Archive for August, 2007

voluntourism, the good, the bad, and the ugly

August 29, 2007

Voluntourism is the new buzz word these days. It is becoming very popular that it is the heated focus of the latest controversy hitting the UK travel news.

According to The Guardian, Voluntary Services Overseas or VSO, an international development charity organization very much like the U.S. Peace Corps, claims that the so-called “voluntourism” phenomenon has spawned ill-planned schemes that leave young people out of pocket – sometimes by several thousand pounds – and do little to provide sustainable and well-targeted help for local communities.

The Guardian quotes Hannah Saunders, 19, from London who spent £1,100 to teach children in Pune, India for 2 months:

“I didn’t have any training or preparation from the organisation before I went, and they didn’t expect me to have any qualifications.”

“When I arrived, although the project did fantastic work, they didn’t know I was coming or what to do with me. I didn’t have enough experience of work to know how to handle that at first, but in the end I asked them if I could work with small groups of children and things did improve. But it would be much better to have better liaison with the project while you are still at home so you can create links and work out what they need you to do.”

I wonder if this is the same Hannah Saunders, 20, also from London, who paid £1,400 to teach children in Pune, India for 3 months and said:

“Understanding the situation of the children was the biggest thing, I really spent a lot of time building my relationship with them but didn’t realise until the end how much they enjoyed having me there and how I have been able to make a difference to them. I recommend future volunteers to take songs, nursery rhymes, paper origami, paper shapes, anything that allows you to interact and gives a result at the end.”

The Telegraph, like The Guardian, quotes Ms. Saunders’ as follows:

“I turned up at the learning centre – a school for slum kids – and the teachers didn’t even know I was coming. It was very hard to find out what I was supposed to be doing. It wasn’t value for money, as there was very little support from the organisation before or during my time there.”

Is VSO really attacking the gap year travel providers? Are well-established volunteer travel providers like i-to-i under attack here?

I checked VSO’s official web site and here is what I found…

VSO’s latest press release advises gap year students to “ditch (un)worthy causes”. Judith Brodie, Director of VSO said:

“Spending your gap year volunteering overseas has become a rite of passage for young people and the gap year market has grown considerably. While there are many good gap year providers we are increasingly concerned about the number of badly planned and supported schemes that are spurious – ultimately benefiting no one apart from the travel companies that organize them. Young people want to make a difference through volunteering, but they would be better off traveling and experiencing different cultures, rather than wasting time on projects that have no impact and can leave a big hole in their wallet.”

VSO continues on to say that “the gap year market was increasingly catering to the needs of volunteers, rather than the communities they claim to support” and “urged providers to work with local communities to ensure young people are doing work that has a meaningful impact”.

VSO has devised this checklist designed to assess the gap year travel providers’ commitment to volunteering. VSO advises you to ask these important questions before you choose your gap year travel provider:

1. Will you be given a defined role and purpose?
2. Will you meet face to face with your provider and attend a selection day to assess your suitability for the volunteering opportunities and gain detailed information about the structure of your placement?
3. How much will it cost and what does this pay for?
4. How will you be supported with training and personal development needs before, during and after your placement?
5. Is the work you do linked to long-term community partnerships that have a lasting impact? And how do volunteers work in partnership with the local community?
6. Does the organisation you are going with have established offices overseas that work in partnership with local people?
7. Can your organisation guarantee you 24 hour a day health, safety and security assistance?
8. Does the organisation have a commitment to diversity amongst its volunteers?
9. How does the organisation encourage long-term awareness of real development issues?
10. How will your work be monitored and evaluated so that others can build on what you have done?

I personally think the UK media has overblown the issue. When I first read Times Online’s news article, I thought jeez VSO surely sounds bitter. It doesn’t want to share a piece of the pie. Maybe VSO is feeling threatened by the rise of for-profit volunteer travel companies, but taking VSO’s statements in full context, it is simply throwing out fair warning and offering a smart and practical guide to choosing a gap year travel provider.

Many for-profit travel companies are jumping in on this new exploding opportunity of volunteers wanting to travel overseas that, like any other booming business, money-loving vultures are likely to jump in on the same opportunity, misleading you, and taking away your hard-earned money. But not all volunteer travel is a scam. And not all volunteers have the same needs, desires, and expectations. So be the informed consumer. Please shop wisely.


Don’t miss the total lunar eclipse tonight!

