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VOLUNTEER VACATIONS | COOK ISLANDS

Postcard-pretty but still in need of helping hands

Visitors teach reading and assist in the South Pacific and globally.

October 16, 2005|Rosemary McClure | Times Staff Writer

Avarua, Cook Islands — SHIMMERING lagoons, lush green volcanic mountains, plumeria-scented tropical breezes: The South Pacific island of Rarotonga is so perfect it sometimes leaves visitors speechless. What's not to like about this Shangri-La?

Anita Allen will tell you without much prompting. "The children need help in school." Allen, a Cook Islander, directs the Global Volunteers project in Rarotonga. About a dozen times a year, groups of U.S. citizens arrive for two-week stints helping in Rarotonga's schools. For the most part, they teach reading.

"I've always been in love with the notion of being in the South Pacific," said Garland Alcock, a Chatham, Mass., physician who has visited twice with the program. "But being here, helping, getting to know the people -- that makes a difference. I've made friends here that have enriched my life more than can be described."

Global Volunteers, founded two decades ago, sends teams to 19 countries. Many work on reading and English programs similar to the one in the Cook Islands, but other projects are available. Volunteers can care for disabled or abandoned children in Romania, dig in a botanical garden on Kauai or build classrooms in Tanzania.

Alcock and her mom, Jane Alcock, a retired educator, have visited Rarotonga twice. Their project was to develop a new reading program for Cook Islands' students.

Carol Foster of Eugene, Ore., was part of the same team. She tutored middle school students. "I can't recommend this highly enough," she said. "I've learned so much on this trip. About myself, about my skills, about another culture."

Volunteers pay a partly tax-deductible fee -- $1,395 to $2,560 -- to cover food, lodging and project expenses. Airfare is extra.

For information, contact Global Volunteers at (800) 487-1074, www.globalvolunteers.org.

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