New Greek sea turtle project launched

Volunteering NGO Frontier has added a new conservation project to its volunteering trip roster. The Greece Sea Turtle Conservation project gives volunteers hands-on opportunities to help monitor and relocate endangered loggerhead turtle hachlings.

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Frontier works with a local Greek partner organisation that has been conducting vital research in the Kalamata area of Greece since 1983. The Peloponnese coastline here is an important breeding area for the loggerhead sea turtle in the Mediterranean and the projects aims to protect them through monitoring and research, developing and implementing management plans, habitat restoration, raising public awareness and rehabilitating sick and injured turtles. Protecting loggerhead sea turtle nests against predation by mammals, and inundation by incoming tides ensures that as many hatchlings as possible are added to the global population each year. Alongside this, public awareness activities and environmental education days help educate the local people to adopt friendlier attitudes towards the natural environment and gain a deeper understanding into the importance of conserving loggerhead turtles.

Activity: Work will vary depending on the current needs of the project but you could expect to be involved in turtle egg collection, nest excavation, scientific monitoring and tagging of hatchlings and turtles, and educating visitors about the project. You could also get the opportunity to learn about marine flora. During the first two weeks volunteers prepare for the oncoming nesting season and carry out beach clean ups. During peak nesting season (mid May-mid August) tasks may include morning surveys to look for adult turtle tracks and locate nests, ‘caging’ or relocating threatened nests and night surveys to observe and tag nesting females. During hatching season (mid July- late October) volunteers look for baby turtle tracks, monitor hatching nests and tag adult female turtles during nesting.

When not at work, everyone has a chance to relax on the beach, or explore the surrounding area to get a flavour of Greekhatchling emerges from the nest culture.

Accommodation: All volunteers stay in beautifully scenic surroundings on a campsite right on the beach. You need to bring your own tent, camping equipment, bedding etc, but cooking facilities, showers and toilets are provided – the campsite also has a small restaurant, telephone and internet facilities. There’s a strong communal atmosphere with everyone pitching in with cooking and cleaning.

For further details, including dates and prices, visit Greece Sea Turtle Conservation – Frontier

Recommended for… People who love wildlife (and the sea) and want to help protect an endangered species

Be aware that… Life on the project is communal (except for your own private tent) with a shared food kitty, cooking and cleaning duties. It may not suit you if you’d rather spend time on your own or in very small groups.

‘Good’ credentials:

  • Helping to protect an endangered species
  • Aiding an established conservation organisation that has been operating in the area since 1983
  • Low-impact living on site

 

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Frontier profiles wildlife and teaching projects in Tanzania

Guest blogger Jenny Collins, of NGO Frontier, profiles the volunteering projects on offer in TanzaniaChildren in Tanzania

Tanzania, in East Africa, is a fascinating country and a great place to volunteer. It consists of a large area of mainland as well as three main islands: Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mafia where Frontier’s main projects are based. The Indian Ocean borders the country to the east providing ample opportunity for world class diving, while on the mainland your surroundings will alter from the coastal tropical lowlands to the inland deserts and northern mountains, including the famous Mount Kilimanjaro.

Frontier currently runs two dozen volunteering projects in Tanzania (see the full list on their site) – they broadly fall into these areas:

Marine and Wildlife Conservation

Marine life in TanzaniaDiving projects are based within the Mafia Island Marine Park where volunteers stay on a basic beach camp – getting a chance to really get back to nature.  Volunteers stay in communal bandas – huts made from makuti (woven palm leaves), poles and mud, sleeping on beds constructed from sustainably harvested wooden poles. The “shower” is a jug or a bucket of water and cooking takes place over an open fire.

As well as the diving and marine conservation work volunteers can also get involved with the community outreach and environmental awareness work in the local villages, taking turns to cook, tidy and clean the camp, clean and oil the compressor, rinse dive kit and help with a wide variety of other essential camp duties.

Visitors can experience camp life on the new wildlife projects which are based in the same area. The main focus is to learn a variety of techniques required to monitor local biodiversity effectively. This includes conducting a range of wildlife and socio-economic surveys to help gather the data required. Frontier use various (humane) trapping techniques allowing volunteers to get up close with stunning frogs, birds and maybe the occasional bush baby.

