Archive for the ‘500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference’ Category

Happy Buddha’s Birthday

Different sects of Buddhism celebrate the birth date of Buddha at different times with different holidays (often tied to cycles of the moon). Throughout much of Southeast Asia, that date this year is today, May 10. Theravada is the dominant form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, and Laos. Theravadins combine observance of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death into one holiday, called Vesak, Visakha, or Wesak, also sometimes known as Buddha Day.

In honor of the day, here are a few volunteer vacation ideas from 500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference with direct ties to Buddhism:

Teach English to Buddhist Monks in Sri Lanka, with Global Crossroads or Institute for Field Research Expeditions. 2-week projects where you will live with a local host family and work with young men, ages 8-20, who have dedicated their lives to Buddhist practice.

Buddhist Pilgrimage Volunteering in Thimpu, Bhutan. Spiritual seekers make their way through mountain passes, and you can custom-choose how best to volunteer your time during your journey. Amitabha Bhutan Tours.

Ladakh, India Buddhist monastery program to assist locals around holy sites. Global Eco Spiritual Tours.

Dharma Wheels Buddhist Bicycle Pilrimage is 2 days on a dharma trek in Marin County, California, in the spirit of generosity, and dependent on volunteers.

I don’t know about you, but my life has been pretty chaotic lately…so these sound particularly appealing. If you need me, I’ll be outside, in the lotus position, chanting…shhhhhhhhhh

The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for Kids Facing Cancer and Serious Illness

Photo: The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp

Maybe it is because I live in Connecticut, not far from where Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward set up home (and theater–the Wesport Country Playhouse) ages ago, but I hope no matter where I was that I would be as enthusiastic as I am about The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. The residential summer camp in Ashford, Connecticut, was started by Newman back in 1988, to serve children who are coping with cancer and other serious illness, and their families. Week-long summertime camp programs are the mainstay of the organization, and the work has expanded to include outreach to hospitals and clinics and ongoing services for children, families, and caregivers–more than 15,000 each year–and all of the services are provided free of charge.

Named for the secret, outlaw hiding place from the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, it is a place where kids get away from being defined only by their conditions, and get to be free from being a patient and instead can just be kids. Children diagnosed with cancer, sickle cell anemia, HIV/AIDS, hemophilia, and other life-threatening conditions get to laugh and play and get empowered in activities designed to be sure nobody fails at archery, mini golf, swimming, boating, fishing, horseback riding, arts & crafts, sports, theater, and camping. Think of the liberty of not being different because you have no hair, or bandages, or tubes that have to be inserted, or are tired or weak from treatment or a condition, but instead, you look around to find everyone else is like you–and loving the time they are enjoying outdoors, in this community that becomes family for a week. Camp sessions are one-week long, and volunteers make this world go round. An 8-day commitment to the residential camp program (one day of orientation and seven days with campers) can absolutely change your life while you change the lives of these amazing and inspiring young folks.

Are you up for a summer vacation after which you will never be the same?


Volunteer with Borneo Orangutan Survival

It’s been a decade since Borneo Orangutan Survival started rescuing nearly extinct orangutans. Their habitat is being decimated by a global demand for wood and palm oil, and recent wildfires have turned a crisis into an emergency. The orangs are rescued and rehabilitated with a goal of being re-released into wild preserve zones, and locals in Indonesia are learning how to care for them while they stay at the project facilities, taking a stake in the future of the neighbor species. Care is remarkable similar to childcare…as they are remarkably similar to us.This is the largest primate rescue project in the world with about 1,000 orangutans being cared for and prepared for return to the rainforest.

In addition to hoping for your financial support (you can make a donation here), there are inspiring 2-week volunteer programs at one of the facilities, Samboja Lestari. It will be hard work as you improve habitat areas and enclosures, feed, and care for adults and orphan young animals…but accommodations are comfortable, and holding the hand of a young orang, or bottle feeding a baby, will be something you won’t soon forget. You can also adopt an orangutan from home, to hold you over until you can book your tickets to Borneo.

