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Volunteer Vacations

Volunteer vacations! At locations ranging from wilderness lands in the U.S. to collective farms in Europe, the donation of your labors can result in a free or almost-free stay
/ Source: Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel

Some of us devote our vacations to frantic aerobics—jogging, jumping, straining, pulling, and clamping on Sony Walkmen to ease the crushing boredom of the aimless sport.Other, more enlightened sorts gain the very same aerobic benefits—and personal fulfillment of the highest order—by engaging in voluntary physical labor at a socially useful project, in mountains and deserts, forests and farms. Though most such “workcamp” activity is designed for the vacations of young people, a number of other major programs are intended for adults of all ages, or—in some instances—for adults up to the age of 40.

Below is a long list with various kinds of volunteer organizations and descriptions of programs around the globe, and new opportunities are constantly popping up. For even more ideas on how to make the world a better place, try contacting Interaction, a coalition of more than 165 nonprofit organizations working for international volunteerism, 1717 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Suite 801, Washington, D.C. 20036 (phone 202/667-8227; Web site:, or the International Volunteer Programs Association (71 West 23rd Street, 17th Floor, New York, NY 10010-4102, phone: 212-807-8686 x150, e-mail, Web site:


Based in Americus, Georgia, Habitat for Humanity International was created in 1976 to work for the elimination of poverty housing (namely, shacks) from the U.S. and the world. Since then, Habitat has built more than 100,000 houses in over 60 countries. Habitat’s “Global Village” program takes teams of volunteers to host communities where they build affordable housing with local affiliates. The schedule for the summer of 2002 lists such destinations as Botswana, Kenya, New Zealand, Guatemala, Guyana, Poland, and Portugal, as well as a few American locales.

Habitat’s founder, a fierce Christian crusader named Millard Fuller, enlisted the assistance of Jimmy Carter in the period immediately following Carter’s defeat for reelection. At Fuller’s urging, the Carters traveled by bus to Manhattan, lived in a Spartan, church-operated hostel, and worked each day for a week as carpenters in the rehabilitation of a 19-unit slum tenement in New York’s poverty-ridden Lower East Side. The worldwide publicity from that volunteer effort made Habitat into a powerful organization that has built homes in scores of countries worldwide.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter continue to travel periodically to workcamps at these locations.

Though others may recoil from the suggestion that arduous, physical labor on a construction site can be a “vacation” activity, hundreds of Habitat volunteers disagree. To cast their lot with the poor is, for them, many times more refreshing than lazing at a tropical resort. If they have one to three weeks off, they travel to work, paying for their own transportation and food, and often receiving accommodations—rather basic—at the site. No prior construction experience is required.

Similar opportunities are available overseas—at many of Habitat’s 60 international affiliates—under the “Global Village” program. For one or two weeks, volunteers build housing in those countries under conditions similar to those of the domestic program: they pay for their own transportation there, and for food, although it is sometimes also necessary to pay the cost of simple accommodations as well. Mainly they work alongside the Third World people who will eventually occupy the houses under construction.

To cover international airfare, room and board, travel insurance, a donation toward the construction costs, volunteers can expect to pay $1,800-$2,600 in Europe, $2,800-$4,000 in Africa, $2,000-$3,800 in Asia and South America, and $1,200-$1,800 in Central America or the Caribbean. Trips vary in length, but most fall within the one or two week category. An information request form, as well as additional details, is available on the Habitat Global Village Web site ( For more information, write Global Village, Habitat for Humanity International, 121 Habitat St., Americus, GA 31709, or call 800/HABITAT ext. 2549.


La Sabranenque is the strange but melodious source of this next volunteer vacation; it sends you to labor in spring, summer, and fall months in what many consider to be the most attractive areas in all of Europe: southern France and northern Italy. Non-profit, and international, its goal is to restore a host of decaying, crumbled medieval villages at hillside locations throughout the historic area. It did so first in the early 1970s, with spectacular success, in the village of St-Victor-la-Coste, France, returning to their original form the 14th- and 15th- century stone farm buildings, chapels, and other community structures that had become heaps of rubble in the ensuing centuries. So favorable was the reaction of historians (and the French government), and so improved was the life of the village, that several other French and Italian villages immediately invited the group to attempt similar reconstructions of their own medieval ruins. Today, a half-dozen such projects are pursued each summer, all utilizing international volunteers to set the stones and trowel the mortar for fences and walls.

Because the ancient structures of a European rural village are rarely more than two stories high, the work requires no special construction or engineering skills; stone-laying is quickly taught at the start of each one-week, two-week or three-week session. Charges to the volunteers for ten days to two weeks of housing, full board, and all activities are between $410 and $550 in France and between $350 to $485 in Italy. The three-week program (10 days in France and 10 days in Italy; round-trip transportation between the sites is included) runs $1,290. These trips are available March to October. Sabranenque has also introduced one-week programs in Provence during March, April, May, and October that combine volunteering with technical training ($390) or more extensive touring ($410). For more detailed information, contact La Sabranenque Restoration Projects, c/o Jacqueline C. Simon, 124 Bondcroft Dr., Buffalo, NY 14226 (phone 716/836-8698 or e-mail Or view the Web site at

Another group that uses volunteer manpower to construct buildings for the needy is Amizade, a six-year-old nonprofit that joins forces with existing community-based organizations to work on a series of international projects. The site of its earliest undertaking, Santarém, Brazil, continues to be the focus of some of its work, but Amizade has is also involved in other sites, notably in Cochabamba (Bolivia) and in an Aboriginal community in Queensland, Australia. For the summer of 2002, programs were scheduled to build classrooms and renovate a health clinic in Brazil, add rooms to an orphanage in Bolivia, construct a community center in Australia, and do general cleanup and restoration work at a remote dude ranch in Montana. Amizade volunteers are always joined by an equal or greater number of locals when they work on service projects, a ratio which contributes to interaction between the two groups. Also, Amizade emphasizes making each trip a cultural and educational experience, so a number of recreational activities are available in each location and experts provide language assistance and organize discussions.

