Traveling the world affords the great honor of having truly unique and memorable experiences. While many tourists are content staying in a resort hotel for a well-earned break, some yearn for more experiential travel. Something more meaningful and impactful, especially when witnessing poverty, exploitation and vulnerable communities along the way.
The idea of ‘global citizenship’ has gained prominence over the last few decades, particularly with the advent of the internet and 24-hour news cycles bringing the challenges of disadvantaged communities to fuller light. Oxfam defines global citizenship as follows:
A global citizen is someone who is aware of and understands the wider world and their place in it. They are a citizen of the world. They take an active role in their community and work with others to make our planet more peaceful, sustainable and fairer.
One way to practice being a global citizen is through sustainable tourism, to give back to the communities we come in contact with and preserve the natural spaces that we are so fortunate to visit. Volunteer trips for adults and children provide excellent opportunities to get involved in making the world a better place for all.
The beauty of such trips is the balance between exploration, participation and contribution, with the added benefit of seeing firsthand how any funds you have raised or donated are used. As a result, there is an entire industry centered around volunteer tourism so it’s important to note that not all volunteer abroad programs are created equal. It's essential to do research to determine which have a real impact and which do more harm than good.
Choosing the Right Volunteer Program for You
Volunteering abroad programs can be found all around the world, both as not-for-profit and as for-profit organizations. A for-profit organization doesn't necessarily mean they have the wrong intentions; it’s whether they make an impact that is essential. There are also some other factors to consider when choosing your volunteer programs:
Who or what do you want to help?
This question also ties into where you want to travel to. What interests you? Do you have an interest in ancient temples in Southeast Asia? Then perhaps you want to look into the many volunteer programs focusing on helping the direct descendants of those impacted by the Cambodian Civil War.
Other areas include:
- Wildlife Conservation: trip to the African wilderness to assist in researching one of the many threatened or endangered species could be your calling (and of course, you’ll want to throw in a safari while you’re there.)
- Marine Conservation: Check out the several marine conservation volunteer opportunities in exotic locales throughout the world.
- Community work: There are plenty of disadvantaged communities throughout the world where you can make an impact.
These are a few of the many areas where you can contribute. Think about what interests you, which part of the world you desire to see, and how you'd like to make an impact.
How can you best be of service?
Think about what makes sense in terms of what you have to offer. What skills do you possess?
- Education experience: Teaching English to students in South Africa might be a good option for you.
- Experience with youth: Then supporting street children in Mumbai could fit.
- Medical skills: If you are a doctor or nurse or possess any medical skills, there are a plethora of opportunities to assist with public health around the world.
Determine what your strengths are and that will inform you as to how you can most effectively be of service.
Top Volunteer Abroad Programs
Storylines encourages ‘giving back’ as part of our founding principles, so we have researched and listed a range of volunteer abroad programs involving various interests and destinations that might appeal to the resident community aboard our private residence ship.
NOTE: This information is accurate as of the time of this writing, but organizations can change leadership, structure and funding allocations at any time.
Build Homes in Cambodia
Storylines content writer, Tim Roberts, volunteering in Cambodia
For decades The Tabitha Foundation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, has run programs for people to raise money to fund the community building of a hut for the homeless in Cambodia. For only around $1,300 USD, you can provide a roof over the head of a family who are direct descendants of victims of the civil war in Cambodia. Better yet, you can help build the home and meet the family. The Tabitha Foundation also provides education on the causes and solutions linked to homelessness.
Upon arriving in Phnom Penh, you will be taken on a living history tour including a visit to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the prison where Pol Pot used to torture and murder his own citizens. You will also see the Killing Fields, where mass graves are a chilling reminder of the violence and its aftermath. While the whole experience is harrowing, it provides a deeper understanding of the importance of your work in Cambodia. The result of helping to build a shelter for a family that you work alongside can be a life-changing experience. This writer knows first-hand!
