SHE wanted to do something meaningful during her one-week Chinese New Year break this year.
So, Ms Doreen Ho, 33, a Singaporean project manager with a construction firm in Shanghai, China, signed up for a volunteer travel package.
She went to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on a trip offered by local travel agency TakeMeToAsia, and spent five days in an orphanage teaching English.
Said Ms Ho of her first volunteer trip: "I was able to interact with the locals, not sit on a bus and wave to them."
It was not all work, though. She also spent two days visiting the Angkor temples, Tuol Sleng museum, and the killing fields.
TakeMeToAsia was started last May by Dr Chan Tat Hon, formerly assistant chief executive with the Singapore Tourism Board. It aims to make overseas volunteer trips more accessible to a wider group of people.
Such trips are usually organised by corporations, schools and religious organisations. They are limited to members, and range from a few days to a few weeks, said Dr Chan.
TakeMeToAsia claims to be the first travel agent to offer ad-hoc volunteer trips in Singapore. It wants to offer young executives, families with young children and other independent travellers - who seek a meaningful travel experience, but do not have the opportunity to join these trips - an alternative.
These trips have flexible schedules and volunteers can choose to go at any time of the year.
TakeMeToAsia works with over 20 projects in seven countries, including Cambodia, Thailand, China, India, the Philippines and Laos. Travellers get to work with underprivileged children, the disabled, the elderly and the disadvantaged in the communities there. Prices start at $600 for a four-day, three-night trip.
Interest has been growing since the company started offering volunteer trips last Nov. By June, more than 50 people would have gone on various trips, said senior manager Oh Sok Keng.
Added Ms Oh: "Some are not sure if these places are safe, and take a longer time to consider. They also ask if they can really help. We explain the significance of the trip, and manage their expectations. They are not going to change the world in a couple of days."
TakeMeToAsia also interviews applicants to assess if they are really there to help. Recently, TakeMeToAsia tied up with DBS and Jetstar to offer a four-day, three-night volunteer trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia from May 22 to 25 to DBS Live Fresh cardholders.
Said Mr Vincent Tan, head of cards and unsecured loans at DBS: "Many people are interested to try out volunteer work, but are not sure where to begin. What we have done is to make volunteering accessible to them."
Bookings for the trip have come in even prior to a talk to be held on it this Saturday, he added.
Local humanitarian organisation Mercy Relief chief executive Hassan Ahmad cautioned: "New initiatives must ensure that the spirit of volunteerism is not compromised."
For Ms Ho, she hopes to rope in some friends to help out with school-building in Laos at the end of the year, and also to teach English to poor children in Shanghai. "The trip inspired me to do more," she said.