If you could go anywhere in the world to volunteer for one month, where would you go and what would you want to do?
Being a native speaker, part of me wants to say the obvious standard answer of 'teaching English to children in ...', but given the question says 'dream' and I'm quite boring:-
My real-life career background involves spreadsheets, databases, fixing processes, and making things more efficient. I think my ideal volunteer-type experience would be wandering from place to place, helping local businesspeople, shops, and communities run themselves better and more effectively.
As to where, well, the world is my lobster :)
There’s a lion rehabilitation program I want to do in Zimbabwe! As you may know, the lion population has experienced a very dramatic decline so this is a program to help them breed and then get re-released into the wild. It’s a very hands-on program that involves spending a lot of time with the cubs, taking them on walks, etc. It’s right near Victoria Falls so I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to do this, not to mention the education you’d get from it. There’s also an opportunity to teach conservation which would be awesome. I really, really hope I get to do this some day. Here’s the link if you want to take a look.
I’ve always wanted to see Chile so that would definitely be where I’d start. There’s an organization called United Planet that has great opportunities there—they can place you in a day care, a hospice setting, a woman’s shelter—really wherever you feel you’d like to work (I’d definitely choose the day care, although they also have an English program that sounds like fun). I like that you can choose the length of your stay (from 1-12 weeks) and that you can do a home stay if you want to. You do need basic Spanish skills, but those should come pretty easily when you’re immersed like that.
After my time in the US Navy Seabees, I had always dreamt of returning to a few specific locations. I would like to return to Rota (Spain) or Sigonella, but if I could return to a place and make a profound difference in someone's life, it would be Pohang-si. While I was in Pohang during the 80's, a group of us found orphanages that were built by the Seabees during the Korean War. During the short time that we had, we did what we could with the materials at hand to make the orphanages at least habitable during the winter. We took the kids shopping, bought food, etc. For me, that was a life changing experience.
I’d work with elephants in Cambodia—there’s a program in Mondol Kiri province that I’ve been looking at that’s kind of a two-fold thing because they not only work to protect elephants in the wild, but they’re trying to create an actual “elephant forest” of sorts so that the elephants that live there have enough food, room, etc. to live happy lives. They also try to make sure the keepers are well taken care of, which I think is great.
Darcy, cool question!
I think for a month, I'd like to head to South America, maybe somewhere like Chile or Argentina, to work with travel startups who can't afford to hire someone to help set up and get their social media working. There are lots of really amazing companies growing in these countries (and all over the world) who don't understand how to use social media, and how important it is to have social media in order to connect with the tourism industry (and the tourists they hope to have visit them!).
Honestly, this kind of work would probably look a lot like the work I do now--meetings, working from my computer, but I could take my weekends to explore, which would help me feel balanced about my 'voluntourism!'
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One cool program in Italy is participating in the olive harvest in the Umbria region. There’s a big olive grove (do they call them farms?) near Spoleto that, from what I understand, has no commercial value but still needs to be maintained, so they have volunteers come and pick the olives during the fall harvest. You stay in this beautiful little stone cottage and best of all, at the end of the week there’s a big olive oil tasting!
I am at the moment seriously considering going volunteering in Guatemala for Quetzaltrekkers as a trekking guide for their travel agency where all the profit they make goes in to helping street children.
In Mogilino, there was a care home for children with disabilities. I learned about this home through a heart breaking documentary called "Bulgaria's Abandoned Children" in which the film gave viewers insight on the horrendous living conditions these children lived in. Since BBC aired this documentary, the nation mobilized to save these children and petitioned the government to help them. The home was eventually shut down and the children were relocated to better living conditions.
However, Bulgaria has more mentally and physically disabled children than anywhere else in Europe. I met a man a few years ago who worked for UNICEF in Bulgaria with these children. He said it was a huge issue and that they need more help. I'd love to be able to volunteer to help care for these children and find solutions.
New Hope Cambodia is a great organization (in Cambodia, obviously!) that gives you a couple of different options like community outreach and teaching. There’s another health care option, but you need medical skills which I don’t have. I think they also have a sustainable farming project and a restaurant which is pretty cool (and I just read on their website that they‘re planning on opening a bakery!).
There are companies in Zimbabwe that allow you to help capture game in order to treat it and send it back into the wild. I’ve heard it’s a bit more dangerous than your average wildlife volunteer experience and that you really have to have the guts to actually “dart” an animal. But if you keep the greater good in mind, that helps.
I would love to volunteer in an orphanage somewhere in Africa.
If I could go anywhere in the world to volunteer, it would be in Nepal. Specifically, I'd volunteer at Sunsar Maya, a non-profit that focuses on educating the orphaned and underprivileged children in Kathmandu. From what I have learned, orphanages are struggling financially since they have shut down international adoption. I believe that, like all children, the Nepali children deserve a chance at a better future irrespective of their financial and parental situations. Sunsar is helping to provide education and hope for this future. I would do the work needed most to make an impact, and all that I could to make each moment count.
I would also return back to Tanzania to see and teach the children of Stella Maris Primary School. I was lucky enough to spend a few months volunteering with the Mailisita Foundation, a self sustaining education project for underprivileged children. It was a once in a lifetime experience and it has shaped who I am today. I will never forget the community. I miss them all and would give up any vacation to give my time here again. If anyone wants more information about volunteering in Mailisita or Africa in general, please let me know!
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Being a translator, I was able to connect and learn so much from a people who had so little, yet without shoes and with little food, they had each other - family, God, and a smile on their face. Gratitude.
I also got to help with small medical things and observed surgery, so see the smiles on the faces of children even as foreigners who didn't speak their language prepared them for surgery. (We fixed cataracts in older people and strabismus in children).
There really aren't words for the impact, lessons, and heart of these trips - I left weary emotional from joy in being there and tears that I had to leave. If I had even a day, a week, a month to go anywhere with Medical Teams International again, I would go without hesitation. The work is good. The people are rewarding.
There’s a program in the Provence area of France that I’ve always wanted to do called “La Sabranenque” which is a program that restores French villages and castles. You spend the morning building and restoring and then the afternoon doing pretty much whatever you want. It’s in a little town called Saint-Victor-la-Coste just outside of Avignon and Uzes so if you want to get out of the village you can (although it’s a beautiful little area where everything is made out of stone). They serve meals at a communal table outside and all the food is Mediterranean. I would love to do this someday!
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Last year I volunteered with the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (www.iapf.org) in South Africa and it was the best volunteer experience I've ever had. I think they are only operating out of Zimbabwe now. We went on night patrols with anti-poaching rangers, did game counts of local wildlife populations, monitored a rhino calf after its mother died, and all while camping in some absolutely beautiful areas. Plus the people of IAPF are some of the greatest and most passionate conservation-minded people I've ever met. Definitely check out their site and watch their founder's TED talk!
Unquestionably I would go with one of my all-time favorite organizations, Habitat for Humanity--you can volunteer almost anywhere in the world with them--Addis Ababa, CairoMadagascarHondurasChileGuatemalaBoliviaTajikistanBulgariaIrelandSerbiaBangladeshAnd just about any other place you can name. They're an amazing organization and no matter what role you choose to take with them I can pretty much promise you you'll have a great time. Building a house for someone is an incredible experience and you'll meet incredible, like-minded people.
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Mars. The planet. To help colonise it. Yeah, I know its a one way trip but, Mars.