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Travel Buzz
Voluntourism Destinations
By Joe Boone

For many of us, travel is essential for living a happy life. Another is the satisfaction of giving back. Voluntourism combines the two and can be a life changing experience for people of all ages and skill sets. While some experiences involve getting your hands a little dirty, there’s usually time explore the surroundings and local culture. Here are five scenic voluntourism destinations all in need of a helping hand.

ARGENTINA
Argentina, known as “the land of many contrasts,” offers a plethora of natural and cultural experiences. Its cities are world class and its landscapes are divine, from Iguazu Falls to the Patagonian Glaciers. But “the land of many contrasts” has another side — its economy, and it’s been on a roller coaster ride since 2001. Unstable and at times chaotic, Argentina has faced repeated economic collapse, draining its middle class. Poverty is a big problem with all the symptoms. Regardless, Argentinians persevere and their country is truly magical. There are volunteer opportunities here that are in need of teachers, construction and unskilled labor, as well as environmental and wildlife conservation.

KENYA
Mention the country of Kenya and most people think of safaris. Kenya’s photo safaris are legendary, offering Kodak moments that last a lifetime. Ecotourism is also an important part of Kenya’s economy, second only to agriculture. Over 80% of Kenyans derive their livelihoods from agricultural related activities, most barely scratching a living as small farmers while they cling to their tribal customs and traditions. Of Kenya’s 45 million or so inhabitants, an estimated 40% live in severe poverty. Malnourishment, high infant mortality, low life expectancy, alcoholism and HIV/ Aids are rampant. Volunteers are very much needed here and are particularly helpful in the areas of construction, teaching and childcare, environmental and wildlife conservation.

CAMBODIA
Fertile forests, exotic jungles, vibrant cities, pristine beaches and historic landmarks like Angkor Wat have made Cambodia a popular tourist destination. Cambodia is also one of Asia’s most impoverished and underprivileged countries. Poverty, illness, lack of education and hidden landmines are still big problems, yet its people remain friendly, proud and welcoming. Haunted by the aftermath of bloody civil war that ended in 1975 and mass genocide that followed, the average Cambodian still struggles today to survive on a daily basis. Volunteer opportunities are numerous in Cambodia, so if you can help as a teacher or lend a hand in marine conservation, your efforts will be truly appreciated.

SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa is known for its wild game and nature preserves, boasting the Big Five — elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard. The country is also known for white sandy beaches, fertile vineyards, the Great Escarpment and the legacy of Nelson Mandela. Since ending apartheid in 1994, South Africa has made great strides to end inequality. Still, there’s a wide divide between rich and poor. Unemployment is high and poorer communities struggle with alcoholism, domestic violence, HIV/ Aids, and other social issues. No matter your background or skill level, volunteer opportunities are plentiful in South Africa and many areas are especially in needed of assistance with teaching, healthcare, environmental conservation, law and human rights advocacy.

COSTA RICA
Costa Rica is the most stable and progressive country in Latin America, with a rapidly developing economy and friendly, peace loving people. Its terrain is rugged and wild. Over 750 miles of black and white sand beaches line its Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Inland, thousands of square miles of rainforests, tropical jungles, majestic mountains, soaring waterfalls and dozens of volcanoes lie in wait. Costa Rica is still very much a developing country. Many Costa Ricans live in very basic conditions, away from tourist areas. Volunteer teachers are in high demand here, as are volunteers for wildlife conservation within Costa Rica’s National Park System.

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