Volunteering Abroad for Women’s Rights

According to the Human Rights Watch, “Millions of women throughout the world live in conditions of abject deprivation of, and attacks against, their fundamental human rights for no other reason than that they are women.”

Women all over the world are fighting for the protection of their basic human rights. From the extremes of “honor” killings in Pakistan and female genital mutilation in Africa, to a universal lack of educational opportunities and reproductive choices, to worldwide domestic and sexual abuse, there is still a long way to go to reach gender equality.

Luckily, there are many opportunities to get involved with women’s issues on every continent. The most common and best ways international volunteers can contribute to empowering women are related to creating new opportunities and a sense of self-worth by teaching vocational skills, supporting women’s shelters, and giving them access to education and health opportunities, to name a few.

Take some time to educate yourself on gender equality issues and the programs that address women’s rights. Here are five great examples…

United Planet: Women’s Empowerment Volunteer Quests

Description: “Women’s empowerment and vocational training programs offer sustainable solutions, giving women the tools necessary to gain social and economic independence to lift them and their families out of unhealthy circumstances. United Planet’s unique Volunteer Abroad program combines volunteering abroad, language learning, cultural activities, learning excursions, and special Cultural Awareness Projects to provide an incredibly fulfilling experience for volunteers and valuable support for communities in need.”

  • Time commitment: Short-term (1-12 weeks) or Long-term (6 months or one year)
  • Dates: Short-term Women’s Empowerment Quests are available year-round with two start dates per month. Specific start dates vary by location. Long-term Quests begin in January and August of the year.
  • Fees: Short-term fees start at: $945, Long-term fees start at: $5285
  • Locations: Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru

Cross-Cultural Solutions: Empowering Women

Description: “Our volunteers work with local community organizations that are striving to help women in a variety of ways, from teaching vocational and language skills to offering micro-credit loans to educating about proper hygiene to providing a safe shelter for abused women and their children and more.”

  • Time commitment: 2-12 weeks
  • Locations: Ghana, India, Brazil, Morocco, Guatemala, South Africa, Peru, Tanzania

The Cornerstone Foundation: Women in Belize

Description: “Celebrating Women’s Wisdom, Worth & Ways.” You will be working with local women’s groups and government agencies directly. All the work that you do will immediately help local women that really need this assistance. Issues that affect women’s development: financial dependency, inadequate education and vocational skills, size of families, and domestic violence.”

  • Time commitment: 1 week up to 3 months
  • Fees: Starting at $385, the cost covers all program fees and accommodation (group living) including one midday meal per day.
  • Locations: San Ignacio, Belize

GeoVisions: Improving the Lives of Women

Description: “This project began in 1975 in honor of a famous Argentine woman who, during the foundational process of the Argentinean state in the 19th century, fought unfair conditions of women and proposed a free and public education where women could learn the same disciplines and subjects as men. The project regularly organizes workshops and seminars in local schools to promote and raise awareness on gender equality and women’s rights. There are also debates about violence against women in other associations and public places. There are also lectures and teaching women about law, prevention and health issues.”

  • Time commitment: 1-3 months
  • Fees: $2,435-$3,015
  • Locations: Cordoba, Argentina

Institute for Field Research Expeditions: Women’s Development Projects

Description: “IFRE’s Women Empowerment project helps with both formal and informal education (“street smarts”) as well as skills to earn a living by manufacturing crafts, producing various works of art and arranging for their sale.”

  • Time commitment: 2-12 weeks
  • Dates: First and Third Monday of each month
  • Fees: Starting at $648
  • Locations: Delhi, Alwar, Jaipur (India); Arusha, Tanzania; Kenya; Costa Rica

Learn more about the need to support women’s empowerment:

  • Office of Women’s Global Issues (WGI) in the U.S. Department of State: Promoting women’s social, political, and economic equality around the world.
  • Global Issues, Women’s Rights: Articles on global issues highlighting their inter-connectedness.
  • Human Rights Watch: Dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world.
    Women Watch: Information and resources on gender equality and empowerment of women from the United Nations.
  • World Health Organization’s section on Gender, Women and Health: Highlights how gender and gender inequality affect health.
  • World Volunteer Web, Gender equality & women’s empowerment: Supported by the United Nations Volunteers program, the World Volunteer Web supports the volunteer community by serving as a global clearinghouse for information and resources linked to volunteerism that can be used for campaigning, advocacy, and networking.

About the Author: Katie Boyer

Katie studied public relations at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA and is now working with Go Overseas in the Bay Area. Her experiences with traveling abroad combined with her passion for Latin American culture and community service fuel her writing and creativity. Follow Katie on Twitter @VolunteeReviews, Google+ and her Blog.