Prices, duration, and accommodations vary between projects. Two-week programs in Satarem, Brazil start at a cost of $1,390. That fee covers room, board, a range of activities, and project materials; volunteers are expected to provide their own travel arrangements. Helping out in the U.S. is often a cheaper option. Renovating the first dude ranch in Montana for a week costs $475 a week (with a 20% discount for consecutive weeks). No special skills are necessary for any of Amizade’s programs; local masons quickly teach volunteers all they need to know. Amizade will also customize volunteer trips for groups of between six and 60 people for a specified length of time-anywhere between one week and three months. Contact Amizade, Ltd., 367 S. Graham St., Pittsburgh, PA 15232 (phone 888/973-4443, fax 412/648-1492, e-mail, Web site:


All over the world, but at home as well, archeological excavations use volunteer labor by adults with no previous experience in the art. In many cases the projects pick up all expenses of your stay (other than transportation to the site); in some instances they also pay you a small salary; in most, they charge a fairly nominal fee for your Spartan room and board.

And though the work is often limited to the painfully slow removal of earth from fragile fossils—with a toothbrush, no less, delicately, as you crouch over a slit trench in the baking summer sun—it leaves you full of fatigue, drenched with sweat, and pounds lighter, at the end of each day’s stint. Who needs the Golden Door?

Minimum stays range from three days to the entire summer. Examples (some from past programs): In Arizona, California, and Oregon, in the warm-weather months, a government-sponsored archeological survey has used summer-long volunteers to “Identify and record prehistoric and historic sites ... in rough terrain.... Volunteers received partial insurance coverage, on-the-job transportation, training, room, and board.” Opportunities abroad also change every year, but here are some examples of trips scheduled in the past: At the east Karnak site of Luxor, Egypt, volunteers for six weeks unearthing building blocks used for the sun temples of the Pharaoh Akhenaten; “lodging and meals on site are provided without charge, except on Fridays (the day off).” On the Isle of Man, volunteers throughout the summer paid $120 a week for the expense of participating for as little or long as they like in excavating Neolithic and Bronze Age sites. Near the Black Sea Coast, Russia, two-week volunteers excavated and restored prehistoric monuments, and paid $200 a week for room and board.

The chief source of information is the 300-entry Archeological Fieldwork Opportunities Bulletin, listing more than 200 domestic and foreign “digs,” issued each January by the Archeological Institute of America (AIA). (Some listings, you should be warned, are of “field schools” rather than “fieldwork,” and involve substantial tuition charges.) To order a copy, contact The David Brown Book Company (P.O. Box 511, Oakville CT 06779, Phone 800/791-9354). Non-members pay $15.95; members of the AIA pay $12.95. Contact the AIA at Boston University, 656 Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02215-2006, (Phone 617/353-9361) or log onto


{Editor’s Note: The vacations listed in this chapter for Israel should only be considered once peace has been restored. The US State Department has issued a travel advisory recommending that travelers stay away from Israel and Palestine right now and we agree with its recommendation}

If the idea of traveling to Israel or Turkey to unearth ancient civilizations sounds intriguing, you may want to take a look at the most recent issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review. The Review contains a complete annual listing of Israeli archeological digs that make heavy use of volunteers of all ages from around the world, and are often sponsored by institutions and universities worldwide. In exchange for their work, volunteers receive inexpensive room and board (from $30/day up) for accommodations, meals, and occasional extras, such field trips and lectures. Conditions for each dig are different; though many take place in the warm summer months (when professors are able to supervise), there are those that run at other times of the year.

At a recent dig in Ein Gedi, near the Dead Sea, for example, volunteers worked for the month of January when the temperatures at this lowest point on earth were bearable for working. The cost was $30 for registration and $240 to $420 per week depending on accommodations (least expensive was in a five-bed dorm of youth hostel). As with most archeological digs, digging at Ein Gedi started early in the morning, 7:00 a.m., and wrapped up at 2:30 in the afternoon, with breaks at 9 for breakfast, noon for coffee. The remainder of the day was free for volunteers to spend how they wished. So far groups have unearthed a Jewish village, two large early Roman pools, and a ritual bath on the site.

A copy of the Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) costs $4.50; to order the Jan/Feb issue, call 800/221-4644. BAR’s Web site ( also lists most of the information about the digs.


You may have noted that I have not included the Earthwatch organization in this listing, because I have sought out vacations that are either free of charge (except for airfare) or available at a nominal cost. Earthwatch enlists volunteers to assist noted university professors in their research efforts around the globe, but asks volunteers to donate what seems to be between $1,500 and $2,500 for a two-week stay (and volunteers, of course, secure their own air transportation). That figure, true, works out to considerably less if volunteers treat their costs as a tax-deductible contribution to a non-profit organization. But even considering a possible tax saving, an Earthwatch trip is not the free or nominally-priced activity that I consider a “volunteer vacation.”