Teaching and Community Projects

Taking part in teaching and community projects can be a great way to really become part of and learn from a community – it will also give you plenty of opportunity to practice your Swahili! Whether you choose to work in an orphanage, school or within an NGO, you will make a real difference to the communities. Accommodation is basic but comfortable in volunteer houses near to the project sites. There is also the opportunity to take part in sports coaching for those with a passion for it (anyone fancy arranging a 5-a-side match with local school children?).

AdventureTrekking in Tanzania

If you fancy more of a physical challenge then Tanzania Adventure projects – which includes climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – are perfect. On arrival volunteers stay in the safari town of Moshi which offers the first glimpse of Mount Kilimanjaro.

On the trek, accommodation is either tented or in huts along the trail. Challenging yourself with one of nature’s ultimate tests, reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain – the “roof of Africa” – will be an experience you’ll never forget!

Recommended for… anyone looking to learn about Tanzania and wanting to give something back to the local people – there are a variety of projects for different interests and lengths to suit.

Be aware that… As with any volunteering project in a developing country, work can be hard (this isn’t a ‘lie on the beach’ holiday) but your help is of great support to the local community and wildlife.

 ‘Good’ credentials:

  • Frontier works alongside local communities and organisations to make sure that the Tanzanian people benefit and that the projects can continue after Frontier leaves
  • Food for people on camp is sourced from local villages
  • The projects help provide income for local people

 

About the author: Jenny Collins works for Frontier, an NGO dedicated to safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, and building sustainable livelihoods for marginalised communities in the world’s poorest countries. Find out more about Frontier’s Tanzania projects see all their opportunities to volunteer or take part in ethical adventure travel by visiting http://www.frontier.ac.uk.

See our Good Work section for more reviews and profiles of volunteering projects.

 

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Volunteering in a Peruvian orphanage

Contact: Traveller Not Tourist, Arequipa, Peru / www.travellernottourist.com / T: 0051 99 88 83 669 / E: travellernottourist@gmail.com

Guest blogger Renee Dodds shares her experience of volunteering with orphans in PeruRenee looking after the babies

Traveller Not Tourist is a small organization set up by a lovely young couple who were determined to give visitors to Peru the opportunity to travel responsibly and help the local community.  As the name suggests, Traveller Not Tourist is all about helping people have a positive impact on the community and environment rather than mere ‘tourism’ without thought or care.

I discovered the organization while doing a web search for free or low-cost volunteering.  My husband and I had decided we wanted to volunteer overseas, but were a bit disheartened by the exorbitant fees being charged by many organizations, with no guarantee that the money paid would be used for the local community.  Traveller Not Tourist appealed to us for this reason, they only charge a small administration fee ($100 USD at the time of writing this).

I expected to hang out with some cute kids and feel like I was doing some good in the world when I signed up, but I wasn’t prepared for such an emotional and intense experience.  There were days when the work was exhausting, or I would be overcome with sadness for the situation these kids were in, or I was just plain sick of nappies! But the smiles and hugs from the children every day when you open the door and they pile into your arms is the most precious thing on earth.  And watching the babies learn to clap and crawl and knowing you helped them in their development is just incredible.

Our time at the orphanage was life-changing and memories of the children will stay with me forever.  On our last night with them they performed a concert to say goodbye, and each gave us handmade letters they had written to say how much they would miss us.

Traveller Not Tourist know how much the volunteers bond with the children, so they send a newsletter out with updates and photos of the kids, it makes my day every time I get one!

Orphans and staff at the orphanageWork: They have two projects available to volunteer for, an orphanage and a school – the one we were placed with was the Casa Hogar Luz Alba Orphanage. The orphanage is a home for children who, for a whole range of reasons, are unable to live with their parents.  There were 23 children aged two months to 10 years there at the time we volunteered, including four babies under eight months old.

Volunteers do ‘half days’, either morning or afternoon, so you have the rest of the day off to yourself (we used the time to do an intensive Spanish language course). Volunteers are there to give the few orphanage staff a much needed break (they are all local full time volunteers who live at the orphanage). So you will be asked to play with the children, provide some general care (bathing/eating etc), clean the living spaces and wash clothes. I was generally asked to spend most of my time in the tiny nursery caring for the four babies so it helps to have some experience changing nappies and caring for very young babies.

They ask for a minimum volunteer commitment of one month, but they also offer a ‘volunteer for a day’ program, where travellers just passing through can offer their services for a day or two.

