The London homeless thrive as tour guides

I have hired some strange tour guides. One was a Balinese man that cackled like a quick fire dub step remix of the word “huh.” One was a spy for the Myanmar government whose eyes widened in the car’s rear view every time I fumbled with my iPod. One made me promise that I would marry my girlfriend when I returned home. Others still furthered strange agendas upon my explorations.

Never though, to the best of my knowledge, have I toured under the guidance of a homeless person.

Thanks to a group called the Sock Mob, the London homeless are taking to the streets and finding a calling as tour guides. The Sock Mob is a volunteer organization that interacts with the city’s homeless or “rough sleepers.” They engage the homeless in agenda-free conversations, distribute socks, and generally commit altruistic deeds. They also have spearheaded a tourism program called “Unseen Tours” that allows travelers to take in some of London’s sights with a homeless tour guide. The lens of homelessness provides a unique perspective on landmarks such as London Bridge, and the guides also showcase hidden corners of the city that a conventional tour may miss. The tours meet every Friday at 7pm and every Saturday at 3pm. Cost is roughly $10, “depending on your circumstances.”

Beauty queens help homeless kids in Zimbabwe

What could warm the heart more than seeing beautiful women helping out needy kids?

Samantha Tshuma, recently crowned Miss Tourism Zimbabwe, has been busy donating blankets to street children in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare. She was helped by her second princess Tafadzwa Mugazambi and Miss Tourism Harare Samantha Dika.

Tshuma is also organizing soccer and rugby teams for the kids. She says that Zimbabwe’s thousands of street children are looked down upon and that they deserve our help and respect.

Zimbabwe attracts many tourists because of its famous ancient cities and Victoria Falls, as well as lots of safari opportunities. The fact that Air Zimbabwe made it onto the list of the top ten safest African airlines probably doesn’t hurt either.

If you want to do a bit of giving back while you’re there, the charity Streets Ahead needs volunteers to teach homeless kids arts and crafts. You can read more about it on the Charity Travel blog.

Sadly I couldn’t find any public domain images of the lovely Miss Tshuma for this article, but Zimbo Jam, a Zimbabwean fashion site, has pictures of the beauty queen and her equally stunning princesses.

Volunteer Vacation Reviewed

Now that I’ve given you a week of blow-by-blow insider detail and a look at how fun volunteering while on vacation can be, let’s do a quick review. First question people always ask, “How can I do something like this or volunteer with Habitat for Humanity?” Joining a GV Team with Habitat for Humanity is usually the easiest part I find. Before signing up for the first plane to Uganda to help build homes start by learning about the organization. Habitat for Humanity International is a non-profit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry. Their mission is to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world, and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action. I was introduced long ago when I read an article in TeenPeople Magazine about Sarah Michelle Gellar doing GV builds in Dominican Republic. I was so inspired I immediately looked Habitat up and followed homeowner, volunteers and other participant stories on their website until taking off for my first build.

There are many ways to get involved with Habitat. Check out their Get Involved page to find an opportunity for you. Global Village builds often leave people wishing they had done more. AmeriCorps/VISTA has several long term programs (up to one year) with Habitat located in many different locations throughout the U.S. If travel to foreign lands to lend your hand is what you are after, head right to the Global Village Program. Search the list of available trips and then apply online or download the application to submit via post. From this point there are two roads you can take, possibly more if you are a sharp thinker. One road is to raise the money for your trip expenses by fundraising and other activities. The second road is to raise the money from your very own paycheck or savings. I’ve taken both roads and I’ll say the first is much better if you have the time and can be a great way to spread the word and get others involved with Habitat and their mission.

Once you’ve taken care of all of the above, you’re pretty much on your way to fun times and doing great things. Beyond all it’s one of the most rewarding ways to spend your time, energy and did I mention work hard!

If you missed the Volunteer Vacation installments you can catch up on them all here: