17 Feb 2017
There are many ways to better understand other cultures when we travel and one of them is through volunteering. Travel volunteerism is also suitable for those who are on a gap year, a career break or looking for research opportunities. Programs are available from 1 week to 6 months, and are commonly categorized as Conservation, Education, Healthcare and Community Work.
A check on volunteer matching websites such as Givingway and Workingabroad showed up a variety of projects covering the protection of wildlife, nature and even historical sites.
Volunteers on these programs do work ranging from data collection to tree planting, coastal cleanups, construction and maintenance of trails, and excavation. Aside from picking up unique knowledge, going on these programs will take you off-the-beaten path that is not always possible if you are travelling as a tourist.
Teaching is another popular volunteer option and does not necessarily require qualifications. There are many placement opportunities for teaching of English especially in less developed countries. You can contribute as a teacher assistant by making lessons fun and conversing with the students.
In more rural areas, you may also be involved in the renovation and repainting of the school. Teaching usually takes up five days of the week which leaves you leisure time on the weekend to explore the place further.
Medical volunteer programs are ideal as internships to boost your medical knowledge. You will experience varied medical settings and medical conditions you normally would not see back home. Some of these programs may involve trekking to remote areas to reach out to people who cannot afford medical care. As part of the outreach, you will help with giving basic medical checks and health talks.
There may be some programs that allow volunteers with no medical experience to work in small clinics. Typically, you will stay with a host family and that gives you the opportunity to interact with the locals.
If you are passionate about social issues, you can participate in community projects dealing with human rights, housing, water and sanitation, and poverty reduction amongst others. These may involve helping out with awareness programs, counselling work, orphan care, preparing meals for the poor and underprivileged and waste cleanups.
Non-profit organisations like Habitat for Humanity also organises building trips to help low-income communities construct new homes. NGOs are usually short on manpower and any support you can give to their administration will be useful.
For most of these travel volunteer programs, you will have to pay for your own airfare, food, lodging and part of the project costs. Travel volunteer may not be everyone's cup of tea. Some of these trips can be challenging. If you feel fortunate to be able to travel and wish to give back, it's a different kind of experience and will be both inspiring and life-changing.