Bordered by the towering Himalayan Mountains to the north, an immense river system to the east, the western Thar desert, and nearly 5,000 square miles of tropical southern coast, India is unquestionably a geographic and culturally diverse nation. After declaring independence in 1947 from the United Kingdom, India has since emerged from many difficult financial and political struggles to see itself become a powerful member in the world economy.
Despite this rapid growth a large portion of India's population remains impoverished and in need of basic human necessities. 850 million people (70% of the population) still have limited access to housing and clean water. With an estimated 6 doctors for every 10,000 people, the people of India also continue to face severe public health challenges on a daily basis.
Right now international volunteers are desperately needed to help India's underprivileged population gain access to better education, healthcare, human rights, and infrastructure. Volunteer programs are located in metropolitan areas such as Mumbai and Bangalore, as well as rural villages in states including Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan. These programs give volunteers the chance to simultaneously help those in need while immersing themselves in India's rich culture.
Whatever area of volunteering you'd like to be a part of, chances are that India will offer it. Depending on what you choose, you could be working in urbanized areas such as Mumbai or Bangalore, or the rural peace of somewhere like Tamil Nadu or Rajasthan. Here's a snapshot of what you could be doing:
Few countries have such a polarized healthcare system as India. The rich enjoy world-class treatment while poorer inhabitants often have no access to health basics. India is home to the highest amount of AIDS and HIV cases in the world too. As a volunteer you can work in an HIV clinic and help spread awareness. Medical and dental students can also gain first-hand experience in clinics and hospitals.
Many women in India fall victim to emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Fortunately, there are a number of NGOs that have now been established to counteract such atrocities, and they're always on the lookout for volunteers.
Youth Development and Education
There are about 100 million street children in India and to counteract this, a large number of orphanages and shelter homes have been set up across the country. You could also help promote education by working in a primary or secondary school, teaching basic English.
Only 75.3% of men and 53.7% of women in India are literate. Working as part of a community development program, you can help people discover their potential and make a better go of their lives.
India's rapidly-increasing population means there has been much damage to natural surroundings by way of plastics, chemical pesticides and general high productivity. There are a number of projects in India where you can help promote sustainable farming and environmental conservation.
Planning Your Trip
Volunteer Support: Any good organization will look after its volunteers, and always be on hand to answer questions and provide help whenever required. Your embassies will be based in New Delhi, while dozens of consulates are located in towns and cities across India. About.com: India Travel also has tons of relevant resources for anyone traveling to India. You might also consider joining up to an expat forum such as @llo' Expat to chat to people already living the lifestyle.
NGO/Nonprofit/Volunteer History in India: Unsurprisingly, India is a popular destination for volunteers and as such, NGOs and volunteer schemes are widespread, dealing with all manner of the country's issues from poverty and health through to education and environment. Popular volunteering schemes in India include those run by Raleigh, Bunac, and i-to-i but you should take your time to find the company that best suits your wants. Here is a complete list of NGOs in India.
Will I need to learn the language? The only country in the world with more English-speaking inhabitants that India is the USA. Around 11% of all Indians speak English and you will find that especially amongst young people in urbanized areas, English is widely used. As with every new culture, you should still make a point of learning the basics of the native language, in this case probably Hindi (although this can depend on the area you're working in).
How Will Volunteering Help My Future? Your time as a volunteer will prove an unforgettable experience; you'll gain a valuable first-hand insight into another culture, forge new friendships and create networking opportunities. The experience will also boost your CV no end; employers want to hire people who make things happen.
How to Save Money While Volunteering: India can be a cheap place to live, especially if you budget yourself properly. Get around by foot or public transport rather than by taxi. Find out where the best value restaurants and markets are