Thursday, September 19, 2019 Edition: U.S. & World | Regional

Why Your Kids should Experience Voluntourism in Mexico (Or Anywhere Else)

What are you planning for your next family vacation? Do you feel like you’ve been there and done that? Perhaps it’s time to try a new kind of family vacation! Why not try going on a volunteer trip?

The voluntourism trend is growing quickly among young people and couples, but you can take your kids on a volunteering trip no matter how old they are. Work trips might look less exciting than Disneyland at a first glance, but in reality, they are some of the most memorable and significant times you can share as a family. Your kids will outgrow their Mickey Mouse ears and lose interest in kitschy souvenirs, but they’ll never forget the impact of their volunteerism trips.

Is your interest piqued? Here’s why your kids should experience voluntourism, and how you can make your next family vacation the most incredible trip ever.

Voluntourism Exposes Your Children to New Experiences

Border crossings were a regular part of my life growing up. My family lived in Arizona, a few hours from the Mexican border. We used to load up my dad’s truck, stock up on snacks for the long drive, and make the trip from the city streets through the heat of the barren desert, and into the unfamiliar world of Latin America. To my child’s mind, everything in Mexico was strange and intriguing. The monotonous stucco of my Southwestern home disappeared in favor of brightly-colored buildings, their paint fading slightly in the intense sunshine. Whitewashed rocks began to appear on the mountains, and small roadside shrines caught my attention as we zoomed by. The melodious rhythm of Spanish was a familiar sound in Arizona, but in Mexico, its prevalence and rapidity flowed through my uncomprehending ears like a wonderful song.

Some of my friends regularly traveled to Mexico. Many of them stayed in the seaside resorts, and their stories of Mexico trips were foreign experiences to me. I saw the same resorts as we drove by on the highway. Their towering shapes grew further away as we drove away from the coast and deeper into the heart of the country. When we wanted to go the beach, we went to California. But our trips to Mexico were on a different nature entirely. We drove south of the border to join with volunteer teams and build homes or schools with missionaries in the area.

A typical day in Mexico included early mornings, hot breakfasts, and long days of work. I learned to mix concrete by hand in Puerto Penasco. I learned to use power tools as a preteen during a trip to Ensenada. I experienced the excitement of raising the walls of a house, and learned gained a basic construction vocabulary in Spanish. In the evenings, we’d watch the golden sun set in a blaze of orange and scarlet behind the misty mountains. And the next morning, we’d do it all again.

Voluntourism Teaches Valuable Life Lessons

As a child, I thought that going to Mexico to build houses and schools was a way I could bless other people. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that I was the one getting the blessings. Sure, I was pulling weeds so kids could use a soccer field by their school. Pulling weeds is great, but I could do that back in Phoenix. But I couldn’t share a fresh cluster of grapes with a generous Mexican farmer in Phoenix like I did in Ensenada. In Ensenada, I learned hospitality and friendship and how a smile can breach a language barrier.

Sure, I slapped plaster on a new home. But a local builder could have done it much more quickly that I could, and I could have easily sent money from the States for the supplies. But I couldn’t have kicked around a soccer ball in a sandy front yard and traded language lessons with those kids if I had stayed in the States. I couldn’t have sat in a tiny, brand-new house in the barrios and shared a home-cooked meal with a friendly family who laughed heartily at my poorly-accented, broken Spanish. In Puerto Penasco, I learned that people of other cultures aren’t so different after all. I learned that it’s OK to try new things and make mistakes. I learned that character, kindness, and generosity are more valuable than wealth.

Voluntourism Makes Memories

My parents took our family on trips all across the United States. We stayed in nice hotels, ate out, and saw the nation’s most important monuments. We had fun and wore ourselves out with roller coasters, shopping, and playing. I loved those trips, but none of them were as powerful as our Mexico trips. In fact, the vacation moments I remember best are the long days I spent under the Mexican sun with a tool in my hand. Those were the times when I was the happiest. Those were the moments that shaped my life.

Voluntourism Changes Lives

Volunteering your family’s time can certainly change someone else life. But I can almost guarantee that it will have the most impact on you and your kids! If you asked me which of my childhood experiences was most pivotal, I would tell you about my voluntourism vacations. From the first moment I saw the world south of the border, I got an entirely new perspective on life. The weeks I spend in Mexico shaped the trajectory of my life, from the friends I chose to the career path I follow. I owe all of that to the decisions my parents made to take me on volunteer trips.

Voluntourism Shapes Character

Give your children the gift of character-shaping activities. Exposure to diversity, the opportunity to serve other people, and a look at different lifestyles will build your child’s character. Give them the opportunity to interact with people from different cultures and socioeconomic levels. Give them the ability to do something for someone else. As a rich kid from suburban Phoenix, I didn’t have those opportunities built into my everyday life. If it wasn’t for the time I spend volunteering in Mexico, I might never have had the ability to have those essential experiences. Even if your child does have those opportunities, voluntourism can offer a new context for character building.

How to Get Started with Voluntourism

Ready to take the leap and go on a volunteer trip with your family? You have many options at your fingertips! Mexico was the easiest destination for my family because of where we lived. If you’re in Florida or Maine, that might not be as feasible. Or perhaps you want to go even further away! If you need to be closer to home, find service trip opportunities in your state. A weekend in the inner city is one popular option! Check with a church or non-profit organization in your area to find out what’s available and if there are any upcoming trips you can join. Want to go international? Surf the ‘net to find the endless options for foreign voluntourism trips! You could go to an orphanage, build homes, tackle disaster relief, or any number of other projects. The sky is the limit!

If you’re hoping to take a volunteer trip with your family, get ready for the time of your life! Your kids will have fun learning about new places and meeting new people. You’ll get immersed into local culture like never before. You’ll build awareness and character into your children’s lives. Don’t miss out on an incredible opportunity to change lives and be changed as a family!

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