Helping people can take many forms. When we think of volunteering, we often think of performing physical labor, educating children, or providing medical attention. Of course, these are all essential services, but there are many other creative avenues out there for bringing aid to the people who need it. For example, Allan Lissner helps people by telling their stories with photographs.
There’s no doubt about it: voluntours cost money, even if all you have to pay for is the airfare. Typically though, with most trips that are planned through an organization, you’ll also have to pay a flat fee that covers your food and lodging during your stay. Much of the time, the money you spend to participate in a volunteer experience contributes directly to the project itself. For example, if you choose the Project Samos Children’s Village Project in Guatemala, your tour fees are guaranteed to contribute to the orphaned and abandoned children’s village infrastructure. This is certainly something to look out for when you’re deciding where to go and how much you’re going to spend.
When I was seven years old, my family moved to Nairobi, Kenya. We lived there for a year while my mom researched Pygmy music for her dissertation. That experience is a large part of the reason I’m so gung-ho about voluntouring with children. It’s funny how memory works. With a few exceptions, my early memories are more impressions and snapshots than specific events. I remember jumping in a pile of leaves but not when or with whom. I remember feeling angry with my dad but not why. All that changed when we moved to Africa.
After writing yesterday’s article about the Lewis family, I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact volunteering can have on families with children. The typical family vacation, especially if said family happens to include a teenager, is often rife with stress. Maybe the kids don’t want to go, or they’re moody and difficult. Every car ride is punctuated by a hundred are-we-there-yets. The Chevy Chase-style Big Ben/Parliament rotary tour comes to mind. Family vacations are supposed to be quality-time adventures. They’re supposed to end with everyone feeling closer, happier, more unified and refreshed. The trouble is, most typical family vacations don’t end that way at all.
Travel is irreplaceable. No matter how much you read or learn in school, you can’t capture the real flavor of a place and the people who call it home until you’ve been there. It can feel scary—there are so many unknowns—but taking that risk is part of what makes it so unforgettable. For children, travel is perhaps even more important. Seeing the world’s inequalities first-hand, realizing that any of us could have been born in the slums of Kibera, we learn that there is nothing special about those who are born into privilege. It’s just dumb luck. For those of us who are so lucky, shouldn’t we be doing more to make a difference?