Teen & High School Volunteer Abroad Programs | Under 18 Mission Trips
Updated for 2017
Volunteering abroad and high school exchanges are an excellent way for teens and high school students under age 18 to learn about other cultures, build new interests, and of course—do some good. I first learned about volunteer travel programs for teens in college, when my friend’s 15-year-old sister, Hailey, traveled to Costa Rica to study sea turtles. We'll use Hailey's experience volunteering abroad to learn about the process of finding a teen travel program, the importance of safety for teens volunteering overseas, and recommendations for specific under age 18 volunteer programs, including service trips to Cuba, which are becoming extremely popular now.
Teen & High School Volunteer Abroad Programs and Under Age 18 Mission Trips
Hailey’s parents agonized over whether to allow their daughter to travel without them, and must have asked hundreds of questions to teachers, other parents, and the tour group before they signed her permission form.
Safety is naturally a big concern for parents who are thinking about letting their teens volunteer abroad and finding a volunteer program that caters to teens and has robust volunteer safety practices in place is critical in researching programs. A perfect example of one such program is Global Leadership Adventures, whose Five-Point Safety System ™ focuses on secure housing, caring supervision, healthy meals and pure water, expert local knowledge, and safe and comfortable transportation; think of them almost as a "Peace Corps for Teens".
After two weeks abroad with her classmates, Hailey came back thrilled with the work she accomplished, the new friends she made, and the opportunity to put her Spanish lessons to practical use.
Parents: whether you have a teen who is looking for a Peace Corps alternative and wants to volunteer abroad with a school or youth group, or if you’re looking for a new twist on family vacations, this article is for you.
IS UNDER 18 TOO YOUNG TO VOLUNTEER ABROAD?
Volunteer programs have different requirements as to how young a volunteer participant can be. For example, the Peace Corps requires that participants be at least 18 years old and most of their projects require a college degree. Some programs may also require an adult guardian to be present if the volunteer is under 18.
Global Vision International (GVI), a highly respected volunteer organization that has been sending volunteers overseas since 1997, is an alternative to the Peace Corps and offers volunteer programs for participants as young as 15. GVI offers 20 different types of projects for under 18 volunteers, ranging from marine conservation in Greece to learning Spanish in Costa Rica.
Maximo Nivel is another highly respected volunteer organization that accepts participants as young as 15 through its "Spanish Camp" program. Teens can participate in a Spanish immersion program and have the option to spend 3 to 4 hours each volunteering in the host community as well.
BENEFITS OF TEEN & UNDER 18 VOLUNTEER ABROAD PROGRAMS AND HIGH SCHOOL EXCHANGES
Let’s take a look at a few benefits of under 18 volunteering abroad or participating in an exchange program as a teenager/high school student:
Community Service Experience
Volunteering overseas lends a new perspective to community service, and for high school juniors and seniors, may help boost college applications. With increasingly competitive university acceptance rates, volunteering abroad—coupled with projects in your own community—has the potential to set one student apart from another.
For students who aren’t very interested in volunteering near home, coupling a service project with a vacation is just one way to inspire them to help those in need. I have friends who never volunteered (unless their parents dragged them along) until taking a service trip with their church or class. After that first project volunteering abroad under 18 years old, they were hooked: many of them changed the colleges they applied to or the majors they declared after volunteering in another country.
The other day I overheard an interview between a campus recruiter and a second-semester freshman. The recruiter needed testimonials for the university website, and the conversation kept coming back to, “I’m so glad to be in such diverse community.”
She’d never traveled outside of the Midwest, and when she made new friends from other countries, or who took vacations abroad on the regular, she felt the need to “catch up.” She valued their experiences, and wished she’d been able to build her own earlier. I would suspect a great number of students feel this way—and being able to do good even for a short time in a different community can make a lifelong impact.
How many of us have taken foreign language lessons in high school? And how many of us have applied those skills outside of trivia night?
Hailey, who I mentioned earlier, took three years of Spanish classes before ever needing to use the language outside of school. Traveling to Costa Rica gave her the opportunity to challenge herself, and she made a conscious effort to speak Spanish as much as possible. When she came back, she was obviously much more comfortable in her phrasing and I wouldn’t be surprised if her Spanish grades improved that year.
That’s just one example. Teenage volunteering abroad experiences also help with:
Time management: How do you make sure you get to the 8:15 bus in a place you’ve never been? Budgeting for getting lost, making it to your project on time, and being aware of how long you have to complete it help build valuable time management skills that will be needed later.
Navigation: Same question as above! If you’re in a community very different from your own—maybe one that’s in a rural area while you’ve always lived in a city—can challenge and grow navigation skills.
Communication: Even if your host family or the country you’re in predominantly speaks English, there may be cultural barriers to overcome. Learning to speak with people from different backgrounds is an excellent way to build and refine communication skills.
Teamwork: How do you complete a project with people you may not have met before? And how will you know what to do if it’s a new project, one without lots of clear instructions, or one in which you have zero experience? It can be a daunting prospect even for adults, and you can be sure teamwork goes a long way toward finishing the project (and doing it well!).
SERVICE LEARNING AS A COMPONENT OF YOUTH VOLUNTEER ABROAD PROGRAMS
Service learning is a growing movement to couple educational activities with volunteering. Teenage volunteer abroad participants and high school students gain a better understanding a subject while making an impact on their community and developing a sense of personal responsibility in their work.
