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Top Ten Volunteer Vacations
1. Excavate Stone Tools; Cortez, Colorado
2. Blaze a New Trail; New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana
3. Collect Butterflies in Remote Amazonia; Huaorani Reserve, Ecuador
4. Produce the News; Cochabamba, Bolivia
5. Turn a Military Base into a School and Garden; Bethlehem, Israel
6. Bottle-Feed Orphaned Lion Cubs; Victoria Falls, Zambia
7. Research the Great White Shark; Gansbaai, South Africa
8. Assist the Kenya Wildlife Service; Kenya
9. Restore a Buddhist Monastery; Mustang Valley, Nepal
10. Go Carbon Neutral in Western Australia; Perth, Australia
Excavate Stone Tools; Cortez, Colorado
Get out your trowel and whisk broom. On the campus of the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, a 170-acre paradise outside Cortez, Colorado, students live in Navajo hogans, spend all their time outdoors, and consider themselves dressed up if they happen to be wearing a pair of clean jeans. That's because the students at this unique facility set in a canyon between the 13,000-foot peaks of the La Plata Mountains are learning about archaeology not by reading about it, but by getting down into the dirt and actually digging. This unique school dedicated to exploring the ancestral Puebloan culture of the Mesa Verde region has always had the same mission: Get people interested in an ancient culture by letting them see it for themselves, letting them experience the thrill you can only get from, for example, uncovering a 1,400-year-old pot.
Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, 23390 Road K, Cortez, Colorado 81321; 800 422 8975; www.crowcanyon.org.
Blaze a New Trail; New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana
Most volunteer vacations charge participants for the chance to do grunt work without pay. Not the Continental Divide Trail Alliance (CDTA), which runs two-to seven-day trips for absolutely nothing. So what's the catch? CDTA is a bit behind schedule in building this trail (it was originally slated to be complete by 2008, the trail's 30th anniversary) and needs all the help it can get.
Continental Divide Trail Alliance, P.O. Box 628, Pine, Colorado, 80470; 888 909 2382; www.cdtrail.org.
Collect Butterflies in Remote Amazonia; Huaorani Reserve, Ecuador
The Shiripuno Research Center, located 45 miles southeast of Coca, is just outside the Yasuni National Park, a designated UNESCO biosphere. The Huaorani, the fiercely protective indigenous people of this region, still hunt monkeys, deer, and wild pigs with blow guns and poison-tipped darts. But when it comes to cataloging, and hopefully, preserving biodiversity, this rain forest outpost is without peer. So far, Jarol Fernando Vaca and his volunteers at the Shiripuno Research Center have cataloged 600 species of butterflies and 450 species of birds..
Ecuador Volunteer, Yánez Pinzón N25-106 y Av. Colón, Quito, Ecuador; +593 2 2557749; www.ecuadorvolunteer.org.
Produce the News; Cochabamba, Bolivia
The Cocha Banner, an English newspaper in Cochabamba, Bolivia, keeps the government honest and gives linguistics students at the Universidad Mayor de San Simón the chance to practice their English skills. Yet it also gives international interns who are working journalists or contemplating journalism as a career or study option the chance to gain some fantastic work experience abroad and add to their portfolios while living in one of the most vibrant countries in Latin America.
Projects Abroad, 347 West 36th Street, Suite 903, New York, NY, 10018; 888 839 3535; www.projects-abroad.org.
Turn a Military Base into a School and Garden; Bethlehem, Israel
Every December for the past several years, the International Palestinian Youth League (IPYL) and the Alternative Information Center (AIC), a joint Palestinian-Israeli policy advocacy and grassroots activist organization have sponsored an international work camp in Bethlehem. Volunteers from all over the planet come to this holy place to celebrate Christmas with Palestinians and to spruce up the former Israeli army base that has been turned into a residential village. IYPL and AIC are building a school, hospital, a youth house, and a series of gardens there.
Volunteers for Peace, 1034 Tiffany Road, Belmont, Vt. 05730, 802 259 2759; www.vfp.org.
