Volunteering in Hawaii

Feel like saving the world this week? Volunteering can be a powerful and fulfilling experience, especially when combined with the thrill of traveling in a new place. Naturally, many volunteer programs focus on conserving the beauty of Hawaii’s biodiversity and environment. Other opportunities exist for preserving and representing Hawaiian culture and supporting community services. Everything from gardening to clerical skills can be applied in the wide variety of ways to live out the ohana (family) spirit through volunteerism.

Most people who volunteer in Hawaii do so on a short-term basis at organizations that make use of drop-in or once-a-week volunteers. It is probably a good idea to have a human voice confirm the opportunity, as online listings may occasionally be out of date. As always, read up before heading out.

Those looking for longer, more intensive volunteer opportunities usually choose to go through a parent organization that takes care of logistical details and often provides a group environment and support system—for a fee. There are two main types of organizations—religious and secular—although there are rarely restrictions on participation for either.

I HAVE TO PAY TO VOLUNTEER?

Many volunteers are surprised to learn that some organizations require large fees or “donations,” but don’t go calling them scams just yet. While such fees may seem ridiculous at first, they often keep the organization afloat, covering airfare, room, board, and administrative expenses for the volunteers. (Other organizations must rely on private donations and government subsidies.) If you’re concerned about how a program spends its fees, request an annual report or finance account. A reputable organization won’t refuse to inform you of how volunteer money is spent. Pay-to-volunteer programs might be a good idea for young travelers who are looking for more support and structure (such as pre-arranged transportation and housing) or anyone who would rather not deal with the uncertainty of creating a volunteer experience from scratch.

SAVE THE TREES

Like an artistic masterpiece, Hawaii’s breathtaking trails and sparkling beaches evoke wonder and awe. Also like pieces of art, this beauty is maintained by behind-the-scenes work and constant upkeep. Visitors can partake in this important task while enjoying the outdoors in a whole new way. Opportunities such as planting trees and cleaning parks and beaches exist for all age groups. Conduct research in biodiversity and volcanic geology or deliver office and website support—all tasks, small or large, can help contribute to keeping the islands beautiful. By learning and working, visitors may come to appreciate Hawaii’s natural surroundings even more, if such a thing is possible.

SAVE THE ANIMALS

Hawaiians have long shared their paradise with other species, and visitors can help protect the animals and their habitats to continue to ensure their coexistence. Marine life is a definite focus as Hawaiian shores teem with dolphins, seals, fish, turtles, and whales.

COMMUNITY OUTREACH

More “traditional” service opportunities exist for those who want to support the community through administration, construction, and sorting foodstuffs.

ADVOCACY AND NATIVE HAWAIIAN RIGHTS

While legal or policy backgrounds are helpful, volunteers without experience can also participate in addressing issues affecting indigenous Hawaiians.

CULTURAL PRESERVATION AND THE ARTS

Hawaii’s rich cultural heritage is relayed to visitors and new generations alike through its museums, galleries, and cultural centers. Volunteers can work up front as docents and gallery greeters; those who prefer to remain behind the scenes can participate in always-needed office support.

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