Posts Tagged ‘voluntourism’

Largest Protected Area on Earth Created – Now What? Volunteer!

underwater shot of endangered Hawaiian monk seal

Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal

Last week, President Obama signed legislation creating the largest protected area anywhere. The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (which was set aside as a protected Pacific ocean space in 2006) was quadrupled in size. The newly expanded marine preserve is now double the size of the state of Texas. Its area, called by some a “Blue Park,” encompasses a large spread of the waters to the NorthWest of the Hawaiian Islands.

Now a hefty 582,578 square miles, the National Monument is larger than all the US National Parks combined. It is now a protected sanctuary for thousands of species, many of them endangered, and many found exclusively in these waters. Its protection will stop any future deep-sea mining and other depleting practices. Commercial fishing is also restricted in these remote seas, though licensed recreational fishing is still permitted.

So here’s the cool part–to celebrate the newest baby park (a huge baby, at that) why not consider getting involved as a volunteer? Some of the Marine National Monument volunteer activities include: Communications and office-based help, habitat restoration on some of the atolls and small islands, wildlife sanctuary work, and wildlife biology volunteers. Some of the volunteer stints are smaller in commitment, some last up to 6 or 7 months living in remote places–a dream for a drop-off-the-grid service-oriented soul.

It sounds pretty dreamy to an island lover like me!


Photo credit: USFWS Headquarters via VisualHunt / CC BY

#BarbieSavior is Funny, But Maybe Damaging Too

Barbie doll behind rose stemsLook, I get it. I think the whole #BarbieSavior meme that has taken Instagram by storm is pretty hilarious–pretty dolls posed in the worst possible ways mocking “savior” voluntourism situations, clearly motivated by the plastic needs of the plastic character to assuage her own guilt and show the world how fabulous she is. (The photo in this blog, BTW, is NOT from BarbieSavior…it’s just Barbie)

I get that it’s all cool to be jaded and superior and above it all. Hell, I know lots of folks who make a living at it with professional snarkiness being their trade.

I also wonder if that route isn’t too easy. I wonder if pissing all over the best intentions of others moves us forward in even the slightest way, or if it, as I suspect, demeans and degrades us all, the critics as much as those they criticize. I think it’s brilliant that Savior Barbie has a tribal tattoo of the African continent, and gives her high heel pumps to tiny dolls of color, and puts dreadlocks in her perfect blonde hair. She is the Queen of cultural appropriation and, by herself (and her very astute creator), serves as a terrific cautionary tale…HOWEVER…what happens when you shame the folks that truly ARE making a difference?

Especially with the political process going on right now, I have a fair bit of cynicism exhaustion.

What happens when the NGOs and charitable organizations around the world doing truly meaningful, progressive, transformative work that is generated from WITHIN the communities (not delivered…or dispensed… from without) cannot survive without volunteer efforts?

What happens when the foundations shutter due to lack of interest and it guts the jobs of the locals who were running the programs? All so we can feel holier than thou pointing out how others feel holier than thou?

It’s pretty messed up that our default setting seems to be resignation and negativity and suspicion when we are faced with stories of people trying to do something positive in the world.

Do I sound defensive? I am quite sure I am. AND I firmly believe we can help educate and uncover the multitude of amazing, effective, non-harming ways that people can volunteer that leaves ALL in a better place than they would be without these programs and initiatives.

We can teach people about how to look for shady companies and avoid them. We can help them know the questions to ask of voluntourism organizers. We can illuminate the way to diagnose if a program is generated by the people served, and if it is their genuine wish to have help and how to discern and avoid like the plague those that are band-aids or put locals out of work or exist mainly as feel-good photo opps that do more harm than good.

One sassy college student’s experience with a crappy couple of volunteer ventures she didn’t vet very well can not be extended to the entire world’s volunteer situation, no matter how many people share her blog. She is WRONG, not about her experience, but about making that mean that her very specific and unfortunate circumstances are somehow universal.

My main question: Is that really where you want to put your energy? Does doubting and damning somehow give you something?

