Want to spend a week teaching English to Spaniards? Or a week (or longer) living with elephants in the jungle in Thailand? Or how about spending time in Uganda working with at-risk youth?
Travel today extends far beyond the go-see-return mentality. Today, there are opportunities across the world which allows travelers to visit a place and donate their time, all the while having experiences of a lifetime that are not only eye-opening, but fulfilling.
Volunteers don’t have to have special skills in order to give their time in a foreign country. They don’t have to be physically strong. They don’t even have to speak the language of the country they are visiting. In some cases, all it takes to volunteer is heart.
As is the case with most volunteer opportunities, slots fill up quickly. So, once you know the dates and have booked cheap airfare, contact the organization to ensure placement. And, it never hurts to plan far ahead with volunteer programs.
Elephant Nature Park: Located an hour outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, this park is home to 37 elephants living out their lives in peace. Thailand’s elephant tourism is strong, and the elephants that are unfortunate enough to be captive and working in it are abused from a young age. Their lives at trekking camps, circuses and other places are far from ideal. At ENP, Lek Chailert and her team of mahouts (elephant trainers), staff, and long-term volunteers need the extra hands each week to help run the park and take care of the elephants.
Volunteers pay $400, and every cent goes straight to the park, its volunteer program (to assist with lodging meals costs), as well as elephant care, and daily operational expenses. The experience includes not only feeding and bathing the elephants every day, but also helping with park operations which range from scooping poo to preparing elephant food, planting grass, aiding the veterinarians and more. Days are about 12 hours, but there is time to unwind.
English Immersion Programs in Spain: For a less intense experience, Vaughan Town and Pueblo Ingles (two for-profit businesses) operate volunteer programs in Spain that offer a chance to meet Spaniards and teach them English for nearly week-long programs. Volunteers need to cover their costs to Madrid, but then the programs covers lodging and all meals. The program takes participants – both the volunteers and Spaniards – to remote locations where only English is allowed. For days, volunteers participate in a handful of one-on-one conversations daily, followed by nighttime activities to help people grow comfortable with the English language.
These programs provide a way to meet locals and learn about the Spanish culture. It should be noted the companies which hold these programs are for-profit. A former volunteer, Emma Ryan, lists Pueblo Ingles as one of the best things she has done abroad. “New country. New friends. New experience. I learnt more in each week … than I had in the rest of my life.”
Casa de Los Angeles: Located in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, this organization provides daycare, medical services and more to street children whose mothers travel in from the outskirts of town each day to sell their wares at local markets. A way to experience Mexican culture, volunteer opportunities range from short-term to long-term and include everything from playing with children to teaching English and art, to construction, medical care and more. There are more than 100 children the program currently aids, and operations include daycare facilities, a food bank and more.
Kin Initiative: Uganda’s Kin Initiative provides vulnerable youth a chance at overcoming poverty and gives them a future they can look forward to. The center houses children and seniors and is always in need of volunteers for a maximum stay of three months. Volunteers participate in a variety of activities based on their personal interests and abilities, including education, farm work, occupational training and more. The cost for three weeks or less to participate in the program is under $250 and includes room and three daily meals.
WOOF: Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, along known as WOOF, is a popular volunteer program with backpackers and long-term travelers. For a small fee, would-be volunteers can join the site and select a country that falls into their travel plans. From there, there is a network of organizations listing hosts in need of volunteers. WOOF hosts are organic farmers who live sustainably. Volunteer opportunities include taking care of animals, farming, olive picking and more. Work is done in exchange for room and board at the farm.