Travel

NO PAMPERING HERE

On do-good vacations, travellers pay for the privilege of working for a cause

BARBARA WICKENS April 11 2005
Travel

NO PAMPERING HERE

On do-good vacations, travellers pay for the privilege of working for a cause

BARBARA WICKENS April 11 2005

NO PAMPERING HERE

On do-good vacations, travellers pay for the privilege of working for a cause

Travel

BARBARA WICKENS

VOLUNTEER VACATION, working holiday, voluntouring—aren’t all those terms oxymorons? Whatever the name, travel with a focus on altruism is a small but growing segment of the tourism industry. The phenomenon is a step beyond ecotourism, where the goal is to do no harm; the aim here is to do good. It can be as exotic as reintroducing the Przewalski horse to the Mongolian steppes, as prosaic as repairing traditional dry stone walls in England’s Peak District, or as heartwarming (and heart-rending) as caring for orphans in Peru. Such diverse vacations, which can last anywhere from a few days to a few

weeks, have certain things in common: they don’t require special skills; they provide a familiarity with place and people that conventional trips simply cannot; and they offer the camaraderie that comes from working in small groups of like-minded individuals.

Still, the goals of the project come before the needs of the volunteer. What’s more, the vacationer pays (from $100 for a weekend to $2,500 for two weeks) for the privilege of helping people in need, conserving

the environment or adding to the body of scientific knowledge. But the trips aren’t all work and no play: most have free time built in so travellers can take in the local sights. Of course, if you’re staying in a yurt in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan helping botanists inventory wild plants, your off-hour options are probably limited. And while the quoted price doesn’t include travel to a project’s rendezvous

site, it’s usually all-inclusive: food ranges from camp-fire grub to gourmet, and shelter can be anything from tents and barns to more typical tourist accommodations.

Taking time out for volunteer work has a long tradition. But overseas placements by groups like CUSO can last up to two years. Those with more enthusiasm than time were out of luck until the 70s, when voluntourism began to grow. Today, a wide range of organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, cater to travellers more interested in a good cause than a good tan.

Just how many such people there are became evident following the Dec. 26 tsunami that killed more than 150,000 in Southeast Asia. International organizations were swamped

by calls from people offering hands-on help. Relief groups like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders send only trained workers to disaster areas. But Developing World Connections, a new organization in Kamloops, B.C., that was in the process of creating work holidays in India, switched its focus. Similarly, i-to-i, of Leeds, England, and Global Crossroad of Baton Rouge, La., which already had projects in the region, quickly shifted gears and set up programs in the affected areas. Just as quickly, the volunteer positions sold out.

Of course, you don’t have to travel overseas to do valuable and compelling work in a spectacular setting. Canada, too, offers plenty of opportunities, many with the emphasis on environmental rather than social causes. Here are four Canadian volunteer vacation options:

FORTRESS OF LOUISBOURG ARCHAEOLOGY PROGRAM

LOUISBOURG, N.S.

Sponsor: Parks Canada http://fortressoflouisbourg.ca/ArchaeologyE Price: $595 without accommodation In August, 10 to 12 participants can join in one of two five-day supervised digs at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada. Originally a large French settlement founded in 1713, the fortress was demolished by the British in the 1760s. The site was largely untouched until the mid-

20th century, when archaeological and archival research began. This led to reconstruction of about 25 per cent of the fortified town and defensive walls, the largest such project in North America. Many remnants are remarkably well preserved, meaning there’s still much more to be unearthed.

MINKE WHALE RESEARCH

ST. LAWRENCE ESTUARY NEAR LES BERGERONNES, QUE.

Sponsor: Ecovolunteer www.ecovolunteer.org. uk Price: $1,565 for 13 days While based in a village about 220 km northeast of Quebec City, volunteers spend their days in inflatable boats on a protected stretch of water known for its marine life. The research is aimed at conserving the agile minke whale, the main target of today’s whaling fleets. Participants learn to call the surfacing whales and identify individuals by the natural markings along the animals’ dorsal fins.

CLIMATE CHANGE AT THE ARCTIC’S EDGE

CHURCHILL, MAN.

Sponsor: Earthwatch Institute www.earthwatch.org/expeditions/ kershaw.html#top Price: $2,670 for 10 days

ON THE WEB For additional working holiday resources, including online portals and organization websites, visit www.macleans.ca/voluntouring

In one of the more than 130 research projects Earthwatch Institute of Boston, Mass., sponsors in more than 50 countries, volunteers help scientists and staff at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre collect data on the impact of global warming on the Arctic’s ecosystem. This includes everything from taking core samples of permafrost to live-trapping small mammals. In their off hours, participants can watch beluga whales, go mountain biking and, when conditions are right, see the Northern Lights.

TALKING MOUNTAIN RANCH

ON THE FRASER RIVER,

80 KM NORTH OF LILLOOET, B.C. Sponsor: The Land Conservancy of British Columbia www. conservancy, be. ca/ conservation holidays Price: $210 for seven days The Land Conservancy protects almost 100,000 acres on more than 150 properties throughout British Columbia, and continues to add new ones. The group has recently raised more than 90 per cent of the money it needs to buy 156 acres in southern Vancouver Island to create a park for the Sooke Potholes, a series of idyllic and popular swimming holes along the Sooke River. This August, volunteers at Talking Mountain Ranch, a remote property deeded to TLC, will camp out while thinning and pruning forests and carrying out other chores necessary to conserve its biodiversity. Hfl