International Literacy Day

Today, September 8, is International Literacy Day. In most districts I know of in the US, kids are back in school this week, and while test scores and statistics might be bleak most years, especially as school budgets are consistently cut year after year, those kids are at least in school. Illiteracy is, of course, a huge issue for young people and adults around the world. UNESCO tells us that 796 million adults lack minimum literacy skills. 1-in-5 adults is not literate, and of them, 2/3 are women. 67.4 million children are out of school, and more will voluntarily drop out or be removed this year. The 10-year period from 2003-2013 was declared by the United Nations as the “Literacy Decade,” and almost any society in the world understands that one of the largest building blocks toward success for their communities is education. It fuels every other endeavor.

There are volunteer programs around the world dedicated to education and teaching. You don’t need a degree or certificate to add support and knowledge for an individual or group.

Literacy Connections

Literacy Assistance Center, NY


Literacy AmeriCorps

Service Nation Literacy Volunteers

FirstBook Literacy Volunteers

…and that’s just a jumping off place…

Baby Sea Turtles Rockin the Gulf

Nature is pretty amazing. We keep hitting it with our best destructive shot trying to destroy the planet, and Mother Nature might be on the ropes, but she comes back out on top every time. We are overdue for some good news from the Gulf, and there actually is some. Since the BP oil disaster, wildlife officials have just declared the waters of the Gulf of Mexico safe for young sea turtles. The young hatchlings reside on the surface of the water, and since surface oil abatement has been most effective (not so much the dispersed and suspended oil, but surface cleanup is going pretty well), that level can again support life. Additionally, thousands of turtle eggs that were rescued from the spill zone beaches and relocated to Cape Canaveral are now hatching in strong numbers. Most of those hatchlings are being released in the Atlantic Ocean waters instead of the Gulf to maximize their chances of survival.

Barbara Schroeder, the national sea turtle coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, helped plan the desperate rescue. This was an unprecedented effort designed to keep thousands of newly hatched turtles from swimming straight into the gulf’s toxic oil. Biologist, sea turtle specialist, and turtle “midwife” (as described in the St. Petersburg Times) Jane Provancha, said, “It’s not exactly cutting-edge science. It’s mostly just a dramatic conservation action. It’s probably the best action under the worst circumstances.”

Here is the link to CharityGuide and their volunteer opportunities for sea turtle rescue and conservation.

Here are the international volunteer and job listings from

Continue reading

How to Plan a Volunteer Vacation

Here is an article at Frommer’s about six steps to planning your volunteer vacation. I was lucky enough to be asked for my two cents as Melinda Quintero put the piece together.

How to Plan a Volunteer Vacation in 6 Steps

Whether you’re looking to volunteer for an afternoon or for several weeks while on the road, organizations around the world are eager for your help. Don’t know where to start? You can plan a successful volunteer vacation by following these six steps.

By Melinda Quintero
July 28, 2010

Integrating any amount of volunteer time into your next trip requires some research before you leave. But as countless volunteer veterans will tell you, it’s worth the planning.

You can live abroad as a volunteer for an extended period of time through programs such as the Peace Corps ( However, traveling as a short-term volunteer has grown in popularity in recent years as more and more charities, non-profits, NGOs, and even travel agencies expand their programs to include appropriate work for a more casual visitor. In early 2010, even Disney offered a free day at a Disney park in exchange for a day of volunteer work with the HandsOn Network (

Here are some tips to help you find the best voluntourism trip. Pick up a copy of Frommer’s 500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference for even more inspiration. Continue reading

Save Tigers Now

WWF/Martin Harvey

2010 is the “YEAR OF THE TIGER” on the Chinese lunar calendar. How ironic that the very existence of tigers is teetering on the edge right now as so many have been killed and poached and wiped out from their natural environments. There are probably about 3,200 tigers left in the wild–that’s in the entire world. The number of tigers in the wild has declined by 97% and three subspecies are already extinct.

The Chinese calendar repeats every twelve years. Continuing the decimation of the species means that by the next Year of the Tiger, in 2022, they could all be gone.

The World Wildlife Fund has a subsite: Save Tigers Now where you can learn more as well as donate directly to their conservation efforts. The goal is to reverse this ridiculous decline, and in fact DOUBLE the population of tigers in the wild by the year 2022. Leonardo DiCaprio is the ambassador for Save Tigers Now, and his commitment (to this and so many hugely important environmental issues), and ours, is what it will take to counter the poaching demand (tiger skins, bones, and organs are used in Chinese medicine and as tourist souvenirs) and indiscriminate clearcut logging and habitat destruction in Asia.

