Usually measured in days and weeks, voluntourism or volunteer vacationing is not a high school graduate’s gap year, nor a stint in the Peace Corps. With rare exception, voluntourists pay their own expenses including a built-in contribution to the project for which they sign up.
If the experience is positive, people who take part also tend to donate more to the project once they have made a connection and sometimes even raise funds for it once they get back home.
Many voluntourists deliberately select a project about which they are unapologetically without skill so they can learn something new.
It is not uncommon to work alongside a computer engineer excavating skeletons on a dinosaur dig, a retired school teacher building a house for a needy family, or an electrician recording three-toed sloths in the Amazon jungle.
Here's five of the beter opportunites to whet your appetite.
Diving with sharks in Fiji
The opportunity: Join an international team of volunteers on a marine conservation expedition focusing on collecting data from underwater research dives. The project is geared at providing long term benefits to the local communities through helping to guarantee food security for future generations.
What’s in it for you: Travel to the clear blue waters of the South Pacific Ocean, learn or improve your diving in one of the world’s most beautiful tropical countries and discover an incredible underwater environment.
Cost: from £2,000 for four weeks.
Camp where Vikings Tread
The opportunity: Help to create trails in one of the most beautiful backdrops in the world: Iceland’s Skaftafell National Park. Teams of up to eight volunteers carry out a variety of wilderness management projects including bridge building, trail maintenance and invasive species removal.
What’s in it for you: Iceland is a country filled with legend, sagas, rich history and folkore, and is largely unspoiled. Volunteers will spend all their time outdoors in one of northern Europe’s last wildernesses. You’ll learn to work as part of a team and contribute to maintaining the country’s fragile ecosystem.
Cost: 2 weeks at £395 or four weeks for £550
Volunteer in Scotland's most iconic locations
The opportunity: National Trust for Scotland (NTS)-run Thistle Campsare residential projects based at NTS properties. Campers live and work in some of Scotland’s most remarkable and remote places undertaking a range of projects from looking after bats at Culzean Castle in Ayrshire to archaeology on Arran. Dozens of opportunities are available at locations across Scotland.
What’s in it for you: Camaraderie and an amazing team building experience. Volunteers are often school leavers eager to get work experience under their belts.
Cost: from £100
Empower women in Cape Town
The opportunity: Philisa Abafazi Bethu project works in Lavender Hill community 30km from Cape Town, South Africa. Most of the 50,000 community are women and most of them are unemployed. A significant amount of these women are survivors of domestic abuse and suffer from poor education. The community needs a constant number of volunteers to support these women and young people who aren’t supported elsewhere. It’s not a traditional volunteering opportunity in that it is deals with the issues of abuse, Aids and female disempowerment.
What’s in it for you: A totally unique opportunity to make a direct difference to women’s lives. Many of those who have taken part in this opportunity say their lives were transformed. Many continue to return to volunteer each year.
Cost: £220 (approx) a week
Get your high kicks in Kenya
The opportunity: Coast High Kicks is a sports programme in Kenya. It teaches sports to young people in a community club and needs volunteers to assist. If you’re interested in sports, health, nutrition or even teaching English this could be the opportunity for you. Located in a rural area, Coast High Kicks is an integral part of the community supporting young people out of crime and poverty. It also organises clinics, seminars, graduations, camps and tournaments.
What’s in it for me: You’ll be helping impoverished young people realise their full potential through sport. You’ll also see a Kenya not many see: the rural areas untouched by tourism.
Cost: £180 (approx) per month