Marine Conservation in Zanzibar
Looking for a tropical island escape while contributing to the environmental conservation of a marine ecosystem? African Impact runs a ‘dolphin research & marine conservation’ program out of beautiful Zanzibar, Tanzania. Marine life plays such an essential economic role in the local communities of Zanzibar. When you visit the ocean conservancy program, you will help by:
- Monitoring coral bleaching
- Human-dolphin interactions
- Promoting ethical dolphin tours
This all directly contributes to the sustainability of marine tourism.
However, It's not all spent out on the warm turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean; education plays a vital role in conservation as well. You will meet local schoolchildren and help educate them on the importance of their natural environment, teaching them how to sustainably utilize their natural marine resources at an after-school club. It's fun, and the kids love international teachers coming in.
As for play, Zanzibar has the most beautiful coastline of white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters in Eastern Africa. In addition, the island's historical hub, Stone Town, is abuzz with activity, culture and boasts World Heritage Site status.
Rhino Conservation in South Africa
Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary in South Africa forms part of the 28,000-hectare (70,000-acre) Barberton Nature Reserve near the world-famous Kruger National Park. The whole area is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sanctuary runs a reputable volunteer, eco tourism program that considers its volunteers part of the Care for Wild family. If you're a keen wildlife travel photographer this one's for you.
The program educates volunteers on the effects of the rhino poaching crisis, how they rescue and rehabilitate orphaned calves, and the release and rewilding process. You are also trained in the ongoing protection, monitoring, and conservation of rhinos and their ecosystem. It is heartbreaking that only two Northern White Rhinos are left in the wild today, and they’re both females. (The last male passed away in 2018.) This is an excellent choice to help protect this prehistoric species and prized jewel of Africa.
Empower Indigenous Artisans in Peru
Fancy journeying deep into the Andes in Peru and working with Indigenous artisans? You can even tick off the bucket list item of trekking to Machu Picchu during your downtime! If that sounds up your alley, this volunteer abroad program is for you. Threads of Peru is a non-profit social enterprise through which Quechua weavers (predominantly women) preserve their ancient craft while volunteers help provide them with economic opportunities.
The program has several volunteer positions for various skills, including administration duties, photography, search engine optimization, writing, impact evaluation and ethical compliance. They focus on your professional development and the growth and success of the organization. Located in Cusco, you travel to the Indigenous communities in the highlands above Ollantaytambo, the Sacred Valley, and beyond. The program is open year-round, and you can volunteer for up to three months.
Improve child malnutrition in Madagascar
Madagascar is a beautiful island nation off the east coast of Africa with abundant wildlife, rich culture and pristine coastlines. It is also a country of extreme poverty where your time and money can have a significant impact.
Maventy Health International is a mobile medical program founded in 2007 dedicated to identifying and treating malnutrition in young children. They work with doctors on-site to immediately treat malnutrition by prescribing multivitamins and peanut butter doses. They then implement long-term solutions by working with the children's primary caregivers to improve feeding habits.
Maventy has around 100 volunteers working with them at any time, with several projects spread around the island nurturing community. By volunteering abroad with Maventy you can help conduct dietary research to evaluate the local communities' current eating habits and the nutritional benefits of locally available foods. You can also assist in planting nutritious food that can be locally grown for the children's everyday diet. But a great thing about Maventy is they have five different areas of help required to suit various skill sets:
- Delivering supplies
- Building infrastructure
- Technology development
Volunteer Teaching in the Philippines
The Philippines is a beautiful archipelago nation with a mind-boggling 7,640 islands in the South China Sea. If island hopping, tropical beaches and world-class diving are your thing, then the Philippines could be your perfect volunteer trip abroad!
There are many underserved and poverty-stricken communities where you can make an impact. One sector where you can help is teaching children in area schools and assisting the local staff. Volunteering Solutions has a 5-star rating from Trust Pilot and runs excellent projects throughout the Philippines (we particularly like their Volunteer Teaching program).
