Toronto-based freelance journalist Aaron Broverman examines how volunteer vacation opportunities are helping redefine how we view Spring Break.
Spring Break a Chance to Give Back
By Aaron Broverman
Thanks to Joe Francis and movies like The Real Cancun, when people think of Spring Break it's all about beer, beaches and breasts, but what if it could be about something more?
If you're not into the typical college vacation scene, the break provides an excellent opportunity to give back, lend a hand and 'Be the change.'
Volunteering abroad can be an excellent way to make a lasting contribution to an under privileged community, while still kicking it in the sun and sand of exotic locales. Below are just a few of the destinations with a social conscience you may find yourself in during your week away from school.
Start with Your School
Alternative Spring Break [ASB] is a matter of course in the U.S., with close to every college and university offering some kind of international and community exchange program with the focus on lending assistance to communities in need.
Universities in Canada, particularly those in Ontario, such as Carelton, Ryerson and the University of Western Ontario also offer great opportunities. There are also programs offered from Concordia and the University of Winnipeg. Whether it be within the local community or at destinations abroad, the ASB projects change every year.
In 2011, Ryerson students are building a school, teaching students and feeding the homeless in Columbia. Carelton has decided to aid both the local Ottawa community and organizations in Mexico and Guatamala focused on poverty and homelessness. Concordia will be teaching at orphanages in Peru and the Dominican Republic, building houses with Habitat for Huminanity in Louisiana and stocking food banks at home in Montreal. The University of Western Ontario offers the most varied number of locations, including initiatives in Costa Rica, London, ON., Winnipeg, Peru, Dominican Republic, Louisiana and Nicaragua. The University of Manitoba is partnering with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM) to help refugees and new immigrants.
All of these programs run during Reading Week in the last week of February at varying costs from $200 to $800 for the trips within North America and $1,500 to $3,000 for the international trips. These fees cover meals, accommodations and flights. But if you cannot afford them, don't worry. Financial assistance is available with every ASB project. Also, most of these schools offer a second program in the summer, so if you miss your opportunity during spring break, you can apply for the summer program.
Eligibility requirements vary between each university, but for all of them you must be a student of the schools running the program and students who have already been on the trip are ineligible for a return. However, they can apply for leadership positions on their trip.
Organizations Offering Opportunities
Though the Alternative Spring Break movement is primarily an American one with organizations like Break Away hosting trips with schools exclusively in the U.S. Other non-profits like Free the Children and travel agencies like Globe Aware specialize in volunteer vacations abroad all year. One could simply schedule a trip near their Spring Break respite.
Global Aware destinations include countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, The Caribbean and Eastern Europe, with trips leaving from February to December. They come at a varying cost between $1140 and $2100 U.S. and could be booked by parties of any number -- though groups of ten or more from corporate offices, to schools and others, receive a discount.
Though travelers pay for their week-long vacations, Globe Aware's status as a non-profit organization means the cost of their vacation is a tax deduction. 12% of your expenses go to administrative costs and overhead, while the rest goes to meals, accommodation, on-site travel, donations to the various community projects, your orientation package, volunteer coordination, program development, country manager expenses, community team recruitment, logistical support, medical emergency evacuation, medical insurance and project consultants. Airfare is not covered and is an additional expense. However, Globe Aware will help with finding flights.
Free the Children offers Me to We volunteer vacations for those wanting to give back during the summer in places like Kenya, China, Ecuador, India and along the Arizona-Mexican border.
Trips are available for adults, families, youth and school groups for prices among $2400 and $4995. This covers flight, accommodation, meals, transportation and the cost of the program itself. Free the Children also offers a Joe's Dream scholarship, named for Joe Opatowski -- a former trip leader who was killed in a car accident in 2001, for those young people who don't have the financial means for the trip.
Beyond these organizations, you can always turn to religion for opportunities to give back through missionary work. Many churches and individuals choose Habitat for Humanity on one of their many builds around the world. Most build trips cost $1,650 for airfare and the rest of the living essentials and insurance, plus another $1,200 for what is known as R&R. These are the cultural activities and tourism that fit between the build days. Only the build - half of the trip cost actually gets a tax receipt -- the rest is just a vacation.