Voluntourism has become a worldwide travel trend, as travelers seek ways to "give back" to places they treasure. However, finding volunteer opportunities at a favorite vacation destination is not always simple.
Fortunately, it's easy to experience the satisfaction and fun of "voluntourism" on Maui, thanks to a program called "Volunteering on Vacation" offered by Maui-based non-profit Pacific Whale Foundation.
Through Volunteering on Vacation, visitors can help out for a few hours on behalf of Maui's environment. It's free, and it lets you experience aspects of Maui that are often missed by travelers.
"So many of Maui's guests are repeat visitors," says Ashley Justice, outreach coordinator at Pacific Whale Foundation. "Through Volunteering on Vacation, they can visit areas off the typical tourist path, including sites that are normally off-limits to the public. Because many of our programs protect sites that have cultural and historical significance, participants learn about Hawaiian culture and Maui's unique plants and wildlife. They also meet fascinating people who share their interest in protecting the environment."
Now in its fourth year, the Volunteering on Vacation program was created by Pacific Whale Foundation with an award by Hawai'i Tourism Authority. In 2009 alone, Maui's Volunteering on Vacation program attracted nearly 1,000 participants from around the world.
Pacific Whale Foundation designed the program to be user-friendly. You simply call a toll-free number, and the staff will link you with a volunteer opportunity that suits your interests, available time and abilities. You can also read the calendar of upcoming volunteer projects at www.pacificwhale.org.
Volunteer opportunities include beach clean-ups, restoring native plants among Hawaiian cultural sites at Honokowai Valley and, at world-famous Ho'okipa Beach, removing invasive plant species at Haleakala National Park, and working among some of Maui's last remaining sand dunes at Maui Coastal Land Trust.
All of the programs are free.
Families are welcome, too. The beach clean-ups are great for young children, and the other programs are ideal for children over the age of 10.
Large groups can be accommodated with advance notice.