Sharon Vipond's Blog

Hong Kong
Sharon is Canadian, and came to Hong Kong in 2008 from “tree-hugging” Vancouver For the past 15 years, Sharon has been involved with volun-tourism and community-based projects while focusing on building networks with like-minded individuals through education and international development (ID) communities. Keeping the DIY motive at heart, Sharon is in her element when she is working “in the field,” side by side with those tackling pressing environmental and livelihood issues through the implementation of sustainable solutions. Sharon feels that spending a vast amount of her time in direct contact with those in rural villages allows her to stay connected with sustainability initiatives and complexities in those places. Through her trade and travel social enterprise, Common Connections, and her online artisan goods marketplace, Knots & Strokes, Sharon provides the Hong Kong community with true and real opportunities for those seeking meaningful travel and a marketplace for eco-friendly textile products and art. As you connect through this blog, Sharon invites you to share your ideas of new ways to increase awareness for fair trade and to develop eco-friendly alternatives for travel and fashion in Hong Kong. Favorite Quote: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” 
--Victor Hugo


life changing vacations
July 16, 2014

Maybe you have heard someone mention volun-tourism or travel for cause? But then again, maybe you quickly dismissed it with thoughts such as, “How could a volunteer holiday be fun; it means you are going on vacation to work? That is an oxymoron! Why would anyone do that?”
I am asked this question frequently and I simply echo what 99% of our participants say:  “it is fun, meaningful and rewarding. Can’t figure out why I didn’t do this sooner! “
In fact, that is why the number of people choosing volunteer travel for their vacation plan not only once but also repeatedly, is growing annually! The repeats are really high and to us at Common Connections, that speaks volumes for the success of the volunteer programs we, and others, lead or sponsor. Recently, this past February, the Habitat Guatemala trip had a whopping 9 of the 12 participants completing their second build, if not more.

Why is it growing in popularity? 
There are numerous reasons why volunteerism and travel resonate with many adults. Some of the reasons are more “universally” shared, whilst others can be more specific to particular age groups.

Universal reasons: 
Searching for purpose and meaning;
Tiring of the emptiness of “beach and binge,” yet not wanting to venture off the beaten track alone;
Seeking to join a like-minded group for a holiday but NOT wanting to be part of 20+ sightseeing bus tour;
Wanting to see beyond the tourist veil; wishing to learn about other cultures and ways of life through contact with the ordinary person outside the tourist industry;
Satisfaction that comes with local volunteering is an integral part of their life and so volunteering paired with travel is a natural option;
Hearing exciting stories of fulfillment and camaraderie from others who have gone on a volunteer holiday, prompts them to sign up;
Yearning for a holiday without concern for daily logistics, rip-offs or landing in unchartered waters without bona-fide health and backup strategies;
Enjoying a degree of adventure and unpredictability;
Any or all of these are a part of what MAKES THEM TICK.
For the 20-early 30’s group:
...majority know all about it and are comfortable with the concept: many having been introduced to service learning projects and trips, either as part of their HS options, IBD program, or gap year.
For the mid-30s to late 40’s group:
... with disposable incomes for travel, many are exploring ways they can help    solve    some  of  the world’s inequities and injustices. Usually juggling job and family, a “volunteer holiday often fits the bill”; it can be accommodated within a week (or two), provides the opportunity to help others yet offers a rewarding break for daily routine and responsibilities; a personal get-away without the guilt!
For the 50s and older-­baby boomers:
...the largest demographic so there is no lack of candidate for volunteer travel. They have not only the money but, also the time. Heading out of the workplace and being ardent travellers, they choose volunteer travel as a way of “giving back” staying connected, and building their legacy. They tend to be community minded, generous and, have had their fill of only seeing the “veneer” and other ploys of the tourist industry.
Why its Fun
1. Everyone on the team is there by choice and share some similar motivations;
2. It is carefree with all arrangements taken care by the leader and/or host organization; 3. Participants feel they can really be who they are; relaxed, without pretensions or secrets to hide.  These three are the foundation for authentic relationship and team building.  The “”team projects are successful because there are the essential ingredients: sharing, caring and trust.
4. Most projects involve an element of physical activity; this can be particularly uplifting as most of us do not have jobs asking us to do any form of manual labor for a living-­change is as good as a rest?
5. Being outside can be therapeutic, especially in a rural environment. It helps us remember who we are, and how important nature is for our wellbeing and sense of spiritual connectedness. Something so important and basic yet so easily lost as we go between office and home; both in the midst of a concrete jungle, often reaching to the common height of 50 stories.
And, what does that mean for the future?
1. Growing number of volunteer travel and ethical travel options;
2. More community projects receiving a hand up and becoming sustainable
3. Increase in number of individuals personally connected and communicating across the globe.  Translation: A strengthening of cultural understandings, sustainable actions and ethical travel: solid corner stones upon to build community-­relevant and environmentally appropriate solutions for the well-­being of the planet, economic balance, and peace.
And what about you?
I would encourage you to look online an get a flavor for what is being offered; short term vs long term, open vs profession based, local vs international; charitable (NGO) vs for-profit; the possibilities are seemingly endless.
We have just a few options posted on our Common Connections website ( but the other way we can help is to put together a closed team for you and your friends or work colleagues, tailored to where you want to go and do.  -­‐Volunteer and Cultural travel is our business.
Looking forward to hearing from you.



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