These days, the hot new way to travel is not so much defined by the means of the vacation--i.e. the flight, the hotel, the gorgeous destination--but by the end result of a trip. Voluntourism is sweeping the world as the trend for travelers in the know. The idea is simple, and it's catching. Everyone from college students to retired couples is finding a way to lend a hand and spend their vacations helping others in the communities they are visiting.
You may look around St. Thomas, with its sparkling clear water, white sand beaches and the lovely colorful buildings that adorn the downtown shopping area and wonder what kind of help such a beautiful place could possibly need. But as with anywhere, there is always something that can be done.
"It's almost unbelievable how much can be accomplished by a few people working very hard for only a few hours." says Judi Nagelberg of Islands Meetings and Incentives, the local organizer of many of the Voluntourism opportunities. Her groups have cleaned beaches, painted and landscaped numerous schools and homeless shelters. They also spruced-up a home for the developmentally-challenged adults and one for senior citizens.
On St. Thomas, Coral World Ocean Park is always coming up with events to raise awareness about marine conservation issues. Take a day and hunt for the nests of endangered sea turtles on the beach. With the "Mangrove Restoration Project" you can learn about our depleting mangrove forests while helping to plant new seedlings. The Iguana Population Survey lets you get up close and personal with the island's most infamous reptile. And then there's the classic "Coastal Clean-Up" where you can walk, scuba dive or snorkel along coastlines, picking up trash while taking in the scenery. All of Coral World's voluntourism opportunities serve a double function as studies/conservation efforts and guided tours that help visitor's to understand the island's ecosystem.
Every year from November to April Friends of the Park on St. John organizes a twice-weekly park clean-up event. On Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:45 am, a bus picks up volunteers in front of Mongoose Junction. At 8:15 the bus picks up people from Cinnamon Bay Campground, and from then until 1 pm everyone helps to restore hiking trails, clean around plantation ruins or even occasionally work with archaeologists on dig sites.
Audrey Penn, Program Manager for Friends of the Park, said the events are always very popular. "People will show up on Tuesday saying they're just going to do one day, but then on Thursday they're there again. It's so rewarding to see how much can get done in a short time with so many people."
St. John: Friends of the Park:
Audrey Penn, Program Director
Tel: (340) 779-4940
Volunteers meet in front of Mongoose Junction Tue. and Thurs. at 7:45 or at 8:15 at Cinnamon Bay. Bring a water bottle, lunch, and closed-toed shoes.
St. Thomas: Coral World Ocean Park
Tel: (340) 775-1555
Call ahead for event times and to reserve a place on the tours. Private parties can be arranged. Some activities do not allow children under 8.
Island Meetings and Incentives: Judi Nagelberg
Tel: (340) 779-2755
Reservations and planning are required, however they can tailor activities for groups and have tons of experience in organizing voluntourist activities.