Traveling does not always have to be about us and the goal is not always for it to benefit us – some of the most rewarding travels can be those focused on helping others. It helps us to see the world from another perspective and to value and cherish the things that we have back home. It is easy and natural to get used to the conditions we live in at home (in developed countries) and start taking those for granted.
My husband and I spent a month in Tanzania volunteering at an orphanage during the week while traveling on the weekends. If you would like to know why we chose Tanzania, read The Story behind Project Help Orphans. Overall I can say that everything was different than I could have imagined – if you could like to know more, read about our 34 hour trip to Tanzania and our first impressions once we arrived along with some photos from the trip.
Our Flight Route
After two weeks, it is interesting to look back now and read over this ourselves and see how our perspective had changed after such a short period of time. One does not necessarily need to travel for an extended period of time to get immersed into a different culture and a different way of life. During our team we were able to experience some of the greatest things we have ever done in life, build some of the strongest and most transparent friendships, and on the other hand also saw some of the harshest conditions people have to live in; we even had the opportunity to go on Social Reality Tour and visit with someone who is HIV positive and lost their husband to HIV and see how their life is affected by this unfortunate situation. And as luck had it, the annual Kilimanjaro Marathon took place toward the end of our time there and it was so great to be able to participate and take some of the kids from the orphanage along (read more and view photos here).
As much as you may assume how a trip like this will turn out, what you will learn, whom you will meet, and how you will live your life when you return – once you do it and you return, you will realize that it’s not something you can imagine, but something you must experience for yourself. I am writing this post today, 2 days from being back home for an entire year already and I am so glad that I was able to write this post about how I felt to be back in the U.S. after our return. Even though this trip will affect our lives forever through all of the things we have experienced and learned, after a year back those emotions and impressions of a reverse culture shock are not as fresh anymore.
If you are considering voluntourism (= incorporating some volunteering into your travel), here are a few fantastic opportunities to make a difference while you explore the world:
Volunteer in an Orphanage in India
“India contains one-sixth of the world’s population, and millions of her children are born and raised in the streets. To help these teeming masses of homeless children, RCDP invites you to join the program and work in an orphanage in India to share your compassion, patience, skills and encouragement with India’s neediest children. For many years, our partners have provided informal education, healthcare, and creative activities for India’s orphans. But orphanages need dedicated volunteers to help their staffs deliver these programs.
Join RCDP’s orphanage project in India and work to better the lives of orphaned children. Through the care you will give and by your very presence also the children can turn into confident individuals capable of believing in themselves. In return, you will receive warm appreciation, an experience that will enrich your life and memories that will stay with your forever.” Learn More Here
Side note: RCDP is the organization we chose to volunteer through and we had a great experience with them and highly recommend it.
Participate in a Desert Wildlife Program in Israel
“As part of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (NPA), the wildlife reserve’s mission is to protect endangered desert animal populations, preserve the native wildlife, and educate the public about the desert and its inhabitants. This unique area encompasses a variety of arid terrains, including acacia groves, salt-flats, and sand. The reserve features a three-acre penned-in area for herbivores to roam in conditions similar to the wild. In addition, visitors can make their way to the Predators Center, with an impressive array of reptiles, small desert animals, and large predators, and the Desert Night Life Exhibition Hall to observe nocturnal animals during their active hours.” Learn More Here
Teach English in Thailand
“Despite growth in international trade and ever increasing tourist arrivals in the country, many Thais still can’t speak and understand English. The standard of English all over the country is very poor. Trained manpower is still in short supply and even those trained aren’t up to international standards. English, however, has become very important for ordinary Thais to learn as their career could hinge on their ability to speak and write in English.
Join our Teaching English volunteer program and help ordinary Thais learn English. You will find the students eager to learn from a foreign volunteer and generally well behaved.” Learn More Here
Save Orangutans in Indonesia
“The OFI Long Term Volunteer Program offers individuals a rare opportunity to travel abroad and witness firsthand the impact and realities of wildlife and habitat protection, by working at OFI’s Orangutan Care Center in Pasir Panjang, Kalimantan. The OFI Long Term Volunteer Program offers positions designed to increase OFI’s impact and to offer participants a unique insider experience.” Learn More Here
Healthcare and Community Outreach in Zambia
“This project aims to provide the severely under-staffed and poorly-resourced medical clinics in Livingstone and the surrounding areas with volunteers who are eager to make a difference in peoples’ lives. Additionally, volunteers will have the opportunity to be involved in many community activities, ranging from afterschool literacy programs to sustainable community farming. There is no need for prior medical knowledge, however those with specialized medical experience will be appropriately utilized and greatly appreciated for their contributions.” Learn More Here
Feeding the Homeless in Vietnam
“Poverty is still widespread throughout Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh has a large population of people who are unable to afford regular nutritional meals. Our Feeding the Homeless project is aimed at providing assistance to a local ‘Soup Kitchen’ to enable them to provide over 300 meals daily to people from various backgrounds including poor elderly, low-income earners, disabled, students and children. Meals are offered at very low cost to patrons and volunteers’ assistance is greatly appreciated as it enables the program to further spread its reach and ensure the ongoing success of its operation. Tasks include food preparation, cooking, serving and cleaning the area after meal times. This project is perfect for those volunteers wanting to work hard and interact with locals while having a very authentic and rewarding experience.” Learn More Here
Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation
“This project is located close to the local fisheries port in the quaint Oceanside town of Ambalangoda. Fishing is one of the major industries in Ambalangoda and there is increasing concern for the sea turtle populations that are affected. The two main issues that sea turtles face are human consumption as turtle eggs are a delicacy in Sri Lanka, and harm caused during net capture which leads to their inability to survive in the wild.
Have you ever volunteered somewhere in the world? How was your experience? Which organization did you go with?