If you are about to embark upon your first trip abroad and you are considering volunteering, I want to give you a fair warning. Your life and mindset are about to change. Volunteering abroad is, for most people, a deeply empathetic experience that can change the way you view yourself and the world around you.
For me, at least, serving abroad helped me reconstruct my ideas of community and success. It also taught me so much about the power of community and what can be accomplished, against any odds, when people work together. For example, when I taught in Malaysia, I became close to a Chinese-Malay family with four daughters and one young son. Although the family was poor and lived in a lean-to outside of the factory where the father worked, it was the father’s goal that all of his daughters attend college, something that was rare even for the middle-class families in the area. Each of his daughters diligently signed up for each ESL session that I taught and used our neighborhood internet center to search for opportunities that may help them be successful.
Insider Knowledge About Volunteering Abroad
A History of Volunteering Abroad
Although most people think that volunteering abroad is a recent trend, volunteering abroad can actually be traced back more than a hundred years to World War I, when the British Red Cross sent out Volunteer Aid Detachments, or VADs. VADs were men and women who were sent abroad to serve in various positions such as nursing, organizing and working in auxiliary hospitals, and working as part of transport stations and served all soldiers, regardless of what country they were fighting for. The next great development in international volunteering didn’t happen until about the 1950’s, when organizations like the Australian Volunteers International and the International Voluntary Services were founded. These organizations were popular with people directly connected to a particular cause and were usually, to some degree, state funded. The Peace Corps, founded in 1961, broadened the horizons of the volunteer abroad industry as more and more people begin to recognize themselves as possible agents of change.
The 1960’s and 1970’s meant great change for the volunteer abroad industry, as people sought to volunteer not as an informal delegate for their country, but rather as a way to personally work to eradicate worldwide challenges like poverty and disease epidemics. Volunteer and study abroad programs became most popular with university graduates dedicated to recreating a better world. In recent years, the ability of small charities to use the internet and more affordable air travel has surged the popularity of volunteer travel even more, with gap years and short-term volunteer abroad trips becoming more common and attractive to people of all ages. Volunteer abroad projects have become especially accessible with the rise of fundraising platforms such as our own, which allows interestested people to volunteer without having to bear the full financial burden of traveling and volunteering abroad.
The Ethics of Volunteering Abroad
As many volunteers begin to explore the vast, constantly changing world of volunteering abroad, they are concerned with choosing a volunteer abroad project that has a real, sustainable impact on the community that they serving. As they should be. Unfortunately, there are two major pitfalls in the current volunteer abroad industry: (a) volunteers with savior complexes and (b) volunteer abroad projects that are little more than scams. It is our job to keep you from becoming the first kind of problem and falling prey to the latter.
To volunteer ethically, and thus not develop that dangerous “white savior” complex, the first thing you need to do is truly examine what you have to offer as a volunteer. The best kinds of volunteers are those who bring a skill, like teaching, nursing, videography, or pretty much anything else, and find a way to use that skill for the long-term benefit of the community that you’re serving. Better yet, find a way to teach that skill so that local people are able to do it for themselves. It is our jobs as international volunteers not to displace grassroots change or force our ideas of what’s needed on that community. Instead, we need to find ways to increase and amplify the voices of those that we serve. For more, check out our article How to Volunteer Ethically. It’s pretty comprehensive, and goes into a lot more detail than I can here.
The second step that ethical volunteers take is to find a volunteer abroad organization or placement agency that genuinely benefits the lives of the people that it serves. There are too many volunteer abroad agencies that are little more than glorified tourism agencies with only basic connections to the communities that they serve. You want to find organizations that are either founded by people within the community that they serve or else work directly with those organizations to effect sustainable change. Later on, we’ll give you some questions to ask different agencies and groups so that you can be sure that you’re putting your work where it is most beneficial.
A few last notes on volunteering ethically: be sure to think critically about all of the work that you do. Volunteer Forever does not recommend projects that work with at-risk children for short periods of time, such as short-term orphanage volunteer programs, as being ethically sound. While we recognize the good intentions behind orphanage volunteer programs, we want our volunteers to carefully consider the impact of a constant stream of transient strangers on the life of a child with very few real role models. If you’re interested in working with at-risk youth, instead look for programs that work through established parts of the children’s lives, such as working with schools or sports camps. These roles allow volunteers to work with children without placing themselves in the role of the caregiver.
Different Types of Volunteering Abroad Projects
Short-term and Long-term Volunteer Abroad Projects
There are many different types of volunteer projects and, as a result, many different types of volunteers. First of all, volunteer abroad projects are typically divided into short-term volunteer projects and long-term volunteer projects. Short-term volunteer projects typically last 1-4 weeks and are usually highly structured, with volunteers following a set schedule of work hours with a full-time team that works at the project year-round. Because short-term volunteer abroad projects turn over very quickly as volunteers complete their trips, you can usually rely on the trips being highly supported with clear schedules and duties, planned transportation and housing, and knowledgeable volunteer leaders who, for the purposes of your project, have seen it all.
