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April 01, 2009

Give and Get in the Maldives

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Volunteer work earns you two weeks' free accommodations at the Soneva Fushi in the Maldives.
Photo: Six Senses Resorts & Spas

by Brook Wilkinson

Pink slip got you down? Here's a novel way to make the most of your new-found free time: Spend a month in the Maldives, but pay for just two weeks. The only catch? You have to fit at least four days of volunteer work into your month-long sojourn. This deal is being offered by the Six Senses hotel chain, which has a longstanding record of corporate good works--it donates 0.5 percent of its entire revenue to the Social and Environmental Responsibility Fund, which pays for projects like an anti-shark fishing campaign and computer education in rural parts of the country.

Okay, so there's one other catch: Room rates at Six Senses' Soneva Fushi (the cheaper of the chain's two Maldives resorts) start at just under $600 per night. Still, 28 nights for the price of 14 is the kind of offer that only comes around once in a lifetime. You must book at least three months in advance, so that the hotel can customize a volunteer program that will fit your interests and make the most of your skills. Examples of possible volunteering opportunities include teaching at a local school, planting trees, turning food waste into biogas, working on a local farm, or even lending a hand at the local hospital. If you're curious about the new phenomenon of voluntourism, click on the word and read about my experience teaching English in Cambodia, and writing articles for the Journeys Within Our Community's newsletters. And if the Six Senses deal sounds enticing, I strongly recommend that you book it through Lindsey Wallace, the Maldives specialist on Wendy Perrin's annual list of the world's best travel agents. As if two weeks free weren't already enough, he can get you all sorts of other enticements and insider access.

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