Taking a vacation from luxury

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Taking a vacation from luxury

Kathy Boisvert teaches preschoolers with special needs near her home in Massachusetts and had never been overseas until she signed up with World Teach, a nonprofit organization that matches volunteer teachers with overseas assignments.

Now, through World Teach, Boisvert is spending her third summer at a tiny school in a small community an hour northeast of Cape Town, South Africa. Volunteering at the school for children with disabilities gives her a way to travel and enriches her life when she gets back home.

“Going on a vacation is fun, but I’m not somebody who wants to sit; I won’t lie on the beach,” said Boisvert, of Uxbridge, Mass. “I like being busy.”

Volunteer vacations are a way for travelers to see an area, especially in the developing world, and to get to know its people in a way that would be difficult, if not impossible, for tourists. They also give travelers a way to help with problems they might not see closer to home. And for children, they provide some perspective, said Mark Solon of Boise, Idaho, who is volunteering in Cambodia and Ghana this summer with his wife Pam and their two children, ages 10 and 11.

“American kids need a better dose of perspective about how fortunate they are,” said Solon. “Our job as parents is to produce two kids that contribute to society. So we think this is just part of their education.”

Boisvert, who has a doctorate, teaches an extra class at the University of Massachusetts during the school year to pay for her airfare and lodging.

“It’s really an investment,” said Boisvert. “It has changed my point of view. In this community in South Africa they’re doing the best they can with the little they have, so here, I think I can do so much more. The resources are here; it’s not catastrophic like it was there.”

Volunteer abroad programs can charge thousands of dollars a week for the privilege of helping out, not including airfare. The money goes to administration, lodging, food, and often to the community organizations that are working with the volunteers.

Fees charged by World Teach - www.worldteach.org - range from $1,000 to teach in Colombia or China, to almost $6,000 for Rwanda, Tanzania or Namibia, including airfare. The organization offers yearlong and summer programs.

“The airfare tends to be a very large percentage of the program cost,” said Maki Park, outreach director at World Teach.

With so many options for volunteering abroad, it is difficult to figure out which programs are legitimate, which ones really help people in the local communities they serve and which are just costly vacations with a veneer of volunteering.

Boisvert chose World Teach because it is part of Harvard University’s Center for International Development, a name that she trusted would ensure the program’s legitimacy. She likes World Teach because volunteers can choose where they want to go based on their own interests. She also looked at the Peace Corps, which does not cost volunteers anything, but requires a two-year commitment and sends the volunteer to a site chosen by the Peace Corps, not by the volunteer.

Pam Solon reviewed dozens of Web sites, talked to other families who had volunteered abroad, and read “Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others,” by Bill McMillon, Doug Cutchins, Anne Geissinger and Ed Asner. She chose GlobeAware because it was nondenominational, offered destinations the family wanted, accommodated kids and was the right price.

There are many other online options for finding volunteer opportunities abroad. AP

This undated photo provided by World Teach shows Rachel Lindy, bottom row, second from right, posing with her students in Namibia.[AP/YONHAP]
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