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You can't save the world, but holidays spent helping others make a big difference Painting and digging may not be your idea of an overseas holiday, but Rebecca McQuillan found her small contribution went a long way
[Final Edition]
The Herald - Glasgow (UK)
Author: McQuillan, Rebecca
Date: Sep 6, 2006
Start Page: 2
Section: Wednesday
Abstract (Document Summary)

We are here - the seven of us, plus six others who are working on other nearby projects - as part of a "voluntourism" holiday organised by the Different Travel Company (DTC) , a British firm set up by husband-andwife team [Adrian Yalland] and Sarah Yalland. It used to be that volunteering was a long-term commitment, but not any more: DTC offers two-week breaks combining holiday time with voluntary work. It is one of a small but growing band of companies that are responding to two parallel trends: a growing appetite among holidaymakers for "experience-based" travel; and a desire among them to "do something" about the inequalities they witness when visiting developing countries. The theory is that it is win-win; the challenge is to ensure that the feelgood factor for the tourists is matched by lasting benefits for local communities. Development agencies work with local stake-holders to assess a community's needs, draw up strategies for change and fund projects that are then subject to ongoing evaluation; projects have to be sustainable and carried out in close partnership with local people.

Then of course there's Pidyagama, the residence for elderly men known to everyone as the Old Boys' Home. Pidyagama was not directly affected by the wave, but the men are victims of the disaster, too. They relied entirely on alms from the local community to survive and that support collapsed overnight on Boxing Day, 2004. When Adrian came to visit the home five months later, it was in crisis. The kitchen roof needed replacing; the men's clothes were torn; they were sleeping on bare mattresses; there was little money for food, no regular medical check-ups and the frail residents were downcast. In addition, they were having to drag water up from the three-metre- deep well to wash; there was no stored drinking water to cover for the occasions when the piped supply went off; and the dorm block needed renovating. Adrian made Pidyagama a priority. "I personally adopted the old boys' home, " he says; he committed hundreds of pounds of his own money.

The three men don't hesitate: they want to get their hands dirty doing some digging on a building site. A few people opt to go to the pre-school, some to the after-school club and the rest of us to Pidyagama. We arrive by minibus at about 9am and set to work preparing a new vegetable patch. Many hands make light work and by mid afternoon, when our spicy egg-filled pancake rotis arrive, courtesy of [Gamini], we've cleared a large heap of vegetation, turned the soil on a 2m-square area, and two of our party have made twin compost bins out of old slats of wood and hessian string. As we wash down the food with the liquor of king coconuts, slashed open by machete, we share the incongruously familiar sense of a DIY task well done. Then, after scattering round the other projects for the afternoon, we pile into the minibus and head back to our comfortable hotel. That is the crucial difference between voluntourism and volunteering: this is unambiguously a holiday. No tents, shacks or shared showers, no alarming fauna in the toilet cubicles - the Unawatuna Beach Resort (UBR) is a three-star establishment with pool, en-suite facilities, first-class service, great cocktails, sea views and an excellent buffet restaurant. Everyone else here is an ordinary holidaymaker and once we've peeled off our dirty clothes, had a swim and sat down with our first cold beer, we are, too.

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