Having said that, the non-profit Earthwatch Institute trips are among the most impressive, fascinating, and socially-beneficial of all such volunteer efforts, to remote locations where serious work is performed; they also attract a well-read and highly-dedicated volunteer, whose company is alone a reward of working with Earthwatch. Examples of projects in the past? “Spanish Dolphins: Duties evolve to include filming the dolphins behavior underwater, taping acoustic behavior, and tracking their movements over an extended period.” “Forests of Bohemia: In the field, you’ll collect water samples and take pH, temperature, conductivity, and oxygen readings from more than 20 streams and reservoirs. You’ll also catch and examine brook trout, take tissue samples, and sample other stream organisms.” “Australia’s Forest Marsupials: You’ll learn to census arboreal marsupials—Leadbeater’s possums, greater gliders, sugar gliders, feathertail gliders—in some of 205 sites, count dens, conduct small mammal surveys, and determine which logging practices have the least impact on these marsupials and 60 bird species.” “Bahamian Reef Survey: Snorkelers will learn to conduct a number of measurements along transects: surveying hard corals, gorgonians, sponges, and algae; mapping transect sites; or testing water samples for clarity, salinity, and pH.” “Maternal and Child Health in India: Paired with one of Nalamdana’s trained field staff as an interpreter, you will help gather nutritional information in 400 households per urban slum or rural village, and supplement the household surveys by assisting in checking women and children for nutrition-related disease at medical clinics.”

For more information, contact The Earthwatch Institute, 3 Clock Tower Place, Suite 100, Box 75, Maynard, MA 01754, phone 978/461-0081 or 800/776-0188, e-mail or visit the Web site at


Travelers need not travel to exotic lands (and pay the hefty prices to get there) to join in on an archaeological project. Passport in Time (PIT), an archeological, preservation, and environmental program run by the USDA Forest Service, offers dozens of volunteer projects throughout the U.S. each year (usually from June to November). Past programs included exploring and excavating old mining sites in Idaho, researching and documenting the history of a freed slave African American community in Illinois, preserving a historically significant barn in Montana, and excavating Native American artifacts in New Mexico. A positive aspect to PIT: there is no fee to join in and lend a helping hand. Volunteers pay for their own transportation, lodging, and food, however. The deadline for applying for a summer PIT project is usually April 15. Another nice touch: many programs accept children in their pre-teens as volunteers. Note that for some projects, volunteers must be able to commit to the duration of the program to be accepted (and they sometimes last a few weeks). To find out more, visit the Passport in Time Web site (, call 520/722-2716 or 800/281-9176, e-mail, or write to Passport in Time Clearinghouse, P.O. Box 31315, Tucson, AZ 85751-1315.


You achieve this next worthy end by participating in a Sierra Club Service Trip operated in nearly 25 U.S. states by the mighty conservationist organization called the Sierra Club, now 700,000 members strong. Because many of the trips are subsidized by corporate donations, fees are low: ranging from $40/day to $100/day, usually including all the expenses of a seven-day tour of duty, except for transportation to the site. There are 70-odd service trips offered each year, and though there are a handful East of the Mississippi (North Carolina, Virginia, etc.), most are in the wide-open country out West.

You perform your “service” in some of the most enchanting places in all of America, many times in remote and less accessible areas like the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico, the Washakie Wilderness of Wyoming, the Adirondack Forest Preserve of New York, the Volcanoes National Park of Hawaii, Bryce Canyon in Utah. There are also chances to work in environments you might not expect, such as the public parks of New York City. Though half the work is related to trail maintenance—by encouraging visitors to use well-marked trails, and limit their wanderings to them, the Sierra Club protects the delicate ecosystems of the park—projects extend to numerous other matters such as meadow restoration, revegetation projects, archaelogical digs and wildlife research projects (one wildlife research projects centers on humpback whale monitoring off the coast of Maui). “Workdays,” says one description of a Sierra Club project, “will be divided between cleaning up nearby abandoned mining towns and reconstructing part of the Brown Basin Trail.” Says another: “We will revegetate campsites.” Or “our work will include cleanup and maintenance in and around the most imposing prehistoric ruins of the Southwest”; “we will cut and clear downed trees and underbrush from ... around Chub Pond north of Old Forge.”

Half the days of most trips are devoted to simple enjoyment of the wilderness; half are workdays. Lodging is in rustic cabins, lodges, tents (participants must bring personal camping gear) or hostels (in New York City); most trips have cooks to prepare meals—but everyone is expected to “lend a hand” in meal preparation; companionship is provided by vital, dynamic Americans of all ages. Complete descriptions of each service trip are set forth annually in the January/February edition (occasionally in other months as well) of Sierra, official magazine of the club. For a copy of that listing, write to: Sierra Club Outing Department, 85 Second Street, Second Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105, phone 415/977-5500. You can also search for volunteer opportunities on the Sierra Club Web site (, click on “get outdoors” on the right side of the screen), or send an e-mail to

Slightly different in character is the even more extensive program of volunteer work projects in national and state parks, and national forests, for which the American Hiking Society serves as clearinghouse. Each year it lists nearly 100 trail-building and park maintenance opportunities, for which food and lodging costs are nominal; volunteers provide the open-air parks with services that tight budgets will not allow the government agencies themselves to supply. Thus, for a weekend or as long as two weeks people act as trail-builders, restoring footpaths, refurbishing, old cabins, constructing log bridges, and practicing stone masonry across the country—and what “aerobics” that entails! “We clear brush, grub out stumps, trim vegetation, remove downed trees, repair erosion damage, and generally keep trails open ... using hand tools like shovel, pick, pulaski, and saw.... It’s strenuous,” says an A.H.S. publication. Weeklong work vacations usually cost only $80, plus an extra $25 fee for non-members. On rare occasions, when work weeks are scheduled to start and volunteer spots are not filled, the $80 fee is waived entirely.

