Community & Current Events

Volunteer vacations

By: Nancy Angus

Author: Canadian Living

Community & Current Events

Volunteer vacations

By: Nancy Angus

Dear Fridge Lady: Call me old-fashioned but I prefer reading books to spending time in front of my computer screen. For years I have wanted to take a vacation and volunteer somewhere. Can you recommend any books to help me turn my dream into reality?
Signed, Bibliophile in Brantford

Dear Bibliophile: Start with The Procrastinator's Handbook: Mastering the Art of Doing It Now by Rita Emmett. If you have put off taking a volunteer vacation, this little gem of a book will help you to get on that plane and then to make the most of your time while you are in the field.

As for practical guidebooks to assist you with choosing a reputable volunteer position try The Back Door Guide to Short Term Job Adventures: Internships, Extraordinary Experiences, Seasonal Jobs, Volunteering, Work Abroad by Michael Landes. It's published by Ten Speed Press and is part of an entertaining series of Back Doortravel guides.

Volunteer Vacations: Short-term Adventures that will Benefit You and Others by Bill McMillon is a classic now in its seventh edition, chock full of information and potential projects for short-term and longer-term volunteer stints.

Kibbutz Volunteer published by Vacation Work Publications is another option for your research as is Travel & Learn:1001 Vacations Around the World by Evelyn Kaye.

In your letter you say you don't like researching on the computer but it might be worth your while to contact, by email, some of the potential outfits you would like to volunteer for. By making contact you can gain a great deal of insight about whether the volunteer vacation will be suitable for you and for your hosts. Shop around to find the volunteer stint that will suit your needs and in 2001, one of the most efficient ways to shop is online!

Dear Fridge Lady: I've heard of volunteer vacations. What are they, where are they and why should I consider a volunteer vacation?

Signed, Vacation-seeker in Vancouver

Dear Vacation-seeker: There are people who want to spend their vacation time not lying on a beach but learning something new or helping build a school or assisting scientists with the meticulous tasks of field work. Volunteer vacations can focus on science, conservation, education or community development. Volunteer vacations can be short-term or long-term, and the experience may be free or you may pay for your expenses as a volunteer as well as a contribution fee. Look for volunteer vacations by calling your local Rotary club to ask if they need any assistance on international builds, or take a few days off work in your own back yard and assist Habitat for Humanity. If you want to go into the field do a little research. I found a few options for your consideration:

The Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS) is a non-profit organization based on the St. Lawrence River in Quebec that has been conducting long-term studies on blue, finback, minke, and humpback whales in the Mingan Archipelago for over twenty years. Volunteer participants can, for a fee, assist in a day trip at sea to assist researchers with photo-identification, acoustic, and behavioral data collection techniques. Contact

The Earthwatch Institute, based in Maynard, Mass., is a leader in the organized volunteer vacation market. Their work has supported field research on a worldwide basis since 1972. Expedition assistants (otherwise known as volunteers) can participate in two-week research projects. Log onto their site at to experience the incredible options available. Earthwatch Institute is involved in upward of 150 ongoing research projects. And here is another fascinating fact that proves that volunteer vacations are not going away. The Earthwatch Institute is second to the National Geographic Society as a private source of funding for scientific field research. They have recruited more than 3,500 volunteers each year to work on some 700 teams in 50 countries Manitoba is on the mark for getting volunteers involved in a variety of digs that take place over the province. The Northern Lights Heritage Services, Inc. provides a volunteer service for researchers working in the province. Contact them by email at

In my travels I came across a great site for volunteer vacation ideas and inspiration. Check out This little alternative travel company has a myriad of listings for vacations that are definitely not of the beach bum variety! And my favourite if you are a techie (and you just might be if you are sending mail to the Fridge Lady) is If you've heard of the Peace Corps in the U.S. this is a new variation on the Peace Corps only the volunteers required are technically savvy people, affectionately known as geeks. Their program has been named as one of the finalists for the Stockholm Challenge Award 2001 and from what I can see, they just might be winners. Their volunteer vacation/assistance program is well designed, focused, novel and of benefit to the participant and the client. Way to go geeks!

Dear Fridge Lady: My child is just starting university this fall. She will be away from home and she wants to volunteer for job experience especially because she wants to apply for medical school. Can you suggest any way for my teen to volunteer in a new community?

Signed, Mom in Moose Jaw

Dear Mom: Tell her to buy a bus pass - seriously! She has to experience the community even if that means venturing off-campus. If she wants to go to medical school she doesn't have to head straight for the hospital to volunteer. She can volunteer for children's programs or assist with a therapeutic swim program for people with arthritis or play pool with some older guys at the seniors' centre.

Some universities have volunteer fairs for students to shop around for opportunities. Options are available so encourage your young person to make a few calls, take on some short time commitments and give the community a try. Chances are, when it comes to the all important interviews for admission to medical school, showing the initiative and stamina it takes to be a good volunteer will help to make your child's star shine brighter. And even if she doesn't make it into medical school, she will have gathered experiences that are valuable during the university experience.

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Volunteer vacations