Bottle-Feed Orphaned Lion Cubs; Victoria Falls, Zambia
In 1972, when Living Free—the sequel to the influential, Oscar-winning 1966 movie Born Free—was released, more than 200,000 lions roamed the African continent. Between feline tuberculosis, poaching, and diminishing habitat, that number today has dwindled to fewer than 15,000. If something isn't done soon, this icon of Africa could well be extinct. That's why Amanzi Travel, a British-based travel company, offers volunteers the chance to work with, and hopefully save the "king of beasts."
Amanzi Travel Limited, No. 4 College Road, Westbury on Trym, Bristol BS9 3EJ, England; +44 1179 041924; www.amanzitravel.co.uk.
Research the Great White Shark; Gansbaai, South Africa
Between 150 and 200 million sharks are destroyed each year, targeted by fisherman for their jaws, teeth, and fins, which can fetch tens of thousands of dollars. In 2004, the great white shark was added to the list of endangered species. Because they grow slowly, mature late, and have low fecundity, they've been unable to keep up with humans' exploitation. In South Africa, the first country to protect the great white, researchers working in what's known as Shark Alley use volunteers in their ongoing efforts to better understand and correct the misperceptions of the little-studied beasts.
Greenforce, 530 Fulham Road, London SW6 5NR, England, +44 20 7384 3343; www.greenforce.org.
Assist the Kenya Wildlife Service; Kenya
Whether you want to monitor cheetah behavior in the Masai Mara, fight illegal bush meat trading in Tsavo National Park, or build a community-run elephant sanctuary on the Kenyan coast, Tembeza Kenya (TK)—a travel company with offices in Kenya, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States—can set you up with a month-long volunteer gig. Unlike many operators who book trips all over the globe, Tembeza Kenya arranges volunteer projects in Kenya. Period. By specializing in one destination, they've been able to develop extensive collaborations with not only the Kenya Wildlife Service, Africa's oldest conservancy, but with Kenya's Ministry of Education and other government organizations.
Tembeza Kenya USA, 301 East 88th Street, Suite #12, New York, NY, 10128; +1 646 216 9912; www.tembezakenya.com.
Restore a Buddhist Monastery; Mustang Valley, Nepal
Mark Hintzke's started the Cultural Restoration Tourism Project (CRTP), a small nonprofit that uses volunteers to restore cultural heritage sites around the world, when he decided to use the world's largest industry (tourism) to fund his restoration work by asking volunteers to pay for the chance to work alongside local architects and artists who are bringing precious cultural sites back to life. On CRTP's current project, a 300-year-old monastery in Nepal's apple-growing Mustang Valley, Hintzke's volunteers are working alongside Lama Sashi Doj, a world-renowned painter and Buddhist monk who is not only supervising the renovation of Chairro Gompa (Chiarro Buddhist monastery), but is offering training in monastic art. Doj comes from a long line (five generations) of artists who specialize in monastic sculpture and wall paintings.
Cultural Restoration Tourism Project, P.O. Box 6803, Albany, Calif. 94706, +1 415 563 7221; www.crtp.net.
Go Carbon Neutral in Western Australia; Perth, Australia
Environmentalists sometimes have a tendency to take themselves a tad too seriously. But that is definitely not true about the people at City Farm, an inner-city garden and education center in Perth, Australia, where founder Rosanne Scott and hundreds of green volunteers get their point across in dozens of brilliantly creative ways. For example, they host tree planting dance parties and teach kids circus skills while throwing in tips on permaculture. Founded in 1994 as an initiative of the Planetary Action Network—the youth branch of Men of the Trees in Western Australia—City Farm's work is all about community, getting all sorts of people to live sustainably, eat locally, and in the process, maybe just save the planet. Their motto is "We not only grow plants. We grow people."
City Farm Perth, 1 City Farm Place, East Perth, Western Australia 6004, +61 8 9325 7229; www.cityfarmperth.org.au.