To order a copy of “Get Outside,” A.H.S.’s guide to volunteer vacations in the outdoors send a check for $12.95 (shipping and handling included) to AHS, Get Outside, 1422 Fenwick Lane, Silver Spring, MD 20910. For further information, contact American Hiking Society by phone at 301/565-6704 ext. 206, fax 301/565-6719, e-mail You can also view A.H.S.’s extensive Web site, including the full list of volunteer opportunities, at


For those interested in taking a “green” holiday, one which involves volunteer conservation work such as repairing footpaths or monitoring turtles, The British Trust For Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) offers many excellent opportunities in Britain and beyond at a low cost. For one week on a UK program, the price is roughly £65 (about $92), which covers housing, meals, instruction and equipment. To join an international program, the cost can range from £100 ($148) to £550 ($778) per week. In return, volunteers take an active role in helping promote conservation of the world’s plant and animal life.

If the UK is your destination of choice, you can participate in one of BTCV’s “Natural Breaks,” which are offered year round and range from two to 19 days of work, with a typical work day starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m. The rate varies according to the length of stay and the choice of accommodations, which are classified by BTCV into three categories: “simple,” sleeping on a camping mat on the floor of a village hall, “standard,” staying in youth hostel dormitories or camping, and “superior,” housing in holiday cottages which may offer full catering. Groups are composed of up to 12 conservation and wildlife enthusiasts ages 16 and up. You must be 18 or older to participate in the international trips.

The international trips are offered throughout the year in 20 different countries all over the world, from Bulgaria and Senegal, to Spain and Iceland. Many of these programs run for 10 days or longer; weeklong stays are sometimes available through an individual arrangement. Participants need not worry about speaking the language of the country, as group leaders are chosen with the necessary language skills. Sample programs from summer 2002 include “Turtle Protection in Greece” from July 2 to 16 (£540, or about$770) and “Habitat Management in Hungary” from June 19 to 28 (£380, or about $542).

Extensive information is available on the Web site, Or write to British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, 36 St. Mary Street, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, U.K. 0X10 0EU (phone 011-014-91-839766, fax 011-014-91-839646, email


Whether you love gardening, caring for animals, watching the sunrise, or simply living in another country at no cost, volunteering on an organic farm is a great way to receive free room and board in exchange for four to six hours of work per day, six days a week, almost anywhere in the world. WWOOF, Willing Workers on Organic Farms, is the major organization that makes these opportunities possible, offering a cultural exchange where ‘WWOOFers’ live and work with the families of host farms while learning about both the skills of organic growing and the country where they are living. WWOOF has national branches in 20 countries. WWOOF Independents also has a list of worldwide WWOOF hosts.

How do you become a WWOOFer? First, decide which country you would like to work in and send away to their national organization, if they have one, for a book of farm listings. The cost is usually between $10 and $30. Once you have acquired the book, you have all the contact information you need to get in touch with individual families to arrange your stay on the farm. The book serves as your membership verification as well; you will need to show it to the family when you arrive. You are responsible for your own transportation but once you arrive on the farm, you pay nothing for your stay.

The work on the farm varies greatly, depending on the family’s needs at the time. Possible responsibilities include herding sheep, harvesting fruit, making bread, planting trees, milking cows or painting the farmhouse. WWOOF recommends you get as much information regarding your role on the farm of your choice at least two weeks before your arrival date. Under no circumstances should you show up to a farm without having confirmed your visit with your hosts.

To learn more about WWOOF, or to find contact information for your national organization, visit the WWOOF Independents Web site at or write to WWOOF INDEPENDENTS, PO Box 2675, Lewes BN7 1RB, England, United Kingdom, or NEWOOFUSA, New England Small Farm Institute, P.O. Box 608, Belchertown, MA 01007, USA, or email


{Editor’s Note: The vacations listed in this chapter for Israel should only be considered once peace has been restored. The US State Department has issued a travel advisory recommending that travelers stay away from Israel and Palestine right now and we agree with its recommendation}

Do you have two months to give of yourself? That’s the minimum stay required to share the life of an Israeli kibbutz, one of the communal societies that contain only 3% of the Israeli population, but produce 50% of its food and none of its crime. A type of collective farm in which property is held in common and children are raised as a group, the kibbutz has long held a strong fascination for Americans, both Jewish and gentile. Responding to a heavy demand, the kibbutz movement currently permits young Americans (18 to 35) of any religion to join their ranks for a two-month (or longer) “workcamp vacation” for a total fee of $230 ($150 registration fee plus $80 insurance), not including airfare to Israel. They call this a “work” vacation for a reason: You’ll be expected to work seven to eight hours a day, six days a week.

Enrichment programs are also available for those aged 18 to 28 that consist of five months of living and working on the kibbutz while also studying Hebrew and attending seminars on Jewish issues. There is also a shorter, six-week program during the summer. Fees vary according to the intensity of the program from $1,000 to as much as $1,200 (the six-week program is also this expensive). And what sort of work do you perform while actually “on” the kibbutz? You either labor in the fields, do laundry or cooking, or even work in small kibbutz “factories” for eight hours a day, six days a week, receiving all meals daily and lodgings with a kibbutz family. For all the alternatives and more, write Kibbutz Program Center, 633 3rd Ave, 21st Floor, New York, NY 10017(phone 800/247-7852 or 212/318-6134, e-mail, or view the Web site at, which represents an impressive 280 kibbutzim (the plural of kibbutz).


