Catherine Pearson, a former intern at Traveler, has been researching the rise of volunteer vacations. She spoke with one family who was the test case for a new family voluntourism program, and learned a bit about how to roast marshmallows over molten lava.
When the Delange family arrived in Guatemala for their volunteer vacation with Global Vision International (GVI), a UK-based volunteer organization, they were greeted by a mudslide.
"It was a bad welcome," says Alex, the mother, and she admits that she wondered what she had gotten them into. The unseasonably heavy rains continued into the trip, but Alex
considered it a success. After all, they hadn't planned on having a typical vacation.
Alex, her husband, Greg, and their three teenagers recently spent a week in Antigua, Guatemala, staying with a host family and building stoves for other families in a nearby town. Although many organizations offer volunteer vacations for families, the Delanges' trip was a first—both for them and their sponsor organization, GVI. The trip met Alex's three criteria: It was short-term, provided Spanish immersion, and made a quick, visible difference.
GVI now offers this stove-building opportunity for families with children 12 and older. In two days, volunteers build a cement, block and brick energy-efficient stove to replace open cooking fires in the village. This change decreases smoke inhalation, burns, hours of gathering wood, and deforestation for the community.