Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Buy The Goods, Visit the People: A New Type of Volunteer Vacation

From The Village's website
I travel to about a dozen Travel Shows each year, and after a while the booths start to blur together--stacks of brochures, perhaps a guy in native dress, piles of candy to lure passers by.

But the Village Experience (www.experiencethevillage.com), which I've been noticing for the first time this year,  seems different. It may be because they're not just promoting a tour or destination, but selling actual , and often exquisite, products created in some of the most remote areas on earth.

Intrigued, I went up to chat with the folks running the booth and came away impressed by their creativity. The Village is taking a two-pronged approach to what's commonly caused "Voluntourism". They not only take would-be do-gooders to places in need around the globe (from Haiti to Kenya to Guatemala), but they create programs allowing folks in these places to create goods, fair trade products that can then be sold elsewhere to bring money back into the community.

These two sides of the organization are then apparently merged on the trips. The voluntourists head to the partner villages on trips that give back to the community by using only locally owned and operated tour guides, transportation facilities and accommodations. They see a lot that's in the country and they also meet the artisans and craftspeople who are making the beautiful goods The Village is selling. They may work with them on these crafts or do other types of volunteer work.

From The Village's website
In 2012, The Village is offering several trips to Haiti (3 in March and 1 in May), each of which has a slightly different focus. Over the course of one, participants spent time in a rural orphanage and school project. An earlier tour focuses on earthquake reconstruction, still another is geared around fair trade product development and the last involves volunteering in the tent cities.

Similar tours are offered to Thailand, parts of the Middle East Kenya and Guatemala in 2012. I haven't yet met a participant in one of their trips, nor can I vouch for their offerings from personal experience. But, as I said earlier, I have been impressed by their staff and wish them well.

Have any of you taken one of their trips? I'd love to hear about your experience below in the comments section.

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