Photo by Turner Barr, Tiger Temple.
A Guest post from Turner Barr www.aroundtheworldin80jobs.com
Hey there you kind, generous and adventurous stranger. How do I know you are kind, generous, and adventurous you might ask? Well if you stumbled upon this here website, you are looking to donate some of your time to a worthy cause whilst traveling abroad, and that is exactly what we are going to talk about.
My name is Turner and I have spent the last 8 years traversing the globe doing all sorts of volunteering jobs. From volunteering at a shady Tiger sanctuary in Thailand, which has since been shut down) to creating my own fundraiser for children in the Philippines, to working at an Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand, I have had my fair share of volunteering experiences and missteps.
But in no uncertain terms, let me be clear: volunteering while you are traveling is one of the best things you will ever do. Not only are you getting to experience a foreign culture, you will get the chance to contribute to a project that will give you those warm butterflies long after you are back home.
But how do you find the right project for you and not end up contributing to a questionable organization? Good points all around. Here are some questions you should think long and hard about before selecting your volunteering adventure.
What types of projects interest you?
I think the best starting point in your quest to give back while traveling should be to hanker down on what types of projects interest you. Do you love animals? If so, what types? Do you love children? In what ways do you think you can help them (ie. educating, watching, tutoring etc.)? Are you good with manual labor or have carpentry skills? I can’t begin to tell you how many projects I have seen abroad that are in desperate need of someone who knows how to actually build things.
What type of location do you want to go to?
After narrowing down the types of volunteering you want to explore, filtering your list down further with selecting the right location may be helpful. For some people, location may not matter, while for others, choosing the location is just as important or more important than the project itself. You should plan on spending some time in the location to enjoy the culture as well as the project you are contributing to. You may find yourself partaking in local events and doing side excursions while volunteering overseas. If you have always dreamed of going to Africa, and are more open about specific projects you are working on, don’t hesitate to focus your research on finding projects in Africa.
Photo by Turner Barr, Philippines.
Is there a program fee and does it seem reasonable?
One of the more surprising things people discover when looking for volunteering opportunities is that many of them require a fee, sometimes an expensive one, to participate. It is important to evaluate this in your decision making process as some programs have a fee that directly goes to support the organization, while other programs it feels more like the project is secondary to the tourism dollars. It is important to find a project that feels genuine to you and that you feel has a reasonable cost to it. Some expenses are very justifiable and will help the organization, but it important to keep this in mind. If cost is an issue for you, check out WOOF.com, which offers more of work exchange type interactions.
Is the program reputable?
Lastly, with so many opportunities overseas, there are definitely ones that are on the shady side. I myself ended up doing an expose on a strange Tiger Temple in Thailand that was breeding tigers for the tiger trade in Thailand. To figure out if the program is reputable, it is best to check out websites like GoAbroad.com to see reviews. Also, Google is your friend and you can find forums and other articles where previous volunteers may post about experiences. Overall, just remember to follow your gut and ask yourself if the program fees seem reasonable. Does this program make sense from a charity/volunteering perspective?
Photo by Turner Barr, Elephant Nature Park.
My favorite program overseas: Elephant Nature Park
While I enjoyed setting up my own project in the Philippines during Typhoon Haiyan, it was a ton of work just setting up the one-off project. For most people, going with a pre-set up program is the way to go; that way to know the funds are going to the right place. For me, my favorite program thus far has been volunteering at Elephant Nature Park (SaveElephant.org). Elephant Nature Park is a non-riding elephant reserve north of Chiang Mai in Thailand. It takes in sick and injured elephants from the logging and tourism industries and gives guests and volunteers the opportunity to see these gentle giants up close. Volunteering there for a week costs around $400, but once you are volunteering there – bathing, building and doing everything elephant – you will quickly see where the money goes and get to help elephants in the process. WIN-WIN.
Photo by Turner Barr, a bunch of happy Volunteers.
Turner Barr is an American traveler and blogger from Seattle. He is the author of AmericanTravelBlogger.com and is currently traveling America looking for the best burgers and brews a blogger can buy.