Long-term volunteer projects, on the other hand, often include intensive training that allows the volunteer to work independently after their training. Long-term volunteer projects can last from a few months to up to a year and are designed so that the volunteer can work independently or as part of a small team of long-term volunteers to complete in-depth projects that can’t be tackled by short-term volunteers. First-time volunteers should definitely consider taking a short-term project first so that they have a better idea of what volunteering and living abroad is like. If you like your project, you can always talk to your project about extending your stay.
Common Volunteer Projects
Common volunteer project types include teaching abroad, helping build infrastructure, working with conservation organizations on environmental projects to protect endangered species, or working in adult learning centers teaching skills like computer literacy, financial management, or other skills that may be helpful to people starting their own business. Many volunteer projects can also align with careers such as nursing, pharmacy, veterinary care, videography, accounting, and any other occupation that may be useful in developing areas. Chances are, if you have a skill or passion, there is some kind of volunteer projects that will allow you to use that skill or passion to improve the life of someone else.
How to Find the Perfect Volunteer Abroad Project
Your Needs as a First-time Traveler
Although anyone who decides to volunteer abroad for their first time out of their home country is bound to be pretty adventurous, let’s be real. You’re going to need a different level of support than someone who has visited two-digits worth of countries. Fortunately, many volunteer abroad organizations and placement agencies specialize in providing support for young or first-time travelers.
When you begin talking to various volunteer abroad organizations, it is a good idea for you to explain that this will be your first time traveling. That way, the organization can have the opportunity to support you with issues that can be confusing for anyone but seasoned travelers, like obtaining a visa or travel insurance. Volunteer abroad organizations should offer to support every volunteer, but if they know that it’s your first time traveling, they will likely be extra diligent in preparing you for the inevitable challenges of traveling abroad.
If, when you begin speaking to volunteer abroad organizations, you get the feeling that they aren’t sure exactly how to support first-time volunteers, they might not have the right project or program for you. Some seasoned volunteers prefer volunteer abroad positions that are less structured and thus less supported and there are plenty of great organizations that have the foundations and personnel to support a first-time traveler from start to finish.
Volunteering Abroad and Culture Shock
Almost all travelers go through some kind of culture shock when they travel abroad, and not just for the first time. Culture shock can set in almost immediately or take a few weeks or even a few months before you notice it and is especially powerful when coupled with homesickness or when something is happening to your friends and family back home. When a person is suffering from culture shock, they are unable to find anything familiar about their new environment and feel, simply, out of place and alone. Culture shock can be crippling to your mental health and negatively impact your relationships as you live abroad, as your new community may struggle to understand why you are unhappy with a life that they lead and love. Because of this, suffering from culture shock can also impact your efficacy as you volunteer abroad as it is very difficult to focus on what motivated you to volunteer abroad when you are preoccupied with your own alienation from your familiar world.
The internet is full of strategies to combat culture shock and thrive in a new environment, even when you are still homesick and still feel alienated and alone. As someone who has experienced culture shock multiple times in many different places, my best advice to new travelers is to find time to make routines that help you feel less alone and less out-of-place. One major part of culture shock, for me, is food. Although I typically enjoy the local cuisine of my host community, I love cooking and often miss the familiar flavors of home, especially if I am stressed or sick. When this happened, I was often tempted to prepare my own American-style food and eat alone, or maybe speaking to family and friends from home. Although this practice sounds innocuous, mealtimes are often a major opportunity to bond with your new community and my community, in more than one instance, assumed that I ate alone with my American food because I thought their food and company was somehow inferior.
In order to be comfortable and successful, I had to find strategies to strike a good balance and find a way to connect with my community while also helping myself feel more comfortable in my new home. I learned that my local coworkers loved it when I cooked enough food for them to try or else went out on a limb and had them recommend something to me that they liked to eat when they were homesick or lonely. All people know what it’s like to be lonely or miss people you love and I found that when I included my community in my internal struggle, they were much more understanding and supportive. This is just one example, but when you try, there is always a way to work through culture shock, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.
To prepare for the inevitable culture shock, try to think of what might you might miss the most about home. This could be your family or partner, your job, or even the day-to-day routines that hold our lives together. We never really know what we may struggle with under we travel to the new country, but it’s important to indulge in some self-care, focus on what motivated you to volunteer abroad in the first place, and reach out to your community in order to build relationships that will help you once again find joy in your daily life.
Questions to Ask Every Project
Asking the right questions can tell you everything you need to know about a volunteer abroad placement agency or group. Good volunteer abroad placement agencies should be willing and able to answer any of the questions and give answers that satisfy your desire to volunteer purposefully and ethically.
- What does the average day of one of your volunteers look like?
- How much individualization is possible in your project?
- What mental health supports do you offer your volunteers? What supports are available within the community?
- How is your project or organization viewed by the local community?
- Does your project or organization employ anyone in the local community? What do they do?
- Are there past volunteers who would be willing to talk to me about their experience?
- What is the biggest challenge that your project faces? What are you doing to address that challenge?
Asking questions may make it feel a little bit like an interview, but there is no better way to get to know the organization, except maybe looking at verified reviews, of course.
Projects That Might Be Right for You
International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)
International Volunteer Headquarters or IVHQ is one of the largest, New Zealand-based volunteer abroad placement agencies in the industry with dozens of programs in over thirty-four countries. IVHQ works with small local partner organizations in each country that allow them to work with projects that are not just effective, but community-driven. IVHQ offers fully supported short-term volunteer abroad projects as well as long-term projects in many different areas.
