Jul 20, 2022
Holidaymakers are increasingly looking for vacations that go beyond traditional travel itineraries. These days, many of us don’t just want to check out iconic attractions, go on tours and savour authentic local cuisine. We are looking for sustainable getaways that allow us to understand the communities and places we visit. Many of us wish to make invaluable contributions that have long-term benefits for the local community. This trend, known as philanthropy tourism – or, more popularly as “voluntourism” – is quickly becoming a must-have travel experience, but what is it really all about?
Voluntourism is often defined as a holiday in which travellers also participate in voluntary work, typically for a charitable organisation. These efforts can be done in fields such as agriculture, healthcare, education, wildlife conservation and much more.
Many travel agents and organisations now offer voluntourism itineraries that can be personalised to your wants. Wondering where to start? We shortlist five voluntourism destinations and opportunities in and around the region.
Help conserve the marine environment in the Northern Territory
Located in the remote aboriginal-owned Northeast Arnhem Land in Australia, Cape Arnhem (above) is one of the world’s last great unspoiled areas. Known for its aboriginal culture, flora and fauna, coasts, wetlands and the notorious saltwater crocodile, Cape Arnhem faces a large threat from marine debris pollution due to its wild coastlines and waters teeming with plenty of marine life. The area is also home to the Yolngu people, one of the largest indigenous groups in Australia. They are known for their traditional culture, and the area can be considered a key spiritual area for the group, with over 50 sacred sites in the vicinity.
ConservationVolunteers.org has been known to run an annual marine conservation tour at Wanuwuy Beach. You’ll get to enjoy spectacular views and the various interpretive walks through beaches and wetlands while working alongside aboriginal rangers from the Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation to collect, sort and catalogue the washed-up debris. This data will later be used to pinpoint sources of pollution and guide future policies to help reduce pollution.
You can also visit GoOverseas.com to explore a wide range of volunteer opportunities such as koala conservation, Great Barrier Reef coral conservation and marine restoration, amongst others.
Explore these countries' rich history and culture and take a peek into the past in cities like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Cambodia is also known for its abundant rivers and water sources, but that doesn’t mean that its many rural towns and small villages have access to clean water. Sign up for ARCC’s 18-day Project Clean Water programme. Here you will take part in constructing and installing bio-sand water filters in rural Cambodian villages. These filters are meant to help residents enjoy clean drinking water for up to four decades.
In addition to the 30 hours of community service, the trip also fits in time to enjoy the famous sunrise at Angkor Wat, time to float down the mighty Mekong and plenty of markets in Hanoi.
Do also check out GivingWay.com, which has a ton of new ways to give back to the local communities through English tutoring, fundraising, healthcare and more.
The capital of Sichuan province is home to a number of historical attractions such as 1,000-year-old shops that are still intact to 3,000-year-old historical relics. You’ll also find several UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites like the Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area as well as Mount Qingcheng, popular for its scenery, hiking trails and ancient temples.
Chengdu is also the best place to see the adorable giant pandas (above). At the Dujiangyan base of the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda, volunteers can participate in various activities such as preparing food for pandas, research and observation work, cleaning panda enclosures and planting bamboo and trees. The Dujiangyan Giant Panda base is also home to a panda hospital, medical lab, panda kitchen, educational centre and staff housing.
Another volunteering opportunity to check out: Hutong School’s China Volunteer Programme lets you volunteer with an NGO in your preferred sector, ranging from environmental protection and migrant family aid to sustainable development, tree-planting and more.
Western Cape is popular with tourists for its lush flora and thriving fauna. Go on coastal or mountain hikes, explore Cape Town or go on a safari adventure at one of their sprawling national parks. Western Cape is also a popular wine district, so wine-tasting tours are an absolute must.
Thanks to its proximity to the Indian and Atlantic oceans, sharks are a common fixture in the area’s waters. Sign up for Fronteering.com’s shark diving and conservation trips to get up close to Great Whites and loads of other shark species. You’ll see them in their natural environment, learn fundamental facts about sharks and conservation efforts plus mingle with the local community as you work.
The Explorations Company has voluntourism itineraries across the African continent. Try your hand at bricklaying in Zimbabwe to build houses for poorer communities, volunteer at rural schools in Malawi or help battered women at a Ugandan women’s centre to create clothing, baskets and pillows
Whether it’s mouthwatering plates, shopping or getting a taste of the culture, you’re never short of things to do in Thailand.
Head to Chiang Mai for an ethical elephant encounter with Love Volunteer. You’ll care for at-risk elephants and participate in reforestation efforts. In addition to ensuring the preservation of the Asian elephants, the organisation focuses on educating visitors, as well as helping to provide university degrees to disadvantaged Hill Tribe youth.
Check out VolunteerThailand.org, where you can help out at women’s empowerment shelters and orphanages and even have medical internship stints.
Want more ideas for meaningful activities you can do with your family? We’ve rounded up 20 enriching activities that are great for kids.