A New Kind Of Working Vacation

Donate your time and skills to help others

You work long hours, often with little recognition. All you want to do is kick back for a few weeks of veg-time in the sun. And yet here you are on vacation, working harder than ever for free.

Have you lost it? Hardly. Whether it's helping scientists learn about global warming in the Amazon rain forest, teaching English to kids in Central America, or advising financial institutions in Russia--participants say such "volunteer vacations" are surprisingly reenergizing. "It's very effective for corporate burnout, since you gain a sense of accomplishment apart from the workplace," says Blue Magruder, director of public affairs for Earthwatch, an international scientific volunteer group in Watertown, Mass. (800 776-0188). Plus, a portion of the costs may be tax-deductible.

Many travelers can combine service with personal interests. Environmentally conscious and a scuba-diving buff, Kathleen Becker spent a week surveying the coral reefs off Andros Island in the Bahamas with the Conservation Education Diving Archeology Museums (CEDAM, 914 271-5365). Since working on Goldman Sachs' syndicate desk left the 52-year-old little time to volunteer, the trip proved to be the perfect solution.

There are almost 1,000 organizations worldwide that welcome volunteers. Some programs pay room, board, and travel expenses, while others ask the volunteer to cover all costs. The time commitment also varies widely, from a week to several months.

For professionals with special expertise--technical, financial, or medical--there are numerous opportunities. The Financial Services Corps (212 692-1200) sends qualified executives to help advise public- or private-sector agencies, primarily in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union on capital-markets development and central and commercial banking.

Retired businesspeople may want to check out the International Executive Service Corps (203 967-6000), which sends volunteers to work as consultants in developing countries. And those in the health profession can call Health Volunteers Overseas (202 296-0928).

BIRD WATCHING. Yet many groups require no special skills. Global Volunteers (800 487-1074) takes interested workers to developing regions of Europe to help on projects ranging from natural-resource development to teaching English. Caribbean Volunteer Expeditions (607 962-7846), teams up with local museums and national parks on historic-preservation projects. Volunteers--who don't have to be architects--help measure drawings and document building surveys.

Tom Davis, one of the founders of Silicon Graphics, recently took an Earthwatch trip to Ecuador, where he helped scientists trace the migration patterns of indigenous birds. The work was challenging--he had to haul water down steep hills via mule. But, he says, "I like it when I'm totally exhausted at the end of the day." Whoever thought work could be so much fun?