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Short-term anxiety

"Short-term anxiety" Continued...

Issue: "Ethiopia's new flower," May 31, 2008

'Tis the season

While the summer is often a convenient time for students to embark on short-term mission trips, opportunities are available throughout the year for all ages. The following organizations are among those offering trips stateside and abroad:
Campus Crusade for Christ International
ccci.org
(888) CRUSADE
Intervarsity Christian Fellowship
intervarsity.org
(608) 274-9001
Mission to the World
mtw.org
(678) 823-0004
International Mission Board
imb.org
(800) 999-3113
Teen Mania's Global Expeditions
globalexpeditions.com
(866) 545-6239
World Harvest Mission
whm.org
(215) 885-1811
Wycliffe
wycliffe.org
(800) 992-5433
Youth With a Mission's Mission Adventures
missionadventures.net
(619) 420-1900, ext. 15
-compiled by Kristin Chapman

Voluntourism

For some vacationers, time off can become a time to serve others

By Lynn Vincent

When Bernard Wharton booked a family vacation with Micato Safaris in 2006, his motivation was simply to see Africa-the animals, the landscape, and the people-in that order. But an optional humanitarian side-trip to Mukuru, a sprawling slum outside Nairobi, reversed those priorities forever.

Marketing consultant Lorna MacLeod founded Micato Safari's nonprofit arm, AmericaShare, as a way for travelers to improve life in Mukuru, where 600,000 villagers live jammed into 10-by-10 corrugated metal shacks and scramble to eat one meal a day. Hundreds of orphans live in Mukuru's streets, begging, stealing, or selling themselves to survive. Through Micato's Lend a Helping Hand safari extension, travelers are exposed to a world that might otherwise remain invisible. Many, like the Whartons, become involved in volunteer work there.

Micato and AmericaShare have linked vacations and volunteerism for 20 years, but the "voluntourism" trend is up. On trips organized by both nonprofit groups and for-profit firms, travelers combine sightseeing with humanitarian and disaster-relief efforts. For example, Globe Aware, a nonprofit, offers volunteer vacations in more than a dozen countries including Peru, Thailand, Laos, Ghana, and Jamaica. These one-week trips include in-country excursions, but also opportunities to volunteer in such projects as AIDS education, reforestation, solar/hydro construction, and orphan care.

About 40 percent of Americans say they're willing to spend several weeks on vacations that involve volunteer service, according to a University of California San Diego survey released in April. A 2007 survey by Travelocity, an online discount travel service, found that 11 percent of respondents planned to volunteer during their vacations, up from 6 percent in 2006.

Though "voluntourism" is increasingly popular, some established volunteer sending agencies such as the Peace Corps and Habitat for Humanity don't care much for the term itself. "When you say you're a 'voluntourist,' it can be perceived as minimizing the entire experience," said Kam Santos, director of communications for Cross Cultural Solutions, a sending agency that does not consider itself a vacation vendor.

Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO), an international development charity, has been publicly skeptical of some voluntourism groups, particularly those that cater to "gap year" students who take time off between high school and college to travel. Some "voluntours" turn out to cost thousands while featuring purposeless service projects, such as surveying an endangered reef that has already been surveyed many times.

Still, Santos said, voluntourism as a concept can be "a useful access point" for people who may not have considered volunteering abroad in the purist sense, but who become exposed to the idea in the context of a vacation. "Perhaps that will motivate them to explore international volunteerism further."

That was true of the Whartons, who followed up their visit to Mukuru by underwriting the entire cost of Harambee Home, a $100,000 facility that now serves as a community center and a place for AmericaShare-sponsored orphans to live when boarding school is not in session. Next month the Whartons plan to return to Mukuru to look at the possibility of opening a medical clinic.

The experience has been "like a love story between us and the people of Kenya," said Wharton, 54, an architect. "We love the fact that we can contribute and help. At the same time, the people enrich us so much."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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