Throw volunteering into your travel and Instagramming mix

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Text and photos by Erka C. Inciong

Today’s Filipino young professionals love to travel. Department of Tourism numbers show they — with the income and modern-day opportunities to travel — make up a big slice of the domestic tourist market. And for yuppies, traveling is almost synonymous with a chance to fill up their Instagram pages with “IG-worthy” shots, whether it be a sunset, breakfast, or a salagubang (beetle) hanging from a lens cap.

Enjoying new places and capturing special moments digitally has a lot to do with the YOLO (you only live once) mind-set, as is the reality that there are limits to taking a leave from work. Nonetheless there are dimensions, such as social relevance and environmental awareness, that we can add to our travels without giving up the YOLO principle.

That is where VolunTourista PH comes in, a group of young professional women who travel and, at the same time, do volunteer work for communities at a chosen location. The aim is not just to visit a province and take shots of all its “instagrammable” places and food, but to make an impact on the community, and be able to give back and create a memorable experience with the locals, even for just a short time.

VolunTourista PH members understand the need to go on holiday, escape from the daily grind, and get that much-deserved break from long working hours and the traffic jams. At the same time, they want to tap into the young’s passion and energy for something meaningful, or simply something different from the usual vacation.

Packing art materials, painting a mural, or teaching kids a new song or game to enjoy are not the usual holiday activities. But they can be as relaxing and recreational. It’s fun to meet new people along the way, interact with them, and know their stories.

VolunTourista PH doesn’t just pick a random tourist destination. There is planning involved. The members pick a province which promotes community-based tourism, wherein human ecology is at the core of the program, and coordinate the visit. It is the kind of tourism where the environment is protected and locals benefit through livelihood opportunities.

The group’s first outing was held during the summer of 2017, at Roxas, Mindoro. The second was a three-day trip to Bongabong, Mindoro at the end of November, and the most recent was at Donsol, Sorsogon, in May this year.

In only three days in Donsol, the members managed to swim with the butandings (whale sharks); took an excursion to see fireflies; painted a mural that promotes the Save our Seas campaign; taught grade school kids how to draw butandings and emphasized these creatures’ importance to the sea (and played some games too); taught high school girls how important their bodies are and how to prevent teenage pregnancy, hosting an Amazing Race-like activity to teach the importance of spiritual love; and, of course, tried out and took photos of all the specialty food from Donsol. (Don’t miss the fresh crabs cooked in coconut milk or ginataan — so soft you don’t need a cracker to get the meat out of the claws.

Next time you start thinking about a new holiday adventure, consider hooking up with VolunTourista PH.

Doing volunteer work while being a tourist is not really tiring. In fact, it’s fulfilling.

VolunTourista PH is open to women who are interested in touring and volunteering. They can like the Facebook page theVolunTourista PH (@VolunTouristaPH) and leave a message stating their interest in joining the advocacy.

(The author is a BusinessWorld layout artist, community volunteer, and member of VolunTourista PH.)