IVHQ Volunteer Projects to Check Out:
Volunteering for Elderly Care in Sri Lanka
People passionate about nursing or elderly care should consider volunteering with IVHQ’s project in the Sri Lanka. In Sri Lankan culture, the elderly typically move in with their family members when they are unable to care for themselves. If they do not have any living family members, however, they could become transient or homeless. This project steps in allowing seniors over 75 to live rich, fulfilling lives in an assisted living facility. Volunteers work to arrange activities for the seniors, provide companionship, and help seniors with daily tasks. This project has flexible start dates and is offered on a rolling basis.
Healthcare Education in Bali
Volunteers interested in working or already working in the healthcare industry should consider this education-minded volunteer abroad placement. In this placement, volunteers work with local schools throughout the Ubud area to teach children basic hygiene including how to brush teeth, wash hands properly, and general body cleanliness and nutrition. Volunteers often coordinate with local doctors and nurses to run healthcare campaigns and should arrive at the project with an idea of what they would like to focus on as they work.
What Volunteers Have to Say About IVHQ:
Volunteering with children in Zambia was one of the best experiences of my life. The children were just beautiful and I would never tire of being mobbed every day on arrival and also when I left. Contact before and during my stay was always professional, friendly and timely as was contact from IVHQ in New Zealand. The orienteering day was excellent and we all felt like we were given enough information to go to our placements with. You pick up information from other volunteers in the house also. Everyone included everyone in activities that took place done outside of volunteering. There was a lot of sharing of experiences after our placements on a daily basis. Although I went to Africa I’m sure I would have had the same experience with IVHQ had I volunteered in another location. If anyone was looking to volunteer I would have no hesitation in recommending IVHQ. Money can’t buy the experiences I had. Thank you IVHQ for helping me to fulfill one of my dreams… – Linda in July 2016
Plan My Gap Year
Since 2011, Plan My Gap Year has offered affordable volunteer placements in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, with projects including teaching, conservation, childcare, and many others. PMGY is an excellent organization to check out if you’re planning your first trip abroad: all of their projects are vetted by the PMGY team to make sure they’re safe, impactful, and a good match for your skills and background. With recognition such as the Shell LiveWire Grand Idea Award, Thailand Green Excellence Award, and Special Recognition from the United Nations in Sri Lanka, Plan My Gap Year is a great way to explore the world, immerse yourself in a different culture, and make a difference.
Plan My Gap Year Opportunities to Check Out:
Volunteer in Bali
If you want to visit one of the world’s most beautiful island destinations, check out PMGY’s trips to Bali, where you can enjoy the beach and explore this Indonesian hotspot while volunteering for medical care, child care, wildlife conservation, or English teaching. As Plan My Gap Year’s top up-and-coming travel destination, Bali is a wonderful trip for first-time travelers who want to go on an impactful adventure. Learn more and sign up here!
Volunteer in Vietnam
For another Asian adventure through PMGY, take a look at Vietnam, where you can work with an NGO, teach English, care for children in need, or even go traveling and volunteering in communities over one to three months. If you’re looking for a highly organized, structured volunteer placement – or the chance to go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip in Southeast Asia – Plan My Gap Year Vietnam is a wonderful place to start. Click here to learn more!
Volunteer in Ghana
Moving along to a different part of the world, Plan My Gap Year also offers several different volunteer opportunities in Ghana, where you can make a difference through English teaching, supporting disabled children, providing medical care, and more. This is a great placement for medical students and professionals in particular: through PMGY’s programs in Ghana, you can get involved in physical rehabilitation, mental health and psychology, and even a hospital or clinic placement. Learn more here!
Volunteer to Teach English in Fiji
On this program, you will have the opportunity to teach English and share your culture with the children of Fiji. Assist local teachers in this opportunity by preparing lesson plans, helping at the school library, maintaining classroom discipline, and encouraging active learning. Put your personality to work and build rapport with local students at a school that teaches 700 boys aged six to 13 years old. As a volunteer, you will employ an informal teaching style with the younger students, and incorporate creative activities such as singing, dancing, and storytelling into your lessons. Older students benefit from formal learning and core subjects such as English, math, and geography. Program fees begin at $390 for two weeks.
Sri Lanka Turtle Conservation
Travel to the island nation of Sri Lanka for this program with Plan My Gap Year, where you will be able to volunteer at a sea turtle conservation conservation center. During your trip, you will collect eggs and bring them to a safe location to hatchery, and even have the chance to release baby turtles into the sea. In addition to caring for eggs and hatchlings, you will be able to rehabilitate disabled turtles that have been caught in nets or otherwise injured – a few tasks that you’ll take on include cleaning and filling tanks, feeding the turtles, caring for nesting areas, cleaning turtle shells, helping with beach cleanup, and assisting with a community education initiative. This program starts at only $300 for one week, with stays up to six months available.