The best volunteer abroad programs attract many international volunteers, and this one is no exception. It provides a fantastic opportunity to meet and live with volunteers worldwide while engaging with the local community. You will help develop the children's
- English skills
- Writing skills
- Speaking skills
- Sports coaching
- Physical activity
And on weekends you can explore and do some island hopping in a fun-filled environment!
Doctors Without Borders
One of the most reputable charitable organizations and medical volunteer opportunities, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières), has been caring for millions of people worldwide since 1971. In the five decades since its founding, Doctors Without Borders has become a global leadership movement with over 60,000 staff and volunteers providing around 10 million medical appointments worldwide every year. In 1999, it won the Nobel Peace Prize "in recognition of the organization's pioneering humanitarian work on several continents."
If you are a medical professional or studying medicine, Doctors Without Borders could be a great way use your skills. The work provides meaningful medical volunteer assistance in more than 70 countries across Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Pacific, the Middle East and Europe. The organization encourages work placements in those areas that need it most when a region is impacted by natural disasters, epidemics, public health or political conflict.
For those not medically qualified for groundwork, you can donate to Doctors without Borders and there is also the option to work at their international volunteer HQ in New York or remotely.
Help street children in Mumbai
Mumbai is India's financial hub and attracts people from poorer rural regions in search of work and a better life. Conversely, Mumbai also has high poverty rates, child neglect, abuse and exploitation. Anyone who has traveled to Mumbai may be familiar with the sight of street kids living under bridges and other structures. The cruelties faced by homeless children are truly heartbreaking and necessitate societal intervention.
That's where India's most famous non-governmental organization (NGO), Save the Children, comes into play. Save the Children is a well-reputed organization that has attracted young adults worldwide to its youth development programs for over 100 years.
Even with little to no personalized volunteer experience, you can impact several areas
- Essential services
- Humanitarian work
- Health and nutrition
- Child protection
- Poverty, resilience and growth inittiatives
- And (perhaps most importantly) a sense of belonging
Educating and empowering women in Jordan
It's no secret that women are making large strides globally; however, there are still many parts of the world where gender equality is still sorely lacking. One country seeking to change this is Jordan, and you can play a role! By contributing to gender equality in Jordan, you can help women improve their knowledge and education which creates a pathway for professional development opportunities. This can help women find employment, overcome inequalities, and become more independent and self-sufficient.
International Volunteer HQ runs Women's Education Volunteer Programs focused in Amman, Jordan. Only available to female volunteers, the program fee provides a fully hosted experience in homestay accommodations for one to four weeks. They look for the following skills and experience:
- Food preparation
- Small business development
If you are passionate about female empowerment and improving the quality of life for disadvantaged women, you should definitely consider this opportunity. An added bonus is that you can combine the volunteer work with exploring and learning about Jordan's incredible ancient history and natural wonders, including experiences like the world-famous Petra trek and floating in the Dead Sea.
Workstay at the Panama Canal
Volunteer Latin America runs very interesting work-stay volunteer programs at the Panama Canal. A whopping 82 km-long man-made channel connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans (dividing North and South America), the Panama Canal is one of world history's most epic (and infamous) engineering achievements. It is one of the most crucial shipping routes worldwide, significantly reducing the time to sail between the two great oceans while avoiding the hazardous route around the Cape Horn of South America.
What's unique about Volunteer Latin America's Workstay Panama Canal program is staying in their unique lodging; a houseboat (termed “the “houseboat”), the only one to have ever existed on the canal. What's more, your views look straight into the Panamanian jungle. The duration of the volunteer programs is three months minimum and they cover the cost of your board and meals. To top it off, your volunteer work involves taking other guests kayaking and hiking to the ancient ruins of Fort San Lorenzo and the Emberá Indigenous communities (village pictured). Sign me up!
Storylines is a luxury lifestyle ship with a like-minded community of globally-conscious citizens traveling the world. We seek unique experiences, cultural events, and community participation while practicing and promoting sustainable travel and giving back along the way. To learn more, visit our website.
Disclaimer: Storylines is not affiliated with any of these volunteer travel organizations.