I’m currently working out the details of my next volunteer location in the Philippines and I’m looking forward to the new adventure. I have been traveling around the world for 2 years and have volunteered in 5 countries. I am always on the prowl for an organization where I can do volunteer work and help a good cause while creating a unique and rewarding experience in the country I’m visiting. When I quit my job two years ago to travel the world, one of my main objectives was to give something back while gaining experience in non-profit work to eventually apply back to my future career path. Ideally, I would be able to keep my costs low by volunteering my time and thus extend my travels as long as possible. I want to create memorable stays in these countries, and have experiences that most passing backpackers wouldn’t have.
Home Stays are a great way to keep your costs low and enrich your cultural travel experience. They create a unique experience because you will live with your host and eat meals with them as if you are a member of the family. If you’re doing a Home Stay with a volunteer component, you’ll be volunteering your time and efforts, working on whatever project has been designated. For example, in Northeast Thailand, I lived with a Thai teacher and helped assistant teach in her classroom. I mostly helped with pronunciation because even though my host spoke English, her pronunciation wasn’t correct for some words. It helps for the students to hear a native English speaker speaking the words correctly, and this type of volunteer work is common.
I enjoyed living with my host in the countryside and experiencing a simple life and trying many local dishes I would never have dared to try on my own. On the weekends, we spent time with her musician friends and I went to quite a few Thai musical events and had some good laughs while enjoying both Thai music and some American classics. I attended a Thai funeral which sounds sad, but was actually quite interesting to see that part of their culture and to spend time with my host’s group of friends for the weekend. They were so welcoming that it created an experience I would have not been able to find on my own.
I had a positive experience during my time at the Thai Volunteer Home Stay, but I found it to be less structured and less formal than many of the lager volunteer organizations I’ve worked with. This can be a good or bad thing depending on what you are looking for and wanting to contribute. At the time, I had not done my TEFL course or had much previous experience teaching English so I wasn’t sure how to make it more beneficial for the students or to be more involved in the lessons. With a bit of experience under my belt now, I believe I could go back and work with the teacher to provide more enriching lessons and add my own creativity. In a less formal environment, you have the ability to sit down with the person you are working with and tailor the project by uniting your ideas and creating something that benefits everyone involved. When you get involved with a larger scale operation, they have streamlined everything to a standard that has been formulated by the founders and administrators and there may not be as much wiggle room to add your own ideas and input. Although, I’m sure fresh ideas are welcome by some, the channels needed to implement changes are significantly longer.
When searching for a non-profit or volunteering opportunity, there are many factors to consider such as, the cost (and if there are costs, where is the money actually going?), the structure and organization, the flexibility, time commitment, and how much room you have to share your own ideas or skills for improvement and involvement. There are many opportunities available to suit everyone’s desire to give back and make a difference, it’s just a matter of researching and finding the one that fits you best.