Have you thought about volunteering abroad, but not sure about paying an NGO to organise your volunteer experience? Can’t you just do it yourself, or pay your own way? I’ve had the chance to try volunteering abroad in different ways, and I’ll share with you what I’ve learned. Before you volunteer, read this:
Paying to Volunteer – Nepal
In Nepal, I chose to join a small NGO that offered me the experience of helping a small school with its English Education. I found them online, checked out reviews from past volunteers, and decided to join.
The program included local language classes, cultural training, and a tour of Katmandu. After this introduction to local life, I was sent our to my assignment in rural Nepal. Krishna was my local contact, and the program included a homestay with his family a couple of hours away from Pokhara.
Together with four other international volunteers, we did our best to provide basic English language classes at local schools. I stayed for around two weeks, and had a wonderful experience. The children at the school were cheerful and eager to learn, and the other volunteers were great fun too. I went trekking with one of them afterwards, and I still meet up regularly with another couple of them.
Do It Yourself – India
I northern India, I decided to volunteer on my own, without using the help or services of an organising NGO. I was in Dhramasala, and like many places in the world there are people who want to learn and practice their English.
It was quite easy to get involved. There were flyers around town, and you can always find people who need help. I spent time at the centre for ex-political prisoners from Tibet. I shared stories with a buddhist monk called Pema, and I learned a lot about the situation for Tibetans in China. It was eye-opening to hear the stories first hand.
I went along to another chat group for displaced Tibetan young people, and one more group that was mainly for monks. The experience was enriching for me, and hope useful for the participants, but it did lack structure. Without an organising NGO, I came and went as a pleased, and sometimes got distracted by yoga classes and buddhist talks. Of course, those things were great too, but just not volunteering.
Pay your way – Peace Boat
Peace Boat is a Japanese NGO Cruise Ship that sails around the world promoting peace and sustainability. I was lucky to join their 74th global voyage in 2011. I was a volunteer English Teacher, and a Guest Lecturer in Social Enterprise.
What did it mean to be a volunteer with Peace Boat? It meant several hours of mostly fun work, most days of the 106 day voyage. How much did it cost? As a volunteer, all living my costs on board were met. All food and accommodation. However I had to pay my way to Japan, and all my costs in the amazing port cities that Peace Boat stopped in. And my alcohol, if I ever felt like a sho-chu or a chu-hi.
Since tickets for passengers come in at around £15,000 – £40,000 for this journey, you could say this was equivalent to three very well paid months.
Which is better?
All the experiences are amazing. Paying provides you with a professional service, training, care and support. Doing it your self provides you with flexibility. Finding an organisation like Peace Boat is incredible.
If you are a self motivated, confident traveller volunteering in a country you know, and you understand what it takes to be a responsible volunteer, then by all means, do it yourself.
If you are visiting a country for the first time, want to understand more about the culture, and language when you arrive, have the peace of mind that you have someone to support and help you, and be connected with other volunteers, then I recommend joining a responsible volunteer operator.
But what does a responsible volunteer operation look like, and what does it take to be a responsible volunteer abroad? That sounds like the subject of a future blog post.
For now, come and see what I am doing with responsible operator OpenMindProjects here at the project blog. Simply “rate” my blog posts there and help OpenMindProjects win $5000 from the Tourist Authority of Thailand. Here’s the link to the Project Blog – check it out.