Are you interested in volunteering overseas, but drawn to a region of the world that isn't typically associated with these types of programs? No problem! You have more options than you think.
The most popular locations for volunteering abroad include Peru, South Africa, Thailand, and India, and certainly for good reasons. Each of these frequently visited countries has a great need for service, a number of established and respected volunteer organizations, and a reputation for beautiful scenery and sites. But there's no reason to limit yourself to the beaten path when it comes to international volunteer work. With a little creativity and research, you can find a way to put your compassion and skill set to work in virtually any part of the world.
When deciding on a place to volunteer, there are a few things you can think about to help narrow down your choices.
- Where is the need greatest? This may or may not be an important factor to you, depending on your personal motivations for volunteering. Less developed countries may have a greater need for aid, but there are still people in wealthier countries that could benefit from your desire to serve.
- Where will my skills and interests be most helpful? Are you an ecology major looking to do conservation work? Or a medical worker taking a sabbatical to serve abroad? Do you happen to speak Arabic? Thinking about your own abilities will help you narrow down programs and places.
- What part of the world sparks my curiosity? While volunteer work is supposed to be an inherently selfless act, there's nothing wrong with considering your own passions and curiosity when choosing a location, especially when there are so many options before you.
- Consider the potential ethical implications. Are you passing through an orphanage for a photo-op while on vacation? Or are you committing yourself to building cultural connections and positive change with a respected and effective organization? Thinking critically about your choices as a volunteer will help you serve local communities more effectively.
Let's take a look at a handful of amazing places that still fall under the radar as volunteer destinations:
The largest country in the world is known for a rich and fascinating history, iconic architecture, and a revered literary pantheon. However, Russia still suffers from a growing gap between the rich and poor and a tragic number of abandoned or orphaned children, despite their development since the fall of the Soviet Union. If you are willing to jump through a few bureaucratic hoops to get the necessary visa to volunteer in this mysterious place where east-meets-west, there is plenty of rewarding and impactful work to be done there. Most visitors are also pleasantly surprised by the warmth and hospitality of the Russian people, which rivals the ferocity of its winters.
Check out volunteer programs in Russia!
Known as "Africa in miniature," Cameroon encapsulates many of the diverse ecosystems, landscapes, and cultures of the whole continent. This west-coast nation benefits from relative political stability and a well-developed infrastructure compared with some of its neighbors, but 40% of its inhabitants still remain below the poverty line. There may not be as many established volunteer programs in Cameroon as in other countries in the region, but there are still opportunities if you dig for them. One example is Project Hope, a "floating hospital ship" where doctors, nurses, and medical workers can volunteer their services; Cameroon is one of over 35 countries where they work. Volunteering in exotic Cameroon gives you the opportunity to connect with a land and a people that most travelers pass over.
Browse volunteer projects in Cameroon!
Native American Reservations in Canada or USA
This is an unconventional and educational option for those who are interested in serving in North America. Volunteers can help by tutoring in schools, building playgrounds, and working on community projects in various Native American communities. In addition to giving back to these communities, volunteers will have the unique opportunity to be immersed in a culture that most Americans only hear about in books and films, and later be able to educate others about traditional lifestyle on the reservations, potentially dispelling myths and building cultural bridges along the way.
A Western European nation might not strike you as one that has a great need for volunteer work, but there are still ways to serve in this region of the world. One such avenue is through WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). With this organization, you can work as a volunteer on organic farms in various parts of the world in exchange for room, board, and an education in diverse agricultural practices. If your interest in volunteering in agriculture is matched by your interest in port, seafood, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and futebol, Portugal might be the right choice for you.
Read reviews of volunteer projects in Portugal.
While South America is no stranger to international volunteers, Colombia is still burdened by the stigma of a violent past. But Colombia today is much safer than she was fifteen years ago. Tourism is growing as more and more people discover the diverse beauty this coastal nation has to offer. Cities like Cartagena are becoming major tourist hubs, even though the barrios surrounding the walled city are among the poorest in the country. There are still countless opportunities for you to serve as Colombia continues to heal and develop (for example, teaching English or working with underprivileged children), while also honing your salsa skills and enjoying the unique warmth of the Colombian people.
It may be among the poorest and least developed countries in Asia, but Mongolia is a treasure trove of hauntingly beautiful scenery and intriguing culture. There is a tremendous need and openness to Western volunteerism, with opportunities to serve in healthcare, education, and childcare, particularly with street children and those trapped in poverty. One example is the organization New Choice, which connects volunteers with street children in Ulaanbaatar. In your free time, Mongolia offers stunning vistas, horseback treks, and camping in the Singing Dunes. And how many people can say they've spent the night in a yurt?
Learn how to volunteer in Mongolia!
Recent instability might be reason enough for some travelers to avoid this part of the world altogether. But for those who are willing to spend time in Egypt, there are myriad opportunities to serve, such as working on community projects, teaching English, and caring for abandoned and disabled children. Volunteering in a Muslim country is also a way to foster cross-cultural understanding and connection, meaning volunteers can take part in the global peace-building process in a very real way. And really, who doesn't love hookah and shwarma?
Browse volunteer programs in Egypt!
Picking a destination to volunteer in that's less populated with foreigners and volunteers as well will allow you to experience the culture through full immersion. No matter where you decide to volunteer abroad, there are plenty of options that give you the opportunity for a unique volunteer experience.
All photos by Meghan Johnson and Swamibu.