Mr Daniel Hewitt and fiancee Idah Khan plan to help the poor in a remote village on their honeymoon
[ST photo: Lau Fook Kong]
MOST honeymooning couples picture themselves in romantic Paris or chilling out in the Maldives, but not Mr Daniel Hewitt and Ms Idah Khan: They are thinking about spending two weeks helping the poor in a remote village instead.
The couple, who met while teaching in a speech and drama school in Jakarta three years ago, are tying the knot on Sunday.
They wrote to the Singapore International Foundation three months ago to seek a placement, and are also checking out other charities' programmes.
"It's not so romantic to be sweating and covered in dust but it's something that will stay with you forever.
To do it on our honeymoon will make the memories only more firm," says Mr Hewitt, 28, a British national. Ms Khan, 25, who is Singaporean, agrees: "How many times do you look at people's wedding photos and go, 'Yes, yes, yes, it's very nice', but not have any feelings for them?"
The couple, now teaching at the German European School here, hope to take their community work-cum-honeymoon during the school holidays.
While not everyone wants to do community work during their honeymoon, the idea of volunteering while travelling is catching on with Singaporeans, say charities and tour operators.
In 2003, Habitat For Humanity - whose volunteers go overseas to Indonesia and Sri Lanka, among other places, to build houses for the poor - sent 158 volunteers abroad. Last year, the number shot up to 743.
Similarly, comparing figures for the first six months of this year to the last, STA Travel saw a 50 per cent rise in demand for its nature conservation programmes in Africa - including Kenya and Namibia - and Australia. Duties range from collecting seeds from native plants to caring for endangered animals.
STA has been running these programmes since 2002. Raleigh Society's vice-president Lai Sheau Wen says the youth development charity - which organises between two and four overseas expeditions a year - does not monitor figures, but has noticed a 'noticeable increase' in interest, especially among the young working crowd.
"Volunteering overseas gives you a chance to interact with people for a longer period and experience local culture. It's more enriching than regular travelling, which is touch-and-go," she says.
HABITAT BUILDERS: Last year, more than 700 volunteers from Habitat For Humanity, up from 158 in 2003, went overseas to countries such as Thailand to build houses for the poor. [Photo: Habitat for Humanity]
THESE trips are organised by both non-profit organisations and tour companies.
Depending on location and itinerary, volunteers pay up to $3,000 or more for a two-week itinerary, which includes airfare, accommodation and raw materials for the project.
Most of the time is spent on volunteer work. Some organisations include a few days of sightseeing while others leave the arrangements to the volunteers.
One charity that was recently set up to cater to this demand is Venturing Asia (VA). Founder Toh Poh Joo, 32, had volunteered with Raleigh and noticed that there were more people interested than there were slots available.
After getting funding from the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, VA was born last year. Last August, it sent the first group of eight volunteers to paint an orphanage in Mongolia, as well as interact with the children.
It ties up with Blazing Outdoor Adventurers & Co (Boac) to organise its trips, which Boac partner Sim Tim Suan calls 'feel-good travel'.
Since Boac started organising volunteering trips to Mongolia three years ago, the number of enquiries has gone up by four to five times.
One participant is primary school teacher Joyce Chan, 33, who says: "If you go on a package tour, you can't really spend time with the locals and eat the meals they prepare. It may be a chicken dish with more bones than meat, but they saved it for you as a treat because you're a guest."
Senior citizens join in too
MR TOH feels that the tsunami disaster in 2004 inspired many to take up volunteering overseas.
It used to be that the enthusiasts were mostly aged between 25 and 35, single and independent. They still make up the majority but are now joined by others too. Habitat For Humanity, for instance, is planning to send its first group of senior citizens above 55 for an expedition to build houses for the poor.
STARTING THEM YOUNG: The two children of Mr Wong Yuen Lik, founder of local adventure company X-trekkers, were among a volunteer group that went to Yunnan, China, to build houses.
Mr Wong Yuen Lik, founder of local adventure company X-trekkers, recently took a few volunteers above 50 to build houses in Yunnan, China. His firm organises one to two such trips each year.
"We've many enquiries from retirees at our talks, perhaps because they have more free time and want to do something meaningful," he says.
Families are getting in on the act as well. Consultant construction project manager Tan Siew Ling, 33, wants to give her three young boys a chance to experience what it's like to have "no toys or TV in front of them".
Her family, which goes travelling twice a year, is waiting to take a trip with X-trekkers midway through next year.
Having travelled to Inner Mongolia for three weeks to build a school in 1999, she is keen to let her children - aged five, three and one - partake in an experience that she herself couldn't have until she was in her 20s.
"My kids don't know what poverty or rural nature is. I want them to see it for themselves, rather than watch it on the Discovery Channel," she says. Looking ahead, Ms Lai feels that skills development is the way to go, like what Raleigh is currently doing with its health education programme in Nias island in Indonesia.
"Rather than go in, build a school and then come out, this could be more sustainable. We're training them to help themselves, which is better in the long run."
OOOH, WHAT FUN: Primary school teacher Joyce Chan was among the pioneer group of eight Venturing Asia volunteers who travelled to Mongolia last August to paint an orphanage and interact with the kids there. [Photo: Venturing Asia]
Where to lend a hand
LOOKING to do volunteer work on your next trip overseas? Here are some choices.
What: Operation Snow Lotus, to assist Chain Of Helping Hands, a Nepal-based charity that takes care of social development and runs school activities in the village of Nuwakot, 80km from Kathmandu.
When: Sept 22 to Oct 4
Cost: From $2,150, depending on group size For more details, visit www.x-trekkers.com
What: Project Nairamdal, to help the Lotus Children Centre in Ulaan Baatar, the capital of Mongolia. The centre is a shelter for children who were abandoned, sexually abused or victims of domestic violence.
When: Aug 11 to Aug 25
For registration and more information, visit www.venturingasia.org. There is a recruitment talk at Blazing Outdoor Adventurers & Co in South Bridge Road tomorrow.
What: Operasi Ya'ahowu Health Campaign, to raise awareness of health topics and hygiene in the Afia village of Nias island in Indonesia, which was hit by the tsunami in 2004.
When: October (two weeks) Cost: $600 to $800 For more details, visit www.raleigh.org.sg Habitat For Humanity
What: Building houses for the poor in north or north-east Thailand.
When: October or November (one week) Cost: About $1,900 For more details, visit www.habitat.org.sg
What: Planting trees and weeding out animals that are not local to the environment in Victoria, Australia.
When: Aug 6 to 10
Cost: About $1,500
For more details, visit www.statravel.com.sg