First off, you need to understand what you expect from working as a volunteer. If you see it as a way to save money on a trip, visit some cool places and do some light work in the meantime, you’re very mistaken. Usually volunteers have to work for 6-8 hours, five days a week and sometimes even on the weekends. The work isn’t always a breeze, too. In most cases it’s quite hard and tedious: it involves physical labor, teaching kids who have never seen a book, working with tourist groups or feeding bears. But don’t fret – volunteer programs also have their advantages. You can see places you’d never have visited otherwise, learn a new language or many other useful skills.
You can find the right program for yourself on an organization’s website or by using an online volunteer service such as helpx.net or helpstay.com, which are used by organizations from all over the world to publish requests for volunteer workers. These are usually unpaid jobs, unless you’re taking part in a state program like, for instance, teaching English in Chilean schools. If anything, it’s you who’ll often have to pay to participate in the program. Why is that? The reason that volunteering programs are very popular with youth in Europe and North America as it can be quite an advantage to have one in one’s CV. Some volunteering projects are in very high demand among applicants and introducing payments at least somewhat reduces the number of applicants.
We’ve prepared some examples of what you can expect volunteer work to be like. ITMO.NEWS warns you: be attentive! If you decide to take part in a volunteer project, study the conditions carefully and don’t overestimate your strengths.
For fans of healthy living: looking after Siberian Huskys in subarctic Canada
A ranch for Siberian Huskys accepts volunteers all year round to help with chores and look after dogs. Every day volunteers spend around two hours with the animals, training and walking them. The rest of the time is spent on cleaning up and doing other things, including working in the garden. The hosts emphasize that anyone coming to the ranch shouldn’t expect a 24/7 Husky cuddling session, however they should definitely look forward to the breathtaking arctic landscapes, aurora borealis, wildlife and plenty of opportunities to go mountain hiking, kayaking and participate in other activities. The owners look down on smoking and alcohol, so smokers and party people need not apply. The cost of the program includes living expenses and transfer to and from the nearest airport. Volunteers can stay for periods of eight, ten or twelve weeks.
For hikers: planting trees in Scotland
The ancient Caledonian forest was once as rich in flora and fauna as the Amazon rainforest. But climate change, deforestation and the killing off of predators that kept down the deer population (deers love uprooting young trees) led to the forest’s demise. But in 1989 the Trees for Life charity organization took upon itself to rectify this loss and has now been working to restore Scotland’s forests for almost 30 years. People can come and help this noble cause any time of year; the most popular programs only last a week. The workdays are the same as in an office: from 9 am to 5 pm, but at least instead of sitting behind a desk you’re working in the open air. But one has to be ready for strenuous physical work: you’ll have to use a shovel and work with hammer and nail – volunteers not only plant trees, but also help build protection from deer. You also need to be aware that the food provided to volunteers is strictly vegetarian; work will continue in sun and rain and the volunteers live in field conditions. The advantages of the program is that you can choose where to work, learn about restoration ecology; you can also spend your free time walking in the mountains and try the spiritual experience of being smartphone-free – the project’s locations have barely any cell connection and no internet. The cost of the week-long program includes everything except the visas and travel expenses.
For those who like children and teaching: helping kids in Vietnam
You can come to the Hà Giang province to teach English to children any time of the year – the minimum length of stay is one month. The hosts don’t have any special requirements for the volunteers. You only need to demonstrate your English language skills during a Skype interview, although having teaching experience or qualifications would be an advantage. The volunteers are able to work according a schedule they agree on with the organization and use their free time to explore the local culture and traditions, as well as go on tours. A free hostel stay, Wi-Fi and meals are included, while travel expenses, visas and other needs are covered by the volunteers.
For animal lovers: helping victims of poaching
The Bolivia-based wildlife protection charity Inti Wara Yassi is always looking for volunteers to assist them in rehabilitation of wild animals that have been victims of poachers’ violence and are held in shelters. The volunteers aren’t expected to know how to work with animals, but the hosts do warn that the work isn’t easy – especially in the heat of 30 degrees Celsius and higher and in conditions of high humidity. Volunteers are also involved in construction work. The workday is at least six hours long and the cost of the program includes accommodation and three daily meals. These funds also partially go towards buying food for the animals. Most people tend to come to the shelters in summer, so it’s better to arrange your visit with the foundation. Those willing to take a risk can simply show up at one of the shelters and inquire about work. In their free time, volunteers can visit the local sights and landmarks.
For idealists: helping out in an agricultural commune
A Kibbutz or agricultural commune is an Israeli practice which involves complete equality in labor and consumption, as well as shared use of property. Volunteers are needed to help out with farming, look after the cattle, provide service and work in gardens. You can come at any time, but to find out which workers are currently needed you’d have to contact a volunteer program coordinator. It’s important to keep in mind that there are many people interested in a taste of “real communism”, so more often than not applicants are simply given an option of picking a certain position or not going at all. Seeing as those are communes, slackers and troublemakers rarely get to stay for long. On weekdays volunteers can use all of their commune’s services. You’ll likely have to stay in a room with two or three roommates and the minimal length of stay is two months. The program is free, but you still need to pay a registration fee of USD 40, an entry fee and some other taxes. Kibbutzes cover the expenses for documentation, visas, food and even provide an allowance.
An Israeli Kibbutz. Credit: img-fotki.yandex.ru
For talented patriots: helping out at a national park in North Ossetia
A wide range of volunteer work is provided by the Alaniya National Park in North Ossetia. Applications are open all year and the park provides free transfer from Vladikavkaz, food and accommodation. Volunteers can help with groundskeeping, gather field data for the reserve’s academic staff, take part in repair and maintenance work, create art and design projects and take photographs. This means that anyone interested can come regardless of their skillset. All you need to do is fill out a form on the organization’s website.
Alaniya National Park. Credit: livejournal.com
For those who don’t mind living with strangers: helping out on a farm
Throughout the year, all around the world, families of farmers are looking for those ready to help them in exchange for food and shelter. It might sound like slavery, but it’s actually a great opportunity to experience local culture and cut down on expenses while travelling abroad. For example, a farm in Sonoma County, California, always welcomes volunteers ready to help with planting, repair, caring for cattle and winemaking. The hosts stress the fact that the work is hard, but one only has to work no more than five hours early in the morning before the sun gets too hot. And since the farm is just an hour’s drive away from San Francisco, the volunteers have plenty of things to do in their free time. They’re also encouraged to take part in cooking meals and to share recipes from their homelands. Smoking and alcohol are expressly forbidden.
For those who like people: helping out in hostels
Yet another opportunity that doesn’t require a specific skillset or work experience is helping out at European hostels. Owners of such businesses usually provide free lodging and, at times, food, in exchange for carrying out simple tasks: helping guests, cleaning, maintaining a garden or running errands. Length of work varies from several days to a year. For example, you can come and work as a volunteer at a place on the south coast of Spain for just two days. Volunteers work 30 hours a week and are responsible for checking in and out the guests, cleaning the rooms and decorating them. In return, they are given a bed, money for groceries, Spanish lessons, watersports equipment and tours of the nearby towns.
These are just a few of many various and exciting volunteer programs. You can find more on the aforementioned websites and pick one that suits you best!