Give a little, get a lot this festive season – how to get into voluntourism
With so many developing countries opening up to tourism, it pays to remember that while you as a tourist are staying in relative luxury, many of the local population still live in extreme poverty. Voluntourism allows you to give back to the community and experience something that cannot be bought.
In the lead-up to the Christmas holiday period, we thought we’d highlight ways you can ‘give back’ while still having an amazing holiday experience. It is the season of giving after-all!
Voluntourism programs cover everything from schools, wildlife, the environment and community development, so there are opportunities to suit everyone. People with specialised skills, such as health workers, teachers, builders and vets, are particularly useful. If you’re visiting a school and would like to give something extra, gifts like sporting equipment or books are always appreciated. It’s not recommended to bring cash to give to individual children, but you can make a separate donation to the organisation.
You can choose to take just a couple of days out of your trip to work on a program or dedicated an entire journey to a worthy cause. Some programs operate as a tour and will organise accommodation, meals and transfers for a package fee (ranging from budget to ultra luxe), while others are individual projects operating on the ground and you’ll need to arrange your own travel independently.
Do a little research about the organisation or travel company before you hand over any money – there have been reports of unethical operations or scams so you want to make sure that your money goes where it should.
Over the next three weeks we will feature a different destination where you can give a little and get a lot on your next trip. Now, for our first week;
Chiang Mai, Thailand
The Asian elephant is an endangered experience and Thailand is home to more Asian elephants than anywhere in the world. While a century ago more than 100,000 elephants lived in Thailand, there are now only approximately 5,000 and less than half of these are in the wild. In response to their diminishing numbers a lot of time and effort has been invested in their breeding and protection.
Former street elephants (who were taken to cities to beg or entertain tourists) or those rescued from unethical tourist camps now live in reserves around the country where they are cared for and protected. A number of resorts run programs where guests can learn to be a mahout (elephant driver) and bathe with the elephants or ride them on jungle treks. These programs provide the most hands on interaction with the animals, however they have been criticised as the elephants are still living in an unnatural situation, albeit well cared for.
GVI Australia runs ethical volunteer programs in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand where volunteers observe their herds of semi-wild elephants living on the reserve, collecting data and occasionally participating in health checks. Volunteers also work with the local villages, teaching English, playing football with the children or cooking with their homestay families. One-week programs are priced from A$1,748 per person. gviaustralia.com.au
Remember to also take care of yourself on your holiday, with appropriate travel insurance. You can find a policy at a great price here: http://travelinsuranceplus.com.au/your-cover/