Where Charity Begins Overseas

Sun Herald
Sunday March 13, 2005
by Michael Gebicki

A suntan might be a positive holiday symbol, but doing good is far more satisfactory, Michael Gebicki reports.

DESPITE the tremendous misery wrought by the Asian tsunami, the event has also demonstrated that the world has a big heart. In the aftermath of the biggest natural disaster in living history, people everywhere have reached deep into their pockets and contributed massively to assist those whose lives were torn apart. Along with cash, many volunteered their skills and time to help the afflicted, and in the process focused attention on a very different kind of travel experience the holiday with a heart.

From working in a Romanian orphanage to documenting vanishing wildlife in Madagascar, the world is full of people wanting to help, and anyone can do it. If you want something substantial from your holidays, the light that shines from a small face when you’ve just brought some magic into his or her life surely beats a suntan and a souvenir T-shirt hands down.

Here are some organisations that can help you do something good for the world.


Dedicated to conserving Earth’s natural resources and cultural heritage, the Earthwatch Institute takes ordinary people along with scientists on its field projects. This year Earthwatch will support more than 130 expeditions in 47 countries, sending almost 4000 paying volunteers into the field to work alongside ecologists, botanists, zoologists and archaeologists. While involvement is pricey, the expeditions are straight from the adventurer’s book of dreams. Sign up with the Earthwatch Institute and you can spend your next holidays surveying coral reefs in the Bahamas, working on a cheetah conservation program in Namibia or unravelling the threads of the Khmer civilisation in eastern Thailand.

Earthwatch Australia
126 Bank Street, South Melbourne
Victoria 3205. www.earthwatch.org.


AidCamps International allows volunteers with no specialist skills to participate in short-term, Third World development projects while experiencing local culture. This is practical, hands-on assistance that gives some of the world’s most impoverished people the chance of a better life. Without AidCamps’ assistance, these projects would not happen. Typically, volunteers work with skilled locals. Project work usually takes place in the mornings only, to allow volunteers to experience local culture and to visit regional heritage sites. The cost of joining an AidCamps operation is moderate and participants are required to donate towards a minimum fund-raising target, either through a personal donation or fund-raising activities. This year AidCamps will run programs in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and Cameroon, with the focus on building primary schools.

AidCamps International
5 Simone Court, Dartmouth Road
London, SE26 4RP, England.


Fancy a fortnight counting snow leopards in the mountains of Central Asia’s Altai Republic? Or what about surveying macaws and other wildlife in the Peruvian Amazon? Biosphere Expeditions promotes sustainable conservation and wildlife preservation projects in all parts of the globe, operating expeditions that link keen amateurs with local scientists. These are not tours or photographic safaris but genuine scientific expeditions that aim to benefit wildlife as well as local societies and environments. No special scientific skills are required to join and there are no age limits, and expeditioners can sign on for varying lengths of time.

Biosphere Expeditions
Sprats Water, near Carlton Colville
The Broads National Park
Suffolk NR33 8BP, England


The orang-utan is in trouble as it is threatened by logging, poaching and the loss of its habitat to agriculture. Established by Dr Birute Galdikas, the world’s leading orang-utan authority, the Orang-utan Foundation International supports conservation and research programs on the orang-utan and its rainforest habitat and also cares for animals freed from captivity until they can be returned to forests throughout South-East Asia. The OFI’s field volunteer program enables volunteers from around the world to help develop infrastructure in Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan, in Indonesian Borneo. Teams of volunteers build and expand trails and work on other structural enhancements that support conservation field operations. Teams spend a minimum of six weeks in the field with the option of an extension. An 11-day study tour with a similar hands-on feel is another option.

Orang-utan Foundation International
4201 Wilshire Boulevard
Suite 407, Los Angeles, CA 90010 USA


Founded by an American teacher who had his first helping-hand experience in Nepal, Cosmic Volunteers gives support to local people in Ecuador, Ghana, India, Nepal and the Philippines, while offering volunteers the chance to learn about those cultures. Cosmic Volunteers’ programs are run entirely by local professionals and a wide choice of work is available in these countries in teaching, medicine, orphanages, social work, business studies, environmental action and HIV/AIDS, both in rural and urban frameworks. Except for the medical program, which requires volunteers with formal training, Cosmic Volunteers simply requires fluency in English, enthusiasm and an open mind. Volunteers stay with a local host family that provides a private room and all meals. The cost is $200 a month and a placement lasts anything from 10 days to a year. Language classes and sightseeing tours enhance the experience.

Cosmic Volunteers, Inc
PO Box 11738, Philadelphia,
PA 19101 USA.


Global Volunteers is a US organisation that provides assistance to community projects in about 20 countries, including the Cook Islands, Romania, Tanzania, Ireland and the US. Formed to assist small, deprived, rural communities to become self-reliant, GV has expanded its role to include working with infants in Eastern Europe, teaching English in Ghana and assisting Down syndrome children in Quito, Ecuador. Although most volunteers come from the US and Canada, all nationalities, ages and skills are welcome and no special language or professional skills are required. Service programs last between one and three weeks, although those who wish can usually sign up for longer. Free time in the program allows volunteers to explore and experience their location and its culture.

Global Volunteers
375 East Little Canada Road
St Paul, MN 55117-1628 USA.


More than a quarter of a century after the Vietnam War ended, US landmines continue to maim and kill at an average rate of almost one a week in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Tri. Most of the victims are children. PeaceTrees Vietnam is a grassroots humanitarian project of the Earthstewards Network, which is helping to reverse the legacy of war in the province. Although its main thrust is raising funds for the clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance, PeaceTrees also organises diplomacy trips which allow volunteers to participate in restoration activities mainly tree-planting field trips with Vietnamese villagers, with whom they share meals and cultural evenings. There are also sightseeing tours and visits to schools. Trips last from 16 to 18 days.

PeaceTrees Vietnam
PO Box 10697, Bainbridge Island,
WA 98110 USA.

© 2005 Sun Herald