Volun-tourism, Part Two

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ok, how does this sound for a cool way to spend two weeks of your life?: Volunteering on a Dolphin Research project in Kenya!

Volunteers will conduct dolphin research from a surface vessel and have the opportunity to snorkel to observe turtles. Full training is provided by GVI's full time research staff allowing volunteers a hands on and invaluable contribution to the preservation of these majestic animals. Volunteers will live and work in the beautiful Shimoni Archipelago, off the coast of the Indian Ocean on the border with Tanzania, a world class location for dolphins as well as other wildlife. Many exciting opportunities exist for weekend side trips as well as joining other GVI projects in the nearby area.

GVI stands for Global Vision International, a non-religious, non-political organization that "promotes sustainable development worldwide through responsible volunteering programs." They claim to offer volunteers "the chance to participate in projects and expeditions around the world, make a genuine in-country difference, and contribute to work in the field."

GVI has a whole website of really interesting looking projects, like the Turtle Conservation Program in Greece, which is unfortunately not on my radar screen because of scheduling - apparently the turtles only need to be conserved between June and September. There's also a very interesting Wildlife Conservation Program in South Africa where you learn how to track and monitor wildlife like lions, leopards and hyenas. The website is set up really well, and lets you search for programs according to duration, cost, region or "focus" - that's whether you want to do marine conservation or teach English, or build schools, or do community work or whatever.

But back to the dolphins! The project is intended to support the Kenyan government's efforts at marine conservation, the ultimate aim is "the self-financing of conservation through regulated ecotourism and resource use." Participants help in collecting population data on a number of marine mammals, but the main focus is on examining the population ecology of the dolphin species inhabiting the Shimoni area and the Kisite-Mpunguti marine protected area, near the Kenya-Tanzania border. There's no special training required, except that you have to take a swimming test when you first arrive (an unaided 200m surface swim, followed by a ten minute float in the open sea environment). Accommodations are provided in a shared housing arrangement, though other parts of the website mention camping so I'm not sure exactly what the conditions are, except that they're rustic. There's limited electricity provided by solar panels (no blogging!), and washing is either by bucket-showers, or in the ocean. Meals are provided "on a rotational basis" (which I assume means people take turns cooking, not that you only get fed every other day...)

Volunteers come for a two week stay and the cost for that two weeks, including all the solar electricity, bucket showers, and rotational meals, is $1590.00 USD. Not cheap, but on par with Habitat for Humanity, which has far fewer dolphins.

And speaking of Habitat for Humanity - I finally got a response from them about my question of how their "faith-based" nature plays out in day to day life on a project. In fact, the reply I got was from the Global Village Program Director and was a long, thoughtful and considered response to my question. Here's an excerpt:
While Habitat is a “Faith Based” organization its mission is to work with people of all faiths and beliefs in pursuit of its mission to provide simple, decent, affordable housing… for everyone... worldwide. Part of working with people of all faiths and beliefs is being respectful and accepting of everyone, not just the folks who are like you and so Habitat for Humanity is welcoming of all people, in the family selection process for homeowners, in its hiring practices for its staff and in the recruitment of its volunteers. In fact, I would say that the majority of volunteers and team leaders on our Global Village trips, would not associate themselves with a particular religion or faith.
That sounds o.k. to me, so H4H is still on the table, which means so far we've got Houses vs. Dolphins. Stay tuned for Buddhists and Farmers. Perhaps I'll see if I can figure out how to create a poll and y'all can cast a non-binding vote on what you think I should do.


Unknown said...

Sounds very cool Pam. I can't tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog, which I've done steadily since started.

Mitch said...

I once had the privilege of spending 20 minutes in a conservation area of Honduras with a pair of dolphins... It changed my life forever.

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