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Sweatpants & Sanity | Fantasy Break: Volunteer Vacations

By Emily Parker

For most people, the idea of a vacation is to take a break from working. For others, it’s an opportunity to be of service somewhere else in the world! The best part about volunteer vacations is that they’re often quite inexpensive – you can see the world and experience another culture for a fraction of what it might have cost you to visit as a tourist, and you’ll also get to experience the local culture in a way that you’d never have gotten to otherwise. Enjoy this fantasy break, where you get to dream of not only seeing the world, but making a difference in it, as well. Prices do not include airfare.

1. Thailand – Preserving the Elephant Habitat

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Help change the fate of the elephants in Thailand by working to provide sustainable eco-tourism, preserve their natural habitat, and provide an alternative to elephants being used in street begging and circus operations. You’d be planting and harvesting food crops, building enclosures, feeding and bathing the elephants around the clock, going on long walks with them to the river, and even camping out with the rescue elephants! Most of your time on this vacation is spent directly with the elephant population, as you help rehab them. You’d be spending a week there, and each room is equipped with a western-style bathroom, mosquito netting, and a fan. You’ll also be given a taste of the local culture, with opportunities to visit the local evening markets, gaining knowledge from the elders, and even cooking lessons. Cost: $725 / week. Book it here.

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2. Peru – Care for Cuzco

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Visit the heart of the Incan empire, where you’d be working in a home for impoverished children from rural households. While some of the children have families, most are too poor to care for them. Without this home or “albergue,” these children would have no educational opportunities. Other projects include improvements and maintenance to facilities, painting classrooms, creating gardens, or constructing desks and beds. The children attend public school in Cuzco during the day, but you will have ample opportunities to work directly with them after classes and on the weekends. You’d be right at the gateway of Machu Picchu, and will stay in dormitory rooms (two to three per room) at the children’s home. Modern plumbing, warm running water, flushing toilets, and electricity are all available. In your off time, you can visit Machu Picchu, meet with a local Shaman, or even learn how to make Peruvian food. Cost $1290 / 8 days, 7 nights. Book it here.

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3. Ghana – The Glory of Ghana

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The beautiful area of Jakisan, combined with the history of the Ewe people of Ghana, make it a place many never want to leave. But despite the natural beauty, Jasikan and surrounding communities are facing a variety of challenges ranging from lack of clean water in rural areas to a workforce untrained in the use of modern tools such as the internet, something many there view as a necessity if Ghana is to progress. Nor are there currently enough teachers or facilities to offer free education to all children, many roads are not paved and the republic is still heavily dependent on international financial and technical assistance. Volunteers would help build school blocks for kindergartners, provide instruction, or improve washrooms and facilities that the children use (current conditions are often extremely unsanitary.) Volunteers might also help with the construction of wells or water systems, which can save lives in the dry season, or build libraries or internet training centers. Another project is helping teach English, raise awareness about & prevention of hepatitis B, HIV/AIDS, reforestation education and prevention of child labor. Cost $1330 / 8 days, 7 nights. Book it here.

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4. Costa Rica – Rainforest Village Experience

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You’d be helping create sustainable living for rural villagers in ecologically important areas. A decade ago, the government set aside land for the spectacular Carara Rainforest Reserve. The reserve borders a tiny village where volunteers are immersed. Although the villagers love their natural paradise, they have struggled to make ends meet as much of their farmland was taken over by the national park. They hope to create sustainable community-based tourism, and volunteers will work on community development projects to help them reach this goal. You’d be working on such projects as potable water system updates, grey water filtering systems, community organic garden and greenhouses/nurseries, and more, depending on needs, priorities, and weather conditions. Previous volunteers have constructed the cabanas you’d be staying in, and they include western-style bathrooms and fans. Leisure activities include nature hikes, horseback riding, cheese making, sugar processing, bird-watching, star gazing, coffee tasting, and “relaxing in a hammock.” Cost $1370 / 8 days, 7 nights. Book it here.

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5. India – Fight Poverty in The Pink City

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Built in 1727, Jaipur was the first planned city of India and the King took great interest in its design. The title of “The Pink City” is in reference to its distinctly colored buildings, which were originally painted that color to imitate the red sandstone architecture of Mughal cities. Volunteers will be working with slum dwelling and other disadvantaged children (often referred to by locals as “rag-picking children”.) This will be accomplished by providing support for teachers, working with rescued child laborers, and assisting at day care centers catering to children below the poverty line. The local community is also concerned with the conditions of local communal facilities. As a result volunteers will also participate in beautification activities at government schools, day care centers, & other public facilities. Volunteers will be housed in a modest hotel with Western facilities and can also enjoy elephant and rickshaw rides, as well as an unforgettable cultural experience. Cost $1420 / 8 days, 7 nights. Book it here.

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Which of these volunteer vacations interests you the most? For more opportunities, visit globeaware.org.

Emily Parker is a musician, writer, and avid reader who started Bucket List Book Reviews, the ‘1,001 Books to Read Before You Die’ project. For Sweatpants & Coffee, Emily hopes to inspire the reading of the classics by a whole new audience by only reviewing the really good stuff.

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