Imagine Volunteering at Feynan EcoLodge
Calling all stressed out, blackburied, overdigitized, social network-a-holics…I’ve found the perfect career break for you!
Imagine a place you can go to simply have silence; perfect, peaceful silence. Imagine if there was absolutely no way for you to plug in…literally – there are no outlets. Imagine being surrounded by the soft glow of candlelight every night. Imagine seeing the milky way before you go to bed each night. Imagine interacting with some of the most generous and hospitable people the world has to offer. Imagine if you could help them; teach them; provide them a more secure future. Imagine hiking, mountain biking, and seeing remnants of ancient civilizations in your free time. Imagine eating scrumptious vegetarian meals prepared by a cooking staff. Imagine reading books by the fireside every night and interacting with travelers from around the world. Imagine how great this would look as part of your career break or sabbatical. But most importantly, imagine how good you’d feel if this was your life for a month.
It’s a Fenyan cleanse for your over-worked and stressed mind, body, and soul.
Feynan Ecolodge lies in the Dana Biosphere Reserve, the largest reserve in Jordan covering over 300km of land. Dana is an area of tremendous variety in terms of wildlife, geology and landscape. It is the only reserve in Jordan that encompasses the four different bio-geographical zones of the country: Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, Saharo-Arabian and Sudanian. The lodge itself is tucked away in a valley surrounded by brown and orange mountains on all sides. You can’t simply drive there, you can get as far as the reception center at a very small village in the desert and then a local Bedouin guide will bring you the rest of the way on a rough dirt road to the remote location.
You will immediately notice all of the Bedouin tents on your drive to the to the lodge. You’ll also drive by camels, goats, children waving frantically, a small mosque, and a large white school. This is a functioning Bedouin community you are entering and they were here long before the Ecolodge showed up. By volunteering here, this Bedouin community becomes your community.
I think my favorite thing about this completely solar powered lodge is that it didn’t infiltrate the environment; it integrated itself into the environment. Not only does it camouflage itself into the mountainside, it also generates revenue that helps protect endangered species and conservation efforts. However, most importantly it has integrated the Bedouin community into its very heart and soul. The lodge is completely staffed by the Bedouin community from the area. The local Bedouin apply for a position such as making crafts for the lodge and other reserves, front desk, maintenance staff, cooking staff, and they even hire the local women to make 400 candles to be used at the electricity-free lodge nightly. Additionally, local Bedouin in their own pickup trucks provides all transportation to and from the lodge, Petra, Aqaba and other destinations.
This is where the volunteering comes into play – with the Bedouin staff at the lodge. They are looking for native English speakers to volunteer for a month at a time and work with the staff for a couple of hours a day in English conversation (total of 15 -20 hours a week). After meeting them in person, I think that in addition to conversation practice, some work on vocabulary, which is relevant to their job, is needed too.
Imagine sitting in the kitchen with the chef and teaching him English phrases and vocabulary regarding the ingredients and how to interact and answer questions from the guests. Plus you get the bonus of learning how to cook some of those scrumptious dishes yourself!
Maybe the next day you can work with the local women in the craft shop teaching them vocabulary for their process of making leather bags. I’m sure they’ll even teach you how to make your own! You can go on hikes with the guides and help them with their English pronunciation and phrases they use for their guided hikes. Or help them with answering commonly asked questions from guests. Plus, you get some exercise at the same time! Or work with the Bedouin drivers to learn how to make conversation with their guests pointing out sites and answering questions during their 30 minute drive from the reservation building to the lodge. This type of tutoring will improve their chances to move up in their jobs, potentially make more money and provide a better life for their families
In addition, if you feel like really interacting with the community beyond the lodge, the kids and community will welcome you into their tents and lives like no other. In the short 2 days I spent at the lodge I made friends and had tea with various families around the area. The kids would come and practice their very basic English with me and we would try to converse the best we could. I even went to the local school and met the teachers there.
If you were to volunteer at Feynan, there would be a world of opportunities for you to take on in the community as you’d like. You could easily get involved in the school and teach some fun classes a few times a week, or teach other families who didn’t work at the lodge. And the best part is that they will teach you too. You’ll probably come away from the experience knowing a bit of Arabic and potentially how to make a mean pot of Turkish coffee and shrak (a tortilla like bread used in Jordan for mansaf and shwarma)
For your free time you have an amazing outdoor playground in Dana Bio Reserve with hiking trails, canyoning, and access to mountain bikes. If you like photography, you’ll have amazing opportunities to catch sunrise/sunsets as well as capturing the local Bedouin life. In addition, in your free weekend time you can arrange to travel to the nearby sites of the Dead Sea, Petra, and Wadi Rum. All within a 2 hour drive of the lodge. You can even arrange a 4 day hike to Petra from Wadi Feynan (I must go back and do this next time!)
Even though you are in a remote location interacting with the Bedouin community, you will have some nice digs; your time there includes a room at the lodge, and your meals (vegetarian only) at the lodge. You get some of the comforts of modern life while feeling like you’ve stepped back in time. You’ll also have access to mountain bikes for exploring, and one trip to Petra is also included.
As with any volunteering experience, you’ll get out of it what you put into it. If you want to really interact and get involved, there’s ample opportunity to do so. If not, then possibly this volunteer experience isn’t for you since it is rather remote.
In my short stay at the lodge, I fell in love with the area, the people, and the opportunity there. I’m already trying to figure out how I can fit it into my travel schedule for next year! It was as if it was created for me specifically; combining the perfect mix of travel get away, cultural knowledge building, healthy lifestyle, and giving back.
The Feynan Lodge volunteering experience is a part of the GeoVisions Conversation Partner Program. To learn more about the opportunity check out Feynan Volunteering Details at GeoVisions.
To learn a little more about the local Bedouin community – Feynan has started a blog and is starting to highlight some of the people in the community – I love it and hope they continue this effort!