Accommodation: Traveller Not Tourist has a self-contained volunteer house with rooms available at very low cost to accommodate volunteers.  It is around the same price as local backpackers but luxurious in comparison, with a big loungeroom, hot water, great kitchen! It’s really lovely to  live with all the other volunteers in a communal space and you will make some great friends.

Recommended for… Anyone who loves working with childrenHaving fun whilst helping the children

Be aware that… The orphanage staff don’t necessarily speak English and you need to communicate with them regarding the children so make sure you have some basic phrases in place before you start.

It’s not all cuddling babies and playing peek-a-boo, it can actually be extremely physically demanding work, there was no washing machine when we were there and the babies were mostly in cloth nappies, so large chunks of the day were spent on hands and knees scrubbing clothes.  My knuckles were red raw by the time I left.

The orphanage staff ask for all tattoos to be covered and piercings taken out or hidden and for dress to be conservative.

‘Good’ credentials:

  • Traveller  Not Tourist are a tiny, grassroots organization and have a very simple formula of only asking for volunteer time, not large payments of cash, so there is no need to worry about where your money is going.  It’s all very transparent, you donate time and see the immediate benefit.
  • This is no token volunteerism – volunteers make a huge difference in these children’s lives and the orphanage relies on their help.  The orphanage gets no funding from government, so has no way of obtaining much needed support.
  • These children so badly need the attention that the few, overworked women at the orphanage just don’t have time to give them.

 

Date of visit: April 2008

About the author: Renee Dodds is a freelance writer and public relations professional living in Perth, Australia. (Photos courtesy of Renee Dodds)

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Conservation with Youth Challenge International, Costa Rica

Unfulfilled with her time at a Danish university Jade Johnston, of travel blog Our Oyster, decided to join a volunteering project abroad. Here she shares her experience of volunteering on a conservation project with Youth Challenge International in Costa Rica.cooling-off in Costa Rica (c) Sarah Jackson 

Not keen on facing a winter semester in Denmark with no friends to speak of, I turned on my computer, and started researching volunteering opportunities abroad. I didn’t really know where to start. Most volunteer programs I found charged exorbitant prices for volunteering terms that were much shorter than I was looking for. After living in Denmark for seven months, one of the world’s most expensive countries, I only had a limited budget. Eventually, after following what seemed like a never ending trail of links (there was no Goodtrippers back then to help me in my search! – “Thanks Jade!” – Ed.), I came across a program called Youth Challenge International (YCI).

The program which is based in Canada accepts volunteers from Canada, America, and the European Union. There is also a partner organization in Australia called Youth Challenge Australia (YCA) which partners with some of the same organizations.

Where Does YCI and YCA Operate?

YCI works in a variety of countries, mainly in Latin America and Africa. YCA also has indigenous Australia programs as well. The programs vary in length from four to 12 weeks depending on what location and type of program you choose. There are usually at least two departure dates per location, although this does vary depending on the partner organization. What originally drew me to YCI is that is offered a long term volunteer program, but at a reasonable price. I had to pay my own airfare but my program fee covered all my in country expenses – the only extra money I needed was for pocket spending money.

I chose to go to Costa Rica. The program start date nicely coincided with the start of the next university year (it was my “I need time off from school excuse”) and it also would give me an opportunity to learn Spanish, which is something I had recently become interested in.

Group Living

Another factor which drew me to YCI is the fact that it is a group project. Our group had 14 members from Canada and Australia, including two team leaders. This helped lesson the culture shock as we had a large support network. It also helped ease day to day living as two members would stay back from work each day to do all the group cooking and cleaning. The only disadvantage of living in a large group of English speakers is that we didn’t get a total Spanish immersion experience. Those of us who chose to study Spanish did learn quite a bit, but others who didn’t probably went home with only a few basic words.

The volunteering work

Conservation work in Costa Rica (c) Sarah JacksonIt’s important to note that everyone’s group will be different. Projects change constantly, and the work that I did in Costa Rica may be completely different than the work you will do. Even groups going back to the same project at later stages have different experiences.

Our group lived together in a house that a member of the community donated to us to use. But the group who went the next year lived separately in community homestays as the original house had been sold to a new owner who was now living in it. Their experience will have been completely different from mine, even though they were working on the same project.