August 27, 2007

A total lunar eclipse is occurring tonight! Well, during the early morning hours of August 28th really. The event should be widely visible from the United States and Canada as well as South America, the Pacific Ocean, western Asia and Australia.

For a super quick lesson on lunar eclipse, click here. For a live web cast of the eclipse, click here.

Enjoy… I still have to figure out how I’m going to sleep (or not sleep) tonight. I just checked the fog forecast in my neighborhood and tonight should be mostly clear. We’ll see…

the age of virtuous travel

August 27, 2007

“The Age of Virtuous Travel” is featured in the editorial page of this month’s issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Klara Glowczewska could not have described better what I was trying to say in my previous blog about why I travel.

“We travel junkies know the feeling well. The agony of choosing between Italy and France, say, or China and India, or Bora Bora and Bali. So many places, so little time. Travel is addictive because it makes us feel alive. But travel can also do something more universally consequential: It can, if done right, help improve the lives of others.”

Klara continues on to say that the future of travel is travel that is not just as entertainment but as a purposeful means of giving back something to the world, of enacted gratitude for our brief moment of living in it. That sounds very zen to me. I hope she’s right.

I have seen only a few countries but in almost every other country I have visited, I have witnessed hard times in the poorest places. Years ago in Nepal, I visited a school of about 15 kids all probably under the age of 10 and taught by one or two teachers. They didn’t have a lot of books, and the books, to me, didn’t look substantial enough for kids their age. The school building needed repairs , needed a new roof and needed floors. It was a dusty afternoon and all the kids were playing kick and catch with an empty soda can. It is a sad sight for me, but I didn’t feel too sad, because all the kids are having a blast. They’re all genuinely happy.

Bill Drayton, social entrepreneur and founder of Ashoka, witnessed something similar.

“When I was young, I visited a family in South India. They lived in one room, with no electricity and very little to their name. I learned that physical things didn’t matter. That family was perfectly happy. When you travel, you get close to people and they are no longer statistics.”

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that many parts of the world are in need. And it doesn’t take a lot from us to help. It can be as easy as bringing baseballs, books, or pieces of paper and crayons. We CAN make the world a better place.

warm windsurfing spots in the world

August 24, 2007

I used to practice windsurfing every week at Lake Hodges in Escondido. It has been closed to windsurfing for quite awhile now. What a shame. The dam/lake was murky but an easy place to learn the sport. The winds were straight-forward, and the water was flat. Most of all, the water was warm and you don’t need a wetsuit to keep you comfortable.

Last year, I discovered a small and charming place in Argentina called Peru Beach. To get there, catch the Mitré line from Retiro Station. Get off at Mitré station, catch the comfortable Tren de la Costa, and get off at Barrancas station. Follow the windsurfing signs and you’ll be in little paradise in no time. Enjoy the sight of turquoise waters on a nice sunny day, watch the beautifully colored kites on the horizon, and order an exquisite piece (or pieces!) of grilled pork chop, a generous serving of heavenly fries (You GOT to have the fries), and some ice-cold cerveza. Ay! Que Rico. Then approach the thatched hut to your right and sign up for windsurfing lessons. The water was perfect on my first day in the water. It was warm, flat, and below waist-deep. It was one of my best windsurfing days ever. Never was it this easy to get in and out of the board.

Where is your favorite warm windsurfing spot in the world?

word of the hari

August 23, 2007

I have recently subscribed to Indonesian word of the day. I haven’t been so impressed with it until today, day three of my subscription. Here’s what I got:


Translation: day

Pronunciation: “ha-ree

Part of speech: noun

Contoh (example):

Minggu ini saya ada satu hari libur.

This week I have one day off.

Related Words:

sehari (adverb) = one day

seharian (adverb) = the whole day, all day long

harian (adverb) = daily

sehari-hari (adverb) = every day

berhari-hari (adverb) = day after day

I love how I can focus on one word at a time. The example sentences do not make much sense to me right now, but I know eventually they will. When learning a new language, you got to start somewhere right? Just follow a path that works best for you. In my case, I usually follow the most fun path.

For instance, I take the bus to work everyday. I enjoy the luxury of not having to worry about a car, parking, insurance payments, possible accidents, violation tickets, the obscene price of gasoline, and such. But waiting for and riding a bus can be time-consuming and boring, so for the last several months I have transferred my Pimsleur Spanish I series over to my ipod and I make perfect use of my idle time. In the Spanish I series, I have diligently and religiously gone through each lesson, in sequence, and in multiple iterations per lesson until I can get it 100% right.

