Posts Tagged ‘voluntourism’

Volunteers Rebuild Nepal, Brick by Brick

nepal travel

One year has passed since the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal in April last year. While Nepal is doing everything it can to recover and rebuild, the country is still in need of significant aid and resources.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, Projects Abroad initiated a Disaster Relief Project to assist with the recovery process. Since the project began in June 2015, hundreds of Projects Abroad volunteers have made incredible progress in helping with the organization’s goal of restoring a safe learning environment for children in the Kathmandu Valley. Currently volunteers’ efforts are focused on reconstructing Yashaswi Gurukul English Secondary School, the sixth Disaster Relief site to date. Their help has been invaluable.

volunteer nepal

When the work at Yashaswi Gurukul is completed, the new building will also serve another purpose. As aftershocks continue even nine months later, and the fear of another large-scale quake remains, the school building will be able to serve as a safe gathering space for the local community, in case of further disaster. Projects Abroad staff estimate that work at this site will conclude in the next month or so, and then volunteers will move on to the next site where they are desperately needed.

Projects Abroad has made a commitment, not only through Disaster Relief but also through Teaching and Care Projects, to restore stability to the education of young students. In working with dedicated local experts and volunteers, the organization is striving to get Nepalese communities back on their feet, brick by brick!

For more information on how to get involved yourself with Disaster Relief work in Nepal, have a look here:


Rough It in One of Panama’s Largest Indigenous Reservations

LOCATION: Soloy, Panama

The Ngobe People of Panama

The Ngobe People of Panama


WHAT VOLUNTEERS CAN DO: Teach English on an indigenous reserve, Build latrines and install drinking water systems, Develop a small village’s potential for ecotourism, Create their own projects
COSTS: Volunteering – Free!, Accommodations – US$36 per week (meals included)
MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS: Two-week time commitment, Intermediate Spanish, Medical insurance
This opportunity just flew into our inbox from the We think it sounds pretty life-changing and just what you might need to transition into the fall. And when we say ‘roughing it’, we mean it. This isn’t Glamping for ladies who lunch.
The Ngöbe Indians who call Soloy home lack safe water, latrines, and adequate housing. Many cannot read or write, but they know well the value of their ancient culture and of the natural beauty that surrounds them. The Ngöbe are taking the reins of their own development, careful to grow slowly and not pay too high a price for it. With visionary grassroots leadership and a real need for volunteers, a local organization, Medo, is helping the community make the transition.

To volunteer with Medo is to live a life far different from any you’ve known. It’s not only a step into another culture but also a step back in time. Proud of their vivid culture, the Ngöbe people live today much as they did a century ago, farming small plots of land to feed their families, piously worshipping their native god, and celebrating their colorful traditions. Without electricity or running water, this volunteer opportunity cannot be called comfortable. However, for anyone looking for a meaningful cultural experience (and up to the challenge), living amongst the Ngöbe is the opportunity of a lifetime.


Everyone knew Adán Bejerano was bright. Still, it was an exhilarating surprise to the community when he was offered a two-year scholarship to study natural resource management in the United States. Adán studied hard, and when he returned in 2003 he began using what he’d learned abroad to better his community.

In 2005, with the help of Canadian and American friends, Adán founded a non-profit. He called it Medo after a local legend who freed the Ngöbe people from oppression. Its mission is both simple and broad, fitting of a truly homegrown organization: to improve the lives of Soloy’s people. Over the years, that mission has lead to a variety of small-scale projects in agriculture, health, business development, education, women’s issues, and more. Whatever community needs arise, Medo responds with whatever resources it can muster. The organization’s ultimate vision is an economically developed Soloy that has preserved its environment and Ngöbe culture.

Panama (c) Ryan Lash Photography

Panama (c) Ryan Lash Photography


Medo is a tiny organization with incredibly limited staff and resources. Volunteers are vital to the organization’s success. In fact, many programs cease entirely when there are no volunteers to take charge of them. The limited resources also constrain them to hosting only four volunteers at a time. Therefore, it’s critical that every volunteer they accept be independent and capable of taking on a great deal of responsibility. Medo volunteers can choose to work in several different areas:

Medo envisions a future where Soloy has become an ecotourism hotspot. With vast untouched forests surrounding it, the tiny village clearly has potential. But Soloy has a lot of work to do before it can take full advantage of Panama’s booming tourism industry. Volunteers in the ecotourism program help local families set up hostels, restaurants, and tourism activities as well as market the village as a tourist destination.

