India promotes voluntourism

A growing number of foreign tourists are coming to visit “Incredible India.” Recent statistics released by the Ministry of Tourism show that 2,486,117 visitors have come to India in the first seven months of 2006. That’s a jump of more than 300,000 travelers over the same period last year.

Already significant numbers of travelers are drawn by India’s eco-travel opportunities as well as its cultural, historical, and spiritual appeal. India’s Ministry of Tourism in partnership with Relief Riders International, (RRI) are highlighting another important travel option, VolunTourism to India. A rapidly growing new sector in international travel, VolunTourism combines exciting travel opportunities with volunteer services. VolunTourism enables visitors to contribute towards the improvement of communities in need and to help protect their environment. More importantly, VolunTourism gives travelers the opportunity to interact and make deep connections with the people they visit.

According to Venkatesan Dhattareyan, Director of India Tourism: “The wonderful thing about VolunTourism is that it not only brings new visitors to our very incredible India but that they help us make India a better place. We have so much to give each other. Even though we are different, we come together.”

Relief Riders International, founded in 2002 and recently featured in the July 24, 2006 issue of Forbes Magazine, has pioneered VolunTourism in India. Offering small group expeditions across the state of Rajasthan, participating travelers deliver much needed medical and educational supplies to remote villages while experiencing India’s rich culture and traditions. RRI’s adventuresome groups travel from village to village riding on India’s famous Marwari horses, or aboard jeep and camel caravans, across India’s gorgeous desert landscapes.

Working with the Indian Red Cross and local expert doctors, dentists, and nurses, they participate in all aspects of setting up and running portable medical camps. On average, an RRI expedition will deliver medical care to some 2,500 villagers, and school supplies to some 1,200 children.

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In addition to its medical relief expeditions, RRI also established the “Give A Goat” program. On every trip to Rajasthan, RRI distributes goats free of charge to approximately 60 below poverty level families. For every tax-deductible donation of $65 to its “Give A Goat” program, RRI is able to provide another family with a continuing supply of milk.

Earlier this year, RRI ‘s founder and executive director, Alexander Souri established the “Gift of Sight” program and expanded the organization’s medical clinics to include cataract surgery. Cataracts are responsible for 81% of blindness in India, and there are an estimated 20,000 blind people living in Rajasthan. Working with one of India’s leading eye surgeons, Dr. V.K. Gupta, RRI held its first “Give The Gift of Sight” clinic at the Primary Health Care Center in the village of Mehansar in February. Some 575 villagers with eye problems were screened on the first day of the eye clinic, and 87 qualified patients received sight-saving cataract eye surgery. “Give The Gift of Sight,” is also a tax-exempt, non-profit program and donations of $65 or more underwrite the cost of life-changing eye surgery.

India’s Ministry of Tourism and RRI are exploring ways to promote and expand “The Give the Gift of Sight” program in Rajasthan. Together, they will launch a new national fundraising campaign to expand RRI’s cataract eye surgery camps. In addition, they will jointly work to create an innovative advertising campaign to highlight the exciting new opportunities for VolunTourism in India.

According to Mr. Souri: “I am a great supporter of the “Incredible India” efforts of Ministry of Tourism. I know first hand how powerful VolunTourism can be. It is very important that we spread the word to as many travelers as we can about the wonderful opportunity to not only experience the many wonders of India, but to participate in a critically important humanitarian mission. RRI travelers invariably get back more than they give.”

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