Posts Tagged ‘volunteer travel’

Happy Birthday Dalai Lama — Volunteer to Celebrate

Dalai Lama quoteJuly 6, is the 84th birthday of His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.

To celebrate, practice what HE preaches and find new ways to express compassion and connection in your world. One of his more famous quotes: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

If you’re particularly inspired by him, here are a couple of Dalai Lama-specific volunteer opportunities to check out.

The Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education, in Vancouver, seeks volunteers for all of its expanding programs, including their renowned “Educating the Heart” program. Find out more here.

Traveling to India? (Lucky you!) The Dalai Lama Institute for Higher Education in Bangalore welcomes volunteers who, in return for their service, are able to learn the Tibetan language, Buddhist philosophy, and receive room and board while volunteering. Check out their needs and opportunities at this link.

Dalai Lama Fellows is a global program authorized by him, working with social innovators and those working toward worldwide peace, justice, and ecology. Several fellows of the program have developed and launched programs around the world that need dedicated volunteers. Find your perfect match here.

Cuba Opening—Is it Time to Volunteer?

cuba-flagYesterday’s historic move toward making Cuba an accessible destination for US travelers opens the door to a lot of other things, and not just cigars.

There are some fantastic volunteer opportunities in Cuba, a country that has faced lots of economic hardship but with provided healthcare, high literacy, low infant mortality, and tremendous cultural pride, many Cubanos insist there is no need for outside volunteer projects. It is important to look for trips with organizations that are culturally connected, have a spotless track record, and prioritize projects initiated from within communities, not those led by outsiders who think they know what is best for others (these are precepts appropriate to ALL volunteer vacations and service travel!)

Jakera has volunteer programs and Spanish immersion for visitors to Cuba. A Venezuelan-based company, they have been closely connected with Cuban communities since 2003.

Animal Research International, while an international organization, has legitimate, scientific field-based volunteer programs focused on bat research and conservation.

Real Cuba has a robust travel presence and expertise helping you find volunteer placement as well as travel off the beaten path to get you beyond Havana, crowded beaches, and the normal circuit for tourists.

Go Eat Give has sustainability and organic farming volunteer placements in the Cuban countryside.

Ethical Traveler hosts a people-to-people interactive arts-based trip with Cuba travel experts and deep cultural connections.

There are lots of other folks offering volunteer experiences in Cuba, and more will crop up in a hurry. Let your research be deep and thorough–you can almost guarantee that as the demand for this previously unattainable passport stamp grows, plenty of opportunists will hang shingle and try to convince you that with them you can make a difference. Be steadfast and insist on going in with eyes wide open.

Now Boarding…


40th Annual National Volunteer Week

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWell, here we are. National Volunteer Week is upon us (April 6-13), and it has been a part of the April calendar for four decades. It is a week for charitable and philanthropic organizations to recognize and laud the volunteer force, without which most could never continue. Volunteer work is the lifeblood of most active social change around the world. That is not to suggest that for-profit work doesn’t move mountains for positive impact…but the volunteers, the unpaid blood/sweat/and tears gang, really makes the sea change in communities. It is never for money. It might occasionally be for glory (even if only glorified in our own eyes). Mostly, giving selflessly for others or a cause is all about being human. Respecting connection. Touching other lives because we can, because that is what we are meant to do. Being open to receiving service is much more difficult than giving of ourselves, and both sides of the equation are noble.

There has been a spate of recent articles making the social media rounds about how international volunteering is all about making the privileged volunteer feel superior while doing nothing for, perhaps even harming, the communities they go to serve. I mourn this negative attention based on tiny individual experiences that people extrapolate to be condemnation of the entire venture of giving.

Give. Of yourself. That is all.

