Volunteering is a wonderful way to see the world, to gain insight both into its different cultures and into its immense natural diversity. It enables travelers to get beneath the skin of a country, to see places and meet people far removed from the usual tourist routes. All this while putting their energies into something about which they are passionate, whether it’s supporting children, teaching languages or sport, educating on health, working on construction projects, or helping with the conservation of a country’s invaluable natural world. Here we’ve gathered together 10 countries which offer particularly incredible voluntary opportunities, criss-crossing the world from Peru to Thailand.
If you are passionate about working with children, and would like to live and work in some of the world’s most spectacular mountainous scenery, then Himalayan Nepal is an ideal destination. Orphanages and day-care centers, many in remote high-altitude locations, require volunteers for a range of activities. These include teaching English and other basic literacy and numeracy skills, educating children on relevant health issues, as well as drawing, playing games, making music and helping develop a sense of community and social responsibility.
South Africa is a big and varied country, both in terms of its natural world and in terms of the social challenges facing its people. This gives rise to a diversity of volunteering opportunities, across urban and rural settings. In the country’s big, bustling and wildly unequal cities, such as Johannesburg and Cape Town, schools and community organizations welcome English teachers, and there are also sports coaching opportunities for people with an athletic bent. Out in the bush, volunteers are needed to photograph and raise awareness of the threats facing the country’s wildlife, which includes the Big 5 as well cheetahs and African Wild Dogs. And finally, support is needed with health issues in both rural and urban settings, particularly in relation to HIV/AIDS.
Peru’s vibrant terrain encompasses lush rainforest, rugged mountains, sun-soaked beaches and sprawling urban metropolises such as Lima, which has a population as big as London. And then there’s the country’s incredible historic and archaeological heritage, embodied, of course, in Machu Picchu. Voluntary projects are available in all these places, with help needed with construction and conservation projects in particular, for example in building water tanks to improve access to drinking water. So choose your setting and use your skills to make some small difference in this verdant mountain-and-jungle nation.
India’s huge population, colonial past and rapid development have left it with many social challenges, which its myriad diverse communities are tackling in a range of different ways. Many of these communities welcome volunteers from abroad, operating programmes involving health education, women’s empowerment, orphanage support and teaching.
Romania has a range of volunteering opportunities, many of which are situated in the beautiful – and legendary – region of Transylvania. There are programs working with children, both English teaching in school and providing more general support in day care centers. Volunteers can offer support to the country’s animal population, too, both the bears that roam the Transylvanian wilds and the stray dogs that share urban space with the city’s human inhabitants. And there are construction projects requiring volunteers to help build public recreation areas in poorer communities.
As China develops and evolves closer ties with western countries through trade and diplomacy, speaking English is becoming an invaluable skill. Accordingly, English teaching is a widespread volunteering activity, with volunteers often working with children in smaller schools or rural communities which have less access to English-language resources. Of course, as China’s global influence grows, an ability to speak Mandarin increasingly opens doors for westerners too, and a volunteering trip to China offers plentiful opportunities to practice this challenging language.
Costa Rica, like some of its central American neighbors, is famed for its incredible natural world – it covers only 0.1% of the world’s landmass, but contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity. This is a wonderful blessing, but can also be something of a curse, creating a tourist industry that is not always entirely conscientious in its approach to these sensitive ecosystems. Volunteers can help to address this balance, working on environmental projects such as sea turtle conservation, which involves volunteers patrolling pristine Pacific beaches at night to ensure at least some of the hatchling baby turtles make it to sea safely.
Kenya offers a wide range of volunteering opportunities across its palm-studded shoreline, huge and varied wildlife reserves, rural villages and urban centers. You can help in schools, teaching English and other subjects; work on health, sports and construction projects; or turn your energies to working with the country’s nature and wildlife, either with its land animals or its sea life. Volunteer in coastal forests with Colobus monkeys, or assist with dolphin research on the Indian Ocean.
Greece’s jagged, mountainous coastline and 2000 islands offer conservation projects working with the country’s threatened sea turtle population. Working on its gorgeous white sand beaches, volunteers accompany the newly-hatched turtles on their first journey to the ocean. Soaked in history, mythology and life-prolonging cuisine, this is a truly wonderful volunteering opportunity.
Volunteers in Thailand can choose between a range of projects based in its frenetic cities or in its lush, tranquil natural world, seeing a more authentic Thailand beneath and beyond the well-trodden tourist routes. English teachers are welcomed, and there are places supporting many other education, health and community development initiatives. Alternatively, head into the mountain forests of northern Thailand to help reintroduce rescued elephants into their natural habitat.