When I first heard the word ‘voluntourism’ I had images of the movie Medicine Man where all the do-gooders spent years in a jungle wearing multi-pocketed khaki pants, handkerchiefs tied around their necks and clunky hiking boots. That picture just doesn’t jive for me. I trip easily and those khaki pants with all the pockets make my behind look bigger. Let’s not even go into the “years in a jungle” part.
Where I come from, leaving for week or months at a time just isn’t realistic or even considered responsible. You go to school, then you get a job (at a local plant or government institution), and you raise a family. Only after 30 years of hard labor can you dream of that RV and going somewhere for longer than a week. This is life for most of us.
I love to help people. I really do. In elementary school, I would collect the change from under the couch cushions or ask my relatives and neighbors for money so that I could fill my little cardboard rice bowl and help feed the starving children in Africa. My classmates and I would bring our filled bowl back to school, heady with the knowledge that Sally Struthers would deliver food to those kids. We would be so excited that in the schoolyard we’d shake our bowls like maracas as our principal Sister Judy passed and we’d sing “Shake, Shake, Shake. Shake, Shake, Shake. Shake your booty. Sister Judy” a la KC and The Sunshine Band.
I wanted to do something meaningful with my life, but I ended up going the safe route: Getting a job, getting married, and having a few kids (which is still meaningful in my book). Now, I’m definitely not complaining because I have the most beautiful and smartest kids ever to grace the planet, but how the heck could I ever fulfill that need that’s been burning inside me to help? Sure, I could pledge some money online or purchase a goat for a village, but I’m selfish. I want to SEE the village get their goat or observe the impact my donation has on an organization. I just don’t have years to spend in a jungle doing this. Plus, I want to have fun. Is that so wrong?
Fortunately, I found a way for everyday people like me and you experience voluntourism, but on a scale non-Saints like us can manage. Most of us work a job with limited annual vacation time, and we want to do something good, but still want time to relax and have an adventure that we can reminisce about until next year’s vacation. Think of all the good we could do if we gave up 3 hours of our weeklong annual vacation. Think of all the good a family of four could do by each member carrying a backpack of school supplies and dropping them off on their way to an excursion. If more people and families start doing these small acts, it would add up to an amazing amount of good vibes.
I’m going to show you how to do this. Right now, I’m on the Norwegian Spirit with Nancy Schretter of Together for Good and Family Travel Network and we’re sailing down the Mississippi River embarking on an amazing adventure. You can come along with us on a virtual tour as we tweet and blog our way to various countries throughout the week, bringing much needed items to orphanages and schools.
Nancy is bringing along donations from her area and I’m delivering items purchased with donations made by Northwestern Middle School here in Zachary, LA. My daughter’s school held a free dress day with the students bringing in a $1 donation for the chance to wear something besides their uniforms. They raised hundreds of dollars, and with the help of Office Depot, we were able to get tons of supplies for the places we’re visiting.
This is the first of many trips we’ll be leading throughout 2010 and I hope that you’ll choose to go with us in the future. Check out the full itinerary for this cruise and be sure to keep coming back to ShannonLane.com for updates and pictures of our voluntourism adventure. We’ll show you how easy it can be to incorporate giving into your family vacation.
Special thanks to Norwegian Cruise Line and the Norwegian Spirit for hosting Nancy and I for this giving back tour. And an even bigger thanks to Nancy for inviting me to come along!