious meals and staying in a bamboo hut with mosquito net, mattress pad on floor. Meet in Chiang Mai and get driven as a group to the sanctuary about 1 hour away. This sanctuary is very popular. She has started another one as well on the other side of Thailand. These elephants need our support!
Last summer, Canadian medical school student Amy Gajaria, 27, joined a Brazilian circus. Gajaria volunteered for three weeks in Rio de Janeiro with Crescer e Viver (Grow Up and Live), a nonprofit circus school program that aims to educate and boost the self-esteem of children from low-income communities. “The kids have a chance to be physically active, express themselves creatively, and work with others,” says Gajaria. “A lot of them come from homes in favelas where they may not have great adult role models. They really look up to the circus school staff.”
Crescer e Viver is one of more than 50 programs that have partnered with the organization Iko Poran, which places international volunteers with Brazilian nonprofit groups that need an extra hand. Participants might teach English or environmental conservation, or coach soccer or gymnastics, among other possibilities. Gajaria has a...
The 8.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Chile in February 2010 greatly affected Maule, one of the country’s wine regions. Liz Caskey runs food and wine tours in Chile that include stays at wineries. She recently introduced the pre- or post-trip option of helping to build new wings for an overcrowded shelter in Molina, a village in Maule where many people lost homes. When they’re not volunteering, guests visit wineries such as Casa Lapostolle, participate in tastings with winemakers, and sample local food products.
Liz Caskey Culinary and Wine Experiences, (904) 687-0340, custom food and wine trips start at $550 per day. Photo courtesy of Hotel Santa Cruz Plaza. This appeared in the March/April 2012 issue.
Hurricanes Dean and Gustav tore through the Caribbean island of Jamaica in 2007 and 2008, leaving many houses water-damaged or completely destroyed. Volunteer organization Projects Abroad, together with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, is dedicated to rebuilding more than 40 homes in the parish of Saint Ann, on the island’s northern coast.
HOW YOU HELP: Repair damaged homes by mixing mortar, laying blocks, fixing aluminum roofs, and installing windows; build sanitation facilities such as drains, toilets, and sewage systems.
HIGHLIGHTS: Practice basic Jamaican Creole in a language lesson with locals. Visit Bob Marley’s birthplace,the village of Nine Miles, located within the parish. Hike to waterfalls in the eastern Blue Mountains. Relax on a beach by the resort town of Ocho Rios.
Projects Abroad, (888) 839-3535, one-month trips from $3,145, including meals and homestay...
In 1950, Mother Teresa founded the order of the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, India, which is dedicated to serving the city’s poorest citizens. A Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Mother Teresa died in 1997, but her order has continued her work. Volunteers from around the world, no matter their religious affiliation,are welcome to join in the effort. You attend an orientation (held Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3 p.m.) in the Nirmala Shishu Bhavan home for children in Kolkata, and afterward a sister will assign you to a project. Possibilities include the Gandhi Welfare Center, where you might educate and feed young street children; or the Daya Dan home for mentally and physically disabled children, where you can provide support by playing with the kids. There is no time requirement or fee to volunteer. Participants must arrange their own lodging and meals in Kolkata.
Hands Up Holidays specializes in combining work and play. Its nine-day Taste of Thailand in Style trip begins with an overnight cruise from Bankok to Authaya, with tours of both cities. Three days are spent volunteering at an orphanage in Phang Nga, which is home to children who lost their families to the 2004 tsunami. Volunteers help with basic repairs, garden, and spend time with the children. Afterwards, the tour continues to a beach resort with access to great diving and snorkeling.
From $3,900, (201) 984-5372, handsupholidays.com. Photo courtesy of Hands Up Holidays.
Almost 70 percent of the French colonial buildings in the port town of Jacamel were damaged by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Elevate Destinations, a philanthropic travel company, leads eight- and 15-day trips that include opportunities to work on construction, reforestation, and other projects. “We’re very focused on ensuring that our volunteers work directly with Haitians,” says Elevate’s Urgent Service Director, Andrea Atkinson. Excursions to the Bassin-Blue waterfalls and a village outside of Port-au-Prince known for its artisanal metalwork are also included.
Elevate Destinations, (617) 661-0203, starting at $1,200. Photo courtesy of Elevate Haiti. This appeared in the March/April 2012 issue.
We visited the inspiring Green Gecko Project while in Siem Reap. It's an organization run by a husband and wife team who educates and cares for Cambodian street children. This is a great place to volunteer or drop off donations.
Green Gecko is more than a project, it’s a family. It currently provides 70 former street-kids with education, training, support, food and shelter. The children, lovingly known as “Geckos,” were excited to meet us and share their stories, artwork, and even a crop of purple rice they had just harvested from their test farm.
Geckos are supported into adulthood until they are equipped to live on their own. I was inspired by the bright, confident kids that we met and the empowering reach of project.
I volunteered with this children's organization for 5 weeks, and it was an amazingly fun and enlightening adventure. If you're looking for part-time volunteering (which I did as I was living across the city), or if you want to do it full-time, it's so easy! I know you're supposed to do it all official online, but I just emailed when I arrived and they were happy to take anyone. I helped with photography, the website, and record keeping. You can lead activities, or teach English and computer skills! They need help at the orphanage and at the local school, but also appreciate help in marketing if you've got the skills. This organization is like a family- and I keep in touch with everyone from the founder to the field manager to the volunteers. And the kids make it all worthwhile. Find out more at www.help2kids.org!
If you are dreaming of a unique experience, volunteer at the Roo Gully Sanctuary and learn how to feed and care for joeys, young wallabies and maybe a recovering kookabura. You can also rebuild fences and do other construction jobs that Carol needs done. You'll be spending a minimum of a month to learn the trade. Cost is $800 for room & board which includes pitching in to cook and clean! Go ready to work, be motivated, and find things to do without being told what to do. Carol depends on volunteers to keep her amazing grassroots sanctuary going. Someday I hope to return to Roo Gully to spend time with Carol catching up and to cuddle those wonderful joeys! If you fly in to Sydney, you might want to take the train across Australia to Perth before heading down to Boyup Brook & the roos.
I recently spent 10 days in Uganda working with Outreach Uganda (OU); helping women displaced by the LRA war. Although my third visit to Uganda with OU, this was my first visit to the villages up north. This photo was taken in the village of Agwata where we are working with the women to teach them skills to help them rebuild their lives after the war. Amazing women; amazing land, amazing experience!
Wandering through rows of basil and tomatoes, with the Manhattan skyline in the background and volunteers weeding and chatting away, I am struck by an intense 'I (heart) NY' moment. The sunny Eagle Street Rooftop Farm is a large urban garden with a lovely atmosphere that is quintessentially Brooklyn.
Volunteers are welcome to spend an afternoon helping to maintain this diverse organic farm (check website for times) that supplies many of the local restaurants. Visitors can see the garden and leave with fresh vegetables from the onsite farm market.
The unassuming building below houses a sound studio, which means that the lucky chickens living atop it are some of the first to hear the latest musical talent out of Brooklyn. It's a good life!