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Tourism with a purpose

  • 2006-08-30
  • by Jody Yurkowsky

A FRIEND INDEED: Volunteer tourism isn't just about having a good time, but also about making the world a better place. This type of tourism is an idealist's dream come true.

Is a real vacation all about basking in the sun on a lawn chair by the pool or at the seashore with a cool cocktail in your hand? Does real relaxation come from dropping out of society for a week and forgetting the troubles and problems of the real world for a time? For some people, this may be the answer to many a prayer. But for a growing number of socially conscious individuals, this is a description of boredom and waste at its most extreme.

Those who find this idea unattractive are likely looking for something less passive, something that requires participation, and something that allows them to contribute. These people want to get in with both hands and feel that they have helped to build something 'stangible or intangible 's to make the world better. More and more, these types of people are turning to volunteer tourism or work tourism as an option. These options include doing some sort of work in the local community in exchange for room and board and sometimes some pocket money. For those on a tight budget, this is a great way to see a country and get involved in the local scene. In the Baltics, there are a variety of options available to the individual who craves this kind of hands-on and time consuming adventure.

The options are the simplest for the young. Perhaps this is because they are the most idealistic, or perhaps this is simply because youth volunteer more than older folk. For European youth between the ages of 18 and 25, it is possible to spend 6 months to a year in another country doing volunteer work with the European Voluntary Service (EVS). The placement requires that the youth work in the community doing something to help to develop a local project. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have all seen their fair share of EVS volunteers and I know from first hand experience working with some of them that these are an energetic and enthusiastic group of people who find innovative and often very creative ways to immerse themselves in the local community. They work hard and play even harder and I am confident that they see a great deal of the country they live in and the tourism opportunities that it offers.

EVS is a great option for young people, but the desire to experience this kind of adventure doesn't simply subside after the age of 25. In all three countries in the Baltics, there are organizations that work with people who would like to volunteer in the community. In Latvia and Estonia, there are organizations who work directly with foreigners that are interested in an extended stay in the country doing something in the community.

In Latvia, a non-profit organization, volunteer.lv, works with people of all ages to find them volunteer opportunities. Volunteer.lv will search for a volunteer placement of two weeks to one month in a range of areas which include healthcare services, social services, the arts, language instruction and gender issues. Imagine working in an orphanage helping children learn to speak English or as part of a team working to develop an addiction prevention campaign. These are some of the worthwhile types of projects that volunteer.lv locates for its volunteers.

EstYes, another non profit organization working to help develop volunteerism in the Baltics, hosts a variety of programs in Estonia ranging from EVS to work camps for all ages. Work camps are short term projects in local communities designed to contribute to the local development of the area. One such camp listed on the EstYes website, for example, takes place in September on a farm on Saaremaa. The work will include general farm duties such as building fences and helping with the harvest. The working language is English. Since volunteers are not paid, the work is neither too heavy nor does it require any special knowledge or skills. But it cannot be denied that the skills and enthusiasm you bring with you as a volunteer will add to the experience for both you and your fellow volunteers. And after all is said and done, in exchange for your sweat and effort, you receive food and lodging in one of the most beautiful parts of the Baltics. Not a bad trade.

Exploring a country is exciting. It can open your eyes to many new and unusual experiences. By volunteering while you travel, you can open the door to a whole new world of travel. Volunteering allows you to get to know an area and contribute to its development. In many cases, you will make lasting contacts with local people and other travelers who are volunteering as well. This is a deeper, more altruistic form of tourism. This is tourism that makes the world a better place to be.

For more information about volunteering in the Baltics:

Estonia:EstYesWiedemanni 3, Tallinn 10126, EstoniaPh: +372 6013309 / +372 6013098Fax: +372 6013309E-mail: estyes@estyes.ee

Network of Estonian Non-profit OrganizationsUus 5, Tallinn 10111, Estonia Ph: +372 631 1430 Fax: +372 631 1432 E-mail: info@ngo.ee

Latvia:Volunteer.lvA.K. 573Riga, LV-1050, Latvia E-mail: info@volunteer.lv

Latvian NGO Support CentreGertrudes iela 19/21-3 (2nd floor), Riga, LV-1011, LatviaPh.: +371 7846464 Fax: +371 7846466E-mail: alianse@nvo.lv

Lithuania:Non-Governmental Organization Information and Support CentreThe Volunteer CenterOdminiu St. 12,  Vilnius LT-01122, LithuaniaPh/Fax +370 5 2126045,  +370 5 2618782E-mail info@nisc.lt