source - Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel Online
Daily Newsletter
Thursday, July 29, 1999
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Hitting the Nail on the Head: Habitat for Humanity as Budget Vacation
Your tan will fade, the surf and sun will be merely a distant memory, and the sand will remain in your clothing indefinitely. Such is the shelf life of your run-of-the-mill summer holiday. But if you're looking for a budget vacation with a lasting impact, consider volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. Part meditative retreat and part working holiday (and if you're willing to stretch your budget, it can be part exotic getaway, too), Habitat for Humanity's one- and two-week house-building programs offer volunteers the chance to visit underprivileged areas at home and abroad at very low cost and have a beneficial impact on the residents of the locale where they help build "decent, affordable houses." Habitat for Humanity, a Christian ministry group founded in 1976 to eliminate poverty housing and replace it with a low-cost, livable alternative, also helps form lasting bonds between volunteers and members of the needy communities which they serve. Habitat for Humanity's "Global Village" program offers coordinated volunteer trips all over the world, including the United States. With the cost of some of the international programs running into thousands of dollars, the real bargains here are the domestic programs, which at less than half the international programs' price--$775 for two weeks in October in Robbins, Tennessee, not including air fare (for example)--are downright cheap. "Global Village" volunteers hail from all over the globe, and participating in one of their planned house-building sessions means that you're not working with only local volunteers but with a group of vacationers like yourself. Additionally, there are 1500 affiliate programs in the U.S. which operate year-round, and offer other volunteer and fund-raising activities in addition to the house-building. You can arrange a self-tailored week (or more) of building alongside local volunteers at the domestic Habitat affiliates for very low cost (except for the requisite donation fee, and cost of transportation to the destination of your choice). For little or no fee, accommodations are often arranged in community or religious buildings, and sometimes locals offer up their homes to provide volunteers with a place to stay. Habitat will also help you locate independent lodgings in the area, whether you are looking for camp sites, motels, or in summer, college dorms. Donations to the program, in addition to any other room/board and administration fees, usually run about $50 per person, per week. This money is distributed among Habitat's various building programs. For more information on this individually arranged program, call Habitat for Humanity at 800/HABITAT, and ask for extension 2655. The foreign destinations--Fiji, India, Guatemala, and Ghana, among them--are exotic locales, places where you'd expect a two-week all-inclusive vacation to run you upwards of $5,000. But Habitat's "Global Village" program means that starting from $2,100, you can have your two-week getaway to Fiji, say, whilst experiencing a new culture and helping people in need. The international program fee includes (in most cases) round-trip air fare from major US cities, basic accommodations at the site, meals, ground transportation at the destination, and (most importantly) the required tax-deductible donation (about $350) to Habitat's building work there. Unlike its domestic counterpart, the "Global Village" program typically has fewer volunteers in each group; the maximum is usually about 25 participants. Habitat volunteers are met at each site by members of the local community who will eventually be living in the newly constructed houses. They work together to improve living conditions, which is an important aspect of Habitat's charity: the recipients of the houses take an active role in their construction. Habitat for Humanity volunteers give these communities the tools they need to better their own lives--they don't just throw some houses together and leave. Habitat for Humanity is committed to its Christian roots and mission/ministry philosophy: in addition to building homes for people who need them, it strives to form cross-cultural bonds between volunteers and community members. But those of you who aren't Christian needn't worry about being bombarded by evangelical sermons and the like--program leaders are not out to convert participants. Habitat founder and president Millard Fuller explained it thus: "We can agree on the idea of building homes with God's people in need, and in doing so using biblical economics: no profit and no interest." In short, to give selflessly to those who need assistance without seeking monetary rewards in return--a charitable premise supported by many religious and humanitarian groups alike. Upcoming Global Village programs include trips to South Africa (November; which at $1,256 for one week, without air fare, which is on average an additional $1350, is one of the most expensive programs), Guatemala (September/ October; price not yet set), Mexico (December; $1,253 for 10 days, without airfare), and India (November; price not yet set). There are even trips over the New Year period to New Zealand and Fiji where you can be part of building the first Habitat houses of the new millennium. Note that while in the late summer and fall these trips (Fiji and New Zealand) cost around $2,100 for two weeks, including round-trip air fare from L.A., the cost can escalate as much as $500-$700 during the holiday season when air fare costs peak. Inbound and outbound flights (which Habitat arranges for many of the international programs with flight consolidators) can be changed to accommodate individuals who wish to stay longer in the host country. Spending two weeks building houses with Habitat for Humanity is not a vacation in the traditional sense. At the end of your trip, you will be left with a sense of real accomplishment (you've built houses, after all) and the knowledge that you have helped to better someone's life. For details on upcoming "Global Village" programs, or to locate a domestic Habitat affiliate, contact Habitat for Humanity, 121 Habitat Street, Americus, GA, 31709 (phone 800/HABITAT or 912/924-6935). You can also visit their Web site at

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