When an epidemic strikes or a bloody war breaks out, victims need help-and if you’re a health care professional, you can provide some of the help they desperately need. In 1971, a group of French doctors formed Médecins Sans Frontières (or Doctors Without Borders, as it is usually known in the U.S., or MSF), an organization devoted to providing medical care to those in need. Today it is an international network with more than 2,500 doctors, nurses, and others volunteering their services in 80 countries around the globe. Beyond patient care, MSF tackles a range of health issues, including training personnel, water and sanitation improvement, and drug distribution. The stress level is high, but participants say the experience is unmatched.

The commitment MSF requires is a big one: a minimum of six months. More frequently, first time assignments last about a year to ensure project continuity. Also, whereas other volunteer programs rarely care about specialized skills or language proficiency, with this area of work both are crucial. However, you don’t necessarily have to be medically trained to participate. MSF is also looking for logisticians, administrators, experts in humanitarian law, and other individuals who can contribute to their projects. MSF covers room and board, round-trip transportation, comprehensive insurance, and gives volunteers a small monthly stipend. To apply, fill out the application on its Web site (

Once the necessary paperwork is in, MSF interviews qualified applicants and then tries to set them up with an assignment; this is a process that will take months. For more information on MSF and how to get involved, check out its Web site or write Doctors Without Borders, 6 E. 39th St., 8th fl., New York, NY 10016. You can also call 212/679-6800 (in New York) or 310/277-2793 (in Los Angeles), or send an email to

Health Volunteers Overseas provides similar opportunities for a much shorter time frame; two to four weeks is the standard assignment length. But HVO is even more particular about who it needs: specialists in anesthesia, dentistry, internal medicine, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthopaedics, pediatrics, hand surgery, nursing, and physical therapy. While at HVO’s 50 project sites, spread out among 25 countries, volunteers train local health care providers to improve their ability to serve their communities. “This type of experience really pulls you into the culture,” Director of Programs Kate Fincham explains. “You’re working with the people who live there.” As for costs, volunteers are responsible for all of their transportation to and from the program site, and some, but not all, of the programs provide housing and meals. All programs tend to be in areas with an extremely low cost of living, so volunteers can expect to pay somewhere around $2,000 for their trip. All expenses are tax-deductible. For more information, contact Health Volunteers Overseas, P.O. Box 65157, Washington, D.C. 20035 (phone 202/296-0928; fax 202/296-8018; Web site:


You perform this next voluntary deed with a highly impressive group. Like the fictitious priest who lived among the lepers, beggars, and cart-pullers of The City of Joy—that massive mid-80s bestseller —so permanent members of the Fourth World Movement share the actual lives of the most abject poor in shantytown communities all over the world. Without making quite the same commitment, non-permanent “volunteers” spend two weeks each summer in workcamps at the movement’s international headquarters in Pierrelaye, France, or at a handful of other spots around Europe. These part-time volunteers are divided into two groups. For those 18 and over (with no upper age limit), the workcamp experience does not include interaction with those in extreme poverty.

Volunteers pay a small sum for room and board ($40 to $75/week, depending on location). For those aged 16-25, “Youth Branch Workcamps”, one-week training sessions (estimate about $10 a day), offer direct interaction between volunteers and the impoverished. No knowledge of French is needed; work includes carpentry, painting, masonry, cooking, followed by evening discussions and readings, until recently with the movement’s much-revered founder, the late Fr. Josef Wresinski.

Other volunteers devote three months, at any time of the year, to an unpaid internship at the movement’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, or at the New York City branch office, again working with families living in extreme poverty on projects designed to draw them back into society: street libraries, literacy and computer programs, family vacations. Interns share housing (free) and housing duties with permanent Fourth World members, but are asked to contribute to food costs.

Because the movement is painfully strapped for funds, be sure to enclose an already-stamped, self-addressed envelope (and perhaps a contribution, too) when requesting further information and literature: Fourth World Movement, 7600 Willow Hill Dr., Landover, MD 20785 (phone 301/336-9489, fax 301/336-0092), e-mail Or view the Web site at


It isn’t easy to find a way of experiencing life in a foreign country as an inclusive member of the community instead of a temporary visitor, but the group excursions run by the small volunteer organization, Lisle Inc., strive towards this goal. For a low cost ($65 to $80 per day, $50 to $70 per day for students), Lisle arranges three-week programs across the world for groups of 12 to 15 participants of any age (from 8 to 80 years old on recent trips) and two to three group leaders. The programs bring members of the group and members of the host community together by focusing on an issue particularly significant to the community and directing the group’s daily activities towards progress on that issue.

On its India program, for example, group members live and volunteer in two Ashram communities where efforts have already begun towards improving schooling, literacy and vocational skills among the inhabitants. On Lisle’s Bali program, group members work alongside Budakelin artists in their vision to create a cultural center for the community. The group and the native artists work towards engaging the community in the appreciation of such artistic endeavors as gamelan music, Balinese dancing, weaving, making prayer offerings, and woodcarving.

Lisle programs also include time for a group orientation to create initial supportive relationships among group members, and excursions away from the host communities, which may involve hiking, snorkeling, or mountain climbing. The organization also emphasizes personal reflection and self-growth throughout the trip, in hopes of inspiring a more accepting and socially responsible world community.

Assistance is available to those in need of financial support for their programs.

For more information, visit Lisle’s Web site at or write to Lisle inc., 900 County Rd., Leander, TX 78641 (phone 800/477-1538, email


His life—comparatively speaking—was in ruins. He had been defeated for reelection to the presidency. His family business was in debt. Prematurely retired, shaken and adrift, he faced a mid-life crisis more intense than most, but similar in essence to that confronting millions of middle-aged Americans.

