While spending your vacation soaking up the sunburn at the beach or waiting two hours in line for a five minute ride at an amusement park can be a blast, another type of travel experience can be even more rewarding: the volunteer vacation.
The main purpose of a volunteer vacation is to participate in short-term service projects, either abroad or within a different culture at home. In addition to helping people, other benefits of a volunteer vacation include getting a non-tourist view of the host community, making friends with other volunteers and community members, and saving money on your vacation if funds are tight. Usually the cost of room and food are included.
One place where you can experience a life-changing volunteer vacation is the Corrymeela Community located on the beautiful Antrim coast in Northern Ireland, two miles outside of Ballycastle. Corrymeela is not a hotel or retreat center. While it is faith-based, it serves as a safe place for people of all faiths or none to meet in which to learn about each other. Many social problems occur because people feel voiceless. Here they may speak. Other problems come from not seeing the humanity in others. Given the opportunity to meet, relationships have the chance to develop, built out of mutual respect and trust.
I stayed at Corrymeela as a guest during a study abroad trip in 2011. Because it was part of our educational experience, in addition to having workshops, we were also shown how the community works, met with volunteers, and explored the surrounding countryside. The coast of Antrim is haunting in its mercurial beauty.
Having volunteers work at Corrymeela is not simply a way of cutting costs, but rather a way for people to give of themselves and to also take something back with them to their communities. The Corrymeela volunteers we met came from not only Ireland, the UK and the US, but also Germany, Cameroon and the Philippines. They all spoke of being excited about what life lessons they would bring back home with them.
At Corrymeela, you can be a short-term volunteer (three days to one week), a summer volunteer (three months) or a long-term volunteer (one year). They are currently seeking summer volunteers. A variety of groups come through Corrymeela during the summer, ranging from youth groups to conferences and retreats seeking to form relationships and peace. As a volunteer, your requirements change depending on the services needed. It could be welcoming a new group, helping ready rooms, or organizing a group activity.
Being a vacation volunteer means living in community with other volunteers in close quarters. Depending on your personal needs, this could be stressful at times, but can also be an opportunity for change and growth. For being at Corrymeela does change you. My brief sojourn there was an experience I have carried with me, for it was one of the rare times I felt completely at peace within myself.
*For more information on volunteering at Corrymeela, please visit http://www.corrymeela.org/volunteer/2014-summer-vacancies.aspx