If you tried a volunteer stint and it wasn’t a good fit for your desires, skills, needs, personality, etc…move on, but don’t stop giving. That would be tragic–for you, most of all. Are there people for whom balance of power and inequality issues get in the way of being of good service? Yes. Are there shady businesses cropping up, like false orphanages for “orphanage tourism” to try and capitalize on the best intentions of visitors? Sadly, yes. Does this mean there is no need–hell no! If you have been burned by an illegitimate service organization, don’t try and make that mean that the system is broken. Warn the rest of us, and find your next volunteer opportunity that sends you home wiping your eyes from endless gratitude that you got to be part of something huge. THOSE experiences are everywhere. If being of service to a person or community of need much greater than your own confronts or triggers you–go work on behalf of endangered species, or clean up the beach, or advocate in front of congress for better air quality, or work a charity race/walk/cycle/swim/etc event for a health cause that inspires or has touched you.

There is a volunteer opportunity that will light your fire uniquely and astoundingly and because of it, you will never be the same. If you haven’t found it on your first, or even fourth try, you mustn’t think it is the volunteering that is wrong…and you mustn’t, ever, discourage others from giving of themselves. You steal from them such light they may never know they have.

Give. Of yourself. That is all.

After the Olympics, Things Really Heat Up When These Heroes Hit Sochi

300688_4017While the politics of scheduling the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia got lots of uproar, for good reason considering Russia’s human rights record, what’s done is done and, knock wood, the games have gone pretty well. The local dogs, feminist protestors, and LGBT community would definitely disagree, but let’s say it could have gone much worse.

While the Olympics get lots of national spirit raised in competing countries, the big event AFTER the Olympics gets our universal, global spirit perked up with the Paralympic Games. March 7-16, this competition is also in Sochi, Russia and uses the same sports facilities and venues (on which these games have already had an amazing effect: When Russian building projects got underway to host the Olympic Games, for the first time, with encouragement and coaching from the Paralympics organizers, the country mandated construction that was barrier-free so athletes and audience of all abilities can have access to the venues. Fingers crossed it sets a trend in Russia.)

The Paralympics are high-level competitive sports events for athletes with disabilities. The winter sports included in these games that follow every Olympic competition since the 1960s, are: IPC Alpine Skiing, Biathlon, Cross-Country Skiing, IPC Ice Sledge Hockey, and Wheelchair Curling. None of these elite sports heroes are looking for sympathy, but explore the website, watch the TV coverage, and you will find yourself inspired and moved and, I suspect, feeling tremendously grateful. The human body, nurtured and honored, cannot be stopped.

From the website FAQs regarding volunteering:

How can I volunteer for the Paralympic Games, World Championships and Regional Championships?

The best way to become a volunteer for the Paralympic Games, World Championships, and Regional Championships is to contact the Organizing Committees of the competitions. For the Paralympic Games, please go to or For World and Regional Championships, you can find a listing of events and contact information by accessing the calendar on this website.

Volunteer Travel With Soles 4 Souls

Haiti: Soles 4 Souls

300 million children around the world do not have footwear. Soles 4 Souls is that organization you’ve likely heard of, going into areas of need and delivering millions of shoes (and now clothes) to those that have none. They have been committed to saving the world, one pair at a time, since launching in response to the 2004 Southeast Asia tsunami. While the founders come from a faith-based tradition of service, the organization is non-denominational and steadfast in serving anyone regardless of religion, race, sex, or any variable–a person in need is a person in need.

Soles 4 Souls, as part of their delivery of shoes to impoverished communities, makes volunteer travel, as part of their team, available to folks like you and me. Their Travel With Us program involves 15-25 volunteers on a distribution team, and the not-exorbitant-at-all prices include a percentage of the cost of transporting the shoes and clothes, your airfare from a designated US connection city (for international trips), accommodations, meals, ground transportation, security, project supplies, insurance, translators, and country entry and exit fees if applicable. Costs vary depending on which distribution trip you jump on, to places like Haiti, India, Peru, Honduras, Tanzania, and Costa Rica. It’s hard work and long days, but incredibly rewarding as you will work one-on-one fitting the proper size shoe to kids who may have never owned a pair…and seeing the pride of getting new shoes, along with the health benefits and comfort that come with foot protection, will send you home with memories you never dreamed you’d have.