Volunteer Vacations, More or Less

Earlier this week I listened as Jeff Turner interviewed Shelley Seale, author of The Weight of Silence: The Invisible Children of India.  I was following their conversation while I worked and know that I missed a lot, but Shelley mentioned “volunteer vacations” and the phrase really stuck in my mind.

I looked around a little online and found that there are plenty of companies happy to help you fill a need anywhere around the globe.  I liked how it was phrased on the Charity Guide website, “It’s important to be realistic about what can be accomplished in a couple or few weeks. For perspective, think of your volunteer vacation as part of a relay race. You will take the baton from volunteers that came before you, and you will pass the baton to those that follow to finish the race.” Much like volunteering in any other form, each bit you can do helps, so don’t sell it short.

Recently I took a business/pleasure trip to Chicago.  I enjoyed this trip immensely, in part because I felt a connection to the city.  I had friends there already and met more before I arrived, I was able to see a friend’s apartment, visit his place of employment and walk his route to work.  I visited parks and buildings I was already familiar with through movies and TV.  I think part of why I enjoyed this trip so much was that it gave me a feeling of connection to a place that was totally new to me.

I don’t think I could fit an entire volunteer vacation into my schedule any time soon, but I’m a strong believer that you shouldn’t let what you can’t do get in the way of what you CAN.  Maybe I can’t take a whole week off to volunteer, but what if I made a special effort when I traveled to do something extra for someone else?  What if while visiting Chicago I’d done something as simple as donating a baby blanket to a homeless shelter?  Would my connection to Chicago be stronger?  I think so, as it could have lifted one more burden off a young mother and I’d feel good about that.  My memories of my trip might also include imagining a child finding comfort and warmth from a gifted blanket, or like my kids using it for creative play – spread on the floor to become a lake, draped over a chair as a tent or flapping behind to be a super hero cape.

If pressed for time on my trip, I could still use my travel prep time to think of others.  After I pack my bag, maybe I could gather up some groceries to drop off at the local food pantry. I want to train myself to associate packing my suitcase with doing something that makes life a little easier for someone in need.

Sarah Sig

3 Responses to “Volunteer Vacations, More or Less”

  1. Headmutha July 2, 2009 at 10:32 am #

    What a great idea Sarah! I know I will be thinking differently as well!

  2. Chris July 3, 2009 at 2:11 pm #

    Amen. I’ve had the good fortune of helping someone find a home – on their terms. The reward? They pledged $1,000 to a local charity of my choice when the deal is closed.

    I bet there are a lot of people leaving impressions quietly behind the scenes – be it a check, a blanket or a little bit of labor at a habitat home.

    You’ve inspired me to do a little more the next time I’m in Coconino County. 😉

  3. Shelley Seale July 9, 2009 at 12:52 pm #

    Hi Sarah,
    Thanks for a great post about volunteer vacations. I was part of a podcast segment about volunteer vacations at The VolunTourist, if anyone is interested in this rewarding experience:
    http://www.shelleyseale.info/voluntourist.html

    There are also some very cool ways to volunteer without having to take days or weeks out of a busy schedule, that I have come across. Here are just a few:
    Useful Visitors – http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-1644-Austin-Sustainable-Travel-Examiner~y2009m5d21-Useful-Visitors-Use-down-time-while-traveling-to-help-a-local-worthy-cause

    Stuff Your Rucksack – http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-1644-Austin-Sustainable-Travel-Examiner~y2009m4d16-Stuff-your-Rucksack-Take-needed-nonprofit-items-with-you-when-you-travel

    Armchair Volunteering – http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-1644-Austin-Sustainable-Travel-Examiner~y2009m7d9-Armchair-volunteering–make-a-difference-when-you-cant-leave-home

    Shelley

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