Photo Credit: Tiffany Heard
'Voluntourism Allows Me To Travel And Give Back At The Same Time'
In voluntourism, travelers participate in volunteer work for humanitarian or charity organizations. Doing so enables one to travel for little to no cost. For author and social worker Tiffany Heard, this was the perfect way for her to combine her loves of budget travel and serving those in need.
The Los Angeles native got her first taste of voluntourism in 2019 after being laid off from her full-time job. What initially seemed like a major setback turned out to be a blessing in disguise. No longer limited to just two weeks of vacation time a year, Tiffany found herself with the freedom to travel whenever she wanted to.
It was then that she became intentional about seeking voluntourism opportunities. Faced with a reduction in income, it seemed like a sensible option. Working with an organization called All Hands and Hearts, she and a group of other volunteers traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands to help build homes for people who had lost their homes in a hurricane.
“There had been an awful hurricane that destroyed many homes,” Heard told Travel Noire. So we did things like mucking and gutting, removing everything to prevent mold, rebuilding, and painting. The goal was to make the homes safe again, so their owners could return to them. Some residents worked alongside us, so we had the opportunity to interact with them while finishing up the homes.”
A year later, Tiffany went to Spain with a company called Diverbo. Her work on this trip involved teaching English to native Spanish speakers who wanted to gain a better grasp of conversational English.
“We had several activities we did with the Spanish natives, including skits, job interviews, presentations, and even dance parties. All of these were very helpful in helping them learn in the most natural way. If you’re a native English speaker, and you love to talk, this is the perfect program for you! This trip included nice hotel accommodations and three meals a day. It actually felt more like a vacation with new friends.”
Tiffany highly recommends voluntourism and encourages others to apply for international volunteer opportunities. The process of signing up for a trip with a volunteer organization, she says, is fairly straightforward.
“As a budget traveler, I look for the most cost-effective ways to travel. There are volunteer programs where you have to pay, but I look for free or low-cost programs via Google or Facebook groups. After finding an organization, you have to fill out an application to be accepted. Once you have been accepted, you will be provided with additional details about the program. Then you will be given information on how to proceed and how to travel to your destination.”
Even when not on a voluntourism trip, however, Tiffany enjoys giving back and making a difference in any way she can. On her personal trips, she still dedicates a day to performing volunteer work. While in Ghana for the Year of Return, Tiffany and her friends visited an orphanage, where they donated snacks and money for school supplies for the children.
“We went in and introduced ourselves and asked the kids to introduce themselves. They all told us what careers they wanted to pursue and then we had a fun dance party! It was magical having the opportunity to connect with them and seeing the sheer joy on their faces.”
Tiffany later returned to Ghana on a solo trip and volunteered at a school to teach lessons during the summer. She is conscious about supporting local economies in other ways, as well, such as seeking out local artists, seamstresses, tour guides, photographers, etc. The act of volunteering and giving back, says Tiffany, is a reward in and of itself. She is grateful to be able to have a positive impact on people around the world and finds fulfillment in helping others.
“I believe that in doing good for others, good karma is certainly returned to me in various ways. I am very blessed, therefore I feel it is my responsibility to be a blessing to others. It truly warms my heart to give back to those who are less fortunate and help make a difference where it is needed. It also increases my self-confidence, provides me with a purpose, allows me to gain experience, and helps me build a community and a network.”
Tiffany’s upcoming plans include co-creating a children’s camp in Mexico. She is planning upcoming trips to Colombia, Ghana, and Tanzania. She recently began curating and hosting group trips and also released an adult coloring book titled Hues of Africa: Journey Between the Lines.
“I was inspired to create a travel-themed adult coloring book for several reasons: I needed to create a product that would help me pass time during long flights. I wanted people to learn more about Africa and be inspired to travel to the Motherland.”
“Coloring reminds of being a little girl again, and I think we should all have an inner child with a limitless imagination. Coloring books are also known to reduce stress and anxiety. Some say that coloring is a form of meditation.”