Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Volunteering Abroad



In taking a few self-indulgent trips in 2012, I came to the realization that travel is not just about seeing a place. I found the true meaning of Proust line about how the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new places but seeing with new eyes. 

“Travel spins us around in two ways at once: It shows us the sights and values and issues that we might ordinarily ignore; but it also, and more deeply, shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty.  For in traveling to a truly foreign place, we inevitably travel to moods and states of mind and hidden inward passages that we’d otherwise seldom have cause to visit.” wrote Pico Iyer in his essay Why we Travel.

In late 2012, I changed my blog description from “To share my thoughts, travel tips and lessons learned as I fulfill my dream of seeing the places listed in the book, 1,000 Places to See before You Die” to “To take nothing but photographs, and leave nothing but footprints”.  So in 2013, my focus will be on responsible tourism. To kick it off, I would like to talk about the process of volunteering abroad that I started late last year.

The first task at hand was to look into the different ‘volunteering abroad’ organizations.  I found an endless list of such organization: International Student Volunteers, Volunteer Solutions, Cross-Cultural Solution, GVI, Global Volunteers Network, Pro-World, etc.   I had the option of volunteering directly with one of these organizations or choosing an organization that provide volunteer work placement with an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization).   Then I read the organization’s mission statement.  In reading the different ‘volunteering abroad organizations’ mission statements, I basically found a common element: to support sustainable development initiative around the world, and to promote responsible travel programs.   In visiting different organizations’ website, I realized that it’s a competitive business.  In doing my research, I also found out that short-term volunteering could have a negative impact on the community.  So the next task at hand was to find out whether the volunteer organization is a non-profit or for-profit organization.  For me, the sustainability part of the program is as important in determining factor as the cost and detailed breakdown of how the program fees are used. 

After a careful consideration, I applied to a for-profit organization, got accepted and set to leave on January 31, 2013. Choosing a volunteer program was the easy part. Since I have always been interested in environmental work, I have chosen to go to Northern Thailand.  Hopefully I’d be able to assist in the protection of endangered wildlife, eco-systems, and environmental sensitive areas. 

In addition to researching the volunteer organizations, I needed to fill out extensive paperwork, read on the information, terms and conditions of the program, and terms of entry into the country.   I also started checking into Visa or the entry requirements with the embassy and consulate offices of Indonesia, Laos and Cambodia here in the Bay Area since I’m planning on visiting these countries after the program. So the application process is a learning experience in itself.

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