Volunteering abroad: the questions you need to ask

For many people, volunteering abroad can be a great way to see the world, broaden your horizons and make a real difference in the world. There are plenty of volunteer programs out there but its paramount that you do your research. In this article we will be explaining what to look for in your volunteer program and the ethical considerations you should take into account.


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Why choose to volunteer?

Everyone has their own motivations for choosing to volunteer abroad. For some, its an opportunity to help a charity or cause which is particularly close to their heart. Others may already be planning a gap year or similar, but want to come away with more than just impressive Instagram photos at the end of it. Many travellers have found that doing something meaningful with their time away helps them grow as a person as well as making for an all-round richer experience.

If you’re thinking of volunteering abroad but aren’t quite convinced yet, there are a whole host of other benefits to bear in mind. If you’re just out of uni or are at the beginning of your working life, think about the new skills you could gain from working abroad – whether it’s picking up a new language, cooking or teaching, there are plenty of skills which will give your CV a boost. On the flip side, think about all the skills you can share with other people. Many people forget what a valuable skill it is to speak English, so why not share that with others?

We touched upon the fact that volunteering can help you grow as a person, but it’s difficult to realise just how much it can affect you. You’ll learn about world issues first hand, experience areas much less fortunate than your own and make a real difference in the local communities. It’s a humbling but rewarding experience, so its no wonder that millions of people choose to volunteer abroad each year.


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Doing your research (and asking the right questions)

Once you’ve decided to embark on your volunteering experience you’re ready to start the planning stage. It’s important to choose a voluntary program that’s right for you. Think about the destination and climate you’d like to visit. Are you looking for a short-term project or can you commit to something more long-term? Are you happy to undertake work that’s quite physically demanding? Do you want to stay in one place or travel between destinations? As you’ve probably gathered, the sheer choice can be quite overwhelming so having an idea of what you’re looking for can help narrow the search.

Once you’ve gathered a few options it’s important to start doing your research into each one. I would definitely recommend checking out reviews from other travellers or even speaking to them directly. Many travel bloggers will publish posts on their volunteering experiences so it’s worth dropping a few of them an email to ask any specific questions. They will likely be happy to answer them for you!

It’s also worth making sure you completely understand the aims of any potential organisation, where the money is going and what is expected of their volunteers. If possible, try to find out how the organisation is working within the community and the progress they have made to date.

Again, asking questions is paramount so don’t be afraid to contact the organisation directly if you have any queries whatsoever.

Remember to do your research on VISA and entry requirements to your planned destination, and bear in mind that some programmes require an upfront fee. Think about a budgeting plan for your trip and how much you will need to spend on food, accommodation and travel.


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Where to volunteer?

Of course, this all depends on your volunteering aims and personal preferences but here are a few suggestions to get you started!

If you want: a hot climate or have an interest in building projects, health or teaching – Tanzania 

Tanzania is an East African country which is renowned for it’s vast wilderness and is home to the Serengeti National Park and the Kilimanjaro National Park. If you’d like to volunteer in Tanzania, there are plenty of options available depending on your interests. Head to Musoma in Northern Tanzania and you can help build water tanks, goat sheds and low-cost housing – all vital infrastructure for the local community. There are also projects available in Mtwara, Marsabit, Lindi and Zanzibar Island which can give you an opportunity to help in local schools, develop income-generating initiatives and help with health education.

If you want: to be outdoors or have an interest in wildlife – Costa Rica

If you’re a wildlife-lover, Costa Rica is your dream come true. It boasts the highest concentration of wildlife biodiversity in the world and even though it makes up only 0.03% of the earth, it hosts more than 6% of the world’s plants and animals. Some of the volunteer projects available are centred around animal conservation, including feeding and caring for animals and monitoring their wellbeing. Other opportunities include working in the Costa Rican jungle to undertake biodiversity surveys which will ultimately help determine the measures needed to protect them.


Image source: Pixabay

If you want: to work with children, low physical demand and have an interest in teaching – Thailand

Thailand is by no means the only destination where there are teaching opportunities available, but if you’ve never visited this part of the world before it could be an amazing chance to take the plunge and go! You’ll likely work 5 days a week and then have Saturday and Sunday off to explore some of the beautiful sights Thailand has to offer. Not all programs require you to be TEFL certified so it’s worth checking before you book.

Whatever voluntary project you choose to go for, the key piece of advice is to always do your research! Volunteering abroad can be a life-changing experience and one which will stay with you forever. If you want to do something meaningful with your holiday or gap year, then volunteering is for you.

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