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Be Purposeful: Choosing a Volunteer Vacations With a Twist

1 Mar

My husband and I, still buzzing from our recent experience with Citizen Science in Belize, are looking for our next meaningful adventure and a way to challenge ourselves to learn and serve our purpose as part of our leisure time. That means a volunteer vacation where we can contribute to the world in general, and scientific understanding of the planet in particular.

As I started looking, I discovered that there are many Citizen Science Projects out there and some are part of volunteer vacations. Unlike many people our age however, we have not accumulated tons of vacation time — we are both serial entrepreneurs and have been working for companies we owned and operated since the late 1980’s and that means no paid vacations – nor are we in even semi-retirement so we need to find a trip that fits in our lives. With that in mind, we decided to go back to what we knew worked for us before see what else PoD Volunteer – the company that coordinated our trip to the Reef Preservation Project in Belize with ReefCI – had to offer.

Libby's crew

New friends from so many places. Yeah, we did lots of laughing :)!

On PoD’s site I found the section that described the type of volunteering we could do. Within that drop-down, I found a selection called Short Projects (1 to 3 weeks). No sense falling in love with a project that requires more than a 2 week commitment…. I found 21 projects, all over the world, that were 1 to 3 weeks stay…. Pretty cool.

PoD Volunteering

Now to choose the type of volunteering: Animals, Conservation, Child Care, Teaching, or Community. As I dug in more I found a wide variety of tasks and purposes for each of the trips ranging from sports coaching to habitat restoration to construction to teaching to animal reintroduction!

Next choice is location. What an amazing variety of locations. After much consideration and a conversation on Twitter with Gemma from PoD (follow them on Twitter @PoDVolunteer) we are looking seriously at a conservation project in Peru. This is a 2 to 4 week project that involves learning about and collecting data in the Amazon rain forest and includes so many cool activities – all based out of an award winning eco-lodge….

Screenshot (1)

Time to do a little more exploring and a bit of comparing! More to come!

Covering All the “Be”s of Brain Health: “Be” a Citizen Scientist

20 Dec

Last month my husband and I went on a volunteer trip to Belize to study and collect data on the health of the 2nd largest reef in the world.   It sounded cool – we love to scuba dive and we could participate for as little as a week — and since, participating in a reef preservation project has been on my Dream Inventory since 2006, we booked it.     Our Island

We had no idea what a perspective changing experience this would be and that this volunteer vacation, would transform us from travelers to “Citizen Scientists”!

The most interesting thing I found though was that this “citizen science” project hits every single “Be” of brain health.  Seriously, how cool is that?

Be Active:  Check this one off from both a physical and a mental perspective.  We dove 3 to 4 times a day – the getting in and out of the water is pretty physical activity!  We also had to know what we were looking for so we worked with a Belizean marine biologist and 2 well trained dive masters – actively learning all the information we needed to apply underwater.

Learning on the island

Learning about lobsters before we go out on a lobster survey with Jason, marine biologist extraordinaire!  Photo was taken by Polly, the founder of ReefCI! Check out

Be Engaged:  Check this off too.  We have been divers for a while and I always appreciate the colors, the feel of my wetsuit on my skin, and the peaceful sound of my breathing.   This trip forced me to engage with the reef and its inhabitants on a much deeper level.  In order to do what we needed to do, we had to become a part of our surroundings – we had to not just appreciate but understand how to effectively move in and out of the reef along with the fish.

Coral Watch Practice

Simon, our dive master and mentor, quizzing us as we practice identifying types of coral before we go out to participate in a global Coral Watch project. We had to get it right!

Be Social:  We absolutely checked this one off too.  ReefCI, the program and POD, the volunteer vacation placement company attracts people from all over the world.  We dove and lived with people from the UK, Canada, Austria, Hong Kong, and of course Belize.   Oh how we learned from each other, swapped stories, laughed, and learned together.   We forged a bond or two that I imagine will last.

Libby's crew

New friends from so many places. Yeah, I did lots of laughing :)!

Be Purposeful:  Oh my did ever we check this one off….  Every day we applied what we learned.  While we dove we collected data from measuring Queen Conch shells to surveying areas looking for lobsters to counting types of commercial and noncommercial fish to identifying coral – both type and health status — to identifying invasive species that will be used by the Fish and Wildlife, University researchers, and local governments.   This data will not only help preserve this beautiful reef but will also but used to support a strong healthy bond between the government and local fisherman.   Not a bad week.

Brain coral

These beautiful grunts swimming among my favorite kind of coral – brain coral!

There are so many Citizen Science projects to get involved with and many don’t require much time or long distance travel.  Scientific American highlighted some easy App-based Citizen Science projects that just about anyone with a smartphone can participate in.  Check them out and get involved!    8 Apps That Turn Citizens Into Scientists.


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