Real Couples' Humanitarian Honeymoons
Meet five couples who spent their honeymoons making a difference
When Teresa Novacek and Andrew Allen of Minneapolis told friends and family about their plans to spend their honeymoon volunteering in an impoverished village in Tanzania, Africa, they were met with a mixture of congratulations and disbelief. Why on earth would the couple forgo their right to cavort on the beach and sip umbrella drinks, and instead opt for three weeks of dusty bus trips, hard beds and no running water? "All along, we had our hearts set on a different sort of honeymoon," says Teresa, who, with Andrew, yearned for something off the well-beaten path of all-inclusive beach resorts.
The idea came to Teresa after she read a friend’s journal of her volunteer vacation in India. "Her experience—which she described as the best but hardest thing she had ever done—made me long for something similar with Andrew," Teresa, a marketing service manager for an insurance company, recalls.
Andrew decided on a monthlong volunteer honeymoon to Africa because it would allow them to travel to a faraway locale, immerse themselves in the culture and, most importantly, have a genuine impact on the lives of people in need. Tanzania, the largest country in East Africa, is home to the safari-traversed plains of the Serengeti, the turquoise-lapped beaches of Zanzibar and awe-inspiring Mt. Kilimanjaro. While these natural wonders are a magnet for adventure-seekers, Teresa and Andrew were touched by the human realities: extreme poverty, high infant mortality, poor health care and low literacy rates. They worked with nonprofit Global Volunteers to plan a trip that included building a new library for children in the city of Pommern, teaching local students conversation skills and computing basics, and assisting the village doctor and dentist.
While slinging hammers, spreading mortar and treating the sick may not be every couple’s notion of an ideal honeymoon, such endeavors do have rewards for those seeking a meaningful, culturally rich travel experience. So popular they are now called "voluntours," volunteer vacations have become an increasingly appealing option since 9/11, the South Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. Nonprofit travel organizations such as Global Volunteers, i-to-i, and Globe Aware have seen a sharp rise in enrollments—and now newlyweds are getting in on the trend, using their honeymoons to engage a powerful desire to give back and make a difference. "We believed a unique honeymoon, dedicated to making a contribution, would be the perfect way to set our life together on its proper course," says Andrew, a musician.
But volunteer honeymoons are not for everyone. "I remember being exhausted from the flights, then trying to communicate with a largely non-English-speaking population," adds Andrew, who, with Teresa, endured oppressive heat, occasionally unpalatable food and a lack of running water—including one entire week without a shower. "But at the same time, these are the elements that make for vivid memories that are extremely precious to us."
Another pair of humanitarian honeymooners, Sandra Miller and Mark Santello of Arlington, MA, chose to spend their first week as newlyweds in Quito, Ecuador, working at a school for disabled children, many of whom were in wheelchairs. Some could not walk or speak, while others had emotional issues that kept them from attending a regular school. Virtually all were from families living at or below the poverty level. Together, Mark and Sandra fed the children, played with them and assisted them in getting around. In addition, they scraped and painted classrooms, built a wheelchair ramp and hauled cement alongside other work crews. "It was all of the children who made the trip more meaningful than any trip we had ever taken before or have taken since," says Sandra, a freelance writer and teacher. "Truly, no other vacation can touch the experience of letting those kids into our hearts."