Soloy has a charming cinder block school with a little over 100 students (aged 6 to 12) that welcomes volunteers to teach English classes. Experience, while not required, is preferred because this post is not a particularly easy one. Class sizes are large (up to 30 children) and the students’ level of proficiency is low. But Adán, in addition to running Medo, heads the school’s English program so volunteer teachers receive plenty of oversight and support.

Typically, volunteers in this program also hold English classes in the evenings for adults. Teaching resources are in short supply, so bringing an ESL book with sample lessons is encouraged.

Many homes in Soloy’s nearby rural communities lack access to clean water and basic sanitation. The health implications of this are profound (and depressing). When it can find funding, Medo works with families to install rain catchment systems and build latrines. Medo provides the materials and know-how, and recipients of these life-saving home improvements participate in the process by donating the necessary labor. Building a latrine takes two full weeks. During that time the recipient family is educated on water safety and sanitation as well as a number of other important health issues. Volunteers in this program hike to the rural communities each day to help with construction and provide basic health education.


Traditional Ngobe Dance

Volunteers with their own project ideas are welcome. Adán figures himself a good judge of what projects have the potential to succeed in his community. If a project is worth doing, he can get the community behind it. Note: If your project requires funds you will have to secure them yourself.


Incoming volunteers receive a tour of the village and an informal presentation on the Ngöbe history, culture, and language. Work-related training happens on the job.

There’s not much electricity in Soloy, which makes for early nights and early mornings. Workdays always start at 8 a.m. Some volunteers choose to contribute just two or three hours a day; others work a full eight. It’s your choice. The work week is Monday through Friday. Volunteer teachers should be aware that school ends at 2 p.m. and is closed on Fridays, leaving three-day weekends for exploring Panama.

Medo arranges homestays with local families for their volunteers. They cost US$36 per week and include all meals. People in Soloy live in very simple wooden shelters without electricity or plumbing. While rustic, many volunteers list living with a traditional Ngöbe family as a highlight of their experience.

A second option is to live in the Medo office with Adán and his brother. The office has a tin roof and cement floor, easily making it the nicest place in Soloy. Volunteers pay only US$5 per week for the spare room that they share with, at most, one other volunteer. Meals are not included and there is no kitchen, so volunteers who stay at the office have to eat out for every meal.

Regardless of which housing option they choose, volunteers can expect bucket showers and outside pit latrines. Bathing in the river is also common. Note that bathing suits on women are considered culturally inappropriate. Ngöbe women bathe in the river fully dressed and female volunteers are asked to do the same.

Homestay arrangements include three meals a day. The cuisine is traditional Ngöbe, meaning simple plates of rice, beans, and seasonal fruits or vegetables. Meat is expensive and therefore rarely served. A few humble restaurants sell fried chicken if you need a treat.

The pace of life and work in Soloy is slow. Volunteers have a lot of downtime. Hiking to other villages, horseback riding, and learning the Ngöbe language are the most popular pastimes. The Peace Corps has two members in Soloy who are good at welcoming new volunteers to the area. It’s common for volunteers to take the bus to the beach or David on the weekends, especially since drinking alcohol in Soloy is forbidden.

Soloy only recently received cell phone coverage. Volunteers can pick up a prepaid phone in David or Panama City for US$20. Getting online requires a bus trip to David.

Soloy is not an easy place to stay healthy. Volunteers should bring a mosquito net and lots of iodine tablets for purifying water. Bug spray is worth its weight in gold. Also important to remember are a flashlight and, for women, conservative clothing.


Volunteers are asked to commit a minimum of two weeks with Medo. Applicants should hold a college degree (or be working toward one) and speak intermediate Spanish. Volunteers are also required to procure health insurance for the length of their stay.


Volunteers do not pay any fees to volunteer with Medo. They must, however, cover their own living and eating expenses (approximately US$40 per week). Anyone coming from abroad is encouraged to bring school supplies. Cash donations are also welcome. To make a financial donation from abroad, for detailed instructions.


Adán is happy to meet volunteers in David if they need it. Those who are comfortable taking the bus to Soloy are met at the bus stop.


Download the volunteer application from the web site and fill it out. Along with the basics, it asks some open-ended questions about what you hope to accomplish and why you are interested.

There is no Internet access in Soloy so it may be several weeks before you receive a response. If you don’t hear back after a month, follow up with a phone call. Medo has been able to accommodate walk-ins in the past, but prefers applications be submitted four months in advance to allow time to arrange housing. Medo accepts no more than four volunteers at any one time.

A Luxury Escape to Cambodia with a Great Cause Too

Hotel de la Paix - Cambodia's Gem

With over a hundred stunning rooms (and suites) and its award-winning spa, this top five-star luxury Cambodia hotel, Hôtel de la Paix Siem Reap may cater to the discerning traveler seeking style and relaxation, but there’s more than meets the eye to this best of the best Siem Reap hotel. With a stunning fusion of Ancient Khmer design and a hint of art deco, the hotel has become one of the most stylish hotels in Siem Reap.

A Room at Hotel de la Paix Siem Reap

The onsite restaurant, Meric, recently named by The Miele Guide as one of Asia’s top restaurants, offers world class dining and the stylish artistic lounge showcasing exhibitions of emerging artists. Within walking distance of the shops and restaurants in Siem Reap – and close to the ancient temples of Angkor (Siem Reap’s most popular tourist destination and a UNESCO world heritage site) – Hotel de la Paix also has something else to bring the oh so chic traveler closer to the people of Cambodia – and, really, closer to themselves.

Green Gecko's Cambodian Attendees

Encouraging responsible tourism, they’re helping guests gain a true understanding of Cambodia. Over the years, Siem Reap’s Green Gecko Project ( has done an outstanding job at sheltering and educating over 70 former street kids. As a homage to the people of Cambodia, and the children that bring life and humility to the land, Hôtel de la Paix Siem Reap, one of the Green Gecko Project’s sponsors, kicked off the New Year by hosting a special presentation by the Green Gecko kids on New Year’s Eve: an exhibition of the ancient Khmer martial art of Labokator at the hotel’s Arts Lounge with the hotel’s spectacular ice display to welcome 2012. 

The Hotel de la Paix's Deco Lobby (with white feather Christmas Tree)

As the hotel’s ongoing commitment in respecting the past and embracing the future, this special arrangement allowed guests to learn more about Labokator.  Once used on the battlefield by the Khmer kings and warriors centuries ago, carvings can still be seen on some of the temples in Angkor Wat. The best part? The Green Gecko kids were thrilled to have been part of this celebration, to bring the ancient tradition into the new year and promote their proud culture to visitors around the world. If you want to check out the festivities, there’s also a special video clip here:
Hotel de la Paix Siem Reap
Rooms around $199/night
PS. While you’re in Cambodia and lapping up the luxury of Hotel de la Paix and the history of Angkor Wat, pay a visit and some funds to my friend, the amazing Scott Neeson, who left a lucrative Hollywood job to found Cambodian Children’s Fund. For six years, Cambodian Children’s Fund has provided life-changing education, nourishment and healing to vulnerable children from some of Cambodia’s most destitute communities. In the beginning, they cared for the health and well-being of 45 youngsters. Today, we care for more than 700 children, and have extended their services to provide for their families and communities in crisis.

Ecuador & Eco-Travel Voluntourism

The Amazing Yasuni National Park

In the mood for a little eco-travel and voluntourism? Brand spankin’ new programs in the field of international volunteering have just been launched… hurrah! United Planet, a leader in the field, has recently added to its offerings in the beloved country of resource rich Ecuador. United Planet is an international non-profit based in Boston that strives to create a world in which all people understand, respect, and support one another. Their global network of leaders and volunteers fosters cross-cultural understanding and addresses shared challenges to unite the world in a community beyond borders.

Sue, a Nurse, Volunteering in Ecuador

Over the past ten years, they’ve worked with local communities all over the world to find meaningful work for volunteer travelers; and have placed thousands of volunteers in those communities to live and work – for periods ranging from a week to a year. Volunteers may now work with wildlife/animals in the Amazon; indigenous people in the Amazon jungle; or in environmental conservation in the Galapagos.

Amazon River Dolphin!

These programs supplement the long-standing and popular programs in Quito and the Cloud Forest, where volunteers can work with children (teaching, childcare, working with at-risk youth);healthcare; or on environmental projects. We likey. Did we mention our father-in-law has lived there for the last 20 years. Ecuador is one of those still-off-the-beaten-track countries for mainstream tourists so it’s managed to hold onto it’s indigenous culture (and it’s inexpensive prices), unlike some it’s competitors.

Why are these new programs so great? you ask.

Because volunteers ‘get to experience more of Ecuador’s diversity,’ says Theresa Higgs, Vice President of Global Operations at United Planet. “United Planet is looking to provide its volunteers with new experiences in a variety of projects. Ecuador is a wonderful place for almost anyone seeking to volunteer: it’s easy to get to, the dollar is strong, and the people are famous for their warmth and hospitality. ”

At the Wildlife Project, volunteers have the opportunity to care for animals that have suffered from maltreatment or been victims of animal trafficking. Volunteers can work at an Animal Rescue Center and help protect the wildlife of Ecuador’s Amazon. Volunteers also have the opportunity to island-hop through the Galapagos.  At Tortuga Bay, they can observe marine iguanas and turtles, sharks and hike through an ecologically diverse rainforest. If they’re looking to relax, volunteers can enjoy the stretches of white-sand beaches.

The White Sand Beaches of Tortuga Bay - Galapagos Islands

In Floreana, volunteers will be exposed to the history of the island, having the opportunity to explore caves once inhabited and used by pirates. Snorkeling in the crystal bay after a day of new discoveries in the caves is also available. At the Charles Darwin station, volunteers will continue to explore the history of the Galapagos and enjoy the clear-water that yields sights of reef sharks. There is also a chance to see colonies of Galapagos Penguins who have recently been relocated to this site.

So, I don’t know about you, but taking off to give and receive some Amazonian love sounds really good right about now.

Sweet: Lesbian Travel with a Twist

What if going to a beautiful resort, giving back to a community in need, and partying your butt off were all possible in the same week – and what if the whole trip was carbon neutral? This is exactly the kind of trip customers of Sweet embark upon – an adventure filled with do-goodery… and debauchery.

Sweet is the latest in lesbian travel… with a twist. Merging the best of lesbian travel with social and environmental awareness, Sweet aims to make the world a better place while having a blast in it. All of Sweet’s vacations are carbon neutral, meaning they offset the pollution created by their air, land and sea travel. They traveling to amazing places (Belize, Mexico, Italy) with the very best lesbian entertainers and extravagant parties, while also supporting their guests’ personal enrichment, raising money for worthwhile causes and doing meaningful projects all over the world. How sweet is that?

Sweet's Founder, Shannon Wentworth

This niche travel company has set out to change the world – one bite-sized chunk at a time. The founder of Sweet, Shannon Wentworth, believes that if we break down this huge social issues (poverty, pollution, human rights, education in developing nations) that we can make a difference. We agree, Shannon, and we commend you!

Sweet has given back in many ways – from filling over 200 giant bags of garbage from Uvero Beach in Mexico and painting bright cartoon characters on the walls of a children’s hospital ward to donating two new computers to a children’s e-learning center in Honduras – Sweet is dedicated to enriching the lives of not only their guests but also enriching the communities that they visit. PBS also just did a feature on Sweet’s  ‘In the Life’ program, calling Sweet customers ‘voluntouristas’. Pretty fun so check it out here:  Sweet Lesbian Eco-Travel or, better yet, discover sweet for yourself!

Responsible Tourism, Media, and… Humanitarian Aid

We just love a symbiotic relationship. PB & J, BLT’s, Mac ‘n Cheese. Things that go well together just make life so much better, don’t you think? To that end, The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and Lonely Planet, the world’s leading travel publisher, today announced the launch of a partnership that will provide vital information to responders in humanitarian emergencies. A bit about the OCHA: The OCHA mobilizes and coordinates emergency humanitarian efforts around the globe, deploying the first international responders on the ground so staff from a variety of UN agencies and government and non-governmental organizations can provide humanitarian aid.