Through service learning, students follow a lesson plan created by their school or other educational program, while having flexibility and creative input into a service project spearheaded by a community-based group. This hands-on approach to learning also engages teens in reflection and discussion about what they’d like to accomplish through their project, how they can change or improve along the way, and what impact their project had in the end.
At the end of this article is a list of volunteer abroad programs that include service learning. You also can learn more about service learning from the National Youth Leadership Council.
HOW TO CHOOSE A TEEN VOLUNTEER ABROAD PROGRAM
Find organizations that specialize in teen volunteer programs: There are literally thousands of volunteering abroad organizations in the world yet few specifically cater to under 18 volunteers. Be sure to stick with organizations that offer special programs for teen volunteers.
Global Vision International hosts thousands of under 18 volunteers each year and have an impeccable track records in keeping their young participants healthy and safe. So how do you go about choosing the right teen and high school volunteer abroad program? In most ways, you’ll want to use the same checklist for any other volunteer project:
Set realistic expectations: This is tricky for teens and adults alike—what you want to do might not gel with what a volunteer organization needs. And because of age and experience, teens have far fewer options available. Service learning programs are built specifically to be age-appropriate and effective, while general volunteer programs that don’t require much experience—think painting murals or gardening—are perfect for families and groups. It's also important to keep in mind that programs geared towards volunteering abroad for teenagers are short-term, learning experiences rather than intensive international development projects.
Set a schedule: There are far fewer teen volunteer abroad opportunities than are available for adults, and many of them have set start and end dates—often occurring over winter, spring, or summer break. As you look at different programs, know any schedule constraints you may need to work with, and be sure to plan far enough in advance to coordinate school, work, or other activities.
Research your options: Don’t settle for the first program you’ll find in an online search. Large marketing budgets don’t always equate to the most valuable experiences or responsible programs. Look at a variety of volunteer organizations and find the one that makes the most sense for your family or group.
Read reviews: Volunteer Forever is the perfect place to start! Reading brochures and websites will only get you so far. Learning what other volunteers have to say can mean the difference between choosing an amazing trip and a letdown. Check out the end of this article for a list of teen volunteer programs and reviews right here on Volunteer Forever.
Ask questions: For an excellent list of questions you should ask any volunteer organization, click here.
A FEW NOTES ABOUT SAFETY FOR UNDER 18 TRAVELERS
My mom still gets a little on edge whenever I travel. I’m not sure it’s something that ever goes away, but after years of solo trips to countries she knows as “The murder capital of the world,” or “Your dad and I had a friend who was killed there in the 80s” I’ve learned how to approach her most common travel fears (and hopefully yours as well). Below are some especially important considerations for participants in under 18 volunteer abroad programs:
“What if you get sick or hurt?” It doesn’t matter if your child is in perfect health and has never had a broken bone in his life—it’s still a legitimate concern and one you won’t shake until he gets back home. Three things to do:
Check with the tour group to see how they address students’ health while abroad. They should have readily-available information about travel health insurance, local clinics or hospitals, and steps to take in case of emergency. As an example, check out Global Leadership Adventures' Security and Safety page for answers to common questions about safety, security, and health. Be sure they have the most up-to-date information about your teen as well, including emergency contacts, health insurance provider, and any allergies or other information that could be helpful.
If you have health insurance, don’t assume your provider will cover trips outside of the country—if it doesn’t, compare other providers and purchase the option that’s right for you. Be sure your teen, the tour group, and any emergency contacts have the most up-to-date information and can get in touch in case something should go wrong.
Visit a travel clinic to learn about common ailments or injuries that might happen in the country your teen is traveling to, and how to prevent them. You can find a list of travel clinics here.
“What if you get attacked?” This one is tough, but the best way to allay those fears may be to talk it over with the tour group, with other parents who’ve sent their teens abroad, and if you can, with your teen’s host family or other contacts in-country. The chances of anyone on the tour being attacked might be the very same (or even lower) as in your home community, but be sure to do your research, and be certain your child knows how to avoid potential danger by staying with his group, by protecting his belongings, and by behaving appropriately for the community he’s in.
“What if you lose your money/bags/passport/other important items?” This piggybacks on the last point: be sure your teen knows basic safety practices while abroad. Things like not leaving his bag sitting on a table, or resting his cell phone on top of his belongings where it can easily be snatched. Make sure he knows who to talk to as soon as he knows something has gone missing—as with health info, the tour provider should have a plan already in place should someone’s items get lost or stolen.
“How will I know you’re ok?” This has always been the biggest sticking point for my parents. If they don’t hear from me at least once a day on my travels, they worry. And that’s been tough when I’m in the jungle or trying to scale the Great Firewall of China. I’ve gotten in massive fights with them over calling and emailing because here’s the thing: who the heck calls or writes email updates every day? Do you really need to use those minutes or text charges, and do you really want them to hunt down an Internet cafe for an email? Here’s a middle ground—just ask them to update their status on Twitter or Facebook, or text you on WhatsApp. Chances are they’re probably going to do that anyway, and by seeing Facebook photos and “Ziplining #thisisawesome” fly by on Twitter, you’ll know they’re doing fine.
Here are a few more resources to check out:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The CDC has lots of information about traveler health, country-specific vaccinations and common illnesses, and ways to stay safe while abroad.
U.S. Department of State - Travel: Here you’ll find information about passports, safety guides, emergency contact info, and more.
Travisa: This is my one-stop-shop for visas, if I ever need them.
Travelex: A good place to exchange money before travel.
RECOMMENDED TEEN VOLUNTEER ABROAD PROGRAMS
Global Vision International (GVI)
Global Vision International (GVI): GVI is one of our most popular and top-rated programs. GVI offers volunteer opportunities around the world specifically for teenagers aged 15-17. And unlike many other volunteer abroad programs, under 18 participants are not required to travel with a parent / guardian as GVI offers program designed for teens.
Since 1997, GVI has sent nearly 25,000 volunteers around the world and boasts a 95% approval rating from past volunteers. Best of all, GVI offers teens and parents real-time updates from on the ground through its GVI Live system, enabling peace of mind for family and friends when you depart for your trip. Their under 18 volunteer programs include Wildlife Awareness projects in South Africa, Marine Conservation in Mexico, and Volunteer and Adventure Experiences in India, Nepal, Costa Rica, and Thailand.
Under 18's Volunteer and Adventure Experience in Costa Rica
One program that’s perfect for teens who want to embark on a service adventure abroad is GVI’s Under 18’s Volunteer and Adventure Experience in Costa Rica.
Designed for travelers 15 to 17 years old, this program offers the opportunity to assist with construction work (renovations, painting, and other light projects) for local schools, plus take part in a guided tour including surfing lessons, hiking, white water rafting, zip lining and rappelling, and much more. Travelers on this program are provided a great level of dedicated support from GVI’s experienced in-country staff, all of whom have a background in mentoring and leading students. Click here to learn more about this adventure!
Under 18's Volunteer and Adventure Experience in Thailand
Another excellent program for students who want to travel abroad is GVI’s Under 18’s Volunteer and Adventure Experience in Thailand.
Through this program, you'll have the wonderful opportunity to travel to Phang Nga province, where you will explore tropical jungles and gorgeous beaches, and volunteer on a construction and renovation project to improve a local, non-formal education center. You’ll start the trip with the volunteer project for the first one or two weeks, and from there you’ll take trips to Khao Sok National Park, the beaches of Khao Lak, and then go island-hopping through the southern islands of Thailand. Click here to learn more and to sign up!
What Parents Say - Review from Neil
I would just like to say a very big thank you to you and your team. Steph had a great 2 weeks and has arrived home safe and sound. The professional nature of your team has been exceptional and as parents we really appreciate the care you have taken. It is a big thing to travel so far on your own. However, with GVI’s help and support it has been a trip of a life time that is full of good memories, despite the difficulties in the area the other weekend. I hope she will get the chance to travel with GVI again.
What Volunteers Say - Review from Abi
I just wanted to say thank you for the last two weeks, they have been the most amazing and happiest two weeks of my life, words can't describe it. I loved everything we did, from all the surveys to listening to the presentations. All of the staff were so supportive, passionate and loving about everything they did with us, they made the simplest tasks enjoyable. Lastly, I can't thank you and the entire team enough for such a life changing, amazing and unforgettable trip. It has really changed my life. I hope to do another GVI program in the future so hopefully see you soon! But bye for now!
One excellent organization that’s perfect for teen and high school travelers is Global Leadership Adventures, which is the top-ranked teen-focused volunteer program on Volunteer Forever. Founded in 2004, Global Leadership Adventures combines community service, hands-on learning, and adventure travel.
As a youth-centered organization, GLA places a great emphasis on safety and support, which you can see outlined in its five-point safety system. And as a forerunner in international service learning, Global Leadership Adventures has a database of nearly 2,000 references willing to vouch for the impact of their programs - in fact, the organization’s co-founder was recognized by President Obama for making a positive impact in Africa. Click here to learn more about under-18s projects with Global Leadership Adventures!
If you want to do more with your spring break, check out Global Leadership Adventures’ Spring Break Adventure in the Dominican Republic. Through this program, you’ll volunteer to build schools and community centers, and help with reforestation or water filtration projects, plus have the chance to visit beaches, explore freshwater lagoons and underwater caverns, and much more. This eight-day program costs $1,899, and 2017 dates are now open for registration - click here to learn more.
On this amazing adventure, you’ll immerse yourself in Himalayan culture while volunteering to assist teachers in a daycare center and organizing a summer camp for children and teens.
You’ll also learn about Indian culture, social issues, and much more by speaking with political figures, activists, and local grassroots leaders - and by spending time in a Tibetan refugee town, you’ll have the chance to learn about Tibetan Buddhism, art, and music. During the weekends, you’ll hike to a semi-rural village to learn about their way of life, visit significant places in Tibetan Buddhist history, and even visit the Taj Mahal and the temple of the Dalai Lama. This 21-day program is now open for registration for summer 2017 - click here to learn more!
What Volunteers Say: Review from Elizabeth
Last summer, in between my Sophomore and Junior year of high school, I had the pleasure of traveling to the Dominican Republic. I would strongly recommend this trip to anyone looking to do global community service.
