Monday 26 September 2016

Voluntourism - is it possible to get away and give back on a holiday?

Ask the Expert

Published 17/01/2016 | 02:30

Volunteering on holidays. Photo: Deposit
Volunteering on holidays. Photo: Deposit
Koh Samui
EIL offers conservation work with lions and other animals.

Charity challenges and volunteering holidays are growing again as the economy recovers. So what exactly is involved?

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We all love fly-and-flop holidays. But what if you want something more from your travels? To fund development, learn skills or play a role in a local community?

A charity trek or 'voluntourism' could be the answer

Fundraising trips take in some amazing destinations. In our travel pages this week, Mark Graham visits Nepal with Plan International Ireland (plan.ie), getting firsthand experience of the development projects participants' funds assist, before hiking into the awesome Annapurna range. Not a bad way to spend 10 days of your life.

"We've seen a significant increase in interest in the trips," says Donnacha Maguire of Plan International, who credits both the improving economy and the exciting and educational nature of the trips themselves.

There's a difference between charity challenges and 'voluntourism', of course. Volunteering placements can range from two to 24 weeks and beyond, from building blitzes with Habitat for Humanity (habitatireland.ie) to TEFL trips with i-to-i (i-to-i.com), from conservation projects in South Africa with EIL Intercultural Learning (eilireland.org), to working with elephants in Cambodia with Responsible Travel (responsibletravel.com).

Of course, 'voluntourism' deserves probing. Can a few weeks really make a difference? Do such trips serve the tourist or the host community? Do they do harm? Asking questions is a healthy start, and Comhlámh (comhlamh.org; #volops) is a good first stop for volunteering advice, particularly for longer-term placements.

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Wanna teach on a beach? TEFL specialist I-to-I (01 526-9506; i-to-i.com) has a 15-day placement in Thailand's Koh Samui, including 10 days' teaching with accommodation, some meals and an iconic, long-tail boat trip.

A 120-hour TEFL course (online) is included, as are in-country transfers, but you'll need to source your own flights, visas and insurance. The trip is available for a range of dates in 2016, from €745pp. I-to-I also has internships in China, Venezuela and Columbia among other destinations.

Splash

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EIL Intercultural Learning (1850 292939; eilireland.org) is a Cork-based non-profit organisation offering a range of study, volunteering and cultural travel opportunities.

Projects in South Africa, for instance, range from community development in the area of HIV and sexual health to conservation work with lions, cheetahs, rhinos and elephants. Trips start from €1,499pp for four weeks, rising to €2,899pp for 16 weeks. They include pre-departure workshops, transfers, meals, accommodation, orientations and back-up support, but not flights or insurance.

NB: Prices subject to availability.

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