28 February 2006
by Vicky Baker
For everyone who has ever wanted to volunteer abroad but never quite found the time comes a new type of holiday: the charity short-break. Traditionally, going away to do charity work has meant taking a sabbatical, renting out the house, and putting family life on hold. Now, a growing number of charities and travel companies are offering quick trips to do good works.
'There is a definite shift towards people wanting to help overseas, but also wanting to incorporate their trip into their annual leave,' says Sarah Horner, head of communications at i-to-i, a travel company specialising in volunteer programmes. 'Our bookings for one- to three-week trips have risen by 122 per cent in the last three years.'
I-to-i has already offered some weekend volunteering trips and is currently looking into several more possibilities, including dolphin conservation in the Canaries and looking after baboons in Cape Town. Independent charities are also encouraging short-term volunteers. The Mona Foundatio , a small chimpanzee sanctuary near Barcelona, has recognized the market and is inviting volunteers to come for just one long weekend. After two days spent cleaning and feeding the chimps, participants have a day free to visit Girona or Barcelona. City-break-meets-voluntourism and ticks all the boxes for many modern tourists. The trips cost £370, excluding flights, with all the profits ploughed back into the sanctuary.
But is this just a quick fix for tourists looking to appease their consciences and travel companies looking for a new gimmick? Liz Harris, a 25-year-old PA from Leeds, is convinced that her work was appreciated on an animal conservation project in South Africa. 'Knowing I was only there for a week really motivated me to give it my all,' she says.
Moreover, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, says weekenders often end up getting hooked. 'Many people want to get a taste of volunteering over a weekend,' said a spokeswoman. 'But they may well then go on to do a whole week or fortnight another time.'
It looks as though 'How was your weekend?' conversations in the office are about to get a lot more interesting.