“IMAGINE a job tailor-made to your interest that allows you to travel the world, with accommodation and food provided, has minimal requirement of experience, age or education and allows you as much time off as you want?
If it sounds like a dream come true there is one important thing to be considered – you won’t be paid a cent. The job is international volunteering and despite the lack of financial recompenses, it may be by far one of the most rewarding experiences of your life…..
In a 12 month gap year volunteering overseas, I helped the cultural practices of the indigenous people of Borneo, taught English at a technical School for boys in Thailand, worked as a recycler and Organic farm hand in England, was a general farm hand in Bavaria and a field worker for the Sea Turtles Protection Society of Greece.
I was blessed by the high priestesses of the Kadazan and learned to cook Bornean food in a long house. I climbed over stiles in the Kent Downs and drank ale in a 500-year-old pub. I swam with sea turtles and helped prepare for the local Assumption church service on a Greek beach. I met people who earned their living harvesting birds nests for Chinese soup and went carolling through the suburban streets of Chiang Mai on Christmas Eve. I helped in a chicken slaughter house and planted a field of potatoes.
The concept of volunteering abroad on a gap year program and working overseas had appealed to me for a long time, but I was not willing to sign up to a stringent program like many volunteer organizations. I wanted to travel and visit several countries in one year. I also wanted a fair bit of time to play tourist and do my own thing. After all, what’s a year off work if you never get a holiday?
But I wanted to do more than just backpack around the world and be a traveller on a gap year. I wanted to see more of the places I was visiting than just the inside of the local youth hostel and the attractions. I liked the idea of working with local people on worthwhile projects. Learning about their customs, understanding some of their cultures and living a small part of their life. I wanted to give something to the places I visited instead of just taking.
For me the answer was short-term volunteering. In one year I worked on five different projects around the world in East Malaysia, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Greece and Germany. I also had enough time off to get a paid job in Poland for a month and tour the USA for two months, as well as sight seeing around the countries where I volunteered.
Involvement Volunteers Association Inc (IVI) was the organisation that made my gap year possible. The organisation offers volunteer placements in more than a hundred locations worldwide. The projects are flexible yet structured enough to ensure maximum benefit to the placement hosts.
Most of IVI placements are for a minimum 2 weeks, which means you don’t have to give up your job or your life back home. You choose the countries that you wish to visit, the types of projects you want to join, when you want to volunteer and when you want time off.
IVI will write a program to suit you and adjust it until you are satisfied. Projects available include medical volunteering, conservation, education, social services, special needs care, community development, construction, administration, Information Technology, and other rural or urban preferences and skilled specialization where applicable.
Not all projects can provide full room and board, although most will provide accommodation. Some will require you to buy your own food, but in many you will be hosted with a volunteer centre with other volunteers or within a local family, either in your own room or within a guest house. You will be living and eating as the locals do.
As an individual volunteer you will still be working with others , but they will most likely be paid workers, who will generally make a big fuss of you. Many of the paid colleagues believe that anyone would willingly work for no money and they insisted on paying for me whenever we went out.
While most people who undertake short-term volunteer projects travel as individuals, it is possible to volunteer and travel with one or more friends or even your whole family. However, this may restrict the kind of projects you can do.
And there is no upper age limit, although volunteers must be at least 17 years old. The youngest volunteers I worked with were 18 and the oldest was 72!
Involvement Volunteers can help you make a difference in the world!