Featured Author: Jessica Fenton
With the school year coming to an end, I know that this summer will lead to another inevitable travel journey abroad. As a teacher, I try to reach a new destination or to experience something completely different each summer. In July 2011, I landed in Lethem, Guyana, South America, to provide indigenous teachers training in the areas of English Language Arts and HIV/AIDS Education in a very remote region of the country bordering Brazil. Teaching in an isolated area such as this, prone to floods, power outages, a lack of running water, limited resources and food forced me to become very creative in planning my lessons which were taught in an open-air classroom—even during the middle of a severe thunder and rain storm. I never know what to expect when I arrive in a new country engulfed by a new way of living.
July 2010, led me to Oasis Hostel along the Pacific Coast in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, previously the number one rated hostel in Mexico. My students are constantly amazed when they hear that I travel abroad, alone, and stay in hostels in each city along the way. Each trip has taught me something new about myself and I constantly encourage others to try new things and to be open to new experiences. Each one of my journeys begins with a detailed week by week itinerary for my exploration of the country, which is often exchanged for an experience not planned for.
Puerto Vallarta remains vivid in my mind, because that particular trip’s detailed itinerary was soon exchanged for an unexpected relaxing tour through three states in Mexico, while also finding opportunities to volunteer in an orphanage and a local summer camp for underprivileged children. Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the hostel I was staying at encouraged involvement in the local community and offered many options for guests to get involved. I signed up to volunteer at the Children Center of Hope Orphanage and the School of Champions through Feed the Children Vallarta (Formally known as Children of the Dump). Most of my time was spent at the School of Champions volunteering at the summer camp teaching English and facilitating games and crafts to the many children who live around the dump. This particular hostel was unlike any other because it encouraged “responsible tourism” where travelers become ambassadors of their country and can impact others. I have always felt strongly about volunteering and I was happy to see that more and more people are recognizing the impact that tourism in-connection-with-volunteering can make. “Voluntourism” as they call it.
I agree with hostel owner Guillermo Vargas when he states “at the end of the day it is really about change.” If I, a classroom teacher, can make a difference in the world, than anyone can. I believe that one person can make a difference. Look at historical figures such as Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, and Erin Gruwell, for example, who have all made a difference on some level. Each time I volunteer abroad or locally, it is eye opening and another opportunity to gain a real and raw experience.
Summers previous have brought me to destinations such as Brazil, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, Bahamas, and throughout Canada and the United States. I’ve always been able to find opportunities to get involved in the local community—even when I am traveling. I’m always looking for new and unique volunteer options. It is fun to pair tourism with making a difference. If traveling is not always possible, why not bring traveling to you? In 2011, I hosted two eighteen year old girls through Canada World Youth (CWY). One girl was from Ontario, Canada and the other was from Ghana, Africa. It was incredible to learn more about my own province (New Brunswick, Canada) as I traveled locally with the girls, while learning about their heritage as well. It was an amazing cultural experience. What a blessing to see the girls bond as though they were sisters, although demographically, culturally, ethnically, and religiously they were completely different. I’m happy to say that I am an ‘honorary’ mom to two eighteen year olds.
As this school year comes to a close, I end the year not as a teacher, but as a student. I finished teaching full time in January 2013 in exchange for an Education Leave from my District to finish the last 6 months of my Masters in Education full time. I started my Masters part time in April 2012, 14 months ago. Ironically, once my Masters is finished in June 2013, I am taking a 14 month sabbatical from my school District to travel and to do all the things I never have time for when I am teaching full time. After 14 months of hard work, sweat, and tears, I am rewarded in return with 14 months of no limits. I’m beyond words excited to begin this next chapter of my life. As I wait for my next journey to begin, I use Lesley Carter from Bucket List Publications as an example—the sky is the limit. Now to decide what to do and where to begin! I wonder where I can make a difference next, while having some fun of my own? Be sure to look for opportunities to get involved when you travel and add responsible tourism to your bucket list.
What would you do if you had 14 months off from your job?
You’re living the dream as far as I’m concerned. I often think about voluntourism-ing but have no clue where/how to start!
I’ve been trying to live my dreams the best I know how—with the time I have!
“Voluntourism” is actually quite a simple concept! I didn’t even know it was a “thing” until someone told me that personal travel-paired with volunteering is considered responsible tourism. When you take something, be sure to give something back in return.
When I plan my trips, regardless of destination, I often look for local opportunities to volunteer. I usually search on Google for organizations in the city I intend to visit who might be looking for volunteers. Most cities have soup kitchens, programs for children, orphanages, animal rescue shelters, senior citizen homes, schools, community gardens, etc… looking for volunteers for the short term and long term.
Reputable organizations can always make suggestions as to where you could look as well.
Hope this helps,
P.S. Where will your next trip be?
Thanks that makes a lot of sense. I thought it had to be ongoing, like you hop from country to country volunteering along the way for your room and board or something. My next trip should be to the U.S but it’s all going to be spent with family. However I do plan on doing about a week or two of solo travel in the Northeast.
Exactly, it doesn’t have to be on-going or on a set schedule. One of the hostels I stayed at offered a discount on the rooms if you volunteered with one of their local partners during the time of your stay. Some organizations do offer free room and board if you volunteer with them which are great economic alternatives.
The Northeast of the U.S. would have some excellent volunteer options like soup kitchens, homeless shelters, animal rescue houses, etc… I’m sure the family you will be visiting could offer some suggestions.
Where are you from?