I ask because I want to know.

I ask myself.

*and by the way…in addition to being truly funny, the folks at BarbieSavior.com have this great statement on their site:

Together we have over a decade of studying, traveling, and working abroad. While this left us cynical and jaded enough to create Barbie Savior, we know full well that this issue – and these conversations – are so much bigger than us.

We don’t have the answers. This site we hope will become a place where we can pose questions, promote conversation, and try to learn together how to best do better.


Photo: horantheworld | CC License

World Turtle Day – You Can Help

pexels-photo-38452Today, May 23, is World Turtle Day, so give some love to the shelled wonders of the world. More than one species of sea turtle is endangered, and all of them need us to be caretakers of the seas to better protect the environment they share with so many species. Saving the integrity of oceans saves land masses as well.

As a kid, visiting touristy places with my family, I had an unshakable fascination with the tiny box turtles with shells painted with pictures of attractions as living souvenirs (Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, etc–better to buy a postcard or shot glass or thimble or license plate with your name on it). It was undoubtedly an unhappy, and unnaturally short life for the turtles as they scrambled over one another in plastic tanks outside a shop, next to the wind chimes and seashell picture frames. My own reaction shifted to revulsion and my activist blood began to boil when my folks told me that the paint would cause harm and probably kill the turtles. From that point forward, I would refuse to even cross the threshold of any store selling them (care of the tiny turtles is also a fair bit trickier than the tourists of the 1970s likely realized, also guaranteeing an unnecessarily short life for most).

Toward a much better life for turtles, and trying to improve aqua environments, Clean Ocean Access is championing work for cleaner oceans and marine debris solutions. Consider volunteering with their Rhode Island-based projects, not just on World Turtle Day, but any day.

On the opposite coast, in California, Heal the Bay works tirelessly to protect and improve the Pacific oceanscape, and their work has been accomplished with the help of over 100,000 volunteers just like you. Check out opportunities.

Before you book your next volunteering gig with these turtle champions or one of so very many others near you (an internet search for “Turtle Volunteer” yields loads of results), surf over to the website for Greenpeace and send an S.O.S. to world leaders on behalf of turtles everywhere, and all their aquatic neighbors, to protect their homes…and lives.

I’ve been blessed enough to snorkel among honu (the Hawaiian for green sea turtle) and it is simply magical and meditative to glide in the water with them. Making sure next generations can also see them (from a safe and unobtrusive distance, of course) is so important.

HAPPY TURTLE DAY!

On Equal Pay Day Commit to Volunteering for Women

Today is Equal Pay Day, one of those oops-we’re-doing-it-wrong shake your head sorts of days…it is the day each year when a woman’s earnings from the year before would finally catch up to one year of a man’s earnings doing the same work.

Yep, still true, it takes until April for a woman to earn what a guy took home by last December. On average, full-time working women still only make about 79 cents to a dollar for a man (better than the 72 cents of a few years ago, but c’mon…really?)

The wage gap costs the average full-time working woman about $430,000 dollars over her lifetime. Here’s the perplexing other side of the coin, and I know we’re all ramped up about minimum wages and unskilled labor making more than military, and those are entirely separate issues (about which…surprise…I have some very specific views…) but if we CLOSE the wage gap, we could add as much as $4.3 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy by the year 2025.

Since that closing of the gap won’t happen today, in the meantime, while you add your name to this petition to stand up for equal pay, here are a few volunteer opportunities around the world that you might consider that are dedicated to equality for women:

Voluntourism, Killer Whales, and SeaWorld’s Tilikum

adult and young orcas in wild

Photo: Christopher Michel – CC License

You’ve likely seen, or at least heard about the documentary Blackfish, exploring the life and striving times of captive killer whales, or orcas, at SeaWorld marine parks. While SeaWorld has been goaded by the resulting uproar into some changes in planned habitat restructuring and living conditions for their largest resident animals, there are many who feel captive orcas can never be appropriate.