Three Ecotourism Hot Spots in Malaysia: Dolphins, Marine Turtles, Elephants

This article was first published by our friends at WHL Group, who have agreed to its republication here. View original article on The Travel Word
By Oshin Chin

Malaysia is a hard-to-rival ecotourism destination. And now, through a combination of charismatic animal species and government programs to protect them, several areas of Malaysia have found a way to regulate and harness tourism as a positive force for animal conservation. Whether it’s dolphins, monkeys, turtles or elephants you’re hoping to encounter (and maybe even help), Malaysia is the place to be.

The Irrawaddy Dolphins of Sarawak

Sarawak, the largest state in Malaysia, is well regarded as a hot spot for Irrawaddy dolphins (known to locals as pesut). The Irrawaddy dolphins’ unusual features are its blunt, rounded head with a flexible neck, an indistinct and almost non-existent beak, a small triangular dorsal fin with a blunt tip and its long broad flippers. Irrawaddy dolphins usually swim in groups of two to six, but in Santubong and Buntal, larger groups of more than 30 have been sighted.

Since the Irrawaddy dolphin is a protected species in Sarawak, the local government has created dolphin-watching programs to control tourism and limit the number of visitors. Unfortunately, Irrawaddy dolphins are still facing great risk of extinction due to human encroachment. The biggest threat of all is entanglement in fishing nets. Dolphin-watching season runs from April to November, but due to unpredictable weather, sightings are not frequent. It is therefore best to combine a dolphin watching tour with a mangrove cruise that offers the opportunity to see a wide range of rare wildlife such as Borneo’s famed proboscis monkey.

The Marine Turtles of Talang-Satang National Park

Sarawak’s first marine national park, Talang-Satang, comprises four islands on the southeast coast of Sarawak. These four “Turtle Islands” are responsible for 95 percent of all the turtle landings in Sarawak. Talang-Satang National Park covers approximately 48,000 acres, including beautiful shallow reef areas surrounding the four islands. The park also includes a wildlife sanctuary, important nesting sites and fish-breeding areas, as well as rare species of hard and soft corals. Most importantly, though, it provides shelter and resting ground for sea turtles.

Marine turtles are amongst the world’s longest-living creatures with many reaching more than 100 years of age. Marine turtles will only start breeding at between 30 and 50 years of age and the females usually produce eggs only once every four or five years. They also do not lay eggs on just any beach. They will migrate back to their beach of birth, which sometimes can be more than 3,000 kilometres away. Their ability to find their way back to that particular beach, deftly navigating across an ocean world of deadly predators, is considered to be one of the greatest exploits in the animal kingdom.

The peak nesting season for turtles is from April to September. Due to the decline in turtle populations and deliberate poaching of turtles’ eggs, meat and shells, Sarawak Forestry has created a conservation program involving the local communities. As part of the project, turtle eggs are removed from the nests and placed in guarded hatcheries from which young hatchlings are released at night to reduce losses from predators.

In addition, some are tagged with radio tracking devices to learn more about their ecology and life cycle. Pulau Satang Besar, the largest of the four Turtle Islands, is open to visitors, but conservation takes top priority over tourism. In fact, parts of the island and surrounding sea are off-limit to visitors.

Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary

Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary is situated in Pahang, 160 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur City. To get there, take the Karak Highway toward Lancang. Before reaching the elephant sanctuary, you pass through the Che’ Wong Orang Asli (aborigines) settlement, the last tribe of its kind in Malaysia.

Gandah Elephant Sanctuary was set up in 1989 and is managed by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Malaysia. Its main objective is to continue locating, subduing and then relocating wild elephants to a bigger and safer jungle reserve when their natural habitat is being encroached upon by human development. It is estimated that only 1,200 wild Asian elephants are left in Malaysia, and Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary is the only conservation centre that provides safe sanctuary for these elephants rescued from all over the Malaysian Peninsula.

Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary also looks after orphaned elephants to ensure their continued survival. At present the sanctuary houses a number of elephants brought in from Thailand, India and Myanmar. These elephants are trained and used in the process of translocating wild elephants found in problem areas throughout Malaysia. The sanctuary strives to promote public awareness of the elephants’ plight in Malaysia and to educate the public on the importance of habitat and environmental preservation. Visitors are welcomed to join the elephant activities throughout the year and take part in one-of-a-kind adventures.

About the Author: Oshin Chin

Of Chinese descent and married to a Malay from Sarawak, Oshin and her husband have been living the nomadic life for ten years. They’ve resided in Australia, Holland, Malaysia, and currently call Brunei home. Oshin joined MegaBorneo four months ago where she works on media and PR. She’s always staying active with swimming, running, cycling, trekking, marathons, duathlons, and netball.

Seeking Positive Changes: Biodynamic Farm Internship at Finca Luna Nueva Lodge, Costa Rica

Here at Luna Nueva, we are preparing ourselves to be conscientious cultivators, dedicated to the seed, defenders of the soil. Farming in the biodynamic tradition empowers us with tools for healing and restoring the Earth. Walking these grounds awakens one to the vitality of a living Earth and the necessity of maintaining an open dialogue with Her.

In the tropics, life cycles are dramatic and accelerated, like “biology on steroids”. Things are either alive or decomposing, often right before your eyes. The deep ecology of the rainforest reminds the waking mind of its relationship to the real world, not the world of edifices but one that pulses and breathes with organic life.

Far from Eden however, it is more like unplugging from the matrix to discover muscles atrophied from disuse, skills not yet acquired, and an inherent lack of work hardening. The saying goes you are never alone in the jungle, and it’s quite remarkable how many of its inhabitants seem to desire a taste of you. Tiny ants and mosquitoes are so stealthy you are not aware of their presence until they are injecting you with formic acid or botfly eggs. Poisonous spiders, snakes, toads, frogs, and caterpillars abound. Some ants are big enough to see their facial expression as they bite down on your flesh. Is that a smile or smirk?

With biological diversity exceeding any other ecosystem on Earth, the tropics are so much more than the wellspring of oxygen production for the entire globe. Here there is cooperation, agreement, and interdependence. Where there may be risk from natural threats there are even greater offerings of healing and vitality. Healing plants like ginger and turmeric, super, nutrient-dense foods such as coconut, katuk and pejibaye and the milk from cows, goats, and buffalo grazing on lush, verdant jungle grass exist alongside powerful medicinal plants that show promise for treatment of ailments ranging from malaria to rheumatoid arthritis, influenza, and even cancer.

Finca Luna Nueva is the tireless Lorax poised to preserve irreplaceable botanical species through their Sacred Seeds Sanctuary and create a model for coexistence with a landscape that can simultaneously yield bountiful nutritious foods for humans while providing abundant habitat for diverse species of native creatures. It seems we needn’t compromise one for the other. It could be argued there really is no other way to be on this Earth.

Coming here to practice Biodynamics and continuing to learn this esoteric science and art, my ambition remains to imprint myself into the cosmic rhythm of Life. My own circadian rhythm has naturally recalibrated to the cycles of the Sun, and I am noticing waxing and waning physical energy as well as psychic activity that seems to flow with the lunar cycles.

Early upon my arrival, I was bestowed the chance to spearhead a rehabilitation project of Luna Nueva’s small cacao plantation. Suffering from a combination of what Luna’s Chief Executive Farmer Steven Farrell describes as benign neglect, poor soils, pod-eating squirrels, and frosty pod rot (Monilia roreri), it has become a life-affirming exercise in learning the language of the Lorax. We will be employing comprehensive cultural and Biodynamic sets of protocols for treating disease, nutrition, pest management, and overgrowth.

We began with heavy pruning during the second quarter, waning moon in May. It is in this period when tree sap recedes to the roots. We are learning here that the influences of the waxing and waning moon trump those of ascending and descending moon when you are this close to the equator. The opposite is true when one is north of the Tropic of Cancer or south of the Tropic of Capricorn. Observation, so far, is reinforcing this principle.

Next, fellow intern Sara Hartley and I made a huge batch of biodynamic tree paste which includes such nifty ingredients as: Fine Sand,clay,cow manure,wood ash,compost,whey,B.C.,crushed quartz,egg shells. In keeping with the spirit of biodynamic farming, all these were harvested from the farm. After the new moon, when I could no longer prune, I turned my attention to spreading the tree paste on all the cacao trees.

Hot sun, torrential rains, insect bites, bending and squatting at awkward, uncomfortable angles top the list of challenges to this task but the chance to saturate the cambium with invigorating nutrients and vital forces is too good to pass up. Added benefit: every day my relationship with the orchard grows more intimate. What began as the implementation of a series of tasks has evolved into a running dialogue. Now, I incline myself to contemplate the gesture of each tree and attempt to understand what it wishes to tell me. My profound aspiration is fluent tree-speak.

Earlier this week Steven ordered 35 hybrid trees bred by CATIE (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza) that are the only varieties in the world which have shown resistance to Monilia. As such, we will be thinning the orchard and replacing aged and/or diseased trees with this new variety. I spend some of my time among the trees distinguishing gestures of vitality from gestures of morbidity. This challenges me to develop the skill of reading subtle, etheric energy. I am pushed every day into new frontiers. It is a project I pursue with rapt enthusiasm. Biodynamics is indeed a formula for positive change, even in ourselves.

Pura Vida!

Farm Internship Opportunity at Finca Luna Nueva

Finca Luna NuevaFinca Luna Nueva is inviting applications for farm interns. They are an organic and biodynamic farm and eco lodge, located next to the Children’s Eternal Rainforest in northern Costa Rica. This is a wonderful opportunity for those interested in studying and expanding knowledge about tropical biology, farming rhythms and practices and Costa Rican culture. As a farm intern there, you will engage in biodynamic and sustainable farming, rainforest ecology/gardening, medicinal plants and animal husbandry.