It’s also important to research what type of volunteer work you want to do. In Costa Rica at the time that I participated, most of the work was infrastructure based in national parks, or developing ecotourism opportunities in small communities. Our project was in a small community in Juanilama de Poco Sol where we helped save a community-owned patch of rainforest from deforestation for agricultural land, by developing it into an ecotourism destination. Now tourists from around the world can venture to this small village, join farm stays in extensions that villagers have built onto their homes and experience the rainforest and local culture. This is of direct economic benefit to the community members.

It was hard manual labour. We used machetes to clear walking trails, pickaxes and shovels to level out ground, and carried cement bricks deep into the rainforest to stabilize steps built into the hills. We also taught the locals basic English and wilderness first aid, but the majority of our work was hard graft.

Community Ownershipvolunteers in Costa Rica (c) Sarah Jackson

One thing that I really enjoyed about this project was the emphasis put on community ownership. Not just any village can get a group of YCI volunteers in. They need to go through an application process and prove that the group will really benefit them in reaching their goal. This means that the community really, really wants to have the volunteers there. Also it means that the project is something that the community itself has decided it wants, and not just something that a group of outsiders has decided would be good for them.

Since the community really wanted this project to succeed, we always had lots of engagement with the local people. We worked alongside the local young men, got taught how to salsa dance by the school children, and always had people there ready to help us when we needed it. We attended weddings and dinners, and really felt welcomed by the whole village.

Recommended for… Those who are looking for a long-term project and prefer working alongside lots of other volunteers for support.

Be aware that… This programme is probably not suitable for those looking for short-term projects, or for individual travellers passing through the area. The application process was quite long and there was no guarantee I would be placed where I wanted to be. Also, I had to attend an orientation day in Canada and then fly out with all the other participants (which was particularly annoying since I lived in Scotland at the time, and had to fly back to Canada just for the day). This is the sort of program you need to decide on and plan out in advance.

‘Good’ credentials:frog in Costa Rica (c) Sarah Jackson

  • Delivering projects the community itself has chosen and needs
  • Creation of ecotourism facilities to help the community develop a sustainable source of income
  • Protection of community-owned rainforest
  • Immersion in local, community life

 

For more information visit Youth Challenge International at www.yci.org or Youth Challenge Australia at www.youthchallenge.org.au

About the Author: Jade is a Canadian expat now living in Australia. She writes a blog at OurOyster.com and blogs about budget travel, slow travel, destination and tour reviews, and family travel. Her next project will be a three month road trip across her home country of Canada, and she has just finished a similar epic road trip across Australia. Visit www.ouroyster.com, connect via Facebook or follow on Twitter @Our_Oyster

 

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5 ‘must do’ tips for any volunteering holiday

From working with children on the streets of India’s slums, to teaching English in Cambodia; surveying big cats in Costa Rica or marine conservation in Madagascar, volunteering can make a positive impact around the world. Maria Sowter, of NGO Frontier, looks at the more personal benefits for the volunteer…

1. Learn some of the language

Learning a few phrases in the language of the country you’re about to visit is going to ease your transition into this new culture. It will also give

hanging out with the locals

you a base to build upon during your trip that will help you get the most from your time volunteering: you’ll be communicating better with the people you aim to help. Even learning a small amount of any new language is an accomplishment that will boost your confidence and feelings of personal development in addition to your volunteering project.

2. Get involved and be flexible!

This may sound like an obvious one but always be looking for what could be done. Whether it’s from helping out around the accommodation you’re staying in to going the extra mile on the project, you’ll be more likely to get a feeling of satisfaction from making a tangible difference. Think outside the box! You get out what you put in from a project. Just because you signed up for a medical volunteering project in a rural village, doesn’t mean that you can’t offer your service in the local school if you have the chance. Being flexible like this will ensure you help where it is needed most whilst getting the most from your project.

Host family Fiji3. Make the most of your free time

It would be a mistake to view a volunteering project as a holiday abroad but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy yourself in your spare time. Volunteering is all about experiencing a new culture first hand, so use your free time to travel around the country or to socialise with the locals

4. Eat local food

Getting to know locals is key to understanding a different way of life, and if you want to try out new experiences then food is a great way to start. Eating where and what the locals eat will not only open your eyes but quite literally your mouth to exotic and foreign tastes. Food is often the lynchpin of local customs, celebrations or the day-to-day way of life – you won’t just be filling your stomach, but also making friends and strengthening bonds with communities.

5. Keep a journal

Keeping a journal is a great way to record your time as a volunteer. Reading back over it once you return home will help keep memories all the more vivid, and may help you learn more about yourself as a result of your placement. Keeping track of what you have learnt as a volunteer will also aid you when it comes to updating your CV or LinkedIn profile (which is always good for improving career prospects).

