One of the most rewarding things since we have been at the Flying Fox is the experience of having volunteers or WWOOFERS stay with us. In exchange for a few hours help each day hosts provide food and accommodation for volunteers. Started in England 1971, the original WWOOF scheme (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) was designed to be a cultural exchange with volunteers learning about organic productions methods and sustainable lifestyles whilst experiencing living with local families.
Now worldwide, WWOOF and a number of other similar schemes are providing opportunities for travellers globally. We have used WWOOF and also belong to couple of schemes such as HelpX and Workaway which enable volunteers and hosts to get together. These subsequent schemes don’t have the same focus on organics and allow for volunteers to share a wide range of skills and gain experience in different environments. For many young (and not so young) people taking a gap year, these schemes enable them to travel affordably and experience ‘real life’ in the country they are visiting. For hosts the opportunity to share their lifestyle with others and learn more about cultures from around the world is highly rewarding, and the help to keep up with the garden or complete a specific project is of course always welcome.
Sadly, WWOOFing has hit the headlines recently for all the wrong reasons. As in many areas, the minority are spoiling it for the majority, using volunteers in positions where they could (and should) be employing someone. We have had young volunteers with us who have been running backpackers or working in Pizza restaurants and chocolate factories with no aspect of cultural exchange or sharing in family life. Hopefully recent moves by the IRD to eliminate these practices will offer some protection for our volunteer community without penalising those of us who participate in the genuine spirit of the schemes.
We’ve been lucky enough to host volunteers of all ages from 18 upwards and have learnt about cultures from all over Europe to the USA, forming some lasting friendships along the way. Each person brings a variety of skills or sometimes just a willingness to join in with our daily lives and learn about living sustainably in a rural setting. Usually they are mixing up volunteering with travel around NZ and stay for anything from a few days to several weeks.
Currently we are hosting a great couple known as the The Global Hobos. David and Tanya have given up life in the Australian corporate arena and are travelling globally, undertaking many of the worlds famous walking trails. They are currently taking a break from their travels on the Te Araroa Trail to spend some time with us. Their commitment to giving up material possessions (they own only what they now carry) and swapping these things for the experiences on the trails are a real insight to listen to. It’s been thought provoking to think about what we ascribe value to and what should be most important to us. We have a lot to learn from them!