A Traveller's Guide to
Making a Difference
Around the World

Charlotte Hindle, et al
(Lonely Planet)
This guide is divided into ten sections, including Practicalities, Organized Volunteer Programmes, Structured & Self-Funding Programmes, Religious Organizations, and How to Start Your Own Charitable Project.

Thus Volunteer is a gold mine, loaded with information on how to become part of an existing international help program or how to build one of your own. It starts by leading you to appropriate internet sites. For instance, on page 45, you'll find the names of sixteen organizations that are geared to get you started.

However, I believe the most valuable information is at the back, with over two hundred organizations named that you can find worldwide. An example: "Task Brazil." You'll find their address in London, location of their home page, and a brief summary of their project:

    To improve the lives and support the needs of children and pregnant girls living on the streets of Brazil ... by providing a clean, safe place to live and training in beneficial skills.

Task Brazil is one of a class of organizations that is defined as "Structured & Self-Funding." You will be expected to support yourself (mainly with transportation, housing and food) while you are working with them. On their page, you'll find notes on the length of time you will be expected to devote them, the conditions of eligibility, and "Annual Number of Volunteers." You will be expected to make a donation to further their works.

On the other hand, there are "Organized Volunteer Programs" in which you can enter a highly structured program --- such as the Peace Corps or the European Voluntary Service --- where, if you qualify, you sign a contract, are trained and paid, and are expected to remain for a specified time, usually a minimum of a year.

Although brief, there is a chapter devoted to international religious groups. The five listed are [1] Habitat for Humanity, [2] HCJB Global, [3] International China Concern, [4] International Federation of L'Arche Communities, and [5] Quaker Voluntary Action.

A final index, "The Destinations Index," lets you pick the country you will be going to. The destinations with the most listings are India, Nepal, South Africa, Ecuador, Brazil, Ghana, Guatemala, Peru, Honduras, and Cambodia. Poor old Burma (Myanmar) only gets one ... that being the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development who probably have a secret underground tunnel to enter such a forbidding place.

Even California turns up here, with the Conservation Volunteers Australia, and organization that does "wildlife surveys and tree planting." My favorite volunteer site, Fiji, gets six listings.

§     §     §

One of the pleasures of the volume is the thoroughness: how you should prepare, what you should take, what you should expect, how you ought to handle the first month (mostly, shock ... perhaps despair). Volunteer is also larded with personal comments by those who have gone there and done that. If you think it is going to be peaches and cream with grateful natives in, say, Borneo, listen to Vikki Cole:

    Mud. That pretty much sums up the part of the jungle we were living in. It was knee-deep clay mulch, which also got deeper and gloopier the more it rains and the more we walked in it. Every day we washed in a little waterfall 200 meters below us, which sounds beautiful except for the leeches which, trust me, get everywhere ... The jungle is definitely not the place for the squeamish: every bug and insect was on steroids and had tattoos. And everything bites or stings.

Cole, being a model long-time volunteer, manages to end on a happy note: "The wildlife and scenery are breathtaking."

Sam Davies who worked as a medical volunteer in Tanzania writes cheerfully, "Don't be too paranoid about getting sick. If you live in a place you have a lot more control over issues such as food, water, and mosquitoes than if you are just passing through. However, having said that, I had malaria four times (despite my taking prophylaxis)."

§     §     §

I got quite addicted to dipping in and out of Volunteer over a period of weeks, and even though my gadabout days are about over, there were some hints that even I can act on when travelling. Under "The Practicalities" chapter, "Preparation," "What to Pack," "Medical Kits," and "Keeping in Touch," I found that there are one or two credit/debit cards from banks that do not screw you by charging an arm and a leg for getting money from an ATM. In the U. S., withdrawals can be gratis with Compass Free Checking --- although you have to remember to save your receipts and send them on to HSBC for credit. In England, the same can be done through the Nationwide FlexAccount Visa debit card. To avoid "international roaming tariff" on cell phones, the authors advise you to get local prepaid SIM card ... undoubtedly invented by Homer Simpsons.

I suspect this book is not aimed at those of us who are well into what they used to call The Golden Years. The typeface looks to be between three and four point, and some of the more interesting passages --- the personal comments from volunteers, for example --- are printed in a light gray, making them damn near impossible for the Cataract Generation to read without an electron microscope at hand.

No matter: Volunteer's heart is in the right place ... reminding us that instead of heading off to Africa to watch lions humping each other in the veldt, we can actually protect them from being hunted to extinction. Or instead of going to Guatemala to lay on the beaches and get crazy drunk on some local rum concoction, we live in the moil of the cities and help people who don't know where their next meal is coming from. Or --- instead of heading off to Thailand to hang out with the Buddhist guru master Sri Baba Boobie --- the Karen Hilltribes Trust will send you into the hills to learn how to install clean water systems for the underprivileged. And there you will be able, at your leisure, learn a few things, for instance, about how the other half lives, how they (barely) survive. This may turn out to be a subtle, perhaps secret, form of enlightenment.

--- C. A. Amantea
Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH