Volunteer with Elephants at Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park

Resident Elephant at Elephant Nature Park

Image source: Phototracs.com

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.

Blue Ventures: Discovery Through Research

Blue Ventures Malaysia Project

Image source: Odt.co.nz

There is a close relationship between environmental conservation work and helping people. In many cases, like that of the Galapagos Islands, the restoration of habitats and rebuilding of populations leads to an increase in ecotourism that benefits a local region economically. In other cases, conservation directly impacts a community’s ability to find food, to farm, and to enjoy their own backyards. Conservation also has a watershed effect… literally. As habitats are cleaned up, the entire ecosystem improves, and that includes fresh water sources. Polluted bodies of fresh water harm humans just as much as they harm animals. If a community is located on the seashore, deep sea conservation efforts often have an immediate effect on the shallow fishery. More healthy fish means more food for humans, and it means a healthier economy to boot. The food chain is a complex system. When it is disrupted at any point, that disruption has a domino effect down the chain in both directions. Conservation projects teach us that humans are part of that chain. We suffer when it is disrupted too.

ATTA Survey on Voluntourism: It’s Growing!

Micato Safaris

Image source: Ngadventure.typepad.com

I’ve been speaking with a lot of people in the voluntour industry lately and they all agree: voluntourism is an expanding industry. It’s an exponential equation: after people participate, they share their experiences with friends and family. Volunteering is infectious. We are inspired by the good deeds of others. I believe, deep inside, we all want to improve the world around us, even if we don’t know it or understand how. Seeing the effects of volunteering on the people we care about is transformative. It demonstrates the power and importance of something that might at first glance seem onerous or unappealing (like Paul Rudd in My Idiot Brother). I’ve been watching the industry grow. Every week it seems like there are more organizations popping up, and more volunteers are asking how to get involved. It’s very exciting to see the numbers reflecting my hunch… that more and more traditional tourism companies are incorporating volunteering into their programs.

The Hero Projects: Adventure Voluntourism

Whales in Alaska

Image source: Theheroprojects.com

The world needs more heroes. Heroes are people who step up, who face challenges selflessly and with resolve. Heroes help others when they don’t have to. There are so many people with privilege in this world—people who have everything they need but don’t look beyond their neatly kept front yards. I don’t blame these people, in fact, often I am one of them. It’s easy to live, to move through each day focused on the little things. We are all concerned with our own well-being: our relationships, jobs, and dreams. Sometimes we need reminding that we live in a global context, that our privilege stands on the shoulders of other people’s need. We don’t all have to be Angelina Jolie, but we do have to do more. Inequality is an innate part of life but that doesn’t mean we should accept it. Fighting inequality is everyone’s responsibility and it starts with a simple choice: deciding to volunteer.