Stepping Out & Giving Back

By: Kyle Patrick Long

It’s a boom that defies generational and professional boundaries, attracting recent graduates, retirees, corporations and families alike. The international volunteering industry, known as voluntourism, has boomed in the past decade, with an increasing number of vacationers skipping the spa treatments and beachside cocktails, opting instead for a more memorable, authentic local experience.

Tammy Leland, a pioneer in the industry and co-founder of Crooked Trails, a small non-profit in Seattle, explains, “We began doing this kind of work 14 years ago. There were very few companies doing community-based travel that gave the locals the power to make decisions about tourism in their own communities. People were talking about ecotourism benefiting the environment but not cultures.”

Edge of Seven was founded in 2000 when Erin Guttenplan noticed an upswing in the interest to volunteer abroad. Seeing an opportunity to connect volunteers with meaningful opportunities in developing countries in a more affordable way, the non-profit is constructing a hostel in the Everest Region of Nepal that will house 40 girls from areas where education sometimes means a three-day walk each way to the schoolhouse.

When a traveller commits their hard-earned vacation time or savings to go on a trip, they often come away with more than the locals they have come to assist. “The moment that a volunteer has a personal transformation and recognises the need for global social change, those are the moments that inspire me,” says Guttenplan.

The organisational support these groups bring is one of the main growth drivers for the industry. According to a 2009 study by GeckoGo, volunteering with an organisation was by far the preferred option, with 89 per cent of respondents saying they would like to volunteer with an operator versus 11 per cent who prefer to organize the trip themselves.

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