Responsibilities and expectations are to learn the current rhythm of the farm by working with the farmers every morning, to facilitate a smooth and rich experience for visitors by supplementing the staff with your knowledge and your ability to do farm tours, work with the administration on projects to improve the tourism component of the farm and design and carry out independent research of your own choice.

It is very important that you are a SELF-DIRECTED learner and willing and competent to work hard exhausting, but rewarding farm hours (in rainforest climate). A work day typically begins at 6 am and ends at 3 pm where you have time to relax and use pool or jacuzzi, take hikes in the trails, computer time or catch up on personal or academic reading. In return for volunteering and a commitment of at least three months, all interns are given lodging, three hot meals a day, internet, and laundry services.

There is no monetary compensation. It is a good life. Perhaps the highest quality of life you’ll ever live, but it’s an adventure, and it requires flexibility and a zest for exploring the unknown.

Intern applications are accepted at any time. Please contact us at stevenfarrell[at]gmail.com with your interest in the opportunity. You can also visit http://fincalunanuevalodge.com/ to find out more.

Meet a Sustainable Adventure Pioneer: Bodhi Surf School, Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica

Much Better Adventures Pioneer Series

We set up Much Better Adventures to promote adventure choices from people like us, who saw a problem with the world, but also saw an answer. This is an answer that begins with an adventure, but doesn’t end there. These particular adventures go on to advance local conservation and sustainable development, educate, change perspectives, and improve lives. These are our muchbetter Pioneers – world leaders in sustainable adventure.
Bodhi Surf School offer a fantastic surf school in Costa Rica, where not only can you learn to surf on some amazing breaks, but also take part in their yoga programs.

Who are you and your team?

Our team consists of 5 individuals: 2 husband and wife combos, and one baby:

Travis, 31, San Diego, USA
Pilar, 34, San Jose, Costa Rica
Gibran, 31, San Blas, Mexico
Adrianne, 24, Vancouver, Canada
Maya Paz, 1, San Jose, Costa Rica

Travis and Gibran both attended the University of San Diego and met during a semester abroad in Spain in 2002. They had both been surfing since they were kids, and found that they had much in common aside from just that. Gibran and Adrianne got married in 2007, and Travis and Pilar got married in 2009. Travis and Pilar had a daughter, Maya Paz, in 2011 and the team was fully formed.

Bodhi Surf School Locals

What inspired you to start, and how long have you been doing it?

Travis joined the Peace Corps in 2005 and was placed in Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica. He immediately fell in love with the community, and that same year when his friend Gibran came to visit, they spoke about some day starting a business together. When he finished with the Peace Corps in 2008, Travis saw that there was still a market for a surf school, so he and Gibran began discussing different possible scenarios. By the end of 2009 it was decided that the 4 of them would give it a shot, and by mid-2010 Bodhi Surf School was in existence.

While Bodhi Surf School is just that – a surf school, all 4 of the members have very strong inclinations towards environmentalism, social awareness, and responsible/sustainable business practice. The word “Bodhi” is Sanskrit for “awareness” and was chosen for that very reason; while the company aims to teach surf, yoga, and provide its clients with a fun and fulfilling vacation, it also strives to promote awareness about the spheres within which it operates (marine conservation, sustainable tourism in Costa Rica, and community outreach, to name a few). We aim to be more than just a surf school, to provide an experience that is unique to the area and our personalities.

Bodhi Surf School Team Building

Why did you choose Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica?

We chose Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica, for several reasons. First, during his time stationed in the community with Peace Corps, Travis became very well acquainted with the community, many of its members, and some of the issues that it faces. He decided he wanted to start a business not just for personal benefit, but also for the benefit of the community; to be able to give back to a place he had fallen so in love with. Second, he realized that the community’s main beach was perfect for learning how to surf – a long, flat, sandy beach with beginner-to-intermediate-friendly waves all year round. Third, we all knew that due to the beauty of the area, it was just a matter of time before it would become as popular as other areas of Costa Rica, and so we wanted to help the trend of sustainable tourism take off in the region.

What makes you “muchbetter?”

Our excitement for what we do makes Bodhi Surf School “muchbetter”. We have the great advantage of doing something that we not only totally and completely believe in, but also love with a great passion. We have been told by former clients that while the surf and yoga does indeed live up to (or exceed) their expectations, it is actually eclipsed by our very-apparent enthusiasm and joy for what we do.

Any insider tip for your area?

If you come to Marino Ballena National Park, keep in mind that you will have to pay a $6 USD fee as an international tourist. To get the most of your money, bring a lunch and make it a full day: you can surf, boogie board, and swim at high tide, read a book and do some sun-tanning during mid tide, and do the unforgettable walk down the whale’s tail during low tide.

