More Than Money
Issue #33

Embracing The Gift

Table of Contents

“Bang for the Buck: Travel Time Out”

Wondering what to do with your money-and your life? How about a "volunteer vacation" or "service learning travel" to give you some clues?

Emily McClelland helped build a house for nuns in Cochabamba, Bolivia, as part of a travel program organized by Amizade, which engages volunteers to work on community-service projects throughout the world. The nuns operate a home for 40 street children, also built (at the nuns' initiative) by Amizade volunteers, and paid for by program fees. Private donations ensure running water and access to basic healthcare and education.

McClelland originally just wanted to get some travel writing experience, but on her service learning trip, she says, she "learned how to mix concrete, square off the sides of a foundation pit with my shovel, lay brick-and also built some upper body mass." Mostly, however, she came away with "an overwhelming sense of the extent to which my station in life is just dumb luck. How much agency can I really claim in my arrival at a comfortable lifestyle?" Upon her return, she and her cousins donated to the project, on behalf of her uncle's charitable trust.

"In a way," says McClelland, "I felt as if I had taken more from the orphanage and community than I'd given. Yes, volunteer work is great and essential, but it can also be self-serving and an easy way to assuage the uneasy feeling of being lucky. If I really wanted to make a difference, I asked myself, why didn't I volunteer skills I actually have? (I'm not much of a bricklayer.) Although it sounds so impersonal (and can work to assuage one's conscience as well), I decided that money was really the best resource I could give."

Without volunteers and donations, says Eric Hartman, Amizade's outreach coordinator, "it is unreasonable to think that any of these children would have even a reliable roof over their heads, given the severity of poverty in Cochabamba."

For service learning and volunteer vacation opportunities, ranging from building adobe schoolhouses, working to preserve a local ecology, or helping in an AIDS hospice, contact:

Amizade , 888-973-4443,

Cross Cultural Solutions , 800-380-4777,

Earthwatch Institute , 800-776-0188,

Global Volunteers , 800-487-1074,

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