If you’d like to find out more about all of Frontier’s volunteer opportunities you can view all our projects by viewing the website – www.frontier.ac.uk.

Keep updated with project news, photos, videos, and competitions by joining the Frontier community online with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, or Flickr.

About the author: Maria Sowter works for Frontier, an NGO dedicated to safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, and building sustainable livelihoods for marginalised communities in the world’s poorest countries. Check out the wide variety of opportunities to volunteer abroad with Frontier: whether you’re looking for placements involving teaching abroadwildlife conservation volunteering, or simply someadventure travel, Frontier is sure to have something suitable.Visit www.frontier.ac.uk

How to choose the perfect volunteering project

Want to volunteer overseas but bamboozled by choice? Maria Sowter of Frontier, an NGO operating conservation and community-based volunteering projects, shares her advice on finding the right volunteering project for you.

Frontier's beach-based projectsVolunteering abroad can be one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences you can have; a brilliant way to experience the world’s rich and varied cultures whilst making a difference where it’s needed most. Planning a trip abroad though can be complicated at the best of times and incorporating a volunteer placement into your travels can sometimes seem like a daunting prospect.

If you’re reading this you’ll know you want something more from your travels than a good photo opportunity and a bar on the beach. You’ll also know that the key to any successful placement is planning and researching to ensure you end up on a project that will keep you interested and motivated throughout. But how do you choose the right volunteering project for you?

 

What’s your passion?

It may sound simple but choose a project that involves something you’re truly interested in. For instance, if you want to work directly with animals, avoid projects heavily focused on scientific research as you’ll end up spending more of your time with data than with the animals. Volunteering should be treated like a working holiday, you are often performing vital work and many communities and programmes rely on volunteers to survive so it’s necessary to be fully dedicated to your cause. The flipside of your hard work is often the immense satisfaction you get from volunteering; not only do you get to explore your passions but the work you’re contributing is also highly valued.

Do your research

A good way to get the best idea of what a project involves is to read previous volunteer reviews, interviews, or first-hand accounts about their experiences. Review sites and forums (and the recommendations on Goodtrippers – take a look under Good Work) can be a sound way to find this information as they provide a neutral setting for people to express themselves. Reading what other volunteers got up to on the project will usually give you a much better idea of how you’ll be spending your time than any website’s marketing spiel – it can also give you an idea of what you need to pack for your trip.

Solo or group?

Accommodation can be make-or-break for your experience and Scuba-diving on a Frontier projectyou want to make sure that anywhere you stay has the facilities to be comfortable for an extended period of time. If you’re nervous about travelling alone, going on a group project and staying in a camp or hostel accommodation can be a good way to combat any fears. If you’re travelling with an agency they are usually able to provide you with fellow volunteer email addresses or give volunteers the chance to meet on training weekends prior to departure. This can also help you save money by arranging group travel from the airport if transfers are not provided. If you’re less inclined to seek out a social atmosphere, then projects with homestay accommodation can be a good way to improve your language skills and learn more about a country’s culture by staying with a local family.

Time it right

Once you’ve decided on your project, make sure you travel at a time of year appropriate for what you want to do. If you know your happiness hinges upon volunteering in a sunnier climate then don’t visit a country during their monsoon season. If you want to take part in a project that involves working with wildlife, be aware that some species may not be seen in certain areas at specific times of year due to different breeding or migration patterns.

Most of all, remember that a volunteer holiday – alongside providing valuable help – should be fun. Volunteering can be hard work, but working in an area that you have a passion for is unlikely to feel like a chore.

With the right balance of research, planning, and common sense, any time spent volunteering abroad has the potential to be a memorable success for both you and those involved in the project you choose.

Happy volunteering!

About the author: Maria Sowter works for Frontier, an NGO dedicated to safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, and building sustainable livelihoods for marginalised communities in the world’s poorest countries. Check out the wide variety of opportunities to volunteer abroad with Frontier: whether you’re looking for placements involving teaching abroad, wildlife conservation volunteering, or simply some adventure travel, Frontier is sure to have something suitable.Visit www.frontier.ac.uk


Boats, Elephants and Community Work in Kerala, India

Fort Kochi, Kerala, India

Through i to i Volunteering

www.i-to-i.com

E: enquiries@i-to-itravel.com / T: +44(0)1892 886123

(Review by Rachel Watson)

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The Boats, Elephants and Community Work two-week tour does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a jam packed two weeks in South India’s beautiful Kerala, with boat trips, elephant interaction and eight days of community volunteering with delightful children in a special needs school.

