John F. Kennedy started the Peace Corps in 1961, marking one of his first actions as President of the United States. His vision was that the program would allow young Americans to live abroad and “promote peace and friendship…under conditions of hardship, if necessary.” Now, 55 years later, over 220,000 Americans have served communities in-need in more than 140 countries across the world.
Many people have the desire to promote positive change in the world through volunteering, and they dream of a Peace Corps experience. But not everybody who wants to give back has the ability to leave their whole life behind for 27 months. To that end, efforts have been made to expand opportunities to give back through Peace Corps initiatives for both Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) and those who never had the chance to serve.
The National Peace Corps Association has partnered exclusively with Discover Corps to offer short-term volunteer vacations that contribute to existing Peace Corps initiatives. These Next Step Travel Vacations are an exciting opportunity for those who want to try their hand at volunteering abroad with the Peace Corps on a short trip.
These trips give travelers a glimpse into the life of a Peace Corps volunteer, or take them back to the time when they, themselves, were serving. But they also give them a great combination of bucket list and immersive local experiences in a new place. Check out some of the most popular (and meaningful) opportunities to volunteer with the Peace Corps on Next Step Travel vacations…
Adventure in the Dominican Republic
Next Trip: December 26, 2016-January 4, 2017
For travelers looking for a rural retreat, they need look no further than the 10-day Dominican Republic: Next Step Travel trip. This family-friendly volunteer vacation on the Dominican Republic’s northern coast allows participants to experience a part of the island that most travelers never see.
While staying just 45 minutes from the town of Puerta Plata in a rural eco-lodge on the beach, volunteers will connect with local people who are using innovation and energy to improve their communities. Through the eyes of Peace Corps Volunteers who served in the region, you’ll examine the work being done by these local heroes.
Meet a Haitian doctor who is expanding the reach of clinics in the poorest regions of the Dominican Republic. Lend a hand to organic honey farmers and taste the sweet fruit of your labors. Learn about how sustainable practices, such as building community centers, clinics and homes out of discarded plastic bottles, has impacted the health and opportunities of local people.
Contributing to these service projects will not only connect you more closely to the mission of the National Peace Corps Association, but also allow you to develop a deeper understanding of the region. Plus, after your hard work, you’ll appreciate the picturesque beaches and hidden rainforest waterfalls of the rugged northern coast even more.
Culture Abound in Guatemala
Next Trip: December 26, 2016-January 4, 2017
Guatemala is the country to connect with the heart and soul of Maya culture, and the Western Highlands is the best region to experience it. Quetzaltenango (or “Xela”, as it’s referred to by residents) is a town filled with colorful colonial architecture, interesting indigenous artifacts, and an active community of traditional artisans. This is the site of the Guatemala: Next Step Travel volunteer vacation.
Alongside your RPCV guide, you’ll spend time getting to know the students and teachers at a unique local school that actively promotes indigenous language and culture. Through working in the classroom facilitating cross-cultural learning and contributing to infrastructure projects on the grounds, you’ll begin to develop a totally new appreciation of Maya history and heritage. After class, your new friends- young and old alike- will happily show you around their community and give you a local’s insight.
When you’re not busy volunteering alongside the National Peace Corps Association volunteers, you’ll be soaking up the beauty of the region. Learn about the roles of cosmology, medicinal plant life, and traditional music in Guatemalan life as you discover why Xela is referred to as the heart of Maya culture.
You’ll also have the chance to visit natural hot springs tucked away in the mountains, explore sacred Lake Atitlan, see Maya archeological ruins and meet artists while shopping at Chichicastenango — one of the world’s most famous open-air markets.
Taking in Thailand
Next Trips: November 20-29, 2016 and November 20–December 3, 2016
Thailand has one of the world’s most unique and welcoming cultures, so it’s no wonder that so many people have put a trip to Thailand on their bucketlists. A boom in tourism has brought an unprecedented degree of investment in infrastructure to the nation, but the Peace Corps is actively addressing problems that still lie below the surface in this happy and colorful country.
One important project, which Thailand: Next Step Travel volunteers contribute towards while on their trip, is that of creating engaging English curriculum and activities for local schools. In Thailand, speaking English is essential for getting a good job. The Peace Corps has emphasized that the traditional Thai education system, however, focuses on rote memorization.
Through a combination of educational games, tutoring, conversation, and arts & crafts, travelers can inspire a child to enjoy learning English — and improve their chances for a brighter future.
Of course, the experience of volunteering at a Chiang Mai school will only leave you hungry for a deeper understanding of Thai culture. Your RPCA guide will take you on roads less traveled in order to help you discover authentic Chiang Mai.
Spend your free time exploring ornate temples, dipping into natural hot springs, visiting a home for injured elephants, and learning about inspiring grassroots leaders who are improving the lives of women and children from local hill tribes. You’ll learn to enjoy the peaceful rhythms of Thai life, and make a difference alongside the Peace Corps in the process.
Staying Connected After Travel
When you travel with Discover Corps on a National Peace Corps Association Next Step Travel program, you’ll connect with the NPCA. But the benefits don’t end there. Upon returning from their volunteer trip, all travelers earn a free membership to the National Peace Corps Association.
This membership allows you to connect with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, join an online jobs and volunteering message board exclusively for NPCA members, attend the annual conference and receive the quarterly Peace Corps magazine Worldview.
So once you’ve scratched that Peace Corps-type experience itch, you can still stay involved with this iconic organization! –Sara McDaniel
BIO: Sara McDaniel is a San Diego-based educator who uses her summers to explore the world, often alongside her students! In addition to writing for The Volunteer Traveler, she has directed international programming for various travel organizations. When she’s not writing or researching, she can often be found swimming in the ocean, eating all of the delicious foods she can find, and teaching in San Diego State University’s College of Education.