Did you see this post by Arthur Frommer? Pretty much saying volunteer vacations are trivial unless you go with Earthwatch – what do you think?
Volunteer vacations are currently a major vogue in travel, and people who attend travel lectures seem intrigued by the possibility of devoting their leisure time to a worthwhile cause. They soon find that the options are limited. To enjoy a volunteer vacation in which you engage in meaningful work, and enjoy free room and board while doing it, requires in most instances that you sign up for a full year of labor in an undeveloped area of the world. It is only that kind of major commitment that can lead to free-of-charge travel for the purpose of doing valuable tasks.
As for the shorter commitment — let’s say, a period of two or three weeks or so in a third world village or rural area — those so-called “volunteer vacations” are nearly always somewhat artificial and contrived. They involve — with some exceptions — a form of play-acting in which unskilled Americans purport to teach impoverished villagers how to improve their lives or agricultural production. You are given a well to dig, a creek to dam up — as if those villagers were incapable on their own of digging such a well or damming up such a creek.
You also pay a pretty penny to engage in such play-acting. You discover that the sponsor of the volunteer vacation has heavy expenses that must be covered by the participants. In short, the volunteer vacation doesn’t resemble the noble activity that you thought it would be.
Unless, that is, you engage in a research expedition sponsored by the Earthwatch Institute. Now in its 40th year of recruiting Americans to assist noted university scientists in valid, serious, research efforts or improvements in the environment, Earthwatch has an absolutely unassailable record. It is the real thing. Its participants perform valuable work assisting real-life scientists in ground-breaking projects, but usually for periods of two or three weeks at a time.