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Top 10 Tips for a Successful Volunteer Experience in India

VolunteerForever
Written By
By Munira Maricar
Travel Writer
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Volunteering in India offers a unique chance to immerse yourself in its diverse cultures and contribute to various meaningful causes. Whether you’re teaching in bustling cities or assisting in healthcare, each experience helps foster global understanding and personal growth. 

Here are the top 10 tips to make your volunteer India journey unforgettable:

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1. Choose the Right Program

Selecting the right India volunteer program is crucial. Finding a match for your skills and interests ensures a fulfilling experience. For example, if you’re interested in gaining experience as an English teacher abroad, try out a Teaching Volunteer Program like this one from IVHQ.

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Research programs like ‘Teach for India’ volunteer opportunities or various NGO projects that resonate with your passion. Read below for more ethical recommended programs.

2. Understand the India Volunteer Visa Requirements

Before you travel, ensure you meet the India volunteer visa requirements. A proper visa is essential for legal and hassle-free volunteering. Most types of Indian Visas can be applied for online, and if you are unable to do so, you can consult with the Indian Embassy or Consulate in your country. 

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Here are the main types of visas available and what might be most suitable for your volunteer trip:

e-Tourist Visa

The tourist visa is one of the most common options for those wanting to travel and engage in short-term volunteer activities in India. The e-Tourist Visa (eTV) is a convenient option that allows for easy application and approval online. 

  • 30-day Tourist Visa: This double-entry visa allows you to stay in India for up to 30 days. It’s non-extendable and non-convertible.
  • One-year Tourist Visa: This multiple-entry visa is valid for 365 days from the date of grant and allows stays of up to 90 days per visit for most nationalities. For citizens of the USA, UK, Canada, and Japan, the stay can be up to 180 days per visit.
  • Five-year Tourist Visa: This multiple-entry visa is valid for five years, with the same stay limits as the one-year visa.

Do keep in mind that this is a tourism visa, so you should not be receiving any monetary payment for the volunteer work you’re doing in India. 

Employment Visa

If you plan to engage in long-term volunteer work or have a formal offer from an Indian organization, a Business or Employment Visa might be necessary. It’s a multiple-entry visa valid for the length of your work contract, up to five years.

Some volunteer work in the teaching field may require an Employment Visa.

Intern Visa

Foreign students who want to intern at Indian companies, universities, or NGOs may need an internship visa. 

This visa is for those who have completed their undergraduate or postgraduate studies recently. Applicants should apply within one year of graduating, and the internship must commence within 12 months of course completion. 

Visa Application Process

To apply for a visa, you can visit the official Indian visa website and follow the instructions for filling out the application form, uploading the necessary documents, and paying the visa fee. It’s important to apply well in advance of your planned travel dates, especially for longer-duration visas​

Do consult with the volunteer program provider on what visa you’ll need, and make sure you start the process in advance. 

3. Prepare for Cultural Differences

India is a land of vibrant diversity. Respecting and embracing cultural differences will enhance your experience. Learn about local customs, etiquette, and social norms to integrate better into the community and enrich your volunteer work in India. By respecting these cultural norms and adapting your behavior accordingly, you can greatly enhance your experience and integration while volunteering or traveling in India. Embracing these aspects will not only enrich your understanding but also help in building meaningful connections within the community.

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Dining Etiquette 

In India, cleanliness is paramount, especially around food. Always wash your hands before and after meals. Eating is traditionally done with the right hand, as the left is considered unclean. While utensils are used in some regions, eating with hands is common in others. Sharing food is a sign of hospitality and acceptance in social settings.

Public Behavior and Etiquette

The concept of personal space might be different, and queuing might not always follow the orderly pattern you expect. Don’t be surprised if people seem to come close to you when you’re out and about in public. If this is generally uncomfortable for you, try to travel around in groups and with people you know personally, or avoid taking public transportation.

