You’ve got some great travel plans and ideas, and you also want to make a difference on your trip, so you decide to volunteer. But your wallet is too light to go with big companies such as i-to-i or Operation Wallacea. Don’t despair, because there are plenty of places that are looking for volunteers who are looking for a more personal experience, are slightly more adventurous or have less money. Here’s some my personal tried-and-tested suggestions for finding a cheaper volunteer placement. By cheap I mean somewhere around £500 for a month.
- Do your research.There’s a lot of websites out there that do have information with small NGOs on them. They’re just not optimised for search engines. So instead of using generalist terms such as ‘volunteer Peru’, using more specific terms, use synonyms and read forums, see what other people have had to say, do another search etc. It may take a while but they are out there – the World Wide Web is a big place.
- Wait until you get there. In contrast to the point above, but kind of along the same lines, there are most likely plenty of opportunities advertised in hostels in the various countries. The small organisations don’t have big budgets for websites, or may not even have much Internet access! This option does require a more adventurous spirit, which not everyone may be comfortable with.
- Different skills have different demands. If you have a clear idea of what you want to do it may be better to look things up in advance. Teaching English is very popular at the moment, and therefore it will be easy to find a volunteer placement. On the other hand, skills such as medicine are very important and the charity will cover most costs. Something like animal welfare may require some training, which means placements will never be short, and might require high-tech equipment therefore being more expensive.
- WWOOF. WWOOFing, or wWorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms, means you are basically working, with some days off, and getting all food & accommodation paid for. It’s a pretty good scheme, and is more well established in some countries than in others (e.g. UK and NZ seem to be good for them).
- Go for a longer period of time. The longer you go, the more the training you receive will pay off, therefore the more people will want you and the cheaper your volunteering will get. This is especially the case with the bigger companies.
- Speak to people who live there/have been there. These people are most likely to know what is around, and what is in demand. Or not, as that’s not always what residents are interested in. Either way, if you go on country forums or groups (such as on couchsurfing) you can message local residents or other travellers who have been there and may be able to make some recommendations.
- Arrange your own transportation. Not many charities will have flight prices included, as they differ with time and distance the volunteer is travelling to. But many will have arrangements form the airport. This will most likely be fancy, air-conditioned cars at extortionate prices. Saving a little money on arranging your own transport might not seem like much, but if you’re only going for a short placement, it might be worth it.
- Choose a cheap country. Just as travelling to different countries will be expensive, so will volunteering. If countries are popular with volunteers, they can charge people more (such as Indonesia). And if living costs are more expensive, they have to charge more. So maybe try Bolivia instead of Argentina, or Asia instead of Africa. Africa is starting to become more travelled, but transportation still isn’t great, and things like food are surprisingly expensive.
As a first port of call, I like to use some of these websites:
– http://greenvolunteers.com/ (their database is sometimes a little slow to be updated)
– http://www.transitionsabroad.com/ (they have a bit of everything, with a range of cheap and expensive options)
– http://www.vso.org.uk/volunteer/ (long placements, but if time isn’t an issue, it’s worth looking into)
– http://www.promosaico.org/website.php?id=/english/index/volunteering/volunteer_positions.htm (this is a great example of how cheap volunteer placements can be if you keep looking)
I would also love to recommend an organisation I got close to last June in a very untouristy part of Guatemala called Asivesca. It’s practically free, and they really need your help. Accommodation is in homestays too, meet the locals! https://edrphotography.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/asivesca/