By Deepa Thomas-Sutcliffe
I have always enjoyed volunteering my time and skills to benefit animals since my college days where I worked for a veterinary clinic treating dogs and horses in Mumbai as well as supported other animal charities at exhibitions, sales and marathons. As my professional life took off, time to volunteer was reduced until 5 years after I joined eBay and earned my first sabbatical. I had always dreamt of travelling to Africa so February 2010 saw me pack my bags (& mosquito patches) and off to the scenic beach town of Diani Beach in Kenya. I had signed up with the Colobus Trust to work with monkeys (vervet monkeys, blue monkeys, Colobus monkeys and baboons) for two weeks. While I worked in animal care (this covered enrichment and feeding the monkeys, rescue, baby-sitting an orphaned monkey, desnaring as some of our tasks) with a small bunch of international volunteers some of the time, I also used my marketing and communications skills to create a newsletter, create a film script, get their database organised and even show media and schoolchildren around the sanctuary. We lived a simple life in a dormitory-style cottage and had delicious local food cooked for us by the wonderful staff.
At the end of my decade with eBay in 2014, I gifted myself another volunteer holiday and sabbatical, this time in Zimbabwe at the wonderful Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage where again I worked in both animal care as well as in the office working on a newsletter, social media campaigns, brochures, mobile marketing etc. They had a wonderful daily tradition called Animal Time and volunteers were encouraged to hang out with and read, sing to or even talk to animals. I used to read Agatha Christie murder mysteries to animals of my choice including a hyena, a lion, a cervet cat etc. I had 5 wonderful weeks on the second volunteer holiday again living in a cottage, hanging out with a lion cub Nkulu and his doggy friend Luna and doing some valuable work for a resource-constrained animal charity.
In 2017, I had moved to Delhi and left a high powered but stressful role and I definitely needed a sabbatical to clear my head and decide what I wanted to do next with my final year in India (My husband’s post was ending by December 2017 and we were moving countries). I took off again to Africa, this time to Malawi to Lilongwe Wildlife Trust which does some very inspiring advocacy work with the government and media to benefit animals. I got to work on some wonderful advocacy campaigns, gathering insights and preparing presentations for workshops with key influencers on the illegal wildlife trade. I did some limited animal care but my primary focus was working with the charity in the areas of advocacy and communications strategy.
So hopefully you are now curious and perhaps not familiar with the concept of a volunteer holiday. A volunteer holiday is one of the many ways you can contribute to charities and causes of your choice. Very simply, reputed organisations advertise for international volunteers on speciality websites. You identify the cause, organisation or geography you are passionate about, scroll through the options and send in your interest. The manager or volunteer coordinator gets in touch with you and you agree on your volunteer dates after paying a fee.
As a travel buff, I confess to many a happy wanderlust trip but the satisfaction of working with likeminded passionate people for a cause you care about cannot be beaten. My cause is animal welfare and wildlife conservation. I am sure you know yours or get inspired and try one you like the sound of.
The options are so many and can fit almost every cause. I used Responsible Travel in 2010 and Go Eco in 2014 and the charity website directly in 2017 but a quick internet search will offer up many options from teaching, conservation, farming etc.
The busy corporate world offers very little time to do something about the cause you care for many of us and we end up making the occasional donation, running a marathon or contributing by buying merchandise from the non-profit we want to support. A Volunteer Holiday offers you complete immersion – mentally and physically into the world you want to support and really helps you make a difference for the time you can spare. Hoping this post will help more of you think about this as a rejuvenation option.