Religious Sensitivity 

Religion influences many aspects of life in India. When visiting religious sites, dress modestly, remove your shoes, and cover your head as required. It’s also crucial to ask for permission before taking photographs and to observe religious rituals quietly and respectfully. 

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Hospitality

It is not uncommon for casual acquaintances or new people you meet to offer big gestures like inviting you to their home for a meal and to meet their families. You are of course free to decline, but be sure to do it extremely gently. However, do consider accepting these offers, because more often than not, you’ll probably have a great experience! It’s always okay to ask if you could bring a friend or companion to accompany you. 

Communication Style

Indians often employ a non-confrontational communication style, which can sometimes appear indirect to people from more direct cultures. This approach is rooted in a cultural emphasis on maintaining harmony and face-saving. Understanding this can help avoid misinterpretations and foster smoother interactions.

4. Learn the Local Language

English is commonly spoken, especially in urban areas, but in rural or less touristy places, knowing the local language can be invaluable. Expanding your knowledge of local languages in India, such as Hindi, or regional languages like Malayalam, Konkani, Bengali, or Marathi (depending on your volunteer location) significantly enriches your interactions and integration into the community. 

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For practical steps, you could start with basic greetings, common phrases, and essential vocabulary related to your volunteer work. Utilizing language apps, local classes, or even online tutorials before and during your stay can accelerate your learning. Engaging daily with local speakers and practicing what you learn in real-world scenarios will further enhance your language skills and your overall volunteer experience.

5. Respect Cultural Differences

Respecting cultural differences is particularly vital when volunteering in a country as diverse as India, which is home to a plethora of cultural practices, languages, and religious traditions. When you immerse yourself in such an environment, it’s likely you’ll encounter behaviors, traditions, or social norms that are not only different from what you’re used to but may also be confusing or challenging to understand.

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In these situations, it’s crucial to maintain respect for these differences. Dress modestly according to local norms, which shows respect for the conservative aspects of many Indian cultures. Wearing local clothes, especially in rural or conservative areas, could help you build a good working relationship with the community. In some parts of India, it is forbidden to eat meat or drink alcohol.

It’s important to approach these situations without judgment. What might initially appear unusual or difficult to understand often has deep cultural significance or historical roots. By showing curiosity and respect, you not only enrich your own experience but also foster a positive environment of mutual respect and learning. 

6. Prepare for the Climate

India’s climate can vary significantly from one region to another. Pack appropriate clothing for the weather conditions you’ll encounter. Whether it’s the scorching heat of summer or the chilly winters in the north, being prepared will make your stay more comfortable.

7. Stay Healthy

Health is a priority. Ensure you have all necessary vaccinations before you travel. Carry a basic medical kit and any prescribed medications. Be cautious about the food and water you consume to avoid common travel-related illnesses. Stay hydrated constantly by adding electrolytes to your safe drinking water. Take it slow on the street food and gradually build up your stomach’s resistance rather than indulging in too much too quickly. 

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Large cities may also be susceptible to pollution in the air. If you have respiration-related conditions, even if they’re mild, do take the extra steps to keep yourself safe by wearing a KN95 mask when you’re out and about.

Check out the latest CDC guidelines on India before you leave. 

8. Be Flexible and Adaptable

Volunteering in India can come with unexpected challenges. Being flexible and adaptable will help you navigate these situations smoothly. Embrace the unpredictability and view it as part of the adventure.

9. Focus on Ethical Volunteering

When volunteering, it’s important to make sure your work helps the community in a positive and lasting way. Focus on projects that provide long-term benefits and don’t make the community dependent on outside help. This can mean helping to train local people or building things they can take care of on their own. Avoid programs that take advantage of local people or resources, and make sure your efforts don’t take away jobs from local workers or just make money for the organization.

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Choose projects that are based on what the community actually needs and wants. Make sure the community agrees with and is involved in every step of the project. 

By following these guidelines, you can make sure your volunteering is respectful, helpful, and really makes a difference. 

Start by working with well-known organizations that have a good history of making a real difference. Check out their past projects to see if they’ve truly helped the communities. Here are some vetted and reputable volunteer programs in India:

Reputable Volunteer Programs in India

International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)

Explore the exciting volunteer opportunities in India with International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ). You can volunteer in Delhi, the bustling capital, or in the scenic coastal region of Kerala, which Lonely Planet ranks as one of the top 10 cities to visit. With affordable fees and highly-rated programs trusted by over 137,000 travelers, IVHQ is a leading volunteer organization in India.

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Program fees include accommodation in a volunteer house or homestay, meals, airport pick-up, orientation, and 24/7 support during your time in India!

  • Medical Outreach Campaign in Delhi: Join a group of medical students or professionals to provide basic health services in communities around Delhi. Volunteers will experience Delhi’s diverse neighborhoods while improving healthcare access for disadvantaged communities. The campaign involves up to four hours of volunteering per day and is ideal for pre-medical, medical, and nursing students or qualified professionals who want to develop their medical experience, communication skills, and teamwork.
  • Women’s Empowerment Volunteer Project in Kerala: Teach English and modern social issues to local women aged 20 to 70+ to help them gain confidence and financial independence. The role involves up to five hours of volunteering per day, teaching English, discussing contemporary issues, and running skill-building workshops. This project is ideal for female volunteers with good English skills and an open mind. Volunteers will develop teaching skills, and communication abilities, and make a meaningful contribution to gender equality in India.
  • Slum Teaching Volunteer Program in Delhi: Provide education to vulnerable children in the slums of Delhi, helping them gain basic education and life skills. Volunteers stay in a safe apartment with others in Faridabad and discover the diverse communities of India. The role involves up to five hours of volunteering per day, teaching English and other subjects to children aged 5 to 11. This project is ideal for volunteers with a passion for education and a desire to make a difference in the lives of marginalized children.
  • Teaching Volunteer Program in Kerala: Help fill gaps left by a shortage of teachers in Kochi, Kerala, by teaching English to eager students. The role involves up to five hours of volunteering per day, assisting with math and science lessons and teaching English to students aged 6 to 12. 

GoEco

Volunteering in Goa, India with GoEco offers a meaningful way to contribute to the local community by providing educational support to children in need. You’ll start your day at a local kindergarten school, where you will teach English and other subjects like music, arts and crafts, and sports. The kindergarten is run by a local Goan family and serves over 100 children who cannot afford regular school fees. You’ll have the chance to use creative teaching methods, organize fun games, and work alongside experienced staff, making a real impact on the children’s learning and development.

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In the evenings, you can join the Slum Outreach program, which focuses on children aged 3 to 16 from migrant families living in the slums on the city’s outskirts. For two hours each evening, you’ll interact with these children through games, sports, and activities. There’s also a family-friendly version of this program!

Volunteering in Goa with GoEco places you in the picturesque village of Saligao, North Goa, just 20 minutes from the coast. You’ll stay in a volunteer house in Porvorim, which provides a comfortable base where you can relax and connect with fellow volunteers from around the world. With easy access to your volunteer placements and the stunning beaches of Goa, this experience combines meaningful work with the chance to explore a beautiful and vibrant region.

Involvement Volunteers International (IVI)

Volunteering in India with Involvement Volunteers International (IVI) offers a unique opportunity to make a real difference while experiencing the rich culture of this vibrant country. IVI, a non-profit organization with over 35 years of experience, provides a variety of meaningful projects. 

IVI also ensures excellent support and safety, with airport pickup, orientation, and 24/7 in-country support, making your volunteer experience both impactful and enjoyable. Volunteer accommodations vary by location but are always safe and comfortable. In Goa, volunteers stay in a large, Western-style house. In Bodhgaya, the volunteer center is near the world-famous Mahabodhi Temple and offers clean, well-equipped rooms. Each location provides three vegetarian meals a day, with a mix of local and Western cuisine.

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Here are our top picks of Volunteer Programs in India with IVI:

  • Buddhist Monastery Teaching in Darjeeling, India: Immerse yourself in the serene lifestyle of a Buddhist monastery in Darjeeling, teaching English and other subjects to monks aged 8 too 25. Live within the monastery, engage with monks to learn about their culture, and help improve their English speaking abilities and confidence. You’ll create daily lesson plans for interactive classes, teaching a range of subjects including math, history, and environmental awareness. This program runs for a minimum of four weeks and offers a unique opportunity to deeply experience Buddhist traditions.
  • Construction and Renovation in Goa, India: Contribute to community projects in Goa aimed at improving living conditions for underprivileged families and enhancing local schools. Volunteers will engage in activities such as painting murals, basic landscaping, repairing furniture, and renovating school facilities.
  • Rural School Community Support in Bodhgaya, India: Support a rural school near Bodhgaya, providing education to children from some of the poorest regions in India. Volunteers can teach English, assist with health checks, educate on nutrition and hygiene, and help with construction and renovation projects. The school serves a community that lacks basic infrastructure, making this a vital project.
  • 28-Day Volunteer Road Trip in India: Embark on an adventurous 28-day eco-friendly travel and volunteer program across India, starting in New Delhi and ending in Goa. Explore India’s rich cultural heritage by visiting iconic sites like the Taj Mahal, engaging in community projects, and experiencing local traditions. This program includes accommodations in hotels, guest houses, and volunteer centers, with all meals provided. Participants will volunteer in various projects, such as women’s empowerment, community schools, and renovation projects while traveling through Shimla, Dharamshala, Agra, Udaipur, Mumbai, and Goa. This all-round adventure offers a blend of cultural immersion, volunteer work, and exploration.

Volunteering Solutions (VolSol)

Experience the rich cultural tapestry of India while contributing to meaningful community projects with Volunteering Solutions (VolSol). This esteemed organization offers a diverse range of volunteer opportunities in Delhi and Jaipur, suitable for anyone looking to make a difference, from students to professionals.

Volunteers stay in shared housing with other international volunteers, fostering a community of like-minded individuals. The accommodation options are comfortable, providing a safe and communal living environment.

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VolSol provides a variety of programs that cater to different interests and needs:

  • Childcare: Volunteers can engage with children in various settings, teaching and caring for street kids in Delhi or assisting in childcare facilities in Jaipur.
  • Women Empowerment: Participate in initiatives that support underprivileged women in Delhi and Jaipur, helping them gain skills and education to improve their lives.
  • Elephant Care: In Agra, volunteers can work with elephants, providing care and learning about conservation efforts.
  • Medical and Healthcare Internship: Ideal for pre-med or medical students, these internships offer firsthand experience in Indian healthcare settings, available in both Delhi and Jaipur.
  • Construction and Renovation: Help improve infrastructure for schools, centers, and clinics in Jaipur that lack sufficient funding.
  • Summer Impact Project 2024: This program combines volunteer work with travel, allowing participants to experience India’s cultural landmarks while engaging in volunteer activities. Travel across iconic Indian cities—Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, and Pushkar—while making a tangible difference in the lives of street children and in community development projects along the way. This program is perfect for students, gap year travelers, backpackers, and anyone looking to make a social impact while experiencing the wonders of India. It offers a compact yet comprehensive view of India’s cultural and social landscapes, making it a memorable and impactful journey.

10. Reflect and Share Your Experience

After your volunteer stint, take time to reflect on your experiences. Sharing your stories can inspire others to volunteer and help spread awareness about the cause you supported. Your insights can provide valuable guidance to future volunteers.

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Embrace, Engage, Empower

Volunteering in India is a transformative experience that offers a deep dive into its vibrant culture and diverse landscapes. By following these tips, you’ll be well-prepared for a successful volunteer journey. Remember to research, respect local customs, and choose ethical programs to ensure your volunteer work makes a positive impact.