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Volunteering on a Gap Year
For a more rewarding and meaningful year abroad, there are all sorts of volunteer programs and schemes available for the conscientious gap year traveler.
If you fancy learning a range of new skills and working hard, combined with the feel-good glow that comes with helping people, then volunteer work is for you.
Gap Year Volunteering
There’s been a massive increase in the range of volunteer work available in recent years.
There's everything from working with community organizations and local charities helping children in Africa, India, and many parts of South America, to helping governments to reconstruct areas devastated by war, famine or environmental disaster, such as Tsunami-hit Sri Lanka. Volunteers help with building homes and schools, and the necessary infrastructure that most of us take for granted, such as clean drinking water and the ability to produce sufficient food, for those living in disadvantaged communities across the world.
There’s also the cute and furry kind of volunteering. Conservation Volunteering has experienced a massive surge in popularity in recent years. Popular examples include: helping out at an Elephant Sanctuary in India, or an Orang-utan orphanage in Indonesia, or even working on a Game Park like the magnificent Kruger Park in South Africa.
A word of warning, though: as with ecotourism, there are some companies out there who are taking advantage of people’s good will. Think long and hard about what people need and want in the communities where you are going to travel. And make sure you thoroughly research the program you want to do before you put your hard-earned cash down.
Wwoofing has become quite de rigueur for the student and gap year traveler in recent years. Wwoofing ( Wwoof means “Willing (or weekend) Workers On Organic Farms”) aims to spread the seed of good news about an organic lifestyle as far and wide as possible, teaching people about organic agricultural techniques as they help farmers to grow organic produce. It also gives city-dwellers an understanding of how life on a farm works.
Basically, it's a chance to roll up your sleeves up and get mucky for board and lodging in the countryside! It' s also a fantastic way to get to know a country (usually off the beaten track in rural areas), if you’re a bit stretched for cash.
There are few things that can bring a greater sense of fulfilment than helping someone to learn. And if you are a native English speaker with a TEFL qualification (see our article Traveling with a TEFL) this can be your ticket to a fantastic travel experience. Whilst many choose to do paid teaching work (a great way of earning your keep on your travels), if you really want to make a difference, then volunteer teaching is a very worthwhile way to spend part of your gap year.