Anyone who knows me (or has looked at my photo on the “about” page of this blog) knows that I am wild about tigers. My experience at the Tiger Temple in Thailand and holding 5-week old tiger cubs as well as interacting with an adult tiger are memories that will always be with me. May we take the action required so that tigers can be more than only memory.

World Cup-Inspired

So I’m not sure whether Paul the Oracle Octopus will choose Spain or the Netherlands to win the World Cup, but I do know that the World Cup has finally conquered the US with Football Fever (soccer for us with our weird naming), bringing us up to the level of the rest of the world where the sport has been the most popuar on the globe.

When I was researching sport volunteer options for 500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference, I had a tough time filling a chapter with any sport-focused volunteering that WASN’T soccer. I found a swimming coaching program here, maybe teaching tennis to kids in a distant land there, but mostly it was all about footie. So if you are a player or juts a fan, you can help kids and adults around the world find the importance of teamwork, exercise, and community building all with that black and white ball (or a bunch of t-shirts tied into a sphere–the beauty of soccer is there isn’t any fancy equipment or playing field required).

Find out more by checking these out, and using it as a launching pad–there are many more…

The Homeless World Cup takes place in a  different city each year, after qualifying tourneys in their own countries, championship teams, all homeless players, converge for a huge tournament run by volunteers like you. 2010 is in late September in Rio.

Also in Rio is a coaching kids volunteer gig via Institute for Field Research Expeditions.

i-to-i does soccer coaching volunteer vacations in Posada, Argentina (as well as a host of other volunteer vacation opportunities).

World Endeavors will get you to Accra, Ghana to work with kids as they play through their passion for football.

Pitch in teaching on the pitch in La Esperanza, Honduras with Intibuca Soccer Volunteers.

In Madurai, India, the sport and community clubs keep active with international volunteers who visit and work with Travellers Worldwide. Working with the same organization, kids in Ja-Ela, Sri Lanka need volunteers like you to help get fields safe (gravel, dirt, and broken glass don’t make for great play) and run tournaments.

How about some soccer coaching in Chisinau, Moldova? Projects Abroad gets you there and sets you up to help kids excel.

In Hout Bay, South Africa, the vuvuzelas were blaring for the World Cup, and kids are eager learners, benefitting from your coaching with Abang Africa Travel.

Closer to home, in Santa Cruz, California, the Resource Center for Nonviolence has inspiring volunteer programs focused on community sport/soccer league for at-risk kids.

There are 14 urban areas across the United States: Atlanta, Bay Area/San Francisco, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, DC, Denver, L.A., Miami, Milwaukeee, New England, New York, Seattle, and St Louis that all benefit from the volunteer efforts of soccer coaches and supporters via the America SCORES program for sport and creative expression.

Radio Interview

I recently had the great opportunity to talk with Sam Litzinger, the host of The Animal House radio program on WAMU 88.5 FM American University Radio. The show aired yesterday, Saturday, as this talk show focused on animals does every week, at 7:00am. We chatted for a spell about Volunteer Vacations that afford the opportunity to work with animals.

Here’s a link to our segment if you want to give a listen. (Just hit PLAY once you go to the Animal House show page)

Rome Food Bank

It can be remarkable simple to find volunteer opportunities wherever you may roam. As you  grow more and more savvy in getting to know organizations and charities who are aligned with what matters most to you, you discover who some of their partners are in other destinations. Your Internet searching skills get more refined as well.

I just arrived in Rome, Italy yesterday to nicely warm weather (it was cold in France…for end of May), and thought I’d post this easy volunteer option “When in Rome…”


In 1986, the need became so evident that European national NGOs got together and created the European Federation of Food Banks ( Several urban and rural areas throughout Europe have food bank projects serving the hungry and homeless in their region. In Rome, volunteers are needed every day in the warehouse, on delivery trucks, in the kitchens, and on collection routes obtaining donations form restaurants, corporate kitchens, and other businesses. Able bodies are needed that are willing to pitch in and take direction (even without Italian language skills, enough English is spoken to point and ask you to lift, stack, sort, or stir). When you know how much time you have to give, contact the Food Bank to get on the roster. Banco Alimentare del Lazio (CH) (Tel: +39/06 4890 7463;

Instead of throwing coins in a fountain, put them to work.