It sounds like a cliché to say volunteering is a life-changing experience, but it really is true. When I was planning a trip to Thailand it was tempting to spend it all lazing on a beach, but instead I signed up for a conservation project. And although being a volunteer means using your skills to help others, I gained back so much more than I gave. I came away from my placement with an insight into a new culture – so much more than I would’ve had as a tourist – as well as a great feeling that I’d done something useful.
It’s not always easy though, you will be pushed well outside your comfort zone. For me the biggest challenge was dealing with basic conditions and the language barrier. But by testing your boundaries it helps you become more independent and the skills you learn along the way – whether they’re personal or practical – can even help out in your career. I also made some great friends during my journey and fantastic memories to last a lifetime.
So if you’re inspired to give volunteering a try, here are some of my favourite destinations and projects around the world.
Animal Shelter in Thailand
If you’re a cat or dog lover, head to the beautiful Thai island of Ko Lanta. Lanta Animal Welfare helps some of Thailand’s thousands of strays. They treat any illnesses or injuries and get animals humanely sterilised, then help them find loving new homes. Volunteer placements last 1–3 months, and you help clean out cages, feed and water the animals, groom them, walk dogs and play with the cats. When you’re not working you can learn to cook at Time for Lime, the LAW founder’s cookery school, or snorkel, kayak or sunbathe on the beaches.
Teach English in Ghana
Whether you’re thinking of becoming a teacher or just want to help African children make the most of their education, then head to one of Africa’s friendliest countries. Volunteers help out in junior and senior high schools across the Ghanaian capital, Accra. You don’t need teaching experience but will practice speaking English with the students, help with study sessions and organise games and activities. Projects last 2–12 weeks and you stay in a shared volunteer house on the coast, so you can chill out on the beach during your time off.
Marine Conservation in Fiji
There aren’t many more idyllic locations to be a volunteer than among the clear blue waters of the South Pacific. Volunteers help conserve the Fijian coral reefs by doing underwater surveys to record what species are found where. As well as diving you can also help teach local children about marine conservation. Placements last from 4–24 weeks, and if you can’t already dive then you can get your PADI certification while you’re there. In your free time you can go island-hopping, visit traditional Fijian villages or climb a nearby volcano.
Cricket Coaching in India
Cricket is the most popular sport in India, and if you’re a dab hand with a bat you can volunteer to teach children in Jaipur how to play the game. Volunteers work with schools and charities and teach kids from the age of four upwards how to improve their game – with everything from bowling tips to team tactics. Placements start from two weeks and you stay with local host families so you get a a real insight into Indian life. Then when you’re not coaching you can explore some of Jaipur’s temples, forts and markets.
Volunteering in a far flung destination could well be your next adventure.