There are a whole host of great surf holidays on Much Better Adventures – check them out!

Five Reasons to Visit Findhorn, Scotland, the UK’s Largest Eco-Village

Findhorn is an eco-community located in the North of Scotland, next to the small village of Forres and just off the Findhorn Bay of Moray. After visiting this Winter I was amazed at the possibility of living a carbon neutral lifestyle on such a large scale. It is the largest single intentional community in the UK, an eco-village since 1985, and has an ecological footprint that is half the UK national average. The origin of the eco-village itself is a fascinating story, and although I won’t go into great detail, let me just say that it all started with a lady, a caravan and a field.

Here are five reasons that I think you should travel through the gorgeous Scottish countryside to take look for yourself:

1. The Community and the People

As we arrived to the community I felt that I’d stepped back in time – absolutely everyone that we met stopped us and said hello, asked where we were from, and thanked us for visiting – we hadn’t even reached our straw-bale house yet. Naturally, the people that you meet in an eco-village tend to be like-minded but the friendliness of these people was on a whole new level.

2. The Food

Within the community itself, everyone eats and prepares the food together. The food is wholesome, organic where possible, and absolutely delicious. Most of the vegetables are grown bio-dynamically on the 25 acre farm land which supplies 140 households within the village. Organic cheese, eggs and meat are produced by another local farm.

3. The Buildings

This is the main reason that I decided to visit the eco-village. After building a straw bale house next to my family home with the help of 20 or so volunteers camped in my back garden – I decided to check out the eco-homes on offer here. In fact, there’s quite a few to choose from! Findhorn currently has 61 ecological buildings, ranging from recycled car tires, straw, and natural non-toxic materials. The Findhorn Foundation has recently published ‘Simply Build Green‘, the UK’s first technical guide to ecological housing – the book has been positively received on an international level.

4. The Toilets

At last! An eco-toilet that looks like a normal toilet! After experiencing my fair share of outside sawdust loos, I was so excited by the toilets on offer at Findhorn. Here, the toilets flush like normal toilets but the sewage is actually dealt with by ‘the Living Machine ®’. To summarise, diverse communities of bacteria, algae, micro-organisms, plants and trees, snails, and fish decompose the seawage – at the end of the tanks the result is that the water is so pure it can be discharged into the sea.

5. To Learn

Whether you attend one of the courses at the eco-village, which range from permaculture to design for sustainability incorporating Transition Towns training, or opt to stay as a guest, you will no doubt learn a lot; not only about eco-village life, the possibility of alternative living, but also about yourself.

Charlotte Nicol is the co-founder of the UK based Tour company called Most Curious Tours. Recently launched, Most Curious Tours aims at showing tourists the hidden cultural hotspots of the UK, travelling in small groups by scenic railway routes, staying in independent accommodation, and attending local concerts and theatre productions in hand-picked destinations across the UK.

Go Overseas: Global Community of Volunteer Reviewers and Passionate Travelers

Many of our readers are interested in volunteer opportunities around the world, and are active supporters of travel experiences that help give back to local communities. We’re therefore very proud to collaborate with our blog partner Go Overseas, a leading review site for international study, volunteer, internship and teaching programs. We’ve interviewed Katie Boyer, Volunteer Abroad Director for Go Overseas, to learn more about their work and get to know the volunteer travel field better.

Interview with Katie Boyer, Go Overseas

TIES: Please explain what Go Overseas does and its mission. What do you do, what do you seek to achieve, and how do you approach it?

Katie: Go Overseas started because our founders, Mitch Gordon and Andrew Dunkle, were unhappy with the existing resources, or lack of resources, that listed and reviewed international programs. People have more resources and options for buying a new TV than for spending thousands of dollars on a long-term trip abroad. Our mission is to help travelers make the most informed and educated decisions possible about study, intern, teach, and volunteer abroad programs. We give anyone who wants to go abroad an online community to find reviews, articles, inspirational stories, photo essays, and share their own experiences.

TIES: What is the best advice to offer someone who wants to give back to the country they are visiting?

Katie: It’s important to be mindful and conscious of your impacts on your host country, no matter how big or small. Sometimes we forget the little things that matter, like supporting and buying goods from locals. Preparing as much as possible before your trip will help. Know what resources will be available to you and what the needs are for volunteers. You always want to keep your host community in mind to make sure you are doing more good than harm.

TIES: What is your favorite travel/voluntourism experience?

Katie: I have a fascination with Latin American culture and have volunteered in Peru and Mexico. This past fall, I volunteered in Oaxaca, Mexico with a women’s group and a bicycling/environmental organization called Mundo Ceiba. It was one of my best experiences abroad because I got to tailor my schedule and volunteer work to my interests.

