With the economy in a recession, many families are curtailing their travel plans or looking to get a bigger bang for their travel buck, either in cost or getting the “max” from their travel experiences. Families are reluctant to travel just for indulgence, they want travel to add value to their family life.
Volunteer vacations meet this criteria. A family taking a volunteer vacation together reaps far greater benefits than the typical relax and rejuvenate vacation — it can be transformative. A story that puts this into perspective — a family had been traveling through Tanzania and saw a home that was made out of animal manure. The author describes how her home back here in the United States suddenly seemed magical: “we drive up to our house in a car, push a button and a wall moves to allow us to drive inside. Or, we flip a switch and light chases away the darkness.” Sometimes we take for granted all that we have in this country that a volunteer trip could prove to be the “wake up” call for our children and families.
Volunteer vacations are long term investments in our children — developing a broader worldview and character traits of kindness and generosity. While there are parents who are preoccupied with checking out the latest ride at Disney World over spring vacation or going to the hippest tropical vacation. There are people around the world who are simply too busy worrying about the basics of survival — putting food on their tables; even selling their children into marriages for money to survive — to think of leisure activities. Some parents want their children to experience life in a way they seldom see in America. American children have a lot of material things that children elsewhere do not have. We are also known to be a little bit arrogant when it comes to other parts of the world, secretly insisting that the United States is better at everything. Our kids are growing up without an understanding of what it would be like to live in a different culture or a different social class. A volunteer trip helps to break down some of these walls that we have built around our children and expose them to life elsewhere. It is crucial for children to understand what is going on in the world around them.
Our children are the next generation, it is important to instill values of charity locally and internationally. Volunteer vacations provide families with “an antidote to the American culture’s message of competition, self-absorption and materialism” and empower “children to believe they make a difference through inter-cultural friendships and cooperative community work.” Kids thrive on knowing that they have done well in subjects at school or in sports so why not pass these ideals on helping others?
We hear stories both on and offline of trips that transform individuals and families. One person who has had the chance to take a volunteer trip twice is Sarah Ingebritsen. Once with family and once with her church’s youth group. Ingebritsen volunteered at a refugee settlement in Nicaragua. Under the instruction of the Jubilee House Community, they helped build a health clinic for the refugees. Having enjoyed the experience, the family shared about the trip with their church’s youth group. Another trip was planned for the youth group to Nicaragua to help plant a medicinal garden. The group was able to experience life as the locals do. Sarah comments that “you see a way of life that you’ve never been exposed to and that changes you forever” (Doing Good Together). When our children are sick, we run to the drug store to find something to ease their pain. If a child can see hands-on how this garden is the closest thing to a drug store that these other children have, it will force them to see that their hard work is really making a difference. This will make our child feel as though they have actually accomplished a great thing.
Another family took care of children in Romania and said that “the work we did for them in their village felt small compared to what we received in return. There were tears on both sides when we departed. We hope to visit the children again”. For those who do not know much about Romania, many of their children are placed in orphanages because the parents do not have the means take care of them. Conditions have improved in recent years but are nowhere near where it should be. The benefits of taking such a vacation can really open our eyes to the true meaning of generosity and gratefulness. For our child to see how much these other children will appreciate their kindness and friendship is an overwhelming concept to think of. It is most definitely going to be an experience that our child will never forget.
Family volunteer vacation enables parents to pass on crucial values to their children, like responsibility, compassion and kindness. Children can learn about diversity — other ecosystems and cultures. Volunteer vacations allow a family to put their own problems into perspective and understand that something as measly as the electricity going out for an hour is nothing compared to the issues that people from the around the world face on a day to day basis. Children who learn the value of caring about others at a young age will be less inclined toward discrimination and stereotyping as they become older (see our post on Ten Reasons to Take Family Volunteer Vacations).
Is your family looking for an unique and life changing vacation? Consider planning a volunteer vacation for your family. Not every volunteer vacation will be right for your family so do not feel as though you need to choose the first hit that comes up on Google. It is important to find something that all members of your family will be comfortable doing. In our next post, we will cover how to plan a family volunteer vacation.
Contribution to post from Nicole Rutledge