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Rio’s Rocinha favela, where volunteers fill a variety of needs.

Add meaning to your travel with a volunteer vacation

By Danielle Pointdujour

Pristine beaches, raucous parties, fancy drinks and bucket-list checkoffs are great, but giving back to others while on vacation is just as fulfilling. Learning the needs and culture of your fellow world citizens while contributing to a worthy cause abroad offers deeper insight into a country than any guidebook. This spring, make mindful volunteering part of your itinerary with one of these four international options:


Brazil is more than Carnaval in Rio. Although the parades may be colorful, life in the favelas (slums) can be trying. That’s why the residents of Rocinha, the city’s largest favela, decided to help themselves by creating Favela Tours and Favela Adventures ( Operated by residents, the company promotes sustainable tourism and seeks to educate about the community. There’s no cost to volunteer with the organization, and you will spend your time donating school and art supplies to local children, medical supplies to area hospitals, helping to build a community center and more. Participants are encouraged to know a few basic Portuguese phrases, so be sure to download or dust off your Duolingo app before your go.


Home to iconic sights, panoramic ocean views, lively people and deep history, Senegal is a destination that should be on everyone’s travel list. But instead of heading there just to do it for the ’Gram, try leveraging your travel power for good. Jelani Women ( and its all-female service trip not only show you the wonders of the country, they also introduce you to its youth, who are waiting to connect with you. Spend the day doing activities, distributing gifts, sharing your stories and listening to stories of children who are sure to leave an indelible mark on your spirit.


Sun, fun, reggae and jerk chicken come to mind when thinking of vacationing in Jamaica. But one organization wants to show travelers to the island how to combine fun and service. V2 Volunteers ( specializes in unique travel experiences in the Caribbean and Latin America that connect visitors with hosts, showcase local heritage and culture and support local communities. The V2 Jamaica Experience allows you to take the Jamaican vacation of your dreams, but combines it with social and community development, teaching or caring for abandoned or ill animals.


Bali is the undisputed home of those seeking to relive chapters of the book Eat, Pray, Love as they zen out in front of crashing waves and magical sunsets. But there’s no way you can truly seek spiritual growth and enlightenment without giving back to those who need it the most. At the Jodie O’Shea Orphanage (, a small team cares for more than 90 orphaned Balinese children, some as young as 9 months old. Funded completely through the kindness of donors and visitors, the orphanage welcomes volunteers to help with the children during the week. Even if you can’t participate for your entire trip, Jodie O’Shea keeps a wish list of supplies, clothing, books and food needed so that you can pack your suitcase with a purpose and bring a little sunshine with you for the children.

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