‘Voluntourism’ is a popular way to combine travel with volunteer work for a charity or non-profit organisation. Volunteers can assist in an international ‘people’ or ‘planet’ orientated project for a week, a month or a whole year. In return, you receive free bed and board with a host family, the chance to integrate into a community and the satisfaction of using your skills to give back.
Planning Your Voluntourism Trip
There are hundreds of voluntourism projects all over the world needing willing hands and caring hearts. The diversity of projects means you can put your skills to good use in building and DIY, medicine, animal welfare, sports, teaching, childcare, languages or conservation.
Even if you are not a doctor, teacher or engineer, you can still make an enormous difference to others’ lives by contributing to a volunteer project overseas. There are always opportunities for feeding and exercising animals, assisting vets, cleaning out cages, clearing invasive species, planting trees, organising sports or craft activities with underprivileged children, or helping local families to become more self-sufficient.
Start by doing plenty of background research to find your ideal voluntourism project, either by country or by specific project. Once you’ve signed up for a project, start collecting appropriate craft materials, small toys, animal leads and dog biscuits to take with you as rare treats.
Voluntourism Opportunities in Africa
Combine an African safari vacation with volunteering in Tanzania. Real Gap offers a two-week trip for volunteers to support local staff in childcare centres and schools, teach English to adults and assist in local AIDS/HIV awareness projects. After flying into Dar es Salaam, volunteers can spend their downtime snorkelling and diving at the nearby beach, visiting the spice island of Zanzibar, exploring local markets or take a thrilling safari in the Serengeti National Park.
Projects Abroad has a wide range of voluntourism opportunities in Africa, including the chance to contribute to sustainable community development in one of South Africa’s townships. Volunteers can sign up for two weeks or longer, help to build a local community centre, work on an organic garden, teach food production skills, make a sports field or organise sports sessions.
Voluntourism Opportunities in South America
Lead Adventures is a well-established volunteer organisation specialising in programs in mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. Nature lovers get an unrivalled opportunity to help local experts with conservation work in the Amazon rainforest, assist in childcare projects in Guayaquil, volunteer at a domestic animal rescue centre in the beautiful Cloud Forest in Ecuador, or work with unique wildlife species by volunteering at a Biological Research Station in the Galapagos.
Lead Adventures also offers volunteering projects for families to get involved helping street children in Quito, working at animal rescue centres, coaching sports or assisting at the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre on Isabela Island.
Voluntourism Opportunities in Asia
Friends for Asia is a volunteer organisation which matches volunteers with projects in Vietnam, Thailand, Bali and Nepal. You may find yourself teaching English in a local school, working at an elephant transit camp in Chiang Mai, building homes for mothers in crisis in Bangkok, working with disadvantaged children in Vietnam, building a school in Nepal or offering your skills to help build a tourism industry in Myanmar. Volunteers with medical skills are always needed to care for victims of Agent Orange.
Closer to home, Habitat for Humanity Malaysia is a branch of the international non-profit organisation which provides ‘hand-up’ rather than hand-out programs to reduce housing poverty in needy communities. Current projects in Malaysia always need hands-on volunteers.
If you’re looking for a one-month trip of a lifetime, then the Thailand experience with Real Gap may be a good choice. The trip offers four days’ orientation in Bangkok before embarking on trekking, camping, temples and Thai cooking experiences. It also includes a few days’ volunteering at a local community project. This fully organised trip ends with party time at the beach on Koh Pha-Ngan.
Funding Your Voluntourism Trip
Although voluntourism is all about giving time and skills to a needy cause for free, it can be costly for volunteers. International flights, overnight hotels on arrival and transport to and from the project are usually paid for by the volunteer. Some projects may even charge for orientation training, arranging permits and other administrative tasks.
With a little ingenuity, volunteers can usually get friends, church groups and other people to sponsor or donate to the trip costs. Open an account with a fundraising platform such as Kickstarter or Just Giving and spread the word. Organise a bake sale, participate in a marathon, a parachute jump or a cycle ride and sign up sponsors to raise those necessary funds. On your return, you can offer talks about your voluntourism experience and charge a speaker fee to help offset the costs.
Alternatively, tag a voluntourism trip onto a vacation you’ve already planned to save on additional flight costs.
Further Voluntourism Information
There are many more volunteer opportunities than we can possibly list in a single article. In addition to the sites already mentioned, here are a few more good places to research for voluntourism opportunities:
- Habitat for Humanity helped house almost 1.8 million people worldwide in 2014/15 through its construction and shelter-building projects.
- Go Abroad offers volunteer opportunities country by country.
- i-to-i offers teaching English abroad as a volunteer.
- National Trust in the UK offers working holidays overseas assisting the work of the National Trust.
- Help Stay trades volunteer help in exchange for accommodation and food in places as diverse as India, Kenya and Indonesia.
- Niños de Guatemala helps to break the poverty cycle for needy children in Guatemala.
- Fairplay Peru needs volunteers for afterschool projects for poor children in Cusco.
- International Volunteer HQ offers affordable voluntourism projects in 30 different countries.
- Ubelong runs community development volunteer projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America lasting from one week to six months.