Specializing in trips in Central America and South America, Maximo Nivel was founded in 2003 and coordinates volunteer abroad programs in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Perú. Maximo Nivel is especially well-known for its culture and language immersion programs, and partners with local hospitals, community groups, and other organizations so that volunteers are able to interact as much as possible with local changemakers. Maximo Nivel offers projects in the areas of construction, childcare, healthcare, eco-agriculture, conservation, and teaching English. First-time volunteers should consider Maximo Nivel for their first volunteer abroad trip because of their strong relationships with local organizations that connect volunteers within the communities to effect sustainable change.
Maximo Nivel Volunteer Projects to Check Out:
Construction Volunteering in Guatemala
Volunteers interested in getting their hands dirty should consider working as part of volunteer construction crews in Guatemala, Perú, or Costa Rica. Volunteers typically work to improve community buildings like schools, orphanages, and clinics while also participating in community beautification projects. Construction volunteer projects are physically demanding, but well worth the hard work. Projects last a minimum of one week and do not require any level of Spanish fluency although volunteers can expect to learn a lot about Spanish while they’re there.
Volunteering with Indigenous Communities in Perú
Volunteers interested in participating the endangered Andean way of life should consider volunteering with an isolated indigenous community only 45 minutes from Cusco. Volunteers can participate in a variety of different tasks including working in schools, orphanages, helping in agricultural work, feeding and caring for livestock, and working with whatever seasonal needs there are. This project lasts a minimum of one week and does not require Spanish learning skills.
What Volunteers Have to Say About Maximo Nivel:
I had a wonderful experience with Maximo Nivel in Manuel Antonio. The instructor of the course was very enthusiastic, always helpful and knowledgeable. I learned everything I needed to know about how to teach English. With a whole week of teaching at the end and opportunities to teach throughout the course, I feel very confident about my teaching abilities now. The instructors provide you with a lot of constructive feedback. I couldn’t be happier with my decision to take my TEFL course at Maximo Nivel in Manuel Antonio. – Hannah in October 2016
Love Volunteers offers volunteer abroad programs in over 35 countries around the world and offers projects in the fields of healthcare, sports, education, law, social justice, and more. Love Volunteers aims to pair each volunteer with the best program based on their skills and interests and has fully supports each volunteer with an in-country support team.
Love Volunteers Projects to Check Out:
Volunteer With Children and Young Adults with Disabilities in Albania
In this phenomenal volunteer abroad program, volunteers have the opportunity to work with a staff of professional disability services workers to enrich the lives of children and young adults living with disabilities. Volunteers typically assist with arranging small group activities with children, working one-on-one on life skills, helping with therapy programs, assisting with fundraising, and working with the staff on awareness campaigns. Volunteers do not substitute as specialists, but rather work to help maintain a fun, comfortable environment for everyone living at the facility. This volunteer program lasts a minimum of three weeks and is offered year-round.
Women’s Empowerment in India
Volunteers passionate about equity should consider applying to volunteer with women’s empowerment in Delhi or Jaipur. Volunteers work as part of a program that supports disenfranchised women and girls by teaching them real, marketable skills such as those associated information technology or literacy, all while also aiming to improve their self-confidence. Volunteers do not need specific skills when applying to the program, but must stay a minimum of four weeks.
What Volunteers Have to Say About Love Volunteers:
The time I spent volunteering with the animal sanctuary was definitely unforgettable. I was welcomed to Argentina by a super friendly Hostel staff and oriented by very capable people at the local NGO. When going to the refuge for the first time, I was accompanied by one of the local volunteers -who was also super nice and approachable and became an amazing friend by the time I came back home! All the people at the shelter are very dedicated and hardworking, and will most definitely impact you and your ideals in the most positive way possible. As far as the work I did while in the refuge, I loved it because it felt meaningful and like I was doing something helpful for all those animals -and everyone who worked there was always willing to help me out and teach me everything I needed to know! – Karina in June 2016
Traveling abroad for the first time can be daunting, and that’s why Projects Abroad focuses on making volunteering abroad as stress-free as possible for you. That way, you can focus on what’s really important: realizing your full potential and helping people and wildlife abroad.
Projects Abroad helps you in many ways to make your trip hassle-free, and provides:
- Your own personal Volunteer Advisor to prepare you for departure
- Friendly staff members to meet you at your arrival airport in-country
- A full induction of the surrounding areas and of your placement
- 24/7 staff support while you’re volunteering, so you have support whenever you need it
Volunteer Trips for High School Students
Projects Abroad’s High School Specials are tailored trips for high school students. These are fixed-date trips over the summer break. You’ll spend your days with a group of students your age, all working towards the same long-term goals.
These projects have set itineraries, which means you don’t need to worry about arranging activities during your free time, because they will sort everything out for you. It also means you won’t be on your own. Your group will join you both in your project work and during social activities.
The projects have 24/7 supervision to make sure you feel safe, secure, and supported throughout your trip. Some top High School Special projects include:
- Planting mangroves to help protect marine life and battling climate change with other teens on the conservation project in Thailand
- Building puzzles, running arts and crafts lessons, and teaching through song and dance on the childcare project in Ghana
- Shadowing doctors in a hospital and improving your Spanish skills on a medicine & Spanish project in Argentina
Options for Older Volunteers
If you’re a university student, or are taking a gap year or career break, Projects Abroad offers specialized Team Trips. These are an ideal way for you to use your vacation or career break to do something meaningful.