The schools that we made (using bottles for insulation) truly made an impact on me because I felt like I was doing something for a new community! Additionally, we did fun activities like zip lining and snorkeling. This trip did an awesome job combining fun with service.
Additionally, there was not one time during the trip where I felt unsafe. We were always provided with clean water, knowledgeable mentors, and safe transportation. Finally, this program established people who were culturally-aware. My eyes were opened to a new culture and I was enriched with new experiences. Again, I would recommend this to anyone who is thinking about doing on a service trip!
Maximo Nivel is the top-rated volunteer abroad organization on Volunteer Forever, and for good reason: it offers affordable, safe, and impactful programs perfect for high school students. Maximo Nivel has a variety of volunteer abroad programs and Spanish language courses in Latin America and has hosted over 25,000 participants since it was founded in 2003.
Through its Spanish Camp program, high school students aged 15 and up are invited for a full Spanish language immersion program at COSI, the Costa Rica Spanish Institute.
Maximo Nivel offers a service learning component to language learners, who can spend three to four hours per day volunteering with local communities to support children’s programs, assist with construction projects, or learn about sea turtle conservation. Monday through Friday each week, you’ll take Spanish classes and take part in your volunteering track - on weeknights, you’ll have the wonderful opportunity to take part in salsa lessons, movie nights, and much more.
Included with the program is airport pickup and drop-off, 24/7 in-country support, 8:1 student-chaperone ratio, housing with a host family, private transport for all activities, and program and safety orientation. To learn more about Maximo Nivel’s Spanish Camp, visit: http://maximonivel.com/spanish/spanishcamp
Through Maximo Nivel’s high school abroad program, you’ll spend a full semester or full year at an accredited, private high school in Costa Rica. All of your classes are taught in English, while Spanish is taught as a second language.
You also may be able to earn credit toward the International Baccalaureate Diploma, and take AP courses. During your stay, you’ll live with a host family and have assistance from a cultural advisor to help navigate you through cultural and language differences - plus, you can take part in optional tours, social events, and much more to gain the most from your adventure in Costa Rica.
This study abroad program includes airport transfer, housing, meals, school tuition and textbooks, orientation, private Spanish classes, and much more. Click here to learn more: http://maximonivel.com/study-abroad/high-school/
Maximo Nivel offers several different travel options for high school groups, including volunteering abroad, a volunteer adventure, and a native Spanish program. Your itinerary can be designed to focus on Spanish language, service learning, cultural travel, or any combination of those programs, and all trips are carefully supervised by Maximo Nivel staff who are here to focus on your educational goals. Trips are available for summer, winter, and spring breaks, or year-round. Click here to learn more: http://maximonivel.com/groups/high-school/
For two weeks, you’re invited on Maximo Nivel’s volunteer adventure, which includes five days of community service and six days of travel through Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru. Volunteer activities you can take part in include working with kids, teaching English, construction, conservation, animal care, or medical / healthcare.
In Costa Rica, you’ll go on a cultural night or city tour; 3-in-1 tour of Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfall, and coffee tour; a catamaran Tortuga Island tour, and a trip to Manuel Antonio National Park.
In Guatemala, you’ll go on a hike to Volcano Pacaya, take surf lessons in El Salvador, embark on a zip line tour, and spend the night in Tikal.
And in Peru, you’ll take a Cusco city tour, Sacred Valley tour, a two-day tour of Machu Picchu, and a two-day tour of Lake Titicaca and Puno. Learn more about Maximo Nivel’s volunteer adventure trips here: http://maximonivel.com/adventure/full/
Founded in 1984, Global Volunteers invites travelers – including high school and college groups – to embark on volunteer vacations and teach abroad placements in 17 countries around the world. Global Volunteers truly makes a difference in the 200 communities in which they work: in 1999, they were granted Special Consultative Status with the United Nations, and in 2008 formalized a relationship with UNICEF.
Global Volunteers also emphasizes safety on all of their projects, with CPR and first aid certification provided to team leaders, emergency medical evacuation insurance provided for volunteers serving outside of the US, and emergency contact available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Depending on where you’d like to go, Global Volunteers’ placements start from $1,045 for your first week abroad.
On this program, Global Volunteers invites school groups to take on service-learning and volunteer projects in Costa Rica. Through a partnership with the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, your group can help with maintenance and development of the reserve while learning about organic farming, rural tourism, conservation, and gastronomy. During your weekends and free time, you’ll be able to take Spanish lessons, learn Costa Rican history and culture, go horseback riding, and much more. Learn more and sign up at: https://globalvolunteers.org/costa-rica
If you want to visit Europe, check out Global Volunteers’ Greece volunteer program, where your high school or college group can teach conversational English to local students, encourage young adults with special needs, or support children who have been displaced from their homes.
Along with your volunteer experience, you’ll be able to participate in local Cretan dance and music, learn raki making, and truly immerse yourself in the culture while learning some basic Greek language, learning about customs, and much more. Volunteer placements in Greece are customizable to your group’s schedule and goals so you can gain the most from your experience. Learn more and sign up at: https://globalvolunteers.org/greece
Global Volunteers also is offering an amazing opportunity to volunteer in Cuba, where you’ll travel to Havana, Ciego de Ávila, or Sancti Spíritus to work alongside community partners to practice conversational English, tend community gardens, improve local buildings, help women with sewing and other crafts, and much more. You’re invited to sign up for one week or longer (starting at $2,595), and in between project work, you’ll have the chance to engage in people-to-people cultural and educational exchange activities.