You’ll be met at the airport and transferred to the homestay accommodation which will be your base for the two weeks. First up it’s a full orientation and “get to know each other” session with the rest of the group and co-ordinator Rakhi, a local lady who knows everything there is to know about Kerala and will bend over backwards to help you enjoy your time in her home state. Then it’s time to get stuck into the itinerary – starting with a full tour of Fort Kochi, taking in St Francis’ church, the Presidential palace, ornate Jewish synagogue and traditional Chinese fishing nets. The nets are still in full working order, and you can stand by and watch the fishermen at work. If you’re lucky (like I was) they will invite you to lend a hand, and you can help reel in a catch – mine was sent off to market to be sold!

The journey to school is made by bus – it’s a hot and cramped 20 minute trip by bus (a crazy experience not to be missed in India!) then a lovely ten minute stroll along the sea front, past the fishing nets (and once during my stay, a Bollywood film set) and through the front gates to school. The first time you make the journey (and more if you need it) you’ll be accompanied by a member of Rakhi’s team, and introduced to the teachers. The school is based at a convent and run by dedicated, hardworking and loving sisters who will make you feel very welcome at their school, and the children are beautiful – very fun loving, playful and trusting, and willing to work (and play) hard at any games, lessons or songs you introduce.

The weekends are no time for relaxing after a busy time at school – there’s a traditional Kerala arts show to enjoy, and trips to the famous Backwaters, an elephant village and the stunning Arirapally Waterfalls. I was most excited by the elephant trip, as I’ve always loved the majestic animals and was looking forward to getting up close with them. I wasn’t disappointed – invited by the mahouts to help with the bath I waded into the river to help scrub the elephants and was able to chat to the mahouts about their lives, and stroke the animals as much as I liked. We then headed straight off to the awe-inspiring waterfalls – you can get so close to them, and enjoy cooling off in smaller pools as well. Our trip also included lunch at a fantastic restaurant, with an infinity pool and fabulous views – the perfect end to an amazing day.

The trip includes two fantastic backwater cruises. The Kerala Backwaters are one of the natural wonders of the world, and – cruising through the lush green plants and trees, waving at local children running alongside your boat – it’s not hard to see why. Our first day on the Backwaters was spent on two different boats – a larger one with a sun deck for relaxing, and a much smaller boat, which was able to cruise down the smaller, less populated backwaters and take in even more of this gorgeous part of the world.

The second Backwater trip is an overnight stay on a houseboat, and was for me the perfect end to a perfect two weeks. My group – by now firm friends – spent a fantastic night cruising through the riverside villages, exotic birdlife and stunning scenery. We drank, laughed and reminisced about the fantastic, chock full two weeks we’ll remember for a lifetime.

Work: You’ll be spending eight days volunteering in a special needs school run by the sisters of the convent the school is based in. The children age from around 7-years upwards, and there are also adult students who participate in life skills classes and help the nuns with the smaller children. Activities are varied and very much down to the individual – you’ll need to use your initiative and get stuck in, there’s no place for wallflowers so come prepared with ideas for songs, games, lessons and activities you can do with the students. If you’ve got a particular skill or interest, use it!

Accommodation: It’s homestay accommodation here, staying in volunteer quarters of a family home. Rooms are based on twin share, and there’s a western-style toilet and warm water shower. Facilities include a microwave, kettle, toaster, fridge and television, and there’s a hand wash laundry service available for a (very) small fee. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Food: All meals are included and most of them are home cooked by the homestay family’s cook. Meals are amazing – traditional South Indian fare (fish curries are a speciality) but different tastes and requirements can be catered for easily – just ask.

Recommended for… People who want to do and see the best Kerala has to offer in a short period of time, while giving something back with volunteer work alongside the “touristy” activities. Also great for solo travellers, as you’re part of a group of like-minded people.

Be aware that… This is a fully supported trip with a planned itinerary in place for you. I loved that I could leave the organisation to someone else and know everything was planned for me to get the most out of my two weeks’ annual leave – but if you’re the sort of person who prefers more independent, “do it yourself” trips, it may not be to your taste.