TIES: What are some of the most popular destinations for people who want to travel with a purpose?

Katie: People wanting to travel and volunteering generally migrate towards developing countries where there is the most immediate need for volunteers. African countries (like Ghana and South Africa) and Latin American countries (like Peru, Costa Rica, and Ecuador) are popular choices. I’ve seen a rise in interest in lesser-known countries like Tanzania.

TIES: What types of trends have you seen among traveler’s who use Go Overseas?

Katie: Most of our users are in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia and are college-aged or recently graduated. This seems to be an easy time for people to take time to volunteer. However, boomer volunteering and teen volunteering is becoming more popular. Our diversity of users allows us to offer a wider range of content.

TIES: Have you seen a rise or decline in people wanting to volunteer abroad since the global financial crisis?

Katie: People may be spending less money, but the desire to help people and explore cultures is constantly growing. Today, we are more drawn to having meaningful experiences than luxury vacations.

TIES: Often people forget to discuss the re-entry process after extended stays abroad, what kind of advice can you offer to those coming back from teaching/studying abroad?

Katie: Great point! I definitely agree that culture shock can go both ways. The re-entry process can be extremely difficult, especially after a long-term travel experience. You get so used to your life abroad sometimes that you forget daily routines you had back home. Routines will help you get used “real life” again. One of the biggest things I learned from culture shock was appreciation. Instead of feeling sad or overwhelmed, try to appreciate your time abroad and continue to learn from it and share your experience. Help others learn from your experience as well by writing a review on Go Overseas!

TIES: Name one of the biggest misconceptions about volunteering abroad?

Katie: Many people see volunteering abroad as an expensive form of travel that only the well-off, educated can participate in. However, it’s more common to see a range of people from economic statuses giving back to communities. There are always cheaper options – from hostels to group homes to sponsorships to off the beaten track options – saving money abroad can be done if you get creative.

Australia is one of the world’s most diverse natural places!

The earth is a remarkable, exciting place, packed full of animals and plants. It is estimated that the world has 5,400+ mammals, 10.000+ species of birds, 10,000+ reptiles (and growing), 7,300+ amphibians, 950,000+ insects and around 310,000 species of higher plants.

But did you know that most of these can be found in 12 countries? These 12 are the Mega-diverse Nations (1).

12 megadiverse nations


Australia (where you can play online pokies at brands like Fair go casino), Brazil, China, Colombia, Congo (DR Congo), Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru together hold 60-70% of the world’s species.

Many of these nations are home to a host of endemic species – that is, species that occur nowhere else. Australia is home to 210 endemic mammals (5% of the world’s total), 355 endemic birds, 616+ endemic reptiles (nearly 10% of the world’s total reptiles) and 14,458 endemic plants.

Unfortunately, many of these countries are also on the UN list of the worst forest-clearing nations (2).

Worst nations for deforestation


The worst land-clearing nations on earth are, in order (in bold are the countries that are also the mega-diverse nations):

Brazil, Indonesia, Sudan, Zambia, Mexico, Australia, Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Peru, Cote d’Ivoire, Malaysia, Cameroon, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Angola.

Aussies, unlike most of these countries, we are a developed wealthy economy. Why are we still cutting down forest that is home to a world-class fauna and flora diversity?



BikeHike Adventures: Reasons Why Patagonia is A Must See

Patagonia: A Must for Active Explorers

Breaking away from the common aspiration to travel in a warm and tropical destination can be difficult – but Patagonia makes it EASY. Mixing immense natural beauty, rich wildlife and satisfying activities makes Patagonia a must for active travelers.

Patagonia is located at the southern end of South America and spans over parts of Chile and Argentina. Covering roughly one third of Argentina and close to half of Chile, there is a lot of Patagonia to go around. Combine that with its low low population density and you begin to understand the vast uninhabited grandeur of this beautiful region. It is the closest landmass to Antarctica, and shares elements of its spectacular icy landscape.

The name Patagonia was coined by the great explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 to describe the large stature of the Patagonian people. At that time, the native tribesmen of Patagonia (the Tehuelche people) are believed to have been 5’11”, quite large compared to the then average Spaniard male of 5’1”. Magellan thought he had found “giants.”

Today Patagonia is still characterized by “the gigantic” in its larger than life terrain. Traveling throughout Patagonia results in boundless vantage points of ice-tipped mountains, granite cliffs, and icebergs. Turquoise tinted glaciers, river valleys, tangled pine forests, and spongy grassland plains reward all who visit.

If you’re not already convinced, here are some more reasons why Patagonia Is A Must See.

