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Volunteer Vacations, Travel with a Purpose

by Kathleen Bennett

Recently I overheard three friends discussing their vacations: one had boarded a luxury ocean liner for a cruise of the Greek Islands, another had bicycled the California coast, and Mikayla had spent three weeks helping in a Cambodian orphanage. Was one vacation better than another? Individuals have different desires and needs. The old saying, "One man/woman's trash is another's treasure" can be applied to vacation. One person's fulfilling time away from his or her daily routine and obligations may be found tiresome by another.

Many travelers, however, seem to be leaning more often towards Mikayla's travel model. They are combining tours to new places with meeting critical needs in those countries. Such holidays have been dubbed "Travel with a Purpose" or "Volunteer Vacations". Combining adventures abroad with volunteering is not always as unselfish as might seem. I would be less than honest if I said the lure of serving two years in the Peace Corps in Poland was founded completely on my willingness to train English teachers there. The truth is, I had a great interest in Poland. I grew up watching news programs showing Polish people standing in long lines to obtain life's necessities: food, toilet paper... I was curious to know what had life been like for these people under Soviet rule. Working in Poland, interacting with students, market vendors, new friends and during my communal college lunches, my understanding of Polish life, before liberation and after, was enhanced immensely.

My son's wife, Michelle, a Physician's Assistant in Denver, will soon travel to the Dominican Republic to train medical personnel there as a volunteer. Her entire trip will last only nine days. Is that sufficient time to make a positive difference in the lives of others? Will she return to Denver wishing that she could have had more time for sightseeing and relaxing? Such are the considerations when planning to use one's vacation time becoming involved with other's needs.

San Miguel abounds with Mexican and foreign volunteers who are meeting the needs of this community in numerous ways. Genuine altruism often benefits the recipients, changing their lives and circumstances in profound ways. But the person giving selfless concern for the welfare of others also reaps great rewards. If you have never considered combining traveling with giving your time, money, knowledge or experience to others, a little research will reveal ample opportunities, short and long-term.

Whatever your preference, when choosing tours, look for those staffed by volunteers, who donate all proceeds towards improving the lives of others. This is another way to support community betterment Also, select activities that do not harm the environment or inhabitants and that protect the vulnerable.

When I lived in Kenya, East Africa, local women were just beginning to discover how to start businesses. They exported sisal handbags, raised goats, and operated shops with the help of small loans and the guidance of mentors. While there, I met a Danish farmer spending his retirement years in third world countries teaching soil conservation and crop rotation. Almost everywhere I travel in under-developed countries, the need for technological expertise is enormous. In the Municipality of San Miguel de Allende, many rural schools have no computers, and the children have no technological education. You can make a difference by providing computers and technology expertise.

If traveling to distant places is not one's passion, there are a multitude of opportunities to help others from one's home base: sponsor a student's education, tutor immigrants, contribute to a homeless shelter, adopt a dog/cat, offer new clothes or shoes to someone you don't even know, support the Library's scholarships for children, deliver meals for Feed the Hungry, contribute to projects sponsored by your church or synagogue, offer "living wages" to your household help, to mention only a few ideas. The opportunities to help and the need are endless.

Who benefits the most, the recipients or those who care enough to give? I think you already know the answer.

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Kathleen Bennett is a year round resident of San Miguel de Allende. Previously she worked as a writing professor at the University of Colorado, owner of a real estate business, and commercial pilot. She has traveled to 125 countries, and has volunteered in Ghana, China, Mexico, and for the U.S. Peace Corps in Poland. Currently Kathleen offers private tours in San Miguel's Centro and neighborhoods such as Valley of Corn, San Juan de Dios, Barrio Chorro, and Mexiquito including the Boys Home and Mojica Museum. To schedule: ekbpilot69@gmail.com

Kathleen offers FREE TOURS: SAN MIGUEL'S HISTORIC CENTRO Tuesday and Thursday mornings, 9.30 am, starting from the Jardin's Gazebo. To register: www.GuruWalk.com. 100% PROCEEDS from all tours are donated for scholarships for San Miguel's children.

events @ sanmiguelevents.com

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