Spread your wings and make a difference
Are you thinking of taking a gap year volunteering abroad? If so, you are one of the elite 230,000 young people who decide to take time out from the standard routine of school, college and career to spread their wings and make a real difference to the planet and its inhabitants.
Spending your gap year volunteering abroad is an excellent way to make the very best of your free time away. Not only do you get to travel and explore unfamiliar places in the world, but you also get to contribute to the planet, the people and animals you share it with. For many gap year adventurers, giving their time volunteering abroad is one of their best and most rewarding experiences of their life so far.
Here are some tips that will help you make the best of your gap year including some thoughts on where to volunteer abroad and advice on the kind of volunteer abroad programs that are available to you.
Volunteer Work Abroad
Whatever your interests and skills, there are many opportunities to undertake volunteer work abroad. Conservation, working with developing communities, working with children, and teaching overseas are all popular choices. These and other programs will give you a chance to make a real difference, live in some fantastic places abroad, forge new friends, and return richer for the experience.
Where to Volunteer
Where is the best place for you to volunteer abroad? Unless you already have some firm ideas, the almost endless choices you can make are at the very least confusing. This is perhaps your one chance in a lifetime to enjoy the freedom of volunteering, to recharge your batteries, and to prepare yourself for your future life, so you need to spend some time ensuring you make the right choices.
Some of the more popular destinations include South and Central America, for instance, Peru and Costa Rica; the African countries of Madagascar, South Africa and Tanzania; in Asia the Philippines, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka; or take the opportunity to visit Australia. All these countries really value volunteers which is important in itself.
If you really can’t decide where you want to go, then it’s worth asking yourself some honest questions to work out what experience you are after. For instance, do you see yourself as a beach type, a mountain type or is exploring the jungle more appealing? Perhaps the African Bush appeals to your sense of adventure. Are you interested in adventure, wildlife, communities, or working with children? All these offer openings for carrying out charity work abroad.
How to Volunteer Abroad
Some volunteer abroad programs are more suitable for individuals, and others are more suitable for teams, so you should decide whether you are an independent type who would be happy travelling alone, or would you prefer to be part of a group and travel with a team where a social life is ready made and many hands get bigger projects achieved faster.
Volunteer Abroad Programs
There are many diverse volunteer abroad programs, so you should easily find a selection suitable for you. Here are just a few examples.
- Climate Change Initiatives – climate change is a significant threat to the future of the planet, so unsurprisingly many people choose volunteer abroad programs that aim to make a real impact on ameliorating global warming and climate change. An example is introducing sustainable solar power projects, developing water harvesting systems, and reforestation in Tanzania, where the coffee farmers are already experiencing the impact of global warming. Cloud forest and beach conservation in Costa Rica is another opportunity to help the planet.
- Animal Conservation – many animals are under threat, and there is a wide range of volunteer abroad programs that focus on their conservation. Examples are turtle conservation in Guatemala, and Costa Rica; elephant conservation in Cambodia; Rhino conservation in Namibia; and marine conservation in South Africa.
- Environmental protection – many environments throughout the world are under threat, and protecting the environment is at the centre of many volunteer abroad programs. Some examples include saving the unique ecosystem of reefs, and forests in Madagascar, the Costa Rican cloud forest; conservation across the Lowland jungle, Andes and Galapagos Islands in Ecuador; and marine conservation in South Africa.
- Working with Children – in many parts of the world, children suffer disproportionality, and many volunteer abroad programs are making a positive impact on improving their lives. Typical programs include helping care for children in the community in Sri Lanka or teaching in one of the country’s schools; and helping vulnerable children in Nepal.
- Cultural development – many communities are caught in the conflict between their traditional ways of doing things and the demands placed on them by the modern world. Related volunteer abroad programs include cultural development in Peru and community development in the Philippines focussing on the livelihood and education of the local community.
- Medical work – medical internships provide an excellent way to gain experience of medical care in the developing world while shadowing medics in a wide variety of disciplines and participating in outreach programmes in such destinations as Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Volunteer Abroad Programs – mix Work and Play
Although providing charity work abroad will be one of your major activities, it isn’t all about work and no play. Some volunteer abroad programs combine a wide range of other activities and adventures to enjoy, new people to meet, and new experiences. In fact, there is no experience like it. So look for a program where a good mix has already been scoped into the itinerary.
Volunteer Abroad Free
If you find the costs of volunteer abroad programs are a little too much for your budget, there is no need to be disheartened. There are ways of minimising the cost of volunteering overseas and it is even possible to volunteer abroad for free. You might need to work at it, and you might need a little luck, but at the very least you should be able to reduce the cost sufficiently to meet your budget. To some extent, this depends on your skillset. If you are equipped with valuable skills, you might be able to find opportunities to monetise them or at least avoid paying a participation fee. One approach is to volunteer directly through a non-profit NGO (non-government organisation). If you are accepted, you will not be expected to pay a participation fee, but you are likely to be responsible for funding your housing, food, and transport costs. On the other hand, some projects include free housing and food, so you would have to find the money to cover your transportation.
Some assistant teaching programs are funded by local governments and provide free health insurance, food and housing, and if you are working on a longer-term project you might even qualify for a small stipend, but don’t count on it. You are undertaking charity work abroad; money is usually tight so the last thing you want to do is divert funds from the project you are contributing to.
Is volunteering overseas just for young people?
Not at all. Although volunteering abroad is popular with people taking a gap year, the average age of volunteers working with the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) is 38, which indicates a wide age range. Often volunteering overseas appeals to people who are about to embark on a new stage in their lives and are looking at opportunities to give their lives new meaning.
Companies are also turning to volunteering overseas as a way of incentivising employees and enhancing team-building while contributing to the developing world.
We hope this has helped you decide whether volunteering abroad is the right choice for you and has helped you form some of your own volunteer ideas. What is vitally important is that you find the best volunteer abroad programs that match your interests and skills, that take you to the places you most wish to discover and explore, and that you feel will help you personally and possibly career-wise when you return. At the very least, you will be able to upgrade your CV; in fact, 80% of people considered that spending their gap year volunteering abroad improved their employability.
According to frechstudentliving.co.uk 230,000 students a year tak a gap year.
The Independent Newspaper reports that “The average age of VSO volunteers is now 38.”
Global Banking and Finance report that “4 in 5 graduates say their gap year made them more employable.”