Remember too, that if you don’t get stuck in right away at school, you could leave feeling that you’ve not achieved as much as you (or the kids) would like. Preparation is key – hit the ground running with ideas and a plan for what you want to do in your short time (I planned “In The Jungle” and “Under The Sea” arts and crafts projects – one for each week – and also swotted up on the kids in my class by reading through the journal left by previous volunteers).

‘Good’ credentials

  • All the accommodation, food, trips and in country staff are locally sourced – boosting the local economy and providing jobs
  • The children at the school benefit from one-on-one attention from volunteers, and the extra pairs of hands allow the permanent staff more time to concentrate on physiotherapy and speech therapy sessions for children who need them

 

Date of Visit: January 2011

 

About the author: Rachel Watson caught the travel bug during her gap year in 2002, and has no plans to stop exploring! She works in Customer Operations and blogs about her travel experiences in her spare time. Visit Rachel’s blog at http://dancing-like-no-ones-watching.blogspot.co.uk/ or follow her on Twitter @RacheyRoo183

 

 

 

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Our Jungle House, Khao Sok National Park, Thailand

Our Jungle House

Khao Sok National Park, Thailand

T: (from outside Thailand) 6681-417-0546; (from inside) 081-417-0546

www.khaosokaccommodation.com

[gdl_gallery title=”Our Jungle House” width=”122″ height=”110″ ]

‘Our Jungle House’ is well away from the (small) town on the edge of the Khao Sok National Park, and is nestled deep inside 25 acres of privately owned rainforest. You will only hear the sound of gibbons, hornbills and the running stream! Run by American Bodhi and his Thai family, they are committed to responsible tourism and ensure that everything they do at ‘Our Jungle House’ has minimal impact on the environment and a positive impact on the local community. Bodhi has been working at similar tourism ventures (including Golden Bhudda Beach Resort also recommended on this site) and is always happy to suggest ways to expand your experience by volunteering in the area.

Accommodation: Over four nights we stayed in three of the thirteen tree houses and riverside cottages (due to a busy booking period!) so feel quite well-versed in their accommodation facilities – all very impressive! The Romance Tree House (with its ‘outdoor’ bathroom and large, secluded balcony overlooking the river and incredible limestone cliff face) was the best, closely followed by the Thai House riverside cottage (high on stilts and spacious with two floors – balcony does face the pathway though). The Hideaway Tree House is cute but is rather cramped in comparison with a tiny balcony! Cottages and tree houses suit from 1-2 people or 1-4 people (with one suiting up to 5).

Food: Thai, American and European food (breakfasts , lunches, snacks and dinner) is available at the restaurant and bar, both downstairs and upstairs (choose the upstairs open balcony seats for cocktails under the stars).

Facilities: Being on the edge of the Khao Sok National Park means you can’t stay here without booking a trek in the jungle. You can arrange a number of treks and tours (half, full day or overnight treks; treks to see the Refflesia flower; survival treks; wildlife tours; night safari, a trip to Chiew Larn Lake etc). If the river is high enough you can try river tubing or relax with a Thai or oil massage. Free internet available (they’ll even lend you their computer if needed at less busy times).

Recommended for… The fantastic tree houses (especially Romance Tree House) make the very most of the jungle environment – and what a view with those limestone cliffs on your doorstep!

Be aware that… Size and aspect of each tree house and riverside cottage can vary greatly – the small difference in price doesn’t reflect this so if it really matters to you (although all three of the choices we tried were very good), check this out before booking (via website pictures or asking staff).

Good credentials:

  • Energy conservation: by foregoing air conditioning, hot water, and televisions
  • Respectful building: treehouses and riverside cottages are made from natural materials, and even more importantly, over 80% of the property is undeveloped
  • Reduce, reuse, and recycle: all waste is sorted into compost, glass, plastic, metal, and paper.  Since beginning this program, trash sent to landfill has been reduced by 50%. Even empty juice boxes are reused by an artist in Phuket who builds furniture out of them.
  • The owners love the forest: they’ve created a wildlife trail around the property and intend to live in harmony with the surrounding ecosystem
  • Food is bought locally: organic limes, cucumbers, green beans, and chili peppers are among the vegetables purchased from neighbours.
  • Staff are local: most of Our Jungle House service providers are locals, from guides and bartenders to the electricians and tree trimmers, so they make a big contribution to the local economy.
  • Supporting education: in 2011, Our Jungle House raised over 2 million baht to build a school for Burmese children who lack access to education.  In 2012, they are building a new kindergarten for children at the local Bang Pru school (ask them about it – guests are invited to help if they wish)
  • Conservation and community development projects: the people behind Our Jungle House are involved in many projects including scholarships, building community centres, a youth conservation network, and community-based tourism

