Once a vacation option reserved only for the altruistic college student, 'voluntourism' is rapidly spreading beyond college campuses and into the mainstream. Increasingly, individuals are yearning for an experience that appeases both their desire for adventure as well as their social conscience, trading vacations filled with poolside piña coladas for those spent learning about and helping their fellow man.
With endless work to be done, we've narrowed the options and can recommend the following voluntourism vacation destinations for those travellers with a penchant for the philanthropic.
The Backpack and Africa Travel Centre, Cape Town, South Africa
Sports enthusiasts rejoice! Voted Best Hostel in Africa in 2010 by Hostelworld.com customers, the Backpack and Africa Travel Center of South Africa not only provides plush hostel accommodations, it also offers the opportunity to break out the old soccer ball. This hostel offers soccer camps in the townships of Cape Town. Guests are invited to donate their used soccer gear and to help deprived children in the townships accomplish their dreams of soccer stardom. For the less athletic clientele, the hostel presents the opportunity to volunteer at a local crèche, or nursery. The hostel also asks those who can to knit blankets while lounging around the hostel, watching TV or chatting with friends. The blankets are provided to the countless sick babies, many infected with HIV, that call the crèche their home. Those volunteers who lack the skills or time to complete the project can pass the baton to the next round of hostel inhabitants to finish the job. Through these actions, the lives of those volunteering through the hostel and those being helped are connected by the strongest of bonds.
Skyway Guesthouse, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Thirty years of war, foreign occupation and genocide has left Cambodia with a surplus of orphaned and abandoned children. Located in the heart of Siem Reap, the Skyway Guesthouse offers patrons the opportunity to dedicate their days to supporting some of these impoverished victims of circumstance, whose parents or other family members have been killed or maimed by landmines, died of hunger or disease or targeted for murder because of their political affiliations. Volunteers at this hostel can make a difference in the lives of these destitute children by teaching them English and computer skills, assisting them with homework and providing them with the love and attention they desperately need.
Favela Receptiva, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Perched on the outskirts of Rio, Favela Receptiva is located on the edge of the Villa Canoas, a shanty town (or favela) common to Brazilian cities. This colourful favela is built like a layer-cake, with houses stacked on houses, creating a three-dimensional maze of homes, bars, schools and markets. Unfortunately, the claustrophobic Villa Canoas is plagued by sewage and hygiene problems, and while some portions of the favela have electricity, other sections are frequently left to suffer in the dark or rely on illegal power. Providing assistance to this thriving community, the Favela Receptiva connects inspired guests with local organizations to bring needed support to the favela. Volunteers can work to educate children, assist in cleaning and construction, aid local groups in crime prevention and assist non-profit groups in curbing the growing level of domestic violence and child abuse. Most of these crucial programs are focused on connecting the favela’s youth to programs centered on education, community development, human rights and public safety.
Hostel Hoff, Moshi, Tanzania
Nestled in the heart of Moshi at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro in Northern Tanzania, the Hostel Hoff caters to novice voluntourists, many of whom are visiting an underdeveloped country for the first time. Unsure patrons receive guidance from the hostel regarding the myriad of volunteer options for anyone wishing to lend a helping hand. Whether it’s promoting HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, teaching the fundamentals at a local school or uplifting the social status of Masai women by helping them learn English, there is a job available that meets the specific talents of every traveller. At Hostel Hoff, patrons arrive with a desire to make a difference and leave as seasoned veterans in selflessness.
INOUT Hostel, Barcelona, Spain
Only minutes from the urban flurry of Barcelona, guests at the INOUT hostel are immersed in the natural oasis of Collserola Park, where the roar of car engines is replaced by the soothing sounds of splashing streams. However, it is not simply this lush locale that makes the luxurious hostel an unforgettable vacation destination. Staffed by a team of predominantly disabled individuals who maintain an unparalleled commitment to their work, INOUT provides guests a rare opportunity to help people with special needs achieve their dreams of becoming self-sufficient members of the working world. Visitors are encouraged to assist the hostel staff with their daily tasks, including cleaning, gardening, maintenance and operation of the hostel’s restaurant. It is through the development of these special relationships that guests discover the hostel’s mantra: 'enter with an open heart and you will leave with a smile, impossible to erase.'
The Hostel-Inn Tango City, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Many of Latin America's capital cities are surrounded by shanty towns. Less than 30 minutes from the downtown area, they remain unknown. They are kept a secret. Hostel-inn Tango City and Hostel-inn Buenos Aires help to organize the volunteer programmes in different shanty towns working with the NGO 'Voluntario Global'. Their hostels offer the possibility to know ‘the other Buenos Aires’ and be a volunteer. By doing this you can uncover the real city different from that shown in tourist guides. You can explore the other side of the city and understand more about exclusion, the social struggle in Latin America and be a volunteer for short- or long-term programmes. Volunteers are tutoring by translators and local guides, too. Volunteer opportunities include recreational activities and help with schoolwork with children. Workshops with adults include English classes, computer, small cooperatives work, institutional communication and many other areas. The volunteers’ presence helps to minimise alienation. The objective is to always provide the tools that improve the quality of life, but also to teach them to communicate better and to have confidence in themselves.
Caral Hostel, Caral, Peru
This small agricultural village is next to the 4,700-year-old sacred city of Caral-Supe, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It's also a popular stop-off for backpackers as it's only 200km from Lima. Caral Hostel has joined up with the Esfuerzo y Desarrollo NGO to improve the quality of life for Peru's 'most vulnerable populations' - particularly children, teenage mothers and abandoned elderly. Guests at Caral Hostel have the great opportunity to teach children English, computing, math, sewing and guinea pig farming. They can also do social work with children, teach reading and writing to adults or teach English to the tour guides of Caral-Supe, improving their ability to earn in their line of work. Plus, the hostel has programs for improving the overall layout of the city, whether it's laying pavement or working on the water and drainage systems. What better way to meet the locals, help the community and see an important heritage site all at the same time?!