Travel Agent chatted Thursday morning with Dr. Peter Slowe, founder and director of Projects Abroad, a global volunteer placement organization, and learned of the company’s plans to launch volunteer tourism projects in the Dominican Republic and Haiti by January.
Slowe says the company will also continue to monitor the situation in Cuba. When restrictions to travel there are lifted, Slowe says Cuba will be added to Projects Abroad’s portfolio.
In fact, it just launched a new music project in Jamaica. The project provides musicians with the opportunity to help local Jamaican children and teenagers develop an awareness and appreciation of music, while also boosting their self-esteem.
The Music Project focuses on traditional Jamaican music and incorporates cultural influences from all over the world into the lessons. Volunteers share their knowledge and expertise by teaching children ages six to 18 years of age to play the keyboard, guitar, violin, flute and drums, as well as melody improvisation and how to compose and arrange music. The local children will also learn how to read and notate music and listen to, analyze and describe a wide variety of music pieces.
The Projects Abroad staff in Jamaica also offer Patois, Culture and Reggae dance classes each month, which focus on Jamaican culture and teaching the local Jamaican Patois language. Local dance instructors are also involved with and teach the latest, ever-evolving Jamaican dance moves.
Slowe says he thinks the volunteer tourism niche is no fad and expects the trend to grow even larger in the next few years so long as people stay on top of world news.
“I think its such a popular niche now simply because we get information differently than we did years ago,” Slowe says. “Perhaps we wouldn’t have ever heard of an explosion in Afghanistan or a small earthquake in Chile if we didn’t have the access to information that we have now. If people know what’s going on in the world, they will always be willing to help out.”
He says the majority of the company’s consumers are under 30 (roughly 85 percent). The consumers over 30, however, are more likely to go on multiple volunteer tourism trips. And that’s a good sign for Projects Abroad since its 55-to-63-year-old demographic is rapidly growing, Slowe says.
Projects Abroad began in 1992 when a group of students in West Sussex wanted a break from study – known as a "gap year" – and approached their geography professor, Dr. Peter Slowe, about traveling and working in Eastern Europe. Dr. Slowe had difficulty finding any opportunities for this kind of travel combined with work experience, so he set about arranging for the students to teach English in Romania where he knew some fellow academics.
Until 1997 Projects Abroad was a small UK-based organization with just two part time staff sending university students to teach English in Eastern Europe. But as more and more students and professionals began to take academic and work-related breaks, and with many developing countries in need of self-funded volunteers, Projects Abroad’s organized volunteer programs began to grow around the world.
Although the company doesn’t’t work heavily with agents directly, Slowe says Projects Abroad is looking to strengthen its relationship with agents by possibly forming partnerships with agents who refer large groups to the company. Currently, the company offers $100 for every guest reffered but doesn’t have an official commission model for agents.
“We are still growing and this is definitely something we are looking to work on,” Slowe says of working with agents. “In the future, we will continue to work with agents and perhaps set up some partnerships since we know what an asset they are.”