And so he and his wife traveled. But in a different way. What restored the spirits of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, among several major steps, was an uncommon series of selfless, “outer-directed” trips. For them, travel was undertaken to discover new world issues and social needs, and—equally important—to be involved in curing the ills that travel revealed. The vacation challenge, writes the former president, “lies in figuring out how to combine further education with the pleasures of traveling in distant places, and, on occasion, helping to make the lives of the people you visit a little better.” Having done both, the Carters leave little doubt that the activity has launched them on a second, rewarding phase of life.

In a remarkable book published by Random House—Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life—Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter tell, among other things, of the several life-enhancing travel or travel-related organizations with which they have associated their names, or which they recommend to others. These are: the Friendship Force, Habitat for Humanity (discussed in-depth in the “Building Blocks” volunteer section), GATE (Global Awareness Through Experience), and the International Executive Service Corps.

For the Carters, as for so many other Americans, simply to lie on a beach, or otherwise turn off the mind, is no longer the sole—or even the wisest—approach to vacationing. Using the mind is a far happier leisure activity. Seeking challenge and new ideas is the way to travel pleasure. A change can help us, in Allan Fromme’s words, “become more alive again.” And when the changes achieved through travel are combined with selfless activity—work designed to help others or advance world understanding—then what results is not a mere vacation, but some of the most rewarding interludes of life.


This is already known to many Americans. It is the 24-year-old, nonprofit, Atlanta-based organization founded by the Carters and the Rev. Wayne Smith, which each year sends thousands of adult travelers (“goodwill ambassadors”) to live for one, two, or three weeks in foreign homes found in 45 countries on several continents. Subsequently, the foreign hosts come here to live in American homes. Since the stay in each case is basically without charge (except for transportation and administration), the cost of a Friendship Force holiday is considerably less than for standard trips to the same destination, and upward of 500,000 people have thus far participated. Upon returning, they continue to exchange correspondence or privately arranged visits with the families they have met. In this way, writes Rosalynn Carter, “friendships are ... made that can only lead to a more peaceful world.”

For information on membership in the Friendship Force, and on the exchanges planned from dozens of U.S. cities, contact Friendship Force International, 34 Peachtree St., Suite 900, Atlanta, GA 30303 (phone 800/554-6715, Web site, e-mail

Whereas Doctors without Borders and Health Volunteers Overseas especially needs people with medical expertise, the International Executive Service Corps (333 Ludlow St., P.O. Box 10005, Stamford, CT 06904, phone 203/967-6000, Web, needs experts in the world of business. IESC arranges trips for retired business executives to lend their expertise to would-be entrepreneurs in developing nations.

GATE (Global Awareness Through Experience) (contact Maria Friedman, FSPA, GATE North American Coordinator, 912 Market Street, LaCrosse, WI 54601 (or phone 608/791-5283. There’s also a Web site at offers tours to experience the realities of life in the “Emerging World,” and is operated by an order of Catholic nuns, the Sisters of Charity. Most GATE tours (to the Czech Republic, Poland, Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador) are 10 days in length, and consist of visits to untouristed local communities and homes, and daily seminars attended by persons representing every stripe of political thinking at the destination. Tour members learn, says GATE, “from the poor, as well as from social and political analysts, theologians and economists.” GATE tours are among the least expensive to anywhere, and generally cost $850, plus airfare, for 10 days of all-inclusive arrangements (all lodgings, meals, and transportation to programmed events), in addition to a $100 non-refundable registration fee.


Each year a Minneapolis/St. Paul organization called Global Volunteers offers some 70 varied departures of a “working vacation” to host communities such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Tanzania, Indonesia, Vietnam, Spain, Russia, Poland and within the U.S.—each lasting a manageable two or three weeks. And each will be available to those with no particular engineering or agricultural skills—like lawyers, let’s say, or homemakers from Memphis or Chattanooga. Since Global Volunteer’s inception, more than 10,000 volunteers have been put to work around the globe.

If all this seems a bit of radical chic, a patronizing, quick trip by dilettantes (as it initially appeared to me), then you’ll want to know the following:

Each trip is undertaken at the specific request of the host community, for projects they eagerly wish to complete. The long and laborious task of soliciting such invitations has largely occupied the time of the organization over the past several years, and is now complete. No one arrives uninvited, and villagers give a warm welcome to the volunteers who will assist them in programs of education (teaching English, math, or science), health care (building clinics and community centers), and natural resources (securing potable water supplies, reforestation)—all as mapped out by the villagers themselves.

Though each participant stays for only two or three weeks, the projects go on for a much longer time, and are worked on by successive groups averaging eight to 12 volunteers apiece. As one group leaves, another arrives, and the work continues unabated.

On some trips to the less developed countries, so great is the gap in formal education between the villagers (many of them illiterate and thus unable to read instructions) and their guests (mostly college graduates) that even the most technically untrained of those volunteers can make a substantial contribution. “I never knew I had these skills,” said one middle-aged matron, “but mixing concrete is like baking a cake: you simply follow the recipe.”

The initial four or five visits apiece in 1989-1995 to each of the destinations (a total of 39 preparatory trips) were immensely successful. “We built a relationship of trust,” says Burnham (Bud) Philbrook, a lawyer and former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives who is president of Global Volunteers. “We showed them that not all Americans were like characters from ‘Dallas.’ ” Currently, the requests for further visits arriving from villages around the world are far greater than the number of volunteers on hand to make the trips.

