10BEST: A spring break serving others
Instead of drinking beer and working on their tans, students can spend spring break helping others. A few international programs offer students a chance to help migrants; others put them to work aiding villages, troubled kids or the environment. “You can do a lot of finite work in a short amount of time,” says Megan Lee of goabroad.com, a resource site for international learning and volunteerism. And students benefit, too: “They come back with a renewed sense of self.” Lee shares some favorite options with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
HELP WITH HEALTH CARE IN GUATEMALA
Special one-week spring break opportunities in this poor Central American country give students the chance to assist doctors and nurses or help at schools or senior centers. Other short-term programs are available in Costa Rica and India. “They have a ton of destinations and a ton of opportunities,” Lee says. 800380-4777; crossculturalsolutions.org
WORK WITH REFUGEE RELIEF IN GREECE
The Christian-based Servant Group International offers short-term programs in March and April working with Muslim refugees predominantly from North Africa and the Middle East, Lee says. “They’re doing a great job giving refugees food and clothing. You’d be seeing the human side of the crisis and would have a richer perspective than anyone who just reads headlines.” 615-832-2282; servantgroup.org
TEACH SURFING IN SOUTH AFRICA
While showing someone to ride waves might not sound important, the Cape Town program makes a difference, teaching children how to swim and keeping them off the streets and out of trouble, Lee says.
“It helps them develop an appreciation for natural resources in their country.” Programs begin at two weeks. 646-240-4545; goeco.org
TEACH ENGLISH TO BURMESE MIGRANTS
This program in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand works with refugees escaping human rights violations in Burma. “They are fleeing years of oppression and trying to start new lives for themselves,” Lee says.
It’s run by the Thai Freedom House, and short-term volunteer programs are available. thaifreedomhouse.org
ASSIST ASYLUM SEEKERS IN BELGIUM
If you can speak French, you can help refugees from areas such as Syria, Iraq, Iran and Congo. A program based at a government-run refugee center in the town of Rixensart works with groups of children and adults on recreational activities.
“They’re incredibly vulnerable, confused and maybe in shock. The volunteers are part of the effort to welcome them into society,” Lee says. 802-5403060; vfp.org
SUPPORT A SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITY IN ECUADOR
A spring break-specific program has students helping out in a 50-family village that has prospered thanks to organic gardening, a small-scale dairy, conservation and eco-tourism.
“Students will be working with agricultural community development,” Lee says. The sponsoring organization has other short-term programs around the globe. 413-517-0266; kayavolunteer.com
CARE FOR ABANDONED DOGS IN PERU
Animal lovers can work at a dog shelter in Cusco, or with parrots, wild cats and monkeys at a wildlife rehabilitation center. Programs can be as a short as one week, while health initiatives require a minimum two weeks.
“It would be great for a college student who wants real-life Spanish experience,” Lee says. 617-267-7763; unitedplanet.org
TEACH IN TANZANIA
Near the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, a free village school in the city of Moshi relies on volunteers to help teachers. “It’s primarily teaching English, but you’re also working with HIV prevention and with the elderly,” Lee says. 800606-7185; africanimpact.com
HELP TROUBLED CHILDREN IN COSTA RICA
Work with kids from abusive or troubled families with programs based in this Central American country usually associated with eco-tourism. The children “have horrible home situations. Volunteers may play games with them and do art projects. It’s a way to interact with them,” Lee says. 800-866-6358; maximonivel.com
WORK WITH KIDS IN ARGENTINA
Whether it’s helping with homework or leading an after-school class, you’ll have a chance to interact with children during your stay in Cordoba, Argentina’s second largest city.
Horse lovers will be drawn to a twoweek equine therapy program for children and adults recovering from emotional and physical problems. There also is a two-week program available for high school students. 888-839-3535; projectsabroad.org
In Guatemala, students can assist doctors and nurses or pitch in at schools or senior centers.