Volunteer work is a wonderful way to connect with a foreign community. Giving your time to a local project is both fulfilling and generous, but care must be taken to ensure the activity truly benefits the community.
This year Flight Centre’s Global Gathering was held on the stunning island of Oa’hu, Hawaii. The Flight Centre Foundation partnered with Hawaiian Airlines to assist Paepae o He’eia, a local non-profit organisation dedicated to caring for the 800-year-old He’eia Fishpond.
Fishponds are a staple of traditional Hawaiian culture, and He’eia is vital to maintaining the local way of life and feeding surrounding communities. With 85% of the fish caught in the ocean being exported, Hawaiians rely on these types of fishponds as a critical part of their food supply. The fishponds also provide an important ecological purpose by allowing baby fish to reach maturity, ensuring continuous harvesting in a sustainable manner.
The Flight Centre volunteers were put to work cutting and removing invasive mangroves. The work didn’t involve much skill, but required stamina and a positive attitude, as many of the volunteers found themselves knee-deep in mud, working hard in the heat of Hawaiian midday. The local community has made a commitment to not use machinery in the care of their fishponds, and the volunteers’ manual labour was greatly appreciated.
Learning about the ancient heritage of Hawaiian fishponds was a powerful lesson on how visitors can make responsible purchasing decisions with respect to the local economy. You won’t find these volunteers ordering salmon from a restaurant on the Hawaiian Islands; they’ll be spending a little more on local fish, knowing that for a small premium they’re contributing to a sustainable future.
Far from the more glamorous aspects of the Global Gathering that included beach parties and celebrity guests, the work at He’eia Fishpond was dirty, sweaty and tough. And every single person that participated wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.
The work this organisation is doing may seem simple, but its importance can’t be overstated. In a world where climate change, endangered species and human encroachment are increasing at an alarming rate, sustainability is fundamental to ensuring the future of the tourism industry let alone the future of our planet.
As a company that relies on travel and tourism, it’s important to remember that we also carry a considerable responsibility to educate ourselves, and our clients on responsible tourism practices. Travelling responsibly includes understanding local peoples and cultures, and being aware that “voluntourism” needs to support the local peoples and places. Flight Centre is committed to harnessing the philanthropic intentions of travellers to ensure that they bring positive outcomes, to volunteer projects like the Paepae o He’eia that provide essential support to the local community.
Next year Flight Centre’s Global Gathering will be held in Berlin and anticipation is already building as to who will be speaking and who will be performing. But you can also be sure that there will be a big group of Flighties wanting to know what the local volunteer project will be, and absolutely ready to put their hand up when they find out they’ve been selected to attend Flight Centre’s global recognition event of the year.
Words and images – Allison Wallace, SVP, Communication & Engagement, Flight Centre Canada.