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The challenge of volunteering abroad is one that thousands of youngsters rise to every year. Spending a year working with those in the greatest need, in some of the world’s poorest countries, is not only a remarkably worthwhile exercise, but can also provide the sort of life experience that is invaluable when going to work.
There are a myriad of organisations and charities providing volunteer opportunities, and the biggest challenge for those keen to prove their worth, is deciding which project will best suit them and their talents during the gap year, before starting university or after graduating.
While most organisations will sort out your travel to and from your destination, others might need you to organise your own arrangements, and you might base your choice of project on your ability to get there on a budget. Check out if a low priced airline serves your destination, so you can make your money go further.
So where are the most rewarding countries to volunteer abroad? Here are 7 places that can be the basis for a life-changing experience.
From helping to build homes for the homeless in Nakuru, to helping children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Nairobi’s suburbs, Kenya provides a wealth of opportunities for those who want to see tangible change for the better during their time on a project. Those who want to teach are also in demand, and down time can be spent on Kenya’s gorgeous Indian Ocean beaches.
Costa Rica, in Central America, is idyllically beautiful with more than 800 miles of coastline, and a remarkably diverse natural habitat. Many projects focus on conservation programmes, particularly for turtles, and those who are good with their hands are much in demand for essential house building.
A popular holiday destination, Thailand is also one of the world’s poorest nations, and volunteers on gap year projects are engaged in invaluable work with orphaned children and the under-privileged, building homes and teaching them English. Eco-tourism and conservation are another two important strands of the voluntary sector in Thailand.
The contradiction of India is that this is one of the world’s leading emerging economies, but many of its people still live in abject poverty. Many volunteer projects aim to improve living conditions for the poorest by focusing on education for children, supporting women through education and empowerment, and helping to build homes. There are also conservation projects for those interested in working with wildlife.
Known as “the warm heart of Africa”, Malawi is a small, landlocked nation that is visually stunning, but also dreadfully poor. Volunteers trained in medicine, including doctors and nurses, are most welcome along with teachers who face the challenge of dealing with classes of up to 200 children at a time. Away from the project, volunteers will see Africa in miniature from antelope and zebra to elephants, hippos and crocodiles.
Landlocked and surrounded by Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Chile, Bolivia is the fifth largest nation in South America, the region’s most indigenous nation and also, its least developed. Volunteer projects focus on improving economic and environmental sustainability through education, conservation, health care and agriculture.
Known as “the roof of the world”, Nepal is landlocked in the Himalayas between China and India. One of the world’s poorest countries, Nepal is also one of the most romantic – from here mountaineers set out to conquer Everest, and many volunteers do work at the Everest base camp. Other opportunities include teaching English to both adults and children, helping with essential building projects, and providing medical support.