Volunteer Vacations

At locations ranging from wilderness lands in the U.S. to collective farms in Europe, the donation of your labors can result in a free or almost-free stay

Some of us devote our vacations to frantic aerobics--jogging, jumping, straining, pulling, and clamping on Sony Walkmen to ease the crushing boredom of the aimless sport.Other, more enlightened sorts gain the very same aerobic benefits--and personal fulfillment of the highest order--by engaging in voluntary physical labor at a socially useful project, in mountains and deserts, forests and farms. Though most such "workcamp" activity is designed for the vacations of young people, a number of other major programs are intended for adults of all ages, or--in some instances--for adults up to the age of 40.

Below is a long list with various kinds of volunteer organizations and descriptions of programs around the globe, and new opportunities are constantly popping up. For even more ideas on how to make the world a better place, try contacting Interaction, a coalition of more than 165 nonprofit organizations working for international volunteerism, 1717 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Suite 701, Washington, D.C. 20036 (phone 202/667-8227; Web site: www.interaction.org), or the International Volunteer Programs Association (P.O. Box 18, Presque Isle, MI, 49777, phone: 919/595-3667, e-mail international-ivpa@volunteerinternational.org, Web site: volunteerinternational.org).

Building blocks (building and restoration projects)

Based in Americus, Georgia, Habitat for Humanity International was created in 1976 to work for the elimination of poverty housing (namely, shacks) from the U.S. and the world. Since then, Habitat has built more than 100,000 houses in over 90 countries. Habitat's "Global Village" program takes teams of volunteers to host communities where they build affordable housing with local affiliates. The schedule for the summer of 2002 lists such destinations as Botswana, Ghana, New Zealand, Guatemala, Guyana, Poland, and Portugal, as well as a few American locales.

Habitat's founder, a fierce Christian crusader named Millard Fuller, enlisted the assistance of Jimmy Carter in the period immediately following Carter's defeat for reelection. At Fuller's urging, the Carters traveled by bus to Manhattan, lived in a Spartan, church-operated hostel, and worked each day for a week as carpenters in the rehabilitation of a 19-unit slum tenement in New York's poverty-ridden Lower East Side. The worldwide publicity from that volunteer effort made Habitat into a powerful organization that has built homes in scores of countries worldwide.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter continue to travel periodically to workcamps at these locations.

Though others may recoil from the suggestion that arduous, physical labor on a construction site can be a "vacation" activity, hundreds of Habitat volunteers disagree. To cast their lot with the poor is, for them, many times more refreshing than lazing at a tropical resort. If they have one to three weeks off, they travel to work, paying for their own transportation and food, and often receiving accommodations--rather basic--at the site. No prior construction experience is required.

Similar opportunities are available overseas--at many of Habitat's 90 international affiliates--under the "Global Village" program. For one or two weeks, volunteers build housing in those countries under conditions similar to those of the domestic program: they pay for their own transportation there, and for food, although it is sometimes also necessary to pay the cost of simple accommodations as well. Mainly they work alongside the Third World people who will eventually occupy the houses under construction.

To cover room and board, travel insurance, a donation toward the construction costs, volunteers can expect to pay $1,300-$2,200 in Europe, $1,300-$1,700 in Africa, $1,000-$1,800 in Asia, South America, and Central America or the Caribbean. Trips vary in length, but most fall within the one or two week category. An information request form, as well as additional details, is availFUable on the Habitat Global Village Web site (habitat.org/gv). For more information, write Global Village, Habitat for Humanity International, 121 Habitat St., Americus, GA 31709, or call 800/HABITAT ext. 2549.

A stint as a stone mason

La Sabranenque is the strange but melodious source of this next volunteer vacation; it sends you to labor in spring, summer, and fall months in what many consider to be the most attractive areas in all of Europe: southern France and northern Italy. Non-profit, and international, its goal is to restore a host of decaying, crumbled medieval villages at hillside locations throughout the historic area. It did so first in the early 1970s, with spectacular success, in the village of St-Victor-la-Coste, France, returning to their original form the 14th- and 15th- century stone farm buildings, chapels, and other community structures that had become heaps of rubble in the ensuing centuries. So favorable was the reaction of historians (and the French government), and so improved was the life of the village, that several other French and Italian villages immediately invited the group to attempt similar reconstructions of their own medieval ruins. Today, a half-dozen such projects are pursued each summer, all utilizing international volunteers to set the stones and trowel the mortar for fences and walls.

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