Travelers taking a photo at Rinca Island, Indonesia. Image courtesy of Mike Aquino.
How much of your travel dollar actually goes back to the community you travel in? Many travelers are growing increasingly conscientious about the impact their travels make on the places they visit: wary of travel services that only benefit businesses in the capital, tourists now look for travel experiences that directly give back to their travel destinations.
Some travelers take it one step further, seeking volunteer opportunities that allow them to mix travel and philanthropy in the same visit. As volunteers, travelers can socialize with locals while sharing invaluable skills and knowledge.
The three travel experiences in this list combine the best of conscientious travel with the once-in-a-lifetime chance to improve lives via volunteering. If the Philippines, Cambodia or Indonesia are on your list, consider giving your time and money to one of these travel experiences.
Helping Hands Building Homes: Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm Village near Manila, the Philippines
Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm at night. Image © Niraj Rajmohan / Creative Commons.
Located just an hour's drive from the Philippines' capital Manila, the GK Enchanted Farm Village encapsulates Filipino entrepreneur Tony Meloto's vision of kind-hearted folk helping underprivileged Filipinos help themselves.
Meloto's Gawad Kalinga civic programme runs the GK Enchanted Farm Village, a thirty hectare property that houses over 40 families relocated from Manila slums. At the Enchanted Farm, residents make a livelihood planting and harvesting crops, and maintaining cottage industries with the help of foreign consultants and volunteers.
It's a Philippine community-based travel experience like no other. As a visiting volunteer, you'll help these families in keeping with your ability and willingness to help, from helping build houses to participating in the local cottage industries, including (but not limited to) raising ducks for their eggs; designing and making stuffed toys; and cheese-making.
You won't need to give up creature comforts to volunteer, either: accommodations range from a six-person dormitory to a two-person pool villa on the premises.
Don't feel guilty for paying a premium for comfort: the GK Enchanted Farm reinvests its revenue, allowing its enterprises to give back to the community that farms the land and maintains the businesses on the property.
To volunteer on your next visit to the Philippines, contact Gawad Kalinga at +63 (0) 2 940 9789, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm Village's official site.
A Fun, Fantastic Circus for a Cause: Phare Circus in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Phare performers taking a curtain call. Image courtesy of Mike Aquino.
The circus has always been part of Khmer culture, dating back to the Angkor Civilization days - cavorting animals and acrobats can be seen in a 6th century carving at the Angkor temples.
Inspired by their heritage, eight Cambodian performers took to their hometown Battambang to establish Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS), a charitable organization that uses the performing arts to educate and rehabilitate children and youth.
You need only attend Phare's grandiose acrobatic show in Siem Reap to contribute to this worthy enterprise. Located on Phare Circus Ring Road south of Sok San Road, the 400-seater big top converts Cambodian folklore and culture into a frenetic performance reminiscent of Cirque d' Soleil.
Phare Circus performance. Image courtesy of Amaury Laporte/Creative Commons.
Phare Circus guests sit on bleachers surrounding a single circular stage within the Phare Circus' red tent. The show begins with a video explanation of PPS' continuing work in Battambang and Siem Reap; afterward, the spotlight shifts to the performers - a motley group of young Cambodians who dive into their performances with contagious glee.
Phare Circus performances are as authentically Khmer as the apsara dance, and for many, far more entertaining. The fact that the money goes back to PPS to help lift more Khmer kids out of poverty is a pleasant dividend.
Both Phare Circus and PPS have individual presences on the web. Reservations and ticket bookings for Phare Circus can be made at pharecambodiancircus.org; PPS explains their mission and solicits support from their own site, phareps.org.
Support School Libraries: Travel Sparks in Indonesia
Volunteers at Taman Bacaan Pelangi in Indonesia. Image courtesy of Mike Aquino.
The islands east of Bali in Indonesia represent some of the least developed, most naturally beautiful areas in the country. The poverty of many communities in the islands of Flores, Maluku, and Papua stand in stark contrast to the beauty of the local landscape – a fact that entrepreneur Nila Tanzil leveraged in favor of her social enterprise, Travel Sparks.
The enterprise facilitates travel to Flores and islands further east, hosting travelers who book customized packages like boat cruises around the Komodo National Park and trekking the Wae Rebo Village on Flores.
Travelers can combine these adventures with a stint volunteering at Travel Sparks' main beneficiary, Taman Bacaan Pelangi (Rainbow Reading Gardens), a non-profit network of 30-plus libraries around Eastern Indonesia. Volunteers can spend their days teaching English to local children, distributing books, and reading stories, while enjoying the local culture and lifestyle first-hand.
Volunteers teaching English at a Travel Sparks beneficiary school. Image courtesy of Mike Aquino.
Revenues earned from Travel Sparks benefit local businesses directly – tour guides, boat crew, and cooks earn higher-than-scale profits from participating in Travel Sparks' tours.
“I believe traveling will be more memorable and meaningful if we can leave positive traces in the local community where ever we go,” Tanzil says about her enterprise. “And Travel Sparks’ trips are exactly doing it.”