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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) __ When people choose vacation
destinations, they generally look for beautiful beaches and luxury
accommodations, but a new movement gaining popularity among
travelers adds more meaning to a typical family trip.
Voluntourism, a new term in the travel industry, mixes elements
of service into a traditional vacation. Travelers can either choose
to dedicate the majority of their vacation to volunteering, or
dedicate one or two days of their trip to giving back.
Carolyn Kempf, president of Elite Travel in Cape Girardeau, said
she has seen voluntourism gain popularity among the agency’s
customers over the past several years.
“It’s become a real trend,” Kempf said. “I think a lot of
people who take their families on vacation realize it’s a great
opportunity to teach their children a really good life lesson.”
Incorporating service into a vacation is easier than some people
might think, and opportunities to give back exist no matter where a
family’s destination might be.
“Let’s say you’re taking a trip to New York City, and you’re
buying $100 theater tickets and you’re staying in a $350-a-night
hotel,” Kempf said. “You can do some research ahead of time and
look into local food pantries or other organizations in that area
and spend one of your vacation days volunteering there. There’s
almost any vacation you can do that will allow you to give back at
the same time.”
Kempf said people traveling to areas known for their beaches and
luxurious all-inclusive resorts may not realize need exists, but
many times devastating poverty lies just beyond a resort’s walls.
“Jamaica is a good example of that,” Kempf said. “It’s a very
popular place to go for all-inclusive vacations. There’s a brand of
resorts called Sandals Vacations, and what people don’t know is
that in addition to their beach-front properties, that company also
has schools, orphanages and educational projects that they’ve
developed on the island of Jamaica. So you can go to these places
and take a day to visit or volunteer at their orphanage or their
school system and help out if you want to.”
Another option for vacationers who may not want to volunteer,
but would like to get a sense of a destination’s culture, is to
spend a day with a local family.
“We have contacts at the Jamaican tourist board that can set up
a day for tourists to participate in their `Meet the Family’
program,” Kempf said. “With `Meet the Family,’ you can go and
take a couple of days out of your vacation and spend the day with a
very typical Jamaican family. By doing that, you get to see how
they really live their daily lives. If you’re a tourist who likes
to experience other cultures, or a parent trying to pass on some
life lessons to your children, that’s a good way to do it.”
In addition to volunteering, travelers often help by giving away
many of the items they take with them on vacation.
“Some people will go on a trip with full luggage and come back
with it empty because they’ve given everything away to locals while
they’re vacationing,” Kempf said. “That’s happening more and more
because so many vacationers see that local people living around the
vacation destination are much less fortunate than they are.”
Kempf and six women, including friend Reno Anderson, recently
took a voluntourism trip to Haiti. While there, they took the
opportunity to donate items and help out at a Haitian maternity and
birthing center.
“We delivered suitcases full of birthing kits with supplies
donated by people in our community here, in Cape Girardeau,”
Anderson said. “We also spent time helping out at the center and
put together some maternity kits for new mothers. We donated all of
that to Heartline Ministries, which has a birthing center down in
Haiti. It’s really a fabulous organization.”
Anderson said the group chose to travel to Haiti because of the
huge amount of need there and because of its proximity to the
United States.
“We thought going to Haiti would give a number of the women in
the group, who hadn’t traveled to developing countries, a good
experience of helping out in a place that isn’t all that far
away,” Anderson said. “Someone in the group had heard about
Heartline Ministries, which is very safe and secluded, so we
thought it was a good option for the women who didn’t have
experience traveling to Third World countries.”
Kempf said she often gets asked why she feels the need to travel
to other countries to help out when there is so much need at home.
“People often ask me why I’m so keen about going to other
countries to help, but until you’ve traveled to Swaziland (Africa)
or Haiti, there’s a poverty in those places beyond anything you
will ever see in the U.S.,” Kempf said. “The plus side of going
to another country and doing goodwill is, when you come back, you
suddenly become keenly aware of the needs in your own community.
I’ve noticed that people who go and do humanitarian trips become
better citizens in their own backyard. If every person going on
vacation just took one afternoon out to help, I think it could
change the world; I really do.”

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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