On Global Volunteers’ St. Lucia volunteer program, you’ll support children who are facing challenges in nutrition, healthcare, and education. In partnership with local schools and community organizations, you’ll provide maternal and infant support, present childcare workshops to parents, help with early childhood education, teach health and hygiene lessons, assist with building repair and maintenance projects, tend school gardens, and much more. This project starts from one week at $2,695, with family and group opportunities available as well.
Founded in 1989, Global Works combines community service, cultural exchange, language immersion, and adventure for students and groups who want to travel abroad. So far, more than 10,000 people have traveled worldwide with Global Works, which offers summer service adventures for high school students as well as custom group tours for educators, schools, and private groups.
Trips run 8 to 21 days, and can include community development projects, conservation programs, language immersion, and pre-med or public health opportunities. Right now, Global Works offers trips to Costa Rica, Cuba, Fiji, France, Galapagos, Guatemala, Martinique, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, and Spain.
If you’re ready for a Central American adventure, check out Global Works’ Mayan Explorer opportunity in Guatemala.
You’ll begin with an orientation in Quiché, home to the largest indigenous Maya population in the highlands region of Guatemala. From there, you’ll visit the Mayan ruins of Iximche while traveling to Chajul, a town where you’ll learn about Maya culture and language, experience local traditions, and work alongside community members to construct classrooms, volunteer in a library, teach English and photography, and volunteer with other community projects. After that, you’ll travel to the gorgeous Lake Atitlán region, where you’ll go kayaking, shopping, zip lining, and so much more - and you’ll finish your trip with a visit to Antigua, where you can take a salsa dancing lesson and reflect on your amazing Guatemalan adventure.
If you’re a student interested in pursuing a medical or healthcare field, definitely check out Global Works’ pre-med and public health program in Nicaragua. For 17 days, you’ll have the chance to gain practical experience and shadow local medical professionals while learning about Central American culture.
Your volunteer work will take you to the community of Los Muñoz, where you’ll stay in an eco-lodge while assisting with sanitation and hygiene projects, health center construction, and health visitations with local professionals. After that, you will visit Matagalpa and learn about healthcare challenges within the city, as well as how local physicians and other professionals are working to bring medical attention and care to communities in need. Later, you’ll visit the mountains of Las Peñas Blancas en el Norte for a homestay, a volunteer activity in permaculture, water, and sustainable agriculture, and you’ll finish your trip with a visit to Granada and Laguna de Apoyo for a zip-line tour, shopping, kayaking, and much more.
For a truly unique experience, take a look at Global Works’ Marine Service Adventure in the Galapagos. On this 11-day program, you’ll have the chance to learn about the ecology and environment of the Galapagos Islands, while enjoying their natural beauty and adventure.
You’ll begin your trip with arrival and orientation in Quito, and then venture to the Papallacta area for a nature walk in the Andes, as well as a dip in hot springs. On days 3 and 4 of your trip, you’ll visit the islands of Baltra and Isabela, where you’ll visit the Flamingo Lagoon and Concha Perla Lagoon to go snorkeling. After that, you will have the chance to see the world’s second-largest volcanic crater, and then visit the private reserve of Campo Duro. On day 6, you will tour the Isabela Giant Tortoise Breeding Center and learn about their work to protect these amazing creatures. Later, you’ll go snorkeling among penguins, turtles, manta rays, and sea lions at Los Tuneles, one of the best snorkeling sites in the Galapagos - and to finish up your trip, you’ll learn all about conservation and the unique natural environments of the Galapagos at the Charles Darwin Research Center in Puerto Ayora.
On this 10-day adventure, you’ll visit the tropical paradise of Martinique, where you’ll be able to practice French while immersing yourself in Caribbean culture.
You’ll start with a drive to Trois-Ilets, where you’ll stay for the first three nights of your trip. You’ll tour Fort de France, visit the Sugar Cane Museum, and go kayaking through a submerged mangrove forest. After that, you’ll spend the next four nights with a host family, learning about their lifestyle and even taking part in service projects such as teaching children about ocean conservation - you’ll also take on exchange activities and cultural visits. To finish your trip, you’ll explore the Mt. Pelée volcano, take a guided hike and swim through a stunning river gorge, and even take surf lessons.
Founded in 2007, A Broader View has placed 12,000 volunteers on meaningful adventures worldwide. This US-based nonprofit organization currently hosts 245 different projects for individuals, groups, and students (high school and college) in 25 countries throughout Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
With more than $3 million donated to impactful programs since A Broader View’s founding, this organization truly aims to make a positive impact through its partnerships and volunteer placements. Depending on where you’d like to travel and for how long you’d like to stay, volunteer placements start from $820 for your first week - with flexible start dates - and may be tax-deductible for travelers from the United States.
A Broader View offers 10- to 28-day trips for students to visit one of 15 different countries throughout Latin America, Asia, and Africa. These trips combine service learning and leadership, allowing you to learn about global development issues, such as poverty or public health, as well as solutions being put forth within the communities you’ll visit.
