Summer is a time of simple pleasures and exciting times.
Lying in the grass with my hands behind my head, feeling each blade caress my fingers, is how I remember my childhood summers in the small town of Dingle in Iloilo. With a stalk of amor seco stuck between my teeth, I’d just recline lazily in the vast football field of my elementary school, studying the clouds — almost always, daydreaming.
With school out, weekdays were indistinguishable from weekends. My day-to-day challenge was to find something to do — go out fishing with friends, fly a kite, take a dip in the cold streams, bicycle around town. A lazy way to spend summer, you say? By today’s standards, maybe… but you see, those were the little things children these days do not enjoy. We had freedom then. We can spend an entire day sitting on curbs. We daydreamed, letting our imaginations soar.
But, times have changed.
Today, enjoying a ‘summer getaway’ entails thorough preparation and careful planning. It’s all about logistics, logistics, logistics… and more.
“Is there wifi and cable TV?”
“Is the cellphone signal strong there?”
“Is there a Starbuck’s where we’re going?”
These are just some of the questions we ask when choosing our summer destination… and to most of us, budget-conscious travelers, tour package hunting has become the norm. The rising popularity of packaged tours or group tours has indeed given our local tourism a much-needed boost.
The proliferation of these budget trips, sadly, has also slowly — and dangerously – tipped the balance between providing adequate visitor experiences and services, protecting the ecological and cultural values of the area, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the site. Tour operators, most times, fail miserably in educating their ‘guests’ on the importance of the LNT — Leave No Trace — policy.
Fortunately, there are a few travel organizers that offer activity-based tours, educational and cultural immersion and experiences, and VOLUNTOURISM.
Voluntourism is a relatively new concept — for me at least. Very simply put, voluntourism is volunteerism and tourism, rolled into one. It integrates the best of travel and tourism — the natural environment and geography, arts and culture, history and heritage sites, and recreation — with the opportunity to serve and enhance the destination: its people, points of interests and other scenic highlights. If that definition still sounds complicated, try this: Voluntourism is a great way to spend your vacation AND actively contribute to make your chosen destination more beautiful than when you arrived.
Photos: Bounce Travel, Tours and Events
Voluntourism tours cater to the demand for both outreach work (volunteering) and commerce (through staying in local hotels and using local services), in the hope of empowering the local community and generating much-needed revenue for the community. Voluntourism is not limited to clean-up drives, however. I know some mountaineer friends that trek to far-flung areas just to bring school supplies and books to children there.
Integrating any amount of volunteer work into your next trip may sound like your dream vacation. Going on voluntary holidays is a great way to spend the summer, as it not only allows you to immerse yourself in community work, even for just a few hours, but it is also a very rewarding experience. Being able to give back to the community and those who need it most is sure to be something you’ll cherish forever — and these trips could become the best part of your overall summer adventure.
Here are some tips to guide you in choosing which voluntourism tour fits you:
RESEARCH THE PROJECT
Ask questions before you choose a voluntourism trip. Ask yourself, what would it feel like if someone came and did this project in my community? If the organizer collects monetary contributions, ask where would your money go? Will you be working with a local organization? Did it request this project? You may also want to interview other voluntourists: They will tell you the real story.
RESEARCH THE COMMUNITY
Read up on the community you are visiting and learn what challenges they are facing, and identify possible solutions. If you come in only knowing it’s poor, dirty and malnourished, then you’re just looking down on the place, with no real understanding.
MATCH UP YOUR SKILLS
Different groups offer different voluntourism experience. Choose one that matches your expertise or interests. If you are a medical professional, you may want to join a tour providing healthcare to locals. Or, you can sign up for a nature-based trip where you can participate in coastal clean ups and clean up dives, or tree planting activities.
GET OUT OF THE BOX
Forget air-conditioned rooms and fluffy pillows. Bathe yourself in moonlight! On my latest trip to the Mercedes Group of Islands in Camarines Norte, we hit the dirt road and headed for the local community to procure food and supplies. We bought freshly caught fish and a live duck to be dressed and cooked the way locals did. In voluntourism trips, it is important to immerse yourself in local customs. If you see your destination only through the eyes of a transient tourist, you’re missing half the picture.