In the early 1990s, the organization made frequent visits to such locations as the following:

- Pommern, in Tanzania, a remote rural community of 3,000 people, to which Global Volunteers was invited by the Tanzanian Lutheran church. There, participants lived for three weeks in an old German mission house built of red clay in 1912, sleeping in separate men’s dorms, women’s dorms, and a few private rooms for couples, and consuming meals carefully prepared for them by local women. Daytimes, they expanded a woefully inadequate 16-bed clinic currently serving a dozen surrounding villages, created a secondary school and taught the English-language skills so vital to commercial success in Tanzania, and assisted villagers in several water-supply projects.

- Llanos de Morales, in Guatemala, at the invitation of a nonprofit, secular Guatemalan foundation. Members stayed for two weeks at a time in the annex to a Catholic church, eating in the backroom of a nearby small tienda (store). In a country whose government provides its poverty-stricken villagers with scarcely any training or resources at all, Global Volunteers ran the gamut of development efforts, from renovating an old building into a preschool, teaching English, helping preschoolers to use toothbrushes, coaching volleyball, constructing a community center, and providing assistance in the start-up of small businesses.

- Leabuu, in Western Samoa, the independent nation that is far poorer but far lovelier (say several volunteers) than nearby American Samoa. At the invitation of Roman Catholic Cardinal Pio Tafinuu, a native Samoan who wears the traditional “lava lava” skirt, they will stay for three weeks at a time in a church retreat center 20 yards from the Pacific Ocean. Their task: to renovate a large community center that will then serve as the catalyst for a broad range of development projects.

- Adjuntas, in Mexico, south of Guanajuato, both the poorest of the villages served by Global Volunteers and also the nearest, and typical of literally thousands of Mexican villages that lack both electricity and running water, requiring villagers to place large buckets on their burros to carry water from locations miles away. And yet, says Philbrook, the village is rich in both culture and a sense of community, and determined to make progress. There are now latrines in Adjuntas (Global Volunteers built them), and a host of other energizing communal activities, most of them sponsored by the University of Guanajuato, which also coordinated the villagers’ invitation to Global Volunteers.

Trips more recently operated include (and there are many more): Dobczyce, Poland (outside Cracow), where volunteers taught English in classrooms to both elementary and secondary students; another group will do the same for high school-age students at summer English language camps at Zakopane in the southern Tatra mountains of Poland (volunteers need not be experienced teachers, but simply enthusiastic ones, stressing pronunciation and conversational skills, not grammar); Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon) in Vietnam, and to Rota, Spain, near Cadiz, again for the teaching of conversational English; to Santa Elena, Costa Rica, working outdoors on construction projects in nature reserves; and to the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, working in three mountain villages on water systems, or in the construction or renovation of community buildings.

In every village, the organization insists that the ultimate responsibility for development be on the local people, who initiate and supervise every project, using resources on hand and tools they are familiar with. In total agreement with the teachings of the late British economist E. F. Schumacher (“Small Is Beautiful”), Global Volunteers imports no complex devices or machines; if shovels are lacking to dig a well, they send out no urgent orders for a shovel, but use local implements. While providing assistance, the volunteers learn about community structures, family loyalties, courage in the face of adversity, “receiving far more than we contribute,” according to Philbrook.

As one volunteer put it: “I expected to find a sense of futility and hopelessness. I discovered instead a determination of the human spirit to carry on in spite of limited circumstances, an attitude of innovation and make-do, an eagerness to learn new ideas, and hope for their children to have a better life than they’ve had.”

Lest the group be accused of overlooking widespread poverty and development needs here at home, the organization runs about a dozen programs in the United States as well. A program in the Mississippi Delta focuses on community improvement— volunteers build and paint community buildings as well as tutor both children and adults. In the Rio Grande Valley, volunteers build homes for migrant farm workers.

Because Global Volunteers is a registered, nonprofit organization, contributions to it are tax deductible; and because the expenses incurred by each volunteer are deemed to be contributions by them, they, too, are deductible (provided you don’t take any additional vacation immediately before or after the scheduled trip). Keep that in mind when considering the modest cost of participating: from $500 for one week in the United States and between $1,200 - $2,500 for international trips to places such as China, the Cook Islands, Poland, Greece, Tanzania, the Ukraine and Northern Ireland (among others), not including airfare, but otherwise all-inclusive. Each of these prices is reduced by federal and state tax savings of as much as 38% for some Americans. And each price includes the services of a trained “team leader,” and about $100 per person for project materials (concrete, nails, other construction aids).

Accommodations? A “guest house” in Spain; hotels in Poland, Mexico, Vietnam; community housing, dormitory style in the developing countries. In the U.S., homestays with local people. The emphasis in each case is on experiencing local life from a non-tourist perspective.

To join a “private” Peace Corps sponsoring short-term working vacations, one that has gained my own excited attention to the same extent as the original Peace Corps, contact: Global Volunteers, East 375 Little Canada Rd., St. Paul, MN 55117-1627 (phone 800/487-1074 or 651/407-6100 fax 651/482-0915 or Or view the Web site at for organization and program information.


This summer, many thousands of American teenagers will be hurtling through Europe by escorted motor coach, isolated from the life of that continent by the steel-and-glass enclosure of their buses. They will socialize with one another, speak and hear English throughout, eat in segregated sections of hotel dining rooms, and regard themselves—subconsciously but firmly—as a privileged elite.

A better-informed segment of our youth will be sent by their parents, out of motives of the purest love, to international workcamps. International “workcamps”—a horrid term unrelated to the happy atmosphere of the sites—were first formed at the end of World War I. A Swiss pacifist, Pierre Ceresole, conceived of projects in which youth of the former combatants—France and Germany—would work together to clear the wreckage of war. Fittingly, he chose the battlefield of Verdun for the first voluntary “workcamp.” Several hundred such places are now found in countries of both Western and Eastern Europe.

