Ever wanted to make your travels more meaningful? From students wanting to do their bit to families seeking more fulfilling holiday experiences, more and more people are choosing to volunteer abroad. In an increasingly globalised world, it pays to have a sound multicultural understanding, and what better way to immerse yourself in a new culture than by committing to a worthyvolunteering project overseas? Not only can volunteering abroad do wonders for your CV, it can be the perfect opportunity to meet friends for life; if you’re passionate about conservation or animal welfare, travelling and working alongside likeminded people can prove an unforgettable experience. Not convinced? In a world where tourists are often vilified for spoiling scenery and not respecting local practices, volunteering is a great way to learn about a country and practice sustainable tourism to boot. From horticulture to childcare, conservation to football coaching, we’ve got your passions covered ...
Some volunteering organisations such as VSO require a degree of expertise of their volunteers. While volunteering is often just as much about the individual’s personal development as it is their contribution, the nature of some projects means that your skills will have to match the demands of the task. Asking organisations what they need is the premise on which VSO works, so if you are skilled in a certain area – be it midwifery, horticulture or social work, for example – and feel you could make a contribution in a majority world country, its opportunities page is well worth a look.
Training to be a doctor? Why not choose a voluntary placement that allows you to put your skills to good use? Perhaps a career in law is on the cards? You might want to consider helping out with a voluntary project in the field of human rights – ProjectsAbroad offers placements in Ghana, Mongolia and Senegal, to name a few.
Not all placements demand specialist skills, just a keen interest and a passion for the cause. Conservation and wildlife protection projects usually offer training programmes either before or during the placement, meaning you’ll get the chance to hone your skills and get a feel for the type of work without committing to anything long term.
Crazy about animals? Though expensive, projects such as sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica or giant panda protection in China run by RealGap can be extremely worthwhile. Check out Kaya for all sorts of interesting projects, from whale research to working at a monkey sanctuary.
Concerned about environmental degradation? There’s no end to the sustainability projects on offer, hence the ever-growing demand for eco-awareness: from Amazon rainforest conservation to preserving the diversity on the Galapagos Islands, ‘green’ voluntary placements abound. Be sure to make it a worthwhile trip: clocking up thousands of air miles for the sake of a short spate overseas isn’t exactly the point. Organisations like ProjectsAbroad offer placements that last at least one month.
For a real commitment to the cause, be selective with your areas of interest: mountain ranges are one of the most vulnerable regions in terms of exposure to climate change, so choosing a conservation project in the Annapurna mountain range in Nepal , for example, would be extremely worthwhile.
Whether you’re studying, fancy a career break or simply want to give something back, it’s never too late to consider a humanitarian project overseas. Organisations are crying out for development volunteers, offering all kinds of placements that have to do with empowering communities.
Working in the field of community development is a fantastic way to improve your communication skills and form real working relationships with a huge range of community members, each with their own story to tell. Ecoteer.com offers between one and ten volunteers the opportunity to work with rural communities in majority-world countries, the small group sizes meaning you get ample scope for personal development and can track the impact you’ve made.
Of course, because community development is all about the group setting, why not share the experience with your loved ones? Family volunteering is becoming increasingly popular, and with projects such as turtle rescue in Greece and conservation in Kenya on offer, why go it alone?
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF, really is a volunteering experience with a difference. If money’s tight and all you want is a short break somewhere scenic, all WWOOFing demands is a little elbow grease and a love of the great outdoors!
Volunteers simply pay for membership in their own country, choose from a list of host farms in their destination of choice, and do between 3-5 hours of work a day for a free bed, and, usually, three hearty meals a day and airport pickup courtesy of the host family.
It’s worth reading other WWOOFers’ testimonials before contacting host families, but most farm owners are interested in getting to know people of different cultures as well as having someone work on their farm - think interesting conversation over a glass of wine overlooking a vineyard at sunset: delightful!
Lots of host farmers accept couples, so for a romantic getaway on a budget, why not forgo a stay in an expensive chalet or ritzy hotel and get your bed and board in the same place for free? A few hours’ graft for long afternoons spent overlooking beautiful, rolling landscapes . . . why splurge when you can save?
Always fancied yourself as the next Pele? Ok, maybe you’re not that good, but if there’s wisdom to impart, there’s a voluntary placement in sports coaching for you!
From football coaching in Rio to learning – then teaching – surfing in South Africa, there are opportunities for the seasoned sportsman as well as the novice, with many companies offering to train you before you train the trainees!
As a sports coach you can expect to work with children between the ages of 6 – 18, with many placements offering you the chance to combine sports coaching with other activities such as teaching music and drama.
If teaching is your bag, have you considered teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL)? As a volunteer you won’t get paid, but the skills you learn can be invaluable if a teaching career is on the cards.
In fact, teaching experience opens all sorts of doors as employers look favourably on potential employees who can demonstrate leadership, presenting skills and good communication, so what better way to hone these skills than by teaching in an entirely new cultural setting (think Zanzibar, Ghana and Ecuador)?
While many companies offer ‘TEFL’ qualifications that they consider helpful in terms of their placement’s demands, if you’re thinking of going on to teach English as a career it’s worth investing in a CELTA or TESOL qualification, as these are internationally recognised and held in very high esteem by language schools.
To Pay or Not to Pay?
While most short-term placements will ask you to pay, most of the costs you will need to cover come under food, accommodation and travel, so don’t think of it as paying for the privilege of volunteering. Companies like VSO that offer longer term opportunities will usually be more liberal when it comes to covering your costs, whereas WWOOFing only really demands that you pay for travel (consider hitchhiking if a European country is your destination of choice – it’s green and free)! The International Citizen Service, funded by the Department for International Development, offers funding opportunities for young people from less privileged backgrounds to volunteer in a majority world country for up to 12 weeks.