What position do you hold at The Volunteer Bay? What has been your career path so far?
Pedro: Currently I am the Co-founder and Managing Director of The Volunteer Bay. The idea began a few years ago and it was not until last year that we officially launched our site aiming to bring the support of those responsible travelers to grassroots organizations in the countries we visit.
Before I decided to commit to this challenge, I had been teaching English and Spanish, and training English teachers in Korea and Thailand. Originally I'm from Ecuador and began my working experience in the insurance market until I realized it was not something that was making me happy. So I decided to set off and travel abroad to look for new opportunities.
Did YOU volunteer abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?
Pedro: My first experience volunteering was in high school, in Ecuador, at a national park in a building project of recreational areas for visitors. However, the first time I volunteered abroad was in Thailand, at a children's day care center and then I participated in sea floor and beach cleanups. Working with elephants was probably one of my favorite programs in Thailand, but the experience in Nepal at our Eco Village Program was the most endearing.
My partner and I love traveling, meeting the locals and lending a hand to any need we can contribute to. The gratitude that you feel from those you help, plus the bonds that you make with them and other locals along the way is food for your soul. There's so much to learn from them and so much you take with you when you leave. It's hard not to want to stay longer or to come back.
What does the future hold for The Volunteer Bay - any exciting new programs to share?
Pedro: The programs and destinations that we offer at The Volunteer Bay are those we've visited and worked with. We want to transmit our first hand experience of these programs and organizations to all those volunteers looking to travel abroad to lend a hand.
Our next destination is Costa Rica, where we will be spending the first few months of 2015. Costa Rica is a country full of opportunities for volunteers and grassroots organizations working in conservation, wildlife or social development programs. Plus, its natural beauty makes it an option that can't be missed by all those responsible travelers looking into combining leisure with giving back.
What about the future of the industry? How do you think volunteer abroad will change over the next 10 years?
Pedro: The future of the industry is promising. With the internet, more information flowing and globalization occurring at such a high rate, I think more and more people will choose to travel and volunteer abroad. With growing mobile technology, people will start to feel more confident about exploring places outside of their comfort zone.
The idea of volunteering abroad “to save the world” will change as well. People who volunteer abroad won't necessarily be going to 'save the world,' but rather to enrich themselves. People will start to see volunteer trips as personal enrichment/ fulfillment experiences.
Which volunteer abroad destination is most underrated? Conversely, which is most overrated?
Pedro: I don't think there are underrated or overrated destinations. Wildlife and communities need volunteer support everywhere on the planet. Rather than thinking solely about a destination, I think potential volunteers should really think about what they want to do. If they want to do anything, anywhere, and are drawn to a specific country ask why. Someone who hates the outdoors won't do well at any biological reserve. It doesn't matter if its in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Thailand or any world protected area.
If a volunteer is a newbie to traveling, and scared to try any food outside of his/her comfort zone, going somewhere completely different like India or Nepal might be a stretch. Not just for their taste buds sake, but also for the reason they might not know how to take care of themselves if they suddenly start having stomach problems.
An experienced volunteer who has traveled to India, across South America, and Asia, might benefit from returning to a known culture to volunteer. Implementing new strategies to their old ways, is the learning process we encourage our volunteers to get endeavor in.