Now that I am listening to the Pimsleur Spanish II series, I have jazzed it up a bit. I listen to each lesson in random order. What’s nice about Pimsleur Spanish II is that after completing Spanish I, each lesson in Spanish II is, for the most part, independent from each other. So I know that eventually, I will master all 30 lessons, as a group. Anyway, learning Spanish this way makes it exciting and fun for me. This way, learning a language does not feel like a chore.

Have fun learning a new language!

travel prescription reading glasses

August 21, 2007

I am looking for prescription reading glasses that travel well, maybe something that is lightweight, is compact, and doesn’t scratch too easily. Tinted reading glasses would be even better, to provide protection from bright sunlight. They’d be great for reading outside while lounging near a pool, that you paid $5 to use, at an upscale hotel in Siem Reap to escape from the heat, for reading tabs of “Wonderwall” while playing the guitar on the porch of your pink beach house in Cabarete, or for simply taking a break at some random beach in Uruguay to double-check your map before hopping again on your rented scooter.

Any recommendations?

Update: I have stumbled across this eye-opening blog and might have to take a closer look at it sometime. Maybe I will find a very decent quality pair from here.

lost luggage auction

August 20, 2007

Have you ever lost your luggage and never found them? There is a chance that they have ended up in a lost luggage auction.

Unclaimed Baggage is a store located in Scottsboro, Alabama, U.S.A. where the vast majority of items come from unclaimed baggage at airports. Baggage is officially declared unclaimed if it is still not found by its owners after at least 90 days of “intensive tracking by the airlines”.

Greasbys Auctioneers and Valuers in Tooting, south London U.K. is a small backyard and garage which, according to The Observer, auctions luggage and personal effects left in airports, airplanes, and London Transport that are still unclaimed after a period of at least three months’ probation in lost property. Profits, minus commission, are returned to the airlines. According to its own website, Greasbys “handles the sale of Antique and Modern furniture and effects, for a wide variety of clients including Local Authorities, The Treasury Solicitor, Various Airline Operators, H.M. Revenue & Customs and various others.”

I wonder how much of airlines’ revenues come from auction profits. Could it be more financially sound to find or lose your luggage? According to Wikipedia, compensation for lost luggage varies from nation to nation, but in the United States, it is limited to 9.07 US dollars per pound for international flights. According to the Telegraph, British Airways pays £14 per kilogram as prescribed by the Warsaw Convention. It also states that some airlines likeVirgin Atlantic, Britannia, and Airtours donate your lost luggage to charity.

So please follow these tips if you want to prevent your luggage from appearing on E-bay:

  • Put your name and contact information both outside and inside your bag in case your luggage tags fall off in transit. Luggage tags falling off and being re-attached to the WRONG bag happens a lot more often than we think.
  • Place a copy of your itinerary inside your luggage. An airline employee will find it a lot easier to locate you if your luggage becomes lost.
  • Avoid short layovers. Be sure to leave enough time for you and your bags to make the next flight. A good rule of thumb is to try and leave at least an hour in between legs.
  • i am fine, thank you

    August 18, 2007

    What is baik? It is one of the first few words that you will get familiar with when you’re starting to learn Bahasa Indonesia. The Indonesian language has no specific equivalent to our “hello”, but often, the greeting Apa kabar? or “What’s news?” will be used. So when someone asks you Apa kabar? or the Indonesian equivalent of “How are you?”, you can respond with Kabar baik or simply baik. Note that the “k” is almost silent, so you essentially pronounce it “Bi”.

    By the way, a better response would be Baik baik saja, terima kasih or “I’m just fine, thank you”.

    There are many other ways baik is used in everyday conversations in Indonesia. Here is an excellent list of commonly used words.

    Terima kasih

    August 17, 2007

    I found this excellent quick and practical guide to learning basic sentences in Bahasa Indonesia that you can use as soon as you get to Indonesia. You will learn only a few words, but this guide will get you far if you want to make a good impression with the locals.

    earthquake hits the coast of peru

    August 16, 2007

    Sad news. Peru has been struck by a 7.9 earthquake. The epicenter is reported to be in Pisco. For a closer look at the situation I recommend checking out news portal Living in Peru. If you want the no-nonsense, straight-to-the-news version, check out Brisbane Times.

    The death toll has been rising. Last night before I went to bed at 1 am, the figures were around 50. As of this writing, the numbers have climbed to 500 and according to the United States’ scare news network, Peru could experience aftershocks for weeks.