Outdoor Activities

BikeHike Adventures Patagonia Outdoor Patagonia is the perfect cold weather playground. With the wide range of terrain offered between Argentina and Chile, your multi-sport options are many. Hike throughout semi-arid plateaus, deep valleys and canyons. Ice trek across expanded ice fields and immense snow-covered mountain ranges. Take to the water in kayaks and canoes exploring the many blue-coloured icebergs. Biking is also an option from certain locations.

AnimalsBikeHike Adventures Patagonia Animals
Patagonia has noticeably diverse fauna. See rich wildlife from foxes, condors and penguins to pink flamingos, rabbits, and ashy-headed geese. Guanacos, a species of lama is indigenous to the land. Unique birds include the buff-necked ibis and rheas.

BikeHike Adventures Patagonia EcocampAlthough some outdoor enthusiasts are dedicated enough to see Patagonia independently, many opt for the assistance of a seasoned tour operator. One such offering BikeHike Adventures is proud to provide is accommodation at the Eco-camp, a one-of-a-kind lodge with cozy dome shaped shelters. Due to the way it was constructed, the environmental impact of the Eco-camp’s huts is virtually none-existent. Staying here is a restful and relaxing experience in an otherwise relatively inhospitable environment.

Family Friendly
BikeHike Adventures Patagonia Family-FriendlyPatagonia is an ideal family vacation. Since there are no snakes or other dangerous wild animals (pumas exist, but are rarely seen), it is safe for a wide array of outdoor activities. The large and unspoiled wilderness is the perfect place for kids to build an appreciation for outdoor life and learn about the natural world.

About BikeHike Adventures
BikeHike Adventures is an adventure travel company that offers guided tours to over 30 destinations worldwide. Specializing in multi-sport vacations, BikeHike unites humans in their love for outdoor activities around the world. Catering to outdoor enthusiasts with a passion to go a little deeper, BikeHike exclusively uses highly experienced local guides who facilitate the wonder and pride of exploration. BikeHike’s passion for fostering meaningful relationships abroad is reflected in its commitment to sustainability, both environmentally and socially. If exploration is your lifestyle, BikeHike Adventures is your mentor! Follow them on twitter @bikehiketravel

BikeHike Adventures’ Most Popular Trip in Patagonia
Join BikeHike for The Best of Patagonia, an extended trek through both Chile and Argentina. See all the intoxicating natural beauty Patagonia has to offer by hiking and ice trekking on this 12-day tour. Overnight accommodations include family-run hosterias, log cabins, tents and a luxurious and sustainable Eco-Camp.

Short-Term Voluntours – Can You Really Make A Difference?

Voluntourism has generated a new wave in travel, the growing feel good factor creating opportunities for the everyday traveller and not just the career minded charity worker. But the question remains, can you make a difference when you’re a short-term tourist? The debate appears to be ongoing, however, it’s not essential to be on a three-month sabbatical or longer stint if you want to give something back to the country you are visiting.

The African continent is a good place to start, adventurers in search of the Big Five also helping out on more practical projects.

Building and painting local schools in Uganda is valuable input. Of course, you might be visiting the project for just one day, but you’re still a much needed pair of hands, and non-profit projects with little in the way of budgets will welcome that kind of practical assistance with open arms.

Your first step into the world of vouluntourism – On an overlanding tour you’ll have the opportunity to visit seven or eight countries in Africa, and along the way there are usually various community and conservation based programmes on offer. Whether you decide to participate in an ethical project or simply gain some understanding from the local scheme on a guided tour, you’ll bring back some relevant insight that might help you decide on a more focused voluntour next time you visit. Remember, even on a two-week experience it’s a real commitment, and it’s important to invest your time in something you believe in, making prior hands on knowledge invaluable.

More specific voluntour itineraries will enable you to gain a deeper understanding of the project’s aims and build closer relationships with your fellow travellers and members of the local community who also help to make it happen.

Where to Head?

Zanzibar is often seen as a sun sea and sand destination, but it’s now home to an exciting educational project. Illiteracy affects over 40% of the Spice Island’s population, then again you don’t need to have a teaching qualification to get involved. The activities range from assisting with the education of with primary school classes to adult education, and you will also have the opportunity to be involved in recycling and tree planting programmes; the scheme endeavouring to engineer a more well-rounded approach to the needs of the community, whether its education or conservation.

With the Big Five being central to almost any itinerary in Africa there’s the option to combine game viewing and volunteering on many tours. Undoubtedly, the wildlife is still the main draw for anyone choosing to travel on the continent so organisations involved in the protection of endangered animals are becoming part and parcel of the whole voluntour industry. And, what better place to start than the Masai Mara, host of the annual migration. Volunteers coming on board from July to October will certainly be assured of a little more excitement, and a two-way ethical scheme, there is the opportunity to learn from the Masai tribe, ethical travellers assisting on conflict management programmes and helping to improve educational facilities in the area.