Through these programs, students and faculty will have the opportunity to develop a curriculum that fits your educational needs, with hands-on volunteering and adventures such as rafting, tours, and hiking incorporated into the trip. 10-day experiences start from $1,400 per student, and include a custom-designed itinerary and curriculum, housing and meals, in-country transport, adventure activities, presentations, in-country support, academic credit opportunities, and more. Learn more and sign up for a student trip at: http://student-trip.abroaderview.org
Through this program, you’re invited to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica to volunteer for sea turtle protection. As a volunteer, you will be patrolling the beaches at night to look for nesting sea turtles, collecting eggs as they’re laid and moving them to a nearby hatchery, counting and monitoring eggs in the hatchery, releasing baby turtles to the ocean, and much more to help preserve these endangered animals.
Through your work, you’ll help with ongoing projects being undertaken by researchers and marine biologists in Central America, and you’ll even learn a bit about marine biology and conservation along the way. This project starts from two weeks at $1,300, and is open to individual travelers and to groups. Click here to learn more and to sign up: www.abroaderview.org/programs/sea-turtle-conservation/costa-rica-pacific-volunteer
On this project, you are invited to Arusha, Tanzania to develop dance workshops for local schools and orphanages. Dance is just one of the many amazing aspects of the primary education system and culture that you’ll learn about in Tanzania, and you’ll have the wonderful opportunity to volunteer with children, learn about their culture and dances, and teach them about your culture and background as well. You’re invited to stay for one week or longer, starting at $850. This is a truly unforgettable experience, and if you want to have fun, immerse yourself in an African culture, and volunteer with kids, click here: https://www.abroaderview.org/programs/dance/tanzania-dance-projects
Volunteering Solutions (VolSol) offers lots of amazing travel opportunities for high schoolers who want to explore the world and make a positive impact through community service. Founded in 2007, VolSol has placed nearly 12,000 volunteers on 122 meaningful projects in 21 countries worldwide. And with a starting fee of just $200, Volunteering Solutions is one of the most affordably-priced volunteer organizations in the world - even offering travel insurance for just $12 per week.
You can find lots of teen, high school, and family volunteering opportunities through VolSol - and the three programs listed below are just a few of the amazing projects you can sign up for that are monitored by VolSol staff, who make sure these trips are safe and provide the very best experience possible for first-time travelers.
If you love animals, VolSol’s wildlife conservation opportunity in South Africa may be the perfect choice for you! For two weeks to two months, you’ll have the chance to work at a wildlife reserve that’s home to Africa’s Big 5 species and many more. While your tasks will depend on what’s needed by the project when you sign up, you may be able to help with lion tracking and monitoring, tree planting and landscaping, elephant sanctuary support, wilderness trail walks and patrols, game counts, and much more.
This program starts from $1,100 for your first two weeks, and is an amazing way to learn about wildlife conservation, enjoy safaris and game drives, and so much more.
Volunteering Solutions’ Thai volunteer and adventure tour is an incredible way to explore Thailand and experience its culture while helping a local community through volunteer work. You’ll start your trip with a weekend in Bangkok, and after that you’ll travel to Surin, where you’ll learn about Thai history, daily life, and so much more while volunteering at a local child care center. You’ll play games with children, and help with renovating and improving the facility so the children can learn and play in a safe, fun environment - and later during your tour of Surin, you’ll have the chance to volunteer with elephants, visit Khao Yai National Park, and embark on a jungle trek. If you decide to stay for a full month on your Thailand adventure, you’ll spend your final week at the gorgeous beaches of Koh Phangan. Learn more here!
VolSol has several different volunteer vacation options in Nepal, including a language and orientation week, a summer volunteer adventure, an orphanage program, and a teaching placement. VolSol’s summer adventure in Nepal is perfect for high school travelers who want to visit this amazing country in the Himalayas while volunteering with a local community.
This 22-day program starts with an orientation in Kathmandu, where you’ll start your volunteer experience at an orphanage, school, or center for mentally or physically disabled children. As a volunteer, you can provide care and affection, help with basic English lessons, guide the children with basic hygiene practices, and take them out on small excursions. You’ll also take city tours, visit gorgeous and historic temples, embark on a safari, go sightseeing, and so much more. Click here to learn more about volunteering in Nepal!
International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) is an excellent opportunity for teens to volunteer overseas. Since 2007, IVHQ has placed over 60,000 volunteers on impactful and affordable projects in dozens of countries worldwide. With an emphasis on sustainability and safety, IVHQ partners with local NGOs to host volunteers of a wide variety of programs, ranging from wildlife and animal care, to teaching, to sports coaching, and much more. IVHQ welcomes travelers under 18 as long as they’re part of a group, or with a parent or guardian over 18 years old.
IVHQ’s volunteer program in Bali offers several different opportunities for teen travelers to make a difference: you can choose from sea turtle conservation, teaching, construction and renovation, environmental education, healthcare education, and kindergarten teaching.
You’ll start with a five-day orientation in Ubud, covering culture and customs, safety and security, project needs, travel opportunities, and of course, you’ll get to know some of your fellow volunteers. After that, you’ll travel to your volunteer project, where you’ll spend weekdays volunteering onsite with a coordinator. On weekends, you can relax or explore beaches, go cycling and take hiking tours, or visit temples, rice terraces, and lots more. IVHQ’s Bali program starts from $295 for the first week, and includes a registration fee, airport pickup, orientation, supervision, accommodation and meals, 24/7 in-country support, and administrative costs.
