By Candyce H. Stapen
Feed baby lions in South Africa, track elephants through the Namib Desert, identify dolphins off a remote Greek island and build nests for toucans in Belize. These are just some of the adventures available on a volunteer vacation.
Not only is doing good fun, but it comes with its own rewards. You connect to the people, the culture, the land and the wildlife in a way not possible when moving from posh hotel to posh hotel. You pay for the privilege of assisting, but as most volunteers say, you get back more than you give. Below is a sampling of the possibilities.
Namibia: Track elephants through the Namib Desert and assist local farmers in Damaraland in Namibia’s northwest. You help with the conservation of the 600 desert adapted elephants that inhabit the region by building protective walls around the farmers’ water sources as well as the elephants’ water holes. This demonstrates how water, a scarce and precious commodity, can be shared. Participants volunteer for two weeks through Abenteuer Afrika Safaris.
South Africa: Feed lion and cheetah cubs as well as play with baby giraffes at the Lion Park, Lanseria, outside of Johannesburg. You also clean and help maintain the camp. This popular program is operated by i-to-i travel. Volunteers have some time off to visit local sites.
Greece: The sea surrounding off-the-beaten-path Kalamos is home to bottlenose and common dolphins. Volunteers assist scientists in identifying and monitoring dolphins and entering data. After work, there’s time to swim and explore the island. Helping to conserve dolphins is just one of 60 programs GeoVisions offers in 20 countries.
Belize: Clear trails, restore habitat and build nests for toucans and other birds recently freed from captivity or healing after an injury through the Casa Avian Support Alliance (CASA). The association is located on 23 acres that also include Casa del Caballo Blanco, an eco-friendly lodge with six cabanas. Volunteers combine work with birding tours, exploration of a nearby Maya site and tubing on a river.
Before signing-up for a volunteer adventure, be honest about what minimum western-style comforts you need. Are the lodgings in a hotel with air conditioning or in a local habitat with a communal outhouse? Find out what the fee covers and if meals and transportation are extra. Ask what is the age range of typical volunteers? Some programs cater mostly to high school or college students.