These trips have a set itinerary, so you’ll spend your time doing pre-arranged activities with your group. It’s the perfect way to explore a new country and have an impact, without worrying about the hassle of planning and booking excursions. Click here to learn more about Team Trips.
What Volunteers Have to Say About Projects Abroad:
“From the minute I arrived, the Projects Abroad family made me feel so welcomed. The directors and coordinators in the project made sure to teach me everything I needed to know and gave me so many opportunities to actually practice it. From socials and host family bonding time to medical missions and house-to-house visits, each day was filled with fun and learning.” – Sarah in July 2018
Global Vision International (GVI)
Global Vision International, or GVI, is a long-standing and an award winning volunteer project with almost 20 years of volunteer abroad placement experience under their belt. GVI offers all kinds of projects in many different lengths and partners with well-respected organizations like PADI, WWF, Project AWARE, as well as national parks in South Africa, Thailand, Seychelles, Costa Rica, Mexico, and others. GVI is a perfect pick for a first-time volunteer not just because of their many years of experience, but because of their sterling reputation and well-organized network of in-country and centralized support.
GVI Volunteer Projects to Check Out:
Lemon Shark and Turtle Conservation in Seychelles
Volunteers interested in marine conservation should consider traveling to the beautiful island nation of Seychelles to participate in this project based out of the oasis of Curieuse. Volunteers spend time contributing to local conservation efforts towards two critically endangered species. This project is offered year-round with flexible start dates.
Sports and Surfing in South Africa
Sports enthusiasts interested in working with children should check out this volunteer abroad experience based out of Cape Town, South Africa. Volunteers coach sports like soccer, cricket, tennis, rugby, and netball to underprivileged youth. Volunteers also work to instill an appreciation of the outdoors in area youth, teaching them about how to preserve the beautiful coasts of South Africa, all while surfing. This project is offered year-round and has flexible start dates.
What Volunteers Have to Say About GVI:
Living at Jalova, Costa Rica was such an amazing adventure and allowed me to focus on a career that I am passionate about. No it is not for everyone, but if you like being off the grid, seeing exotic/new things, and making new friends, then you need to go. I worked with sea turtles, jaguars, birds and more. I learned about conservation and how important it is. The food was good, the fruits were interesting and fun. Everyday was a new experience and the memories gathered are worth a lifetime! – Jessica in July 2016
Agape Volunteers is an excellent choice if you are looking for a reputable and affordable volunteer abroad trip to Africa. Founded in 2011, AV is a registered UK charity that offers a variety of programs including volunteering, tourism, and development work in Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana, and Maasai-land. Program costs include registration and administration fees, tours and excursions, housing and feed, and even travel insurance, making Agape Volunteers the most affordable option for volunteering in Africa.
Agape Volunteers Opportunities to Check Out
Teach English in Tanzania
Share your energy and enthusiasm at a Tanzanian school, preparing children for a bright future and developing your own skills and confidence as a teacher. Support classes each day, assisting eager students who want to learn English, and help them improve their language skills through conversational English. Accommodations are at a lovely guesthouse near the center of Arusha, with hot showers, wifi, and space for you to socialize with other volunteers. Spend weekends exploring Tanzania, taking a safari to the Serengeti, or on an excursion to the Moshi Waterfalls and Chemka Hot Springs. Stay one week or longer in Tanzania, with program fees starting at £695.
Music Teaching in Ghana
Join Agape Volunteers at a unique music school in Ghana, teaching children and residents at the JayNi school. Give talented musicians the opportunities they deserve by teaching music, and helping to plan and run music classes for students of all ages. At JayNi, you’ll assist the full-time instructors as they teach small classes with an emphasis on basic keyboarding, singing, and music theory. Before you travel to Ghana, launch a donation drive and collect secondhand instruments to bring with you. Stay for one week or longer, with fees starting at £510.
Sports Coaching in Kenya
If you have experience playing sports or helping to manage a team, take a look at sports coaching in Kenya with Agape Volunteers. Teach children the value of teamwork, and help them to develop their skills when you volunteer to coach soccer. Assist the PE teacher with school studies and physical education, and refine your coaching abilities. Join the players on community leagues after school hours and be a positive role model. Accommodations are at the Agape volunteer house with dorm-style rooms, a roof terrace and barbecue, a game room, and large communal space for meeting and chatting with volunteers. Spend your weekends and free time with adventure tours and safaris, hiking trips through national parks, and visiting beaches of the Indian Ocean. Program fees start at £590 for one week.
Founded in 2006 by experienced volunteers, GoEco has won numerous awards for their great volunteer abroad programs, including recognition as the Top Volunteer Abroad Organization in 2015 from GoAbroad. They’ve also been recommended by the Today Show and Huffington Post. The 150-plus volunteer projects offered by GoEco have been carefully inspected for quality and safety, which means you can rest assured that you’ll have a good experience and make a difference. Additionally, GoEco provides 24-hour support and travel insurance during your trip (this is a benefit very few volunteer organizations provide).
Simply said, GoEco is a very suitable choice for first-time travelers.
GoEco Opportunities to Check Out
India – Road Trip India
Ease into traveling and volunteering by joining a popular road trip across India! This guided tour is a simple way to adjust to a new culture and place. Friends are always easy to make when you travel in a group, and this program includes one week of group volunteer work, following the three weeks of group touring. Learn more here.