The main storyline of the film focuses on a particular whale named Tilikum. This 35-year-old cetacean over-earned the “killer” moniker by being responsible for the deaths of three people while in captivity for more than two decades. Now, SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida has announced that Tilikum has an infection from which he will not recover, and he is in declining health. It’s a rough life in a cement pool too small for comfort, no matter how attentive the care (and, to be fair, SeaWorld’s staff caretakers and medics are dedicated and skilled animal lovers) and many believe it has been tantamount to torturing the whale for the majority of his life.

The flip side of this difficult coin is the marine study of orcas in their natural habitat, like this brand new volunteer expedition from Earthwatch: Killer Whales and Their Prey in Iceland. The first of several offerings of this 12-day voluntourism service trip is offered in June of 2017, where you will help study the feeding behavior of orcas in Vestmannaeyjar in the Westman Islands in the south of Iceland. Some of your time will be on shore, some on boats, as you scan for whales and take detailed scientific research notes on behavior of individual whales. You’ll be thoroughly trained and also get up close and personal as you assist the scientist research team to collect small (non-harming) skin and blubber samples from whales to biopsy and record diet, pollutant levels, and genetic information. You’ll be living at the research field station in dormitory accommodations, cooking and sharing time and laughs with your fellow volunteers.

This is a leading study of the species, and, like all Earthwatch volunteer opportunities, the work you do actually advances scientific understanding–this work, in particular, will help establish policies to better protect killer whales.

Travelocity Doubles Down to Support Voluntourism

From my second post-earthquake voluntourism trip to Haiti in 2012

From my second post-earthquake voluntourism trip to Haiti in 2012

I loved the news that Travelocity is re-invigorating their commitment to voluntourism, making service travel desirable, and even in some lucky folks’ cases, available and accessible.

The company’s Travel for Good portal is bringing welcome eyeballs to the concept of voluntourism, a travel category that bloggers had been piling on lately, accusing heartfelt service travel seekers of being motivated by wealthy guilt or savior complexes, or just being spoiled rich kids. So misguided, jaded, and wrong—truly frustrating that they don’t recognize what’s going on out there in the real world, where more and more people are making significant differences every day.

With the travel category’s popularity has come the next wave of hucksters trying to rip well meaning folks off or get high fees paid to line their pockets, but that’s not new to the tourism world. I always heartily suggest would-be voluntourists ask lots of questions, talk to previous clients, and have crystal clarity about who initiated the project and why (projects should be generated by the community served, not outside agencies who are not fluent in the nuances of a community’s needs).

The Travel for Good program also brings a web-sticky element of competition into the mix, with a social media contest giving away travel expenses and donations to causes for contest winners.

Go explore. Let your imagination run wild about ways you can help. Enter the contest

and win an amazing voluntourism trip! For just about every cause you can imagine, there is a way to get involved to really help. Every step you make toward creating a more workable world is significant.

Reality Tours Open Eyes Around the World

Haiti Capital 2010

Haitian capital post-quake 2010

This travel company was recently brought to my attention, and I’m loving them: Global Exchange.

Their Reality Tours take clients to rich and intriguing destinations we might not even know we need to add to our bucket lists. North Korea, Afghanistan, Rebuilding Nepal, Iran (all places I would LOVE to go) and so many more, but the genuinely exciting part is the context in which you travel. To explore and discover human rights causes, or sustainability efforts, or post-disaster recovery, or food scarcity programs, women’s rights—it is issue-based travel and connection.

The company’s tag line is: “…an international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic, and environmental justice around the world.” Their experiential education excursions connect deeply to communities and issues, and help make a real difference while fostering true understanding far more deeply than the levels we glean from most media. Over 100 trips a year to 40 destinations means you can absolutely find a trip that is meaningful and supports the issues about which you are passionate.

In addition to travel opportunities, their robust website offers plenty of other ways to get involved (including great “5-Minute Actions“), events, thoughtful blogs from past participants, and other programs. Go explore. Fair warning, you may disappear down the rabbit hole of intrigue the way I did, fantasizing about my next opportunity for impact travel.