There they will perform socially useful projects in the full midst of the European population. They will mix with other international young people, attempt foreign languages, make lifelong friendships, enjoy the satisfaction of contributing to worthy efforts, gain an appreciation for the realities of life abroad, and feel their minds stretch and grow. Work responsibilities for young people vary widely. In the midlands of England, they take underprivileged children on summer excursions to the sea. On the outskirts of Paris, they fill in for vacationing orderlies at centers for the aged. In the national parks of Germany, they restore hiking trails or clear away debris. And in the slums of Boston, they help to refurbish low-cost housing for the poor. While no one would denigrate their ensuing accomplishments, it becomes clear that the camaraderie of shared work, and the international understanding it brings about, are as important as the structures they build or the services they render.


Here in the United States, the two major clearinghouses for information on nearly 1,000 international workcamps (they will also book you into them) are: SCI/International Voluntary Service, 814 NE 40th St., Seattle, WA, 98105 (phone: Seattle National Office, 206/545-6585; e-mail: or see the Web site at; and Volunteers for Peace International Workcamps (VFP), 1034 Tiffany Road, Belmont, VT 05730 (phone 802/259-2759, fax 802/259-2922, e-mail or view the Web site at SCI requires its overseas volunteers to be at least 18 years of age, and will accept 16- and 17-year-olds only into its several domestic workcamps scattered around the country. Volunteers in third world countries must be 21. VFP will accept 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds for certain programs in Western and Eastern Europe. It enforces an 18-year-old minimum for the remainder of all international camps and U.S. workcamps, although there are a few camps that accept parents with children. Those can be found in Switzerland, Italy, and Denmark.

SCI, with branches worldwide, is the more strongly ideological of the two; many of its workcamps stress liberal political values or ecological concerns. Recent workcamps have included construction of energy-efficient “hogans” (dwellings) and aid to elderly people on Navajo reservations in the Far West; gardening and outdoor activities in Los Angeles with young people otherwise in danger of recruitment into youth gangs; staffing of refugee camps in Croatia; renovating a home for AIDS patients in Matera, Italy.

VFP is less political in its approach. “We believe that any opportunity to come into contact with other cultures is worthwhile,” is how a recent official once put it. Sample activities include coordinating activities in a center for the homeless of Vienna, repairing a Belgian Red Cross shelter for political refugees, path clearing and fire prevention work in Italian wildlife parks.

Interestingly, in the past both programs have included numerous camps in Central and Eastern Europe (building a kindergarten in Bosnia, working on environmental projects in the Czech Republic); and VFP is particularly proud of its record of sending youthful American participants to several different workcamps in Russia. For three- and four-week periods in the summer, international volunteers helped an equal number of Russians to build a children’s sanatorium on the west bank of the Volga, assisted scientists in identifying and tracking wildlife in various nature preserves of the Western Urals, and worked in two children’s hospitals in Moscow. Programs include organized discussion and debate on local culture, history and politics. Construction-based programs do not include a formal forum for such interchange. For particular countries, there may be additional fees of up to $300. Most of this money goes as a “donation” to VFP and SCI’s partner organizations.

What does it all amount to? Listen to the returning three-week volunteers. “It was wonderful,” said a youngster from Michigan, “to see people working toward a common goal, not as ‘Americans’ or ‘Czechs’ or ‘Germans’ or ‘Catholics’ or ‘Protestants’ or ‘Jews,’ but as people.” “I felt so lucky to have befriended people from around the world and across the political spectrum,” said another. “There were 60 of us, from 14 nations, and after work we would sit around a campfire. What followed were conversations and arguments, some dancing, and also some people sitting quietly, reflecting. It was during those informal times that I learned the most.”

Both the SCI and VFP directories for the coming summer are published in April. SCI charges $35 for membership, newsletters and a yearly list of opportunities; VFP asks a mere $20 (and the latter charge also includes subscription to a newsletter and is deducted from any later registration fee). The two groups also post their workcamp directories online. After perusing the several hundred descriptions of workcamps, applicants pay (to SCI) $65 for a U.S. workcamp assignment, $125 for one abroad; and (to VFP) $200 for the majority of programs. Those prices usually include room and board (but in some situations you’ll have to pay more, in cash when you arrive), but do not include airfare or ground transportation to the workcamp. Note: rates for Latin American, Russian, Asian and African workcamps range from $300 to $500, dependent upon the geographic location of the workcamp. SCI will refund the workcamp payment if the applicant fails to be placed or the camp is cancelled. Some youngsters attend multiple workcamps in the course of an active summer.

The Council on International Educational Exchange (C.I.E.E.), 205 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 10017 (phone 212/661-1414, Web site: lists dozens of International Volunteer Projects for college-aged people throughout the world, including several in the U.S. Projects, which range from serving as an assistant at a summer camp for people with disabilities to helping to restore a medieval castle, are typically scheduled for the summer months and last two to four weeks. Volunteers have to pay $300, plus the cost of transportation to their work place. Room and board are covered once you arrive. Participants must be at least 18, and the majority of volunteers are 25 or under.

A similar but much smaller and more expensive program for high school students called Global Service Projects is also offered by the C.I.E.E. During the summer of 2002 (the first year for its high school-only programs), there were trips to Costa Rica, New Zealand, South Africa, and Spain. Students work on various projects, such as rainforest preservation (in Costa Rica), replanting trees (in New Zealand), or vegetation studies (on a game reserve in South Africa). Trips last from two to five weeks, and cost between $3,200 and $5,000, including international airfare, room and board.