In the midst of this volunteering explosion, cooperation is one of the most important things an organization must embrace. As we learned from the Industrial Revolution (and from every single step we’ve made away from direct subsistence) delegating and working together is the key to success for the largest numbers. As a global network is built, each new organization must become part of that network—building on to the best parts by seeking out the people who are doing the most good. Once a working infrastructure is built, there is no reason to start a new one, especially when the early stages of building can be so difficult and can burn up so many precious resources. Instead, new resources can best be utilized in tandem with pre-existing systems. To bring all of this out of the theoretical: a volunteer organization can do the most good by working with other high-quality established organizations overseas.
Wildlife volunteering is incredibly popular and for good reason. Animals are helpless. They can’t argue for their habitats or negotiate to change energy policy. They can’t advocate for their children. Often wildlife volunteers are interested in more than simply saving a single creature. They want to see habitats protected on a global scale. They care about the health and welfare of our planet and want animals to survive for future generations. I happen to be an avid wildlife volunteer. I believe that animals and the environment deserve more attention. Without the food and shelter nature provides, millions of people would find themselves homeless and starving. The problem is multifaceted and complex but however you look at it, our world’s creatures are in peril and they need our help.
Naturally, the voluntourism industry aims to serve the largest number of people possible. It’s kind of like politics: one party trying to appeal to the largest demographic by riding the middle. As the market grows, more and more organizations are providing streamlined, polished, non-threatening excursions that get people excited without frightening them. This is great because it means more people are deciding to travel and volunteer. But for adventurous volunteers who are looking for something less polished—something challenging, remote, and raw—these voluntours may not be a good fit. These travelers are the third party voters, people who like small organizations that don’t compromise on specific issues (like adventure). For them I suggest Fronteering, an exciting volunteering organization that brings travelers off the beaten path to experience isolated cultures in remote areas.
When I was about nine years old, I decided to save the whales. I wrote up a petition and collected over 500 signatures from my neighbors (this was before the Internet, when 500 signatures meant a solid two weeks of canvassing). I sent my petition to my senator and got a hand-written response and an invitation to the Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute to learn more about conservation. It was thrilling to feel like I’d done something to help the animals I loved the most, and to be recognized for my passion and desire to help. I’ve mentioned this project here before because it was the first time I ever stood up for something I believed in. It was the moment in my life when I realized that activism is possible for anyone, even for nine-year-old girls, and that every one of us needs to stand up for animals because they can’t stand up for themselves.
Elephants are some of the world’s most majestic creatures. They’re the largest living land animals on Earth. Known for their memory and intelligence, Elephants are a symbol of wisdom in Asian cultures. When I was a girl living in Kenya, I spent long days by the game preserve’s salt lick, watching the elephants interacting with each other and caring for their young. Once, three hyenas tried to attack one of the babies and the adults surrounded her in a giant circle, trumpeting their furious sounds and rearing up, thrashing their massive tusks in the air. The hyenas skulked back into the underbrush. The baby was safe. Elephants migrate over huge distances, through deserts, to find watering holes. The matriarchs teach the younger females how to find the water, where to find food, how far to march… elephants are some of the only animals besides humans that have culture. They have history. They have communities. They have no natural predators and yet, elephants all over the world are facing possible extinction.