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Mumbai travel firm offers volunteer vacations for people who want to make difference

A new city-based responsible travel company offers volunteer tourism options in Uttarakhand, Himachal and Maharashtra

Who doesn’t like holidays? What if you could make them extra special by volunteering for projects that can benefit local communities? It would also help you soak in the experience instead of being a mere tourist. Ten days ago, 29-year-old Antara Chatterjee launched an initiative that encourages you to do just that.

Engage in child welfare activities in Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand
Engage in child welfare activities in Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand

“I am a marketing professional and love to travel, but I wanted to start an initiative that offered more than regular travel. The concept of volunteer tourism interested me and I thought that communities in India can benefit from it,” says Chatterjee. “The inventories available were limited and expensive. Most of the experiences offered were by international companies where India happened to be one of the many options. I tried to look at providing comprehensive, local and economical options,” she says, adding that though she expected an interest from international tourists, she is pleasantly surprised by the number of queries already received from urban, Indian travellers.

Volunteer to teach at a school in Sangli
Volunteer to teach at a school in Sangli

The portal curates volunteer vacations for people looking for meaningful ways of spending their time-off. The idea is to share your time and skill with local communities and organisations. “We partner with NGOs in off-the-radar places. These organisations help us identify community needs and projects that require external intervention,” shares Chatterjee.

The company has tied up with non-profits like Yerala Projects Society (YPS) in Sangli, Maharash-tra; SBMA in Uttarakhand and Kullu Project in Himachal. You can choose from projects like supplementary education and skill development, child welfare activities, micro-planning for village development, upgrade of aanganwadis (play schools), business development for local handicrafts and artisans, training of hospitality skills in local homestays and setting up a computer centre or a model organic farm. “These are ongoing projects. For example, if you volunteer to teach English in a school, you don’t replace the existing English teacher but conduct additional workshops that can further enhance their learning,” she says.

Once you express interest in a project, a short interaction with the organisation concerned takes place over the phone or Skype. “We recommend you spend at least a week at the destination. The voluntary work is balanced with sightseeing and leisurely tourist activities. You can experience meals at local homes and create handicrafts with artisans too,” shares Chatterjee.

The accommodation is a mix of home-stays and boutique hotels. An experience in Maharashtra can cost you '650 a day while one in Uttarakhand or Himachal Pradesh can cost between '1,000 and '1,500 a day inclusive of accommodation, meals and activities. “We have just started processing our first few inquiries. We hope to make a small difference in our own way," Chatterjee sums up.

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