Volun-tourism, Part Three

Friday, May 1, 2009

It's time to look at another volunteer opportunity that I'm considering. This one is based in India, working on a model farm in the Tamil Nadu region in the southern tip of India, not far from Sri Lanka. This program is offered by a company called Projects Abroad, which started in 1992 and has offices in New York and Toronto and a staff of 250 around the world. In 2008 alone, the company claims to have funneled 4,500 volunteers and $7,000,000 into less developed countries.

I'm interested in their Indian Eco-Development Project, which aims at promoting sustainable farming and environmental conservation in and around South Indian villages by teaching visiting local farmers sustainable techniques. The model farm is run by Projects Abroad volunteers who cultivate medicinal plants, maintain and sell the products of a vermicomposting system, and replant trees in deforested areas. Participants also go out to farms in the area to assist in implementing the techniques used on the project. Volunteers work about 6 hours a day, starting around 10:00am (Sweet!), and accommodations are with families in the area. Free time is on evenings and weekends.

In the evenings you can play cricket with local children, or take time to relax after a hard day’s work. On weekends you can meet up with the other volunteers based in India on our twice-monthly social events, or travel and explore the area with new Indian friends or some of the other volunteers on the project.
Though Projects Abroad seems to prefer that volunteers commit for a month or more, they do offer some two-week programs, and this conservation project is one of them. Also, unlike the other projects I've outlined so far, Projects Abroad has flexible start dates, meaning you can jump in to a project on any Sunday, stay for two weeks, or a month, or two months, and then move on. This is much more accommodating than most other volunteer projects I've looked in to.

The cost for a two -week placement is $1,995 CAD and includes all food, accommodation, comprehensive travel and medical insurance, airport transfers and support from the company's "expert staff at home and abroad". This is about the going rate for other volunteer work I've investigated, though it does include much more comprehensive insurance, and the ride to and from the airport.

I like this project for a few reasons - I've done some gardening myself, so I like the idea of promoting and learning more about sustainable growing techniques. I think it would be great to be able to settle in to a particular community in India as something more than just a tourist. And really, who wouldn't want to spend two weeks of their life vermicomposting?

Stay tuned for Volun-tourism, Part Four, and (maybe) an accompanying poll where you can cast your vote on what you think I should do. Houses? Dolphins? Worms? Or the last, mystery project?


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