For A Volunteer Vacation
Try The Mobility Project

by Maureen McBeath

Maureen, a retired teacher, didn't go looking for a volunteer vacation.

A group of wheel chair recipients with Mobility Project volunteersMost retirees like to travel but after you have visited too many beaches, toured too many old buildings and seen too many tourist souvenir stands, what's next?

Well, you can still travel, but on a volunteer vacation you will experience the real life in the places you visit. You will also meet new people, see parts of foreign countries you would not get to on our own, and do something worthwhile.

Many organizations need volunteers and would love to put your skills to work helping others. There may be a volunteer vacation calling you.

I found one such volunteer vacation with The Mobility Project.

Surprised By My Volunteer Vacation

I came across The Mobility Project while vacationing in Mazatlan, Mexico a year ago. It was nothing I had set out to do, nor would I ever have imagined searching out a group like this, but there they were, and I was curious.

The tennis courts where I was staying would be closed for four days as a Mobility Project Sports Camp was taking place. I went along to see what it was all about.

There were ABs (able bodied) people, but they were well outnumbered by those in wheelchairs. I had a chat with one of the organizers, himself in a wheelchair, and found out that they were a group from Bremerton, Washington, and they were in Mexico to distribute wheelchairs and teach the recipients how to use them through sports.

I asked if I could help in any way.

He responded, "Can you pick up tennis balls?"

I thought, Sure why not help out for a morning?

I have never bent over so many times in three hours in my whole life. You see, when first learning, the new-to-tennis group members sit in wheelchairs, and they sure do miss a lot of balls.

A Volunteer Vacation Creates Personal Connections

volunteer and wheel chair recipient from The Mobility ProjectAbout lunch time I noticed a young women sitting in her chair apart from the rest of the group. I didn't speak any Spanish and she had no English, but a smile is a smile in any language. I quickly realized she had cerebral palsy, difficulty maintaining upper body posture, and limited speaking ability. What she did have was a desire to hold a tennis racquet.

I was making her laugh by juggling tennis balls. She laughed even harder when I missed and dropped them.

One of the instructors came by and asked if I knew what to do with Erika. I have been a Special Education Teacher for the past 20 years so I gave a nod and said, "Yah, actually, I do."

"Oh, good," she responded and left me to find a suitable racquet and to find out if Erika could participate at all.

That was it. I was hooked. I was back at the courts for the next three days, working mostly with Erika. The smile on that girl's face when she finally connected with the ball and sent it flying was enough to keep anyone coming back.

At the end of the camp they introduced me as the Canadian Tourista, and all the Mexican participants applauded.

Developing a Volunteer Vacation Habit

The Project Sports Director asked if I'd like to come along to the next city with them. I explained I was on vacation with family but said that if they were going to be in Mazatlan next November, I would love to help out again. We exchanged e-mail addresses and I returned to just being a tourist.

Some months later I received an e-mail inquiring as to whether I would like to join the group as a full-fledged volunteer and come back to Mexico with them.

The Mobility Project
A Great Volunteer Vacation

I realized that I had been telling anyone who would listen about the organization and the work they are doing around the world. How they have distributed over 8,000 wheelchairs to the poor and needy in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Costa Rica and Thailand.

They collect old and used wheelchairs, get them refurbished by volunteers, pack them up and then transport them to where the need is the greatest. The whole thing runs on donated wheelchairs and mobility aids, donated time, and donated money.

Needless to say, I quickly signed up for their next trip to Mexico. We spent a week in Culiacan running a Sports Camp for 51 participants, then a few days running another camp in Mazatlan before holding a three day Tennis Tournament for 35 wheelchair users. It was the first ever tennis tournament of this sort in Mexico.

When I am asked why would I spend my vacation doing this, the answer is easy, I love it. I am
  • meeting real people,
  • learning a new language,
  • traveling to parts of the world I would otherwise not see, and
  • having fun, too.
volunteer help wheel chair recipients from The Mobility Project to ride horses on the beach in MexicoIn April 2007 I'm off to Costa Rica to help distribute 250 wheelchairs. The days are long, your body aches, but you know you are making a difference.

A Volunteer Vacation Gives Everyone A Win

I finance my trips by doing on-call teaching a few days a month. I help out at the schools, they pay me, and I in turn am able to help others. I have found that there are many, many volunteer opportunities. The Mobility Project is only one organization looking for volunteers to travel with them and help build homes, help at orphanages, treat the ill, give out eye glasses, etc.

Some of the groups, such as "A Better World," work through churches or through medical organizations like, "Doctors without Borders." I even found one group that has volunteers count dolphins in the South Seas. Check out some of the Web sites and find your next volunteer opportunity for your volunteer vacation. Check out or just type in "volunteer" at Goggle for over 1 million opportunities to help others.

©2007 Maureen McBeath. Used by permission

I love Maureen's enthusiasm. And although she might be willing to check out the million sites on volunteer opportunities listed on Google, I've found some recommended resources that can help you to sort through the options.

The best in my opinion is How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas: Short Term Adventure That Will Benefit You and Others.

If you are retired, share your volunteer vacation story here.