I. Love. Volunteering. Thibs isn’t into it as much as me – I get such a filthy buzz from doing it that I could quite easily spend all my time going from role to role around the world (only issue being errrrr, money.) I have a biiiiig weakness for animals, so my go-to volunteer position is always conservation based. My first volunteer role abroad was at a fantastic place called Cheetah Outreach – a cheetah conservation project in South Africa, based (at the time) just outside of a beautiful university town called Stellenbosch.
I found this project using one of the bigger volunteer companies – mainly due to the fact it was my first lone-trip abroad, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t signing my life away. Now ‘well travelled’, I would definitely be less likely to use one of these companies and do things a bit more freely. When I landed in South Africa and began my placement, I realised if I had gone direct through the local company there I would of saved thousands (yup, thousands.) That being said, these large volunteer companies ultimately give you access to hundreds of projects and roles that you would most likely miss out on otherwise.
What is volunteering abroad?
Volunteering overseas is an amazing way to see the world and give back to local communities, wildlife or the environment. You are able to volunteer abroad on projects that are truly making a difference and able to meet like-minded people to enjoy your journey with. Share your skills and absorb new ones from those you surround yourself with – you’ll find yourself leaving the project a carpenter, seamstress and a graphic designer!
What does it cost?
This is a very tricky question to answer. Thibault and I have volunteered and ended up leaving richer than when we arrived, and then we’ve volunteered spending upwards of £5,000 – not even including the journey there. Different projects will cost different amounts, and this is usually down to the companies ‘selling’ them. More often than not, any project that involves animals is more expensive – especially exotic or endangered animals. When it comes to paying, volunteer agencies will often charge a non-refundable deposit upon booking, so you need to make sure your committed before taking the plunge. Also, when organising your placement, confirm exactly what costs are included and what is additional – lots of projects will still require you to pay for your own food and ‘leisure time’ activities, so the total cost of your trip can very quickly escalate.
Where is your money going?
Something that I feel very strongly about, is finding out exactly where your money is going to. Volunteering is not only for you to get an amazing experience, but for the project your working on to benefit too (well, hopefully!). If your paying a significant amount to specific organisation, how is your donation being distributed? Are the people on the ground seeing any of your money to help fund the project, or is it just lining the pockets of large corporations? Don’t be afraid to ask these questions if your using a company to book – if anything, they should be thrilled to tell you what little percent they take for making the connection.
If it seems at all dubious or risky, don’t do it. There are lots of online communities and Facebook groups where people discuss their experience with that particular organisation, which should also give you a good idea if you should go with them or not. I’ve been close to booking a trip and found a very unconvincing forum where previous volunteers have commented how terrible their experience with this company was, so I obviously ran the other way.
What is the lifestyle like of a volunteer abroad?
Again, another tricky one! When I worked at Tasikoki, in an animal rescue centre in Sulawesi, I was up BEFORE the crack of dawn (hours of the day I’d never previously seen) and in bed by 8pm. The work involved was extremely physical, and I left the project 3 months later the fittest I’ve ever been! Conversely, at my volunteer project in Orgiva, Spain, I was getting up whenever I wanted and had plenty of down-time to explore the mountains and catch up on my Netflix series whilst putting together an Ikea bed frame! Before you arrange any kind of volunteer project, it’s extremely important you understand the type of role you are agreeing to. If you’re the sort of person who isn’t comfortable with early mornings and a fish-only diet, then Sulawesi most definitely wouldn’t be for you.
Websites we use for finding projects
There are sooooo many awesome websites that you can utilize when it comes to finding volunteer work abroad. Many of them are free to use, but in my opinion even the paid ones are very worthwhile. My all time favourite website is Workaway, and I will never cease to tell everyone about it!
When Thibault and I want to travel somewhere but can’t figure out exactly where, or can’t afford to go without somewhat of a plan, I immediately hop onto Workaway. They have 23865 hosts in over 150 countries – so no one can complain they don’t have enough choice! From chocolate testing in a swiss windmill, to working on a 50 acre cattle ranch – Workaway literally has it all. It’s a small fee to become a member (£20 or so) but this gives you access to Workaway for a full two years – and you can also upgrade to a couples account for around £10.
Here’s a list of the other websites we swear by when volunteering abroad:
What websites do you turn to when organising overseas placements? Let us know!