Whether you do it in India, Thailand, Mongolia or Peru, the volunteering opportunities open to gap year travellers today are more exciting than ever before.
Volunteering is the perfect way to combine work with adventure and is an immensely rewarding way in which to contribute to a cause you believe in. Not only will you gain essential experience and employability points for your CV, but volunteering holidays are guaranteed to have a lasting influence on your life, long after you’ve come home.
There is a huge choice of volunteering opportunities open to you. Whether it’s environmental conservation in some of the planet’s most dynamic ecosystems; building projects and community development to help the poor and vulnerable; or medical and health outreach in orphanages and hospitals, there is most likely a cause to suit your interests.
Planning and research are essential. Although the internet is usually the best place to start, talk to friends and family members who have participated in volunteering experiences to get some initial ideas.
For many people, one of the most important factors is cost. Project prices can range from zero to thousands. Usually you will have to fundraise to cover the costs of your volunteering adventure.
Responsible and ethical volunteering
Responsibility is ever becoming the priority for volunteering organisations. Responsible volunteering aims to ensure that projects are as beneficial as they possibly can be. The International Volunteering Programs Association (IVPA) was founded in 1996 to try and ensure that all volunteer programmes reach a codified standard and level of excellence across the board.
It is important to remember that volunteering is a commitment; you will only really get out of a volunteering project what you put into it.
Richard Smith took part in a Raleigh international volunteering expedition in Southern India.
Arriving in India was like a dream. There were over a hundred volunteers met by all the Raleigh Project Managers who were very friendly, very enthusiastic and very ready to get going. Raleigh expeditions are divided into three phases.
First on the list was the adventure phase. The adventure project on all Raleigh expeditions is designed as the most physically challenging phase. We undertook a nineteen day adventure trek through Kerala and Tamil Nadu over roads, rivers and mountains.
After the trek there was some well deserved Indian cuisine to be had. Eating the hottest chilli in India would have to be one of my worst experiences; one of the volunteers was brought to his knees, something he will never forget.
Second was the environmental phase in Huskurhadi, working to protect the village and lands from elephant encroachment from the neighbouring National Park. Using digging poles and spades, we had to dig out a trench to stop the elephants invading the territory. However with the sun shining at full power by around 10 in the morning it would become unbearable to work, so by 12 we would end up taking a dive into the local resevoir to cool down. This phase was probably the most fun, because at night the group would decide on activities to do; it really helped us to get to know each other quickly.
In the third phase,which is the community phase we lived and worked alongside the tribal families of the Vellary hamlet for fifty four days to construct a family-sized biogas plant [a type of renewable energy technology, in which manure can be converted into fuel]. We also built a cow shed and gave them two dairy cows to fuel the bio-gas digester unit.
Living with a family who cook for you and make you feel like one of their own was the most emotional yet rewarding experience, and it was really sad to leave the family. The tribe showed their gratitude by providing a sumptuous celebratory meal and gave the volunteers chai and peppercorns to take home, which I am still using.
From my time in India, I learned that if you put your mind to something and follow it through there is no stopping what you can acheive or do with your life. If you go on a Raleigh expedition you will learn leadership skills, how to fend for yourself and gain valuable advice and knowledge from your project managers and team members, and an added bonus is you will get a tan and make great friends for life.
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This article was in partnership with Raleigh International