for life propelled me to fulfill my dream of a year-long trip around
the world; but with a twist. I knew that I wanted more than simply
being a tourist looking at the world from arms-length. But how could
I accomplish my goal to gain a deeper understanding of foreign cultures
and benefit local people and the environment at the same time? Voluntourism
seemed the perfect solution, combining a sense of adventure with
active participation on a local projects. It also meant that though
traveling solo I would always be a part of a team and meeting new
people at the same time.
I decided to spend my year traveling as a volunteer at 11 different
projects around the world. At each I spent a minimum of one month,
in 10 different countries in all. And I chose projects that were
completely new to my life experience.
the Queen of Google researching volunteer opportunities on the Internet
for a solid six months, I studied innumerable different types of
volunteering: wildlife projects, community work, helping children,
conservation projects, oceanography, teaching English, and building
houses. I investigated many different projects and possibilities
all over the world until I narrowed down my choices to those that
both fit both my interests and my budget. The next trick was to
link together the travel plans like a giant puzzle. Thanks to the
wonderful interconnectedness and interdependence of the Internet,
I pieced it all together and set up a year-long itinerary that would
find me traveling to England, Italy, Greece, South Africa, Brazil,
New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, China, and Ireland.
I worked at a monkey sanctuary devoted to rescuing pet monkeys that
were illegally traded internationally. Tending lion cubs in Johannesburg,
including feeding baby bottles to young cubs, I learned about lion
prides. As a baboon monitor in Cape Town, South Africa, I kept baboons
from raiding towns and was fortunate to sit with a wild troop of
them. I worked at a wildlife hospital in Lesvos, Greece but for
only a week. (All travel has its setbacks. The man running the hospital
and I were not compatible.) At a kangaroo sanctuary in Perth, Australia
I learned to tend young joeys and I volunteered at an elephant sanctuary
in Chiang Mai, Thailand where I fed and bathed rescued elephants
that had been abused.
Yes, I was enjoying myself with wildlife;
but then I moved to other projects. In Yantai, China, I taught English
to high school students. In Altamura, Italy I worked at a restoration
project, and in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil I studied Portuguese while
working on a conservation project. In New Zealand I lived at a sustainability
sanctuary planting trees, gardens. This was a facility that generated
its own electricity using wind power. I learned to live and travel
leaving “a smaller footprint.”
My volunteer work as a newspaper reporter
in Midleton, Ireland gave me a chance to interview TV stars, concert
violinists, authors, and politicians. And in Israel, I worked at
an archaeological site. An amazing and once-in-a-lifetime additional
adventure during my year-long journey, was being able to travel
from Beijing to Moscow to Brussels on the Trans-Siberian Express
for five exciting days.
During my year of voluntourism I made countless
new friends, had thrilling adventures, and fulfilled a dream that
continues to enrich my life. Working side by side every day with
other members of an international team, I experienced a whole new
sense of collaboration. We talked endlessly about our different
life experiences, learned far more from each other than we could
ever have imagined — and we laughed a lot. I now carry a piece
of each country with me; each, like a friend, has added something
meaningful to my life. My heart is full; my experiences working
with passionate people on projects they cared about has given me
a new sense of purpose.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself
in the service of others.” — Mahtama (Mohandas) Gandhi
Voluntourism can be the perfect solution
for combining a love of travel with a desire to make a personal
connection with other cultures. It can also be an economical way
to travel. In the classes that I now teach on voluntourism, my goal
has been to find more and more opportunities that charge volunteers
only for room and board. I recommend many of the projects that I
worked on (rather than the expensive voluntourism projects) and
many new ones I have discovered since my return.
I have recently returned from teaching English
at Pueblo Ingles in Spain and will be traveling next to a wildcat
sanctuary in Costa Rica. Later this year, I will be working at a
chimpanzee sanctuary in the Congo. These are all free to fairly
Whatever your travel dreams, you can find a project to enrich your
life and learn about a culture while working together with others
like you from around the world.
For those who would like a copy of my 20-page
list on voluntourism opportunities around the world, please feel
free to email me at Joycemajor1@hotmail.com.
I would also want to recommend “carbon
offsetting” for those of you who would like to balance your
air travel with helping the planet. I have included below some websites
that you may find interesting in this regard.
My ongoing dream is to help more people learn
about volunteer travel, to enjoy the world in a new way, learning
and helping, growing and laughing.
Where I went
Monkey Sanctuary in Looe, England $100/week. If you
are wondering why there are monkeys in England it is because of
the international pet trade.
Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Gully Sanctuary, kangaroos in Perth, Australia $100/week
The Lion Park in Johannesburg, South Africa
Unfortunately this is now a fairly expensive project run by i-to-i.
Monitoring in Cape Town, South Africa
The contacts at the above link may be able
to help you volunteer here. The group I worked with is no longer
arranging volunteer travel. These
are the baboons I worked with!
Wildlife Hospital, Lesvos, Greece Free. The island
of Lesvos is gorgeous.
Valley Sanctuary Sustainability & Adventures in New Zealand
$380/week. They also need some long-term volunteers, however please
contact the organization for costs.
Network Volunteers I contacted this organization to
arrange to teach English in Yantai, China. They have many different
types of projects, and were great to work with. A volunteer teaching
post was around $500/month or $1000 for the full year!
Italian Restoration Project.
Email Tonio Creanza at email@example.com for restoration
or archeology work in southern Italy $500 for 2 weeks
This is the British group that I was going to do the
Turtle Conservation Project with before the tsunami hit. BCTV is
very well organized, and has many projects in many different countries.
The language and home stay program I participated in while I was
Brazil $1700 a month.
There are other countries as well where you can arrange such programs.
The organization also offers conservation projects on the weekend,
and language courses every day.
to the real world is the organization that now operates
the program I was in while doing newspaper reporting in Ireland.
Unfortunately this now is very expensive.
(formerly volunteerargentina.net) This is an excellent
site that lists free or very inexpensive projects throughout South
Carbon Offsetting. This
a way to help our planet’s environment as you travel. See
Travel International, TerraPass,
Joyce Major is currently working on a book,
Smiling at the World. watch for her new website to be launched soon
Joyce can be reached at Joycemajor1@hotmail.com