Usually deploying within 24 hours of a disaster, now they will be able to readily use Lonely Planet’s up-to-the-minute information to better help them familiarize themselves with the country’s geography and infrastructure, learn more about the country’s history and cultural background, and get essential basic information they should know before traveling.

“Lonely Planet’s expert content makes it easier for humanitarian workers to hit the ground running in unfamiliar environments,” said Gwi-Yeop Son, Director of Corporate Programmes at OCHA. “We value Lonely Planet’s commitment to provide accurate and up-to-the-minute information for our teams on the ground.”

The partnership has also started in time to coincide with the celebration of the UN’s World Tourism Day on September 27th, 2011. World Tourism Day, for those not aware, intends to foster awareness of the role of tourism within the international community and demonstrates how responsible tourism positively affects social, cultural, political and economic values worldwide. Right up our alley. For more information about the UNOCHA or Lonely Planet, see below:

Kenya: Hanging with the Maasai Mara

Extraordinary Journeys Africa

This week, one of my friends posted that she was headed to Kenya for some photography work.  In addition to her being an all around creative badass, she’s probably been to Kenya more times than I can count, but each time she mentions Africa, I start to daydream about the dusty roads, colorful smells, and vibrant energy of Nairobi. So, of course, I felt compelled to find some cool, feel good trips to this glorious nation just for you. To that end, I came across Extraordinary Journeys Africa, specialists in bespoke customized safaris to Africa, who are offering a unique six night trip to Kenya for the last minute travel junkies (October 10th-16th, 2011). Now, since I’m a fly-by-my-seat kinda gal, that’s *just enough* time for me to find someone to water my plants so I can jet off to Kenya.  Why is this trip so cool? you ask.

Well, it’s a community exchange program with a remote Masai Mara community followed by a luxury safari adventure, that’s why.  For a special rate of $6,000 per person (normally $7,200), it’s being done in partnership with the Founder and Project Director of Under the Acacia organization and the first two days will be spent in the remote area of Loita hills where travelers will be introduced to an impoverished community that in just two years has been equipped with schools, sanitation, running water and a thriving community. Travelers will experience exclusive interactions with community members and learn ways in which they can make a difference. The next four nights of the trip will be spent in the beautiful Masai Mara exploring the amazing wildlife and experiencing thrilling safari adventures of a lifetime.

Community Project: $500 will be donated on behalf of each participant to help build a new classroom at Esoit Academy in Kenya. This project is spearheaded by Under the Acacia, a not-for-profit that works in tandem with remote communities in Kenya to generate sustainable initiatives and community development.

Masai Mara Reserve


October 10-11 Loita/Olarro

Participants fly to Siana Springs where their driver/guide warmly welcomes them and takes them on a game drive en route to the luxury Olarro Camp, nestled along the Loita Hills. In partnership with Under the Acacia, guests will  meet with the chiefs, elders, and students of this special community of Maasai. The next day, they participate in the school opening and a very lively dedication ceremony at the new Esoit Academy.

October 12,13,14,15: Maasai Mara/Olanana

On day three, a beautiful three-hour drive takes guests to Olonana Camp where they can experience daily game drives to see the great migration of the wildebeest or track the Big Five; take advantage of the spa facilities by trying traditional African remedies; or relax in the library on their private terrace overlooking the river filled with hippos below. Guests will also be able to arrange for hot air balloon rides, bush dinners or visiting another Under the Acacia school project (a 1.5-hour drive away). After lunch on the last day, visitors fly to Wilson Airport and transfer to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for their flights home.

About EJ Africa
Run by an extraordinary mother-daughter team, EJ Africa organizes customized trips for honeymooners, families and individual travelers to Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Mixing and matching safaris, camps, lodges, and villas, with travel by private planes, 4x4s, hot air balloons, elephant, camel and even horse, EJ Africa has planned over 500 trips to Africa and not one has been the same.

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