 

Date of visit: February 2012

 

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Elephant Valley Project, Sen Monorom, Cambodia

Elephant Valley Project

Sen Monorom, Moldulkiri Province, Cambodia

T: +855 (0) 99696041 (in Cambodia) / E: evpbookings@gmail.com

www.elephantvalleyproject.org

[gdl_gallery title=”Elephant” width=”105″ height=”110″ ]

The Elephant Valley Project is great, both as a sanctuary for previously badly treated domestic elephants, and as a provider of jobs for the local Bunong community in northern Cambodia. I definitely recommend you stay for at least a week and volunteer, but it’s worth pointing out what’s involved…this is hard work, in a remote location!

The project was founded by Englishman Jack Highwood – reassuringly enthusiastic (and mildly eccentric to do such a thing), he doesn’t suffer fools and (rightly so) expects everyone to get their hands dirty helping with the various jobs around the place. Do not moan about the lack of mobile phone reception, spiders in your bungalow or that it’s too hot to work (as two Aussie princesses discovered to their regret!). However beautiful the valley is, and awesome the elephants are, this is not a holiday resort!

Work: Get stuck in to whatever jobs Jack tells you to do as you’ll have a much more rewarding experience anyway. We spent several happy afternoons working with the rest of the volunteers (around 12 at any one time) sorting out reclaimed timber to build a new bungalow, therefore expanding the opportunities for eco-tourism (a vital way to raise funds). The deal is, you work at least 3-4hrs each day then you can spend the rest of the day at leisure or (more importantly) watching the elephants in their natural environment. You can follow the mahouts routine and depending on the time of day, you could be watching them bathe in the river or being fed. On your first day Jack will introduce everyone to the project, the elephants (there were about seven in their care when we visited) and the mahouts. He’ll no doubt get you chopping up banana plants to feed them, but by no means expect to be touching or riding the elephants – this isn’t a zoo and Jack (and his team, including a vet) believe it’s cruel. These elephants have been mishandled in the past and they’re being cared for in a safe, natural environment and encouraged to act like elephants again.

Volunteering stints vary but can include anything from a day trip or one week stay, to a month or more. Jack welcomes anyone willing to help out but do let him know if you have any special skills that may be of use.

Accommodation: The cute, thatched bungalows were a very pleasant surprise, and worthy of any eco resort! Jack has installed western-style plumbing, fans and a generator that remains on for 3hrs a night. Just don’t be scared of the creepy-crawlies that you may be staying with (with had at least three large Huntsman spiders and a brown scorpion – all part of the fun!). If you pay less (or offer to work full-time in exchange for food and board) you’ll be sleeping in a hammock in the living room.

Food: All food is included and the local chef cooks a communal meal every night (mostly excellent Khmer cuisine) and vegetarians are catered for. Breakfast is also communal and involves the excellently strong Cambodian coffee.

Recommended for… A real and genuine experience (there is no fake feel of ‘voluntourism’ on this project) of working with local people on a great project – and the wonder of observing (now) happy elephants!

Be aware that… We booked a week’s stay but you only get to live on the project for 5 out of the 7 nights (first night in Phnom Penh and final night in a bizarre hotel in Sen Monorom). All accommodation is paid for but it would have been nice to stay in the valley for as much as possible (especially if staying for much longer-term placements – fellow volunteers who were there for several weeks found the to-ing and fro-ing a little wearing…).

‘Good’ credentials:

  • The project provides much needed employment for local people in this very rural area
  • Visitors and volunteers are never allowed to touch or ride the elephants, ensuring that the animals are free from stress and allowed to behave naturally
  • The project is part of the ELIE (Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment) which provides veterinary care for domestic elephants and education and support for the people who rely on them. Supporting the local communities helps them keep the forest and therefore the elephants habitat. More info about ELIE can be found here
  • The project provides free universal medical coverage to the village of Putrom and aims to employ one adult from 50% of the families in the village
  • They continue researching, monitoring and providing veterinary care to the elephants across the Moldulkiri province.

 

Date of visit: January, 2011

 

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