Click here to learn more about IVHQ’s Bali volunteer program: https://www.volunteerhq.org/volunteer-in-bali
For teen travelers who would like to visit New Zealand, IVHQ has several placements.
On the Coastline Conservation and Education program, you’ll help with coastal cleanup, organizing and conducting educational presentations, and working with local recycling programs.
On IVHQ’s Freshwater Restoration and Education project, you’ll work in traditional Maori community spaces to gain cultural insight into land and water restoration, and work with other small projects locally, such as upcycling, water sample collection, and native invertebrate and fish population monitoring.
IVHQ New Zealand also offers an NGO Support program, where you can help organize volunteer activities, community events, tree plantings, education campaigns, and lots more. This program starts with a one-day orientation conducted by IVHQ’s New Zealand staff, and then your work day may be split into morning, afternoon, or evening shifts depending on your placement. This volunteer project starts from two weeks at $885.
Click here to learn more: https://www.volunteerhq.org/volunteer-in-new-zealand
IVHQ’s Zambia volunteer program has a host of opportunities for younger volunteers, including childcare, elderly care, and community development.
As a childcare volunteer, you’ll work in a facility for underprivileged children, a nursery school, or other locations where you’ll be a mentor, help with homework, and play with the children.
In the elderly care program, you’ll assist with meals, maintenance, cleaning, gardening, and more at an elderly facility. And in IVHQ’s community development program in Zambia, you may help with a number of initiatives, including HIV/AIDS support groups and income-generating programs.
This placement starts from $270 for one week, and your weekends are free for exploration - you can travel to Victoria Falls (a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s largest waterfalls), national parks, and even neighboring countries where you can go zip lining, water rafting, and lots more.
Click here to learn more and to sign up: https://www.volunteerhq.org/volunteer-in-zambia
What Volunteers Say - Review from Erica
February 2015 I had the chance of a lifetime to volunteer in Costa Rica at a daycare. IVHQ is a great company to go through and I would definitely do it again. I was only volunteering for a week, but wow, that week flew by so fast and its crazy how many relationships I developed.
I was my first time staying at a "home stay" and it was a different, yet interesting experience, which I enjoyed! I love volunteering and helping others, therefore I knew this trip was for me. Costa Rica is a beautiful country and when we weren't volunteering we were travelling. While volunteering in the daycare we played, worked and taught the children English.
On our last day we had to say goodbye to the children, which was a very hard thing to do. I didn't know I would get so attached to some of the kids in just five short days. Obviously I cried a little when I had to say goodbye. After our last day volunteering, I found out that most of the kids fathers are either not in the child's life or they are in jail. These kids were so happy and playful that you wouldn't even know what they've been through or what their living situation was. Volunteering in Costa Rica was an amazing eye opening experience, that I would recommended to anyone.
Since 2010, Reach Out Volunteers has provided culturally rich and high-impact volunteer programs for travelers who want to make a difference in impoverished communities, help endangered wildlife, and much more. To date, about 3,500 travelers have signed up with Reach Out Volunteers, with an additional 1,000 expected to embark on trips in 2017.
Reach Out Volunteers also prides itself on the sustainability of its programs, with all projects initiated by the communities in which they work, and all programs employing local, skilled laborers to work alongside their volunteers. For teens and high school students 17 years old and younger, Reach Out Volunteers invites you to sign up if you have written permission from a parent or guardian or if you’re traveling with a legal guardian.
Depending on the program you sign up for, Reach Out Volunteers’ program fees start from $1,599 for a two-week trip, and includes airport pick-up and drop-off, ground transport, food, housing, excursions and activities, project materials, educational materials, and much more.
If you’re looking for a unique summer vacation, Reach Out Volunteers is offering a month-long South Africa Volunteering Adventure where you’ll be able to volunteer at a local daycare center and at wildlife sanctuaries and parks. Through this program, you’ll help teachers with their lessons and help renovate classrooms at a day care center, and later have the chance to learn about animal conservation, tracking, and much more at sanctuaries and preserves for cheetahs, elephants, rhinos, and other game. In addition to your volunteer work, you’ll be able to go surfing, explore the St. Lucia UNESCO World Heritage Site, go shopping in local markets, visit a Zulu village, and much more. Click here to learn more and to sign up: https://www.rovolunteers.com/Volunteer-Africa-Adventure.htm
If you’re looking for a shorter placement, check out Reach Out Volunteers’ volunteer program in Peru, where you’ll have the wonderful opportunity to visit Cusco, Machu Picchu, and much more. As a volunteer, you’ll work with a village to build greenhouses, which help to extend the short growing season to add to the community’s food supply - a vital service for families whose children are at risk of malnutrition. During your stay in Peru, you’ll take cooking lessons, go zip lining, hike Machu Picchu, and lots more. To apply, please visit: https://www.rovolunteers.com/Volunteer-Machu-Picchu-Inca-Trail.htm
Volunteering Journeys got its start in 2014, and is growing quickly, offering volunteer abroad placements in India, Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Bali.
Volunteering Journeys’ founding story informs and inspires the work carried out by its team and travelers every day: after quitting her job as an investment banker, founder Ridhi Patel took time off in 2009 to volunteer for three months in South Africa. This life-changing experience encouraged her to build a volunteer organization in her home country of India, where she could bring together travelers who wanted to explore the world, give back to their host communities, and learn more about themselves along the way.
Volunteering Journeys prides itself on personal attention and tailored experiences for all participants, as well as high-quality service and placements that actively engage scientists, doctors, teachers, and community leaders. Right now, Volunteering Journeys is offering many different opportunities for teen and high school travelers, including family volunteer holidays, summer volunteer programs, and teen-friendly placements on many different projects in Africa and Asia.
One excellent volunteer opportunity for high school groups is Volunteering Journeys’ construction program in India, Nepal, or Thailand. The purpose of these programs is to build better homes and lives for communities in need, whether it’s through rebuilding houses, churches, schools, day care centers, or other structures. From two-week house building programs in Thailand, to earthquake reconstruction in Nepal, to school construction and renovation in India, there’s lots of opportunity for you to make a positive impact no matter your age. Learn more and sign up here!
Another volunteer opportunity you should definitely check out is Volunteering Journeys’ sea turtle program in Sri Lanka. This program focuses on rehabilitating endangered sea turtles, including green turtles, hawksbills, loggerheads, leatherbacks, and the olive ridley turtle. Perfect for volunteers of all ages, this program invites you to work alongside marine biologists and conservationists to collect data and help with vital research through marine life monitoring, safeguarding eggs, beach cleanup, and releasing hatchlings into the wild. Learn more and sign up here!
If you’re planning a winter, spring, or summer break abroad, Volunteering Journeys’ winter and summer volunteering program in India should be on your radar. For three weeks, you will have the chance to pursue an incredible adventure where you’ll visit amazing sites in India, volunteer with a community in need, and learn about the cultures of this country. You’ll spend your first two weeks in Kerala, where you’ll volunteer in one of three different programs: English teaching, working with disabled children, or supporting a women’s empowerment initiative, all of which contribute to life skills development and self-confidence for the people you’ll work with. During your third week, you’ll go on a Golden Triangle tour of North India, where you will visit Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, including a stop at the Taj Mahal, and much more. Click here to learn more and to sign up!
OTHER PROGRAMS TO CONSIDER
IDEX offers a high school exchange program and summer and winter volunteer programs specifically for teenagers. The organization first started offering volunteer opportunities in 2003 and now offers over 45 different projects in India, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.
International Student Volunteers (ISV): ISV also has a five-star rating at Volunteer Forever, with sustainable development and conservation programs offered worldwide. University students may be eligible for academic credit for participating as well. Learn more and read reviews here.
Beyond Student Travel: With programs in China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Fiji, Panama, and Zambia, Beyond Student Travel offers a wide variety of youth volunteer abroad projects for high school students wanting to volunteer and see the world. Most projects last two to three weeks, and incorporate service learning, career building, language learning, and leadership. Click here to learn more.
Walking Tree Travel: Walking Tree offers internships, alternative breaks, and other volunteer projects in English teaching, environment, community development, and lots more in a dozen countries. With a mission to inspire individuals to become global citizens and take an interest in the world around them, Walking Tree Travel provides trips geared towards volunteering abroad for high school students that actively engage travelers within their host communities. Click here to read more.
Envoys: With volunteer and study opportunities for middle- and high-schoolers, Envoys blends education, research, and international travel for a one-of-a-kind learning experience. Projects range from environment, to ecotourism, to community development, and beyond. Learn more about Envoys here.
Amizade: Amizade offers service learning, volunteer, and skills-based programs worldwide for teens and young adults. While Amizade’s service learning projects are available only at the university level, alternative spring breaks and high school service trips, and other volunteer opportunities are available to teens. Learn more here.
As you can see, there are tons of great volunteer abroad opportunities outside of the Peace Corps (which requires participants to be 18 and older) that are available fto younger volunteers—they’re an excellent way for your teen to learn more about the world, build incredibly useful skills, and work with a community program that’s tackling local issues, all while providing an adventure of a lifetime. And as with any volunteer abroad project (perhaps even more so in this case), it’s very important to take your time and do your homework to find an organization that has appropriate placements for students who can contribute the very best they can to a great cause.
Big heart, but little wallet? Check out our list of affordable volunteer organizations.
P.S. If you're still looking for a volunteer opportunity, check out our list of best volunteer abroad programs and recommended volunteer projects in Africa, Central America, and Thailand. You can also read about 7 Great Medical and Veterinary Volunteer Abroad Projects, 10 Dental Volunteer Abroad Program and Medical Mission Tips for Pre Dental Students, and nursing volunteer abroad projects for students and nurse professionals. Or, if medical volunteer projects aren't for you, be sure to read about our sports and coaching volunteer abroad, wildlife conservation and veterinary abroad, teach abroad, and intern abroad programs. Lastly, if you're under 18, you may be interested in a teen volunteer abroad program from one of our many great partners.
Sarah Vandenberg has been a volunteer travel researcher and consultant since 2005, and has volunteered throughout Central America and the Caribbean. She's currently based in Washington DC, where she works as an analyst.
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