Your Checklist to Voluntouring
* If you’re not sure how to make the best of your skills, look out for one day voluntour experiences within a tour, you’ll gain much needed insight when it comes to taking a longer commitment

* There are plenty of voluntour experiences out there, but quiz the company you are booking with. If the travel advisor is able to give you a detailed description of what’s on offer, it will speak volumes about their involvement

* Check out the options in Africa, as you may well be able to combine a voluntour holiday with some additional sight seeing and game viewing

* Ask about the ratio of local and tourist involvement. In general, voluntour projects that show a strong concern for local labour are rated more highly when it comes to their values and ethics

Get a Step Ahead: Student-Professional Networking Session

Student-Professional Networking Session

Student-Professional Networking SessionAt this year’s ESTC, we are offering an interactive student-professional networking session “Get A Step Ahead” (Tuesday, September 20th, 2011, 15:30 – 17:30, Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa), which will connect industry leaders working in the fields of ecotourism and sustainable tourism with students – aspiring tourism professionals and future leaders of the industry.

This session is open to public (free), and we encourage students from the local areas to join, as well as any of the ESTC attendees who are:

  • Students and Young Professionals: University and graduate-level students engaged in various tourism and sustainability-related programs.
  • Industry Professionals: Tourism industry professionals working in the fields of ecotourism and sustainable tourism and those who would benefit from input from students regarding product development ideas and market trends.

Interview with Frances Figart

Frances FigartFrances Figart, who serves on the ESTC Advisory Committee and is a passionate advocate for education and networking in the field of sustainable tourism, is one of the industry experts who will share their insights at the “Get A Step Ahead” session. See our interview with Frances below to get a glimpse of what you will discuss and learn at the ESTC!

(Interview conducted by Ayako Ezaki, TIES Director of Communications)

TIES: What do you enjoy most about your career?
Frances: The type of writing I do to support responsible forms of tourism, much of it being marketing oriented, is enjoyable because it allows me to make a difference not only to the consumer choosing to travel responsibly, but also to the ecosystems and local peoples benefiting from their visits.

TIES: What advice would you give someone just starting in this career/business/major?
Frances: To those going into any aspect of ecotourism business, I say: Find a truly unique niche or destination to focus on so your product will appeal to special interest groups, and not be lost in the ever growing number of businesses who are marketing to would-be ecotourists. To those who aspire to freelance write for a living in support of responsible travel, as I have, I say: Spend time studying the business of ecotourism from every angle and know as much as you can about the business of tourism, the psychology of marketing and the science of ecology.

TIES: What professional skills might separate a potential employee from other interviewees?
Frances: Impeccable communication skills including foreign language, and demonstrable cross-cultural sensitivity, awareness and literacy.

TIES: What would you do differently if you were starting over in your field?
Frances: Learn more languages as early as possible; travel globally as extensively as possible; pursue specific study in sustainability and tourism. When I was in college, these subjects were not as accessible as they are in today’s curricula.

TIES: What significant changes have you seen take place in your profession since you chose it?
Frances: While it was rare to hear talk of sustainability or ecotourism in the mainstream travel industry a couple of decades ago, now this language is fairly commonplace. That is indicative of both a paradigm shift in mainstream travel moving to more green thinking and also a general adaptation of greener marketing terminology where actual sustainable practices that take into account the triple bottom line may not yet exist. Simultaneously, we have more and more focus on sustainability in learning institutions, and more young people graduating with degrees in sustainable and responsible forms of tourism. These future leaders are charged with helping to make the entire industry accountable and to ferret out and dispel the green-washing that still exists.

TIES: What trends do you foresee in your area of expertise?
Frances: I recently did some research for Sustainable Travel International and studied the Sustainable Tourism Ministers Briefing 2010/2011, which created a Sustainable Tourist Report that says the coming green economy is likely to be characterized by the following facets:

  • A dramatically aging population supported by few workers pro-rata
  • A focus on happiness rather than wealth
  • A focus on health rather than consumption
  • A focus on renewability rather than obsolescence
  • Parsimoniousness regarding waste and energy use
  • A movement of global power eastwards and southwards

The report goes on to show that, in this coming environment, tourism is bound to change to reflect these realities:

  • BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] countries become major top 10 tourism source markets
  • Domestic and regional tourism takes (even more) center stage
  • Carbon neutral (and carbon reduced) destinations become star destinations
  • Destination transportation options become more choice-critical
  • Long haul travel becomes longer duration too
  • Fewer trips per tourist, more destinations
  • Health becomes a major constituent of travel offerings

Once again, the future leaders of the sustainable travel industry need to be ready to accept the torch being passed to them and to rise to the challenges inherent in these trends, predicted by the travel futurists.

TIES: Thank you and I am looking forward to seeing you and working together in Hilton Head.
Frances: I appreciate the opportunity to serve as advisor and speaker this year, as in the past. This has been fun. See you soon!