For most of the year, New Yorker Lori Levine is deeply ensconced in her urban life and job at an advertising agency.
But when it comes to those hard-earned vacation days, she spends them a world apart from her everyday routine. A flip through Levine’s vacation albums reveal snapshots of her working alongside locals in South Africa at a lion sanctuary, in a Rwandan rhino preserve or at a Cambodian elephant rescue.
Levine is hardly alone in her large-hearted, far-flung approach to outreach. The multi-billion-dollar volunteer tourism industry in Latin America, Asia and Africa has been expanding over the last two decades. Nancy Gard McGehee, a professor at Virginia Tech, estimated in a report that people are collectively spending up to two billion dollars a year on volunteer trips overseas.
Levine was made aware of volunteer tourism — or voluntourism — after she caught a news report detailing the conservation efforts of a South African animal sanctuary called Lion Whisperer. That night she wrote to the nonprofit organization to ask if there was any way she could help.
Three weeks later, Levine boarded a plane bound for South Africa for her very first trip not only to Africa but to an animal sanctuary. The total cost of the trip was about $2,500 (roughly $1,500 for airfare and $300 to $400 a week for room and board). That’s no small cost for giving of your time, but for Levine the experience and knowledge gained proved priceless.