Teach, Surf and Skate in Cape Town
Dip your toes into volunteering by choosing a bustling locations, filled with tourists and volunteers! Rather than traditional teaching, volunteers on this program will teach the children in the settlements how to swim, surf and skate after school! Volunteers who choose to can also teach in the local schools in the morning. Learn more.
Indonesia – Bali Sea Turtle Rescue
Join GoEco on the beautiful island of Nusa Penida, just off the coast of Bali! Work hands-on with injured sea turtles and release the rehabilitated back into their ocean home. Another aspect of this program is educating the local community about the importance of sea turtle conservation . Whether it’s hatching or nesting season, there are always sea turtles in need of your caring hands at this rescue center! Read more.
Village Child Care in Ban Houakhoua Village, Laos
Journey to Laos with GoEco, and care for young children at various centers in a village. Your typical day will include teaching English, leading games and activities, feeding the children, and helping with naps and other tasks. You’ll get to immerse yourself in the lives of the local community members throughout the project, which gives you the wonderful opportunity to make lasting connections with the welcoming Laotian people. Ready to go on your first volunteer adventure? Know that you’ll stay at a volunteer guesthouse and fees start from $580 for one week. Find out more here about the application, available dates, and general requirements!
With so many programs out there, first-time travelers can have a tough time choosing the right one. It can also be hard to tell which organizations and programs are reputable. Abroadly, Volunteer Forever’s booking platform, simplifies the process by enabling you to search based on your preferences for location, budget, and program type. Moreover, every program you find has been carefully vetted for quality and safety.
Abroadly offers other benefits as well. When you apply to a program through the site, you’re entered for a chance to win a $500 scholarship and you’re given free access to Volunteer Forever’s crowdfunding platform.
Start searching for your dream volunteer program on Abroadly today. Your application fee is 100% refunded if you’re not accepted, so feel free to apply right away.
Abroadly Opportunities to Check Out
Volunteer for Construction in Antigua, Guatemala
Join Maximo Nivel in Antigua for this excellent construction and community development program. As a volunteer, you’ll work about four hours each day, helping to dig, mix cement, paint, plaster, and carry bricks. You’ll be repairing classrooms, building community centers, and constructing small health clinics, all things the community needs to create brighter futures.
During free time, explore Antigua, a city known for its gorgeous Spanish colonial architecture and surrounding volcanoes. The program fee starts from $710 for one week, with stays up to 12 weeks available. Interested? Discover more and apply here.
Volunteer for Women’s Empowerment in Faridabad, India
Plan My Gap Year offers a very impactful program in Faridabad. The program’s initiative is to empower women through education, including computer, English, and vocational training. By doing this, you’ll help build their self-esteem and equip them with the skills needed to find work and build a better future. This is crucial to breaking the cycle of poverty and improving the future outlooks for disadvantaged families and communities.
During the program, you’ll stay in a volunteer house in the center of town, which is just 15 miles from Delhi (visit there during free time!). Program fees start at $579 for two weeks, with stays up to 24 weeks available. Discover more and apply here!
Volunteer to Teach English in Pedasi, Panama
Volunteer with TeachPTY in Pedasi and help improve the English language abilities of local students. You’ll be working with third-grade students at Plinio A. Moscoso Elementary School. Through games, activities, and conversation, you’ll give them a natural environment for learning English, a language that can open many doors for the children in the future. Whether you want to work in education or simply want to volunteer with children, this program is a great choice.
Volunteering in Panama means you can have a blast during free time. Go zip-lining, visit pristine Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge, go horseback riding, tour Sarigua National Park, and more. Sounds amazing, right? Program fees start at $1,501 for two weeks, with stays up to 12 weeks available. Discover more and apply here!
Rainforest Bat Rehabilitation in Australia
Join Oceans 2 Earth at The Centre, a five-acre garden near Cairns. There you’ll be helping injured and orphaned native bats. Due to habitat encroachment and interaction with humans, the lives of many bats come into danger. It’s a shame, considering how important bats are to the local ecosystem. Your work will help improve their chances to survive and thrive in nature. Main duties include educating the public about the importance of a bat sanctuary, exercising the animals, cleaning enclosures, picking apples for feeding, and maintaining the grounds.
When you’re not helping bats, you can explore the surrounding region, which is known for its rainforests, beaches, coral reef, and other stunning natural areas. Program fees start at $628 for one week, with stays up to four weeks available. Discover more and apply here!
Founded by two female leaders, Meri and Alina, Alai International empowers volunteers to make an impact as they explore the world. Alai International is committed to trust, transparency, and affordability. The popularity of their programs shows they’re doing an excellent job at providing participants with memorable experiences and improving local communities.
This organization offers first-time travelers a variety of great opportunities in safe, unique destinations. Whether you want to work on a farm in Japan, volunteer in childcare in Costa Rica, or join a forest conservation initiative in Madagascar, you can do that with Alai International.
Alai International Opportunities to Check Out
Clay House Construction in Thailand
How does a volunteer vacation in Thailand sound? Head to Singburi province, where you’ll use traditional construction methods and natural materials to build clay houses for local communities. The clay homes not only make for comfortable living, as they keep the temperature cool, but they also are eco-friendly. By developing sustainable infrastructure, you can increase community resilience.
What’s convenient is that volunteering in Singburi puts you right in Thailand’s spiritual heartland. Visit temples and historic sites during free time! And enjoy all the Thai food you can. So, already packing your bags? Reserve your place in the program today!
Equine Therapy in Croatia
Does a service trip to the beautiful region of Dalmatia interest you? If yes, then join this equine therapy program. As a volunteer, you’ll assist local staff at the NGO with hippotherapy sessions aimed at improving the health and emotional wellbeing of disadvantaged children and teenagers. Duties include maintaining the riding area and stables, helping the children during therapy sessions, and caring for the horses.
When you’re not contributing to this rewarding project, you’ll have time to enjoy Split, a city known for its beaches and incredible history, which you can learn about at sites like Diocletian’s Palace. Want to learn more about this program? Click here to see all the details!
International TEFL Academy (ITA)
One organization to check out if you’re looking for excellent support before, during, and after your travels is International TEFL Academy – since 2010, ITA has provided internationally accredited TEFL courses and certifications both online and in-person to thousands of enrollees each year (5,000+ enrollees expected this year). TEFL certification allows you to teach English all over the world, in classrooms, as a tutor, with private schools, and with students of all ages.
With extensive pre-enrollment guidance from expert advisors, ITA will pair you with the TEFL course that’s best for you – and once you’re enrolled, you will have training from a university-level professor who will prepare you to become the best English teacher you can be. ITA also provides tons of resources for students and alumni, including a job search manual, cover letter and resume workshops, contact information for more than 20,000 schools and employers worldwide, and lifetime job search assistance. Check out this free brochure to learn all about teaching English abroad and to compare salaries and hiring requirements around the world.
International TEFL Academy Opportunities to Check Out:
170-Hour Online TEFL Certification
One way to truly prepare for an adventure abroad is through ITA’s 170-hour online TEFL certification course. Through this program, you will earn your certification to become an English teacher abroad, plus you’ll have job search guidance from advisors who have traveled all over the world and can prepare you for the experience of a lifetime. You’ll start with 150 hours of online coursework including lectures, webinars, and chats with your professor, followed by 20 hours of live teaching with ESL students to get you acquainted with teaching in your classroom later. This online course covers basic principles of teaching, grammar, classroom management, error correction, lesson planning, use of visual and audio aids, and much more. Once you’ve completed your certification, you will be qualified to become a full-time, paid English teacher abroad – learn more here!
Nicaragua TEFL Class
Another wonderful opportunity to earn your TEFL certification through ITA is on their program in Leon, Nicaragua. In this class, you will travel to a gorgeous Latin American city and learn to become an English teacher through full-time courses spanning four weeks. Each weekday, you’ll complete coursework from 9:00am to 5:15pm, plus have the chance to practice teaching with local ESL students. This class covers basic principles of teaching, classroom management, lesson planning, and many more modules to help you become certified to teach English all over the world. During your trip to Nicaragua, you can go volcano surfing, salsa dancing, embark on lake cruises or beach excursions, or even take Spanish lessons. Learn more and register here!
Founded in 2004, African Impact hosts volunteer trips, internships, and teach abroad placements in 12 different countries throughout Africa. With 12,500 travelers embarking on adventures to date, African Impact expects to send another 2,000 volunteers and interns overseas this year alone. Some projects that you can sign up for include teaching, construction, gender equality, animal care, sports coaching, and much more – and with recognition such as the Imvelo Award for Best Social Involvement plus GoAbroad’s Innovative New Program Award, African Impact is a wonderful organization where you can get involved with sustainable development and support overseas.
African Impact Projects to Check Out:
Education and Community Support, Tanzania
Based in Moshi, Tanzania, this 10-day volunteer program invites you to make a difference through teaching and community support. As a volunteer, a few ways that you can help include leading games and activities at a nursery school, teaching English to youth and adults, facilitating sports and other activities with children and young adults with hearing impairments, and much more. Outside of volunteering, you will be able to go on a safari, hike Mount Kilimanjaro, go on cultural tours, and experience everything Tanzania has to offer. Click here to learn more and to sign up!
Hands-On Lion Conservation, Antelope Park, Zimbabwe
Located in Zimbabwe, this unique volunteer experience brings you to Antelope Park, where you will contribute to vital efforts in protecting Africa’s lions. As a volunteer, you will have the chance to familiarize yourself with lions and get them comfortable with being around you by walking alongside them and becoming part of the pride. A few of your tasks can include preparing meat and feeding the lions, cleaning their enclosures, building and painting new enclosures, and helping veterinarians with their work. In addition to volunteering, you can go on excursions to Victoria Falls, Lake Kariba, and Matopos National Park. Learn more here!
Fronteering Travel Services was founded to connect passionate volunteers with sustainable, productive volunteer abroad projects around the world. Fronteering aims to take volunteers off the beaten path to explore new worlds and experiences. Many of Fronteering’s projects serve the goal of preserving a unique way of life. From Amerindians to indigenous dog sledding, Fronteering connects volunteers to unparalleled adventures and perspectives.
Fronteering Travel Services Projects to Check Out:
Volunteering on a Husky Ranch in Canada
Help preserve the unique cultural aspects associated with huskies and dog sledding by volunteering on a Husky Ranch in Canada. Volunteers have the opportunity to live off the grid in a cabin and work with the dogs during activities like summer mushing, watching the Northern Lights, and engaging in care for the dogs. Although the work involved is physically demanding, animal lovers are encouraged to apply to witness a rapidly disappearing way of life. This volunteer project is available year-round and lasts a minimum of eight weeks.
Volunteering on Kangaroo Island in Australia
Volunteers who love animals and are interested in staying in the Galapagos of Australia should consider this hands-on volunteer abroad experience. Volunteers participate in the daily operations of the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Sanctuary, engaging in activities like monitoring native species, leading nocturnal wildlife walks, and other Sanctuary activities. This project is offered year round and lasts between two to four weeks.
What Volunteers Have to Say About Fronteering Travel Services:
My Volunteer experience at the Amerindian community of with Rewa exceeded all of my expectations. Having spent time living and traveling in diverse places all over the world, I must say that the interior of Guyana offers a once in a lifetime opportunity for a truly raw experience. In addition to the wonderful landscape and wildlife, it was amazing working in conjunction with members of the Rewa Village in their efforts to preserve the rainforest. I will never forget my time in Rewa and recommend a volunteering opportunity to everyone!- Jared from the USA
Naturally Africa Volunteers
Naturally Africa Volunteers creates opportunities for volunteers to effect change in African communities regardless of their skill level. Naturally Africa seeks to connect the right volunteers to the right projects, meaning that all volunteers are placed with projects that are community-developed and bolster rather than hurt the local economy. Naturally Africa Volunteers is an excellent choice for first-time volunteers because of their great support base and well-thought out projects.
Naturally Africa Projects to Check Out:
Volunteer with Community Outreach in Kenya
This project connects volunteers with the Kenya Community Outreach and Orphan Education Project, which is vital in providing support to families in Kenya who have been devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This project especially targets households that, because of the deaths of family members, are headed by children. Volunteers participate in activities like building and repairing homes, teaching children literacy or computer skills, and providing support for impoverished families. This project can last from two to twelve weeks and is offered on a rolling basis.
Volunteer Teaching in Tanzania
Volunteers who want to work with children should check out this program that combines coaching, sports, and teaching English. Volunteers work with local disadvantaged “street children” who live on the streets of Mwanza. The long-term goals of the project are to help children develop marketable skills so that they are able to have better access to an education. Volunteers assist in this goal by teaching classes, organizing games, and teaching children important leadership skills.
What Volunteers Have to Say About Naturally Africa Volunteers:
For four weeks, I tried my best to help vulnerable people, make a tiny change in their lives and now I am a better man, I see things differently. Also, I have made many wonderful friends from a completely different culture, which was the most fun. From my point of view, every young person at my age must experience a similar adventure to help develop their perception of world. – Orhun in Kenya
A Broader View Volunteers Corp
A Broader View Volunteers, or ABV, is a Pennsylvania-based volunteer abroad placement organization so that supports over 245 programs in 25 countries. A Broader View Volunteers caters to volunteers who want to pair their adventure with sustainable, community oriented local projects and provide full, 24/7 centralized and in-country support. A Broader View Volunteers is a good choice for first-time volunteers not just because of their highly interconnected support network, but also because of the sheer range of placements available.
A Broader View Volunteers Projects to Check Out:
Sea Turtle Conservation in Costa Rica
These programs are scattered along the Pacific coast and involve volunteers searching out and monitoring sea turtle nests and conducting research to save endangered sea turtles species. Volunteers participate in activities like monitoring nesting sites, conducting beach patrols, moving eggs to the hatchery, and record keeping. Although this project is offered year-round, most sea turtles are born between July and November.
Volunteer Teaching Monks in Kathmandu
Many Nepalese families practice a tradition in which they send their sons temples and monasteries to be educated. Most of the children are from poor families and desperately need the additional support of volunteers to cope with very high student-teacher ratios. Volunteers get the opportunity to teach English to the children, working under the supervision of an experienced monk or nun.
What Volunteers Have to Say About A Broader View:
From the moment I submitted my application for the Pre Dental Program in Ecuador, to online chats, right before leaving the US, to arriving in Quito. It was extremely helpful to have pictures of my coordinator and host family before hand. It was comforting and stress reducing to have a visual of the first individuals you would meet and count on during your stay. I had an amazing experience within the short time I was able to volunteer, 4 weeks. I loved basking in the breathtaking scenery. No picture could capture the essence of the mountains in Quito. I just happened to stumble across ABV by diligently searching abroad volunteer programs on the internet. I can now say I found the perfect organization for my first experience abroad. – Cherise in 2016
What to Do Before Heading Out
This article is only a brief guide to finding your first ever volunteer abroad placement. Our best advice to you is to research as much as you can, keep an open mind, and acknowledge that although your trip may not get exactly as planned, it will likely change your life in ways that you couldn’t have expected before.
Brittany Edwardes · Guest Volunteer Travel Writer
Brittany Edwardes is a Fulbright Scholar who spent a year teaching and living in Southeast Asia. Brittany is very passionate about service learning, spending time outdoors, and making her own pasta.