Helping others while traveling can instill a greater understanding of the world and teach your children about the importance of community, compassion, and consideration for others. A volunteer vacation that your whole family can participate in may just be one of the most rewarding experiences that you will share together. Although you can certainly volunteer locally and help those less fortunate than yourselves at home, volunteering overseas allows you to immerse yourselves in a foreign culture, strengthen your bonds, enrich your family, and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Planning the trip together helps, too. You can research volunteer programs and projects with your children and gauge their interest in causes that may particularly interest them, like animal conservation, indigenous cultures, or community development. A number of volunteer vacation organizations do not accept children under 18 (although they will often make allowances for children aged 16 or 17 accompanied by parents or guardians), but several others welcome and encourage involvement by children as young as eight and make them active members of project teams. From a financial perspective, all program fees, including airfare, are generally tax-deductible unless otherwise indicated by the company providing the services. Prices indicated below are land only.
Global Citizens' Network (tel. 800/644-9292; www.globalcitizens.org) -- GCN -- has identified specific destinations that, while scenic and culturally rich, also have community needs that can be filled with the assistance of families volunteering together. At family volunteer destinations, children are incorporated into the work projects wherever appropriate, working side-by-side with team and community members. All participants can work as much or as little as they desire and typical work projects may include building or refurbishing community buildings, field labor, working with artisans, or installing irrigation systems. Depending on their age and abilities, children can help by painting, raking gravel, sifting sand, or hauling water.
In 2009, GCN has projects in Africa (Kenya and Tanzania), Asia (Nepal and Thailand), Latin America (Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador), and North America (Rock Point, AZ, La Push, WA, White Earth Reservation, MN, Lucky Forks, KT, and Eden Valley Reserve in Canada). Prices vary by destination and duration with the shortest programs available in the U.S. and in Canada (eight days) and the longest (21 days) in Asia and Africa. In general, children eight years of age and older are encouraged to participate and GCN staff will advise potential participants of the appropriateness of each project for individual age groups.
A ten-day project working with the indigenous Maya population in Cantel, Guatemala from June 26 to July 5, 2009 is priced at $1,575 for adults 16 and over and $1,113 for children under 16. An eight-day heritage conservation program in Lucky Fork Kentucky from April 25 to May 3, 2009 is priced at $971 for adults and $732 for children and a 15-day program helping with the construction of a new community center in Chang-Rai Thailand from December 29, 2009 to January 12, 2010 is priced at $2,150 and $1,613 respectively. For family groups of four or more, one person pays half price and if there are eight or more, one participant goes for free. Ground transportation, orientation, and spare time for field trips and cultural excursions is provided. Accommodation is generally in community homes with shared facilities and all meals are provided (or you cook your own with food provided).
Earthwatch (tel. 800/776-0188; www.earthwatch.org) has family teams programs that allow children aged over ten (or in some cases over 14) to join an Earthwatch expedition. Earthwatch believes that getting kids involved in science expeditions at an early age helps develop critical thinking skills and an appreciation for the natural world. Expeditions make great hands-on learning family experiences, as well as providing inspiration and a model for personal involvement in taking care of our planet. The family expeditions include half-days of hands-on science; half-day, age-appropriate activities and outings to local attractions; staff to facilitate research activities; opportunities to meet requirements for scout badges or community service; and time to explore surroundings and reconnect with your family and comfortable lodgings.
The Whales of British Columbia program is open to families with children aged ten and above. Join gray whales in their Canadian summer feeding areas in Clayoquot Sound and surrounding waters off the west coast of Vancouver Island to help researchers design better ways to protect them and look at effects of climate change. Spend days on the water in a sea-kayak or on a converted fishing boat searching for whales and mapping their prey with sonar and underwater video, and explore coves and islands by kayak and enjoy the maritime charms and rich First Nations culture of the small village of Ahousaht, on Flores Island, where you'll be based. This seven-day trip in August, 2009 is priced at $2,850 per person (adult or child).
They also offer a seven-day Puerto Rico rainforest frog and lizard research trip located at Las Casas de la Selva, about an hour from San Juan. This family program will take place in December 2009 and January 2010. Prices are yet to be finalized.
Cross-Cultural Solutions (tel. 800/380-4777; www.crossculturalsolutions.org) -- CCS -- offers peace of mind for families volunteering, from extensive pre-departure support to all of your daily needs in a foreign country including lodging, all meals, and transportation. The minimum age for a child traveling with a parent or guardian is eight years old but if you would like to travel with children under eight, the CCS Country Director in your chosen destination must give prior approval. Volunteers work side-by-side with local people in countries such as Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Peru, Russia, Tanzania, and Thailand. Projects generally entail community development, healthcare, and teaching.
If your family only has limited time, the one-week Insight Abroad program is the perfect introduction to a volunteering vacation. Available in eight countries -- Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Morocco, Peru, Russia, and Thailand -- there are regular departures throughout the year, many coinciding with school vacation periods. CCS in-country staff provides cultural and learning activities so you can learn about the local culture and customs, as well as gain an understanding of the community. There is also free time to relax, reflect and explore. This program costs $1,898 for adults in peak season and $1,765 off peak (peak runs from May 2, 2009 to August 14, 2009). Children 12 years old and under at program start date are eligible to receive a $500 discount on the program fee for Insight Abroad. If you are interested in a longer program, children receive a $700 discount off the fee. Prices include all local transportation, accommodation, meals, activities and travel insurance.
Global Volunteers (tel. 800/487-1074; www.globalvolunteers.org) provides opportunities for families to volunteer both in the U.S. and overseas. The minimum age for participation varies by destination (some projects do not accept children under 18), but is as low as eight years old in locations including China, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Greece, Italy, Peru, Poland, and the U.S. International service programs are generally two or three weeks with shorter and longer service programs available in some countries and U.S. based programs are one week in duration. Projects include teaching conversational English, caring for children, repairing and building, working with babies, health care and community services. A volunteer vacation in China gives families the opportunity to teach English to both children and teachers. Working in three distinct metropolitan areas, volunteers contribute to the educational development of youths, adults, teachers and also help care for at-risk babies in a children's home in the cities of Xi'an, Kunming, and Haikou City. Programs run throughout the year and are typically three weeks long. There is a discount of $200 for each additional volunteer so a three-week program of $2, 695 per adult (and $2,495 per child) is reduced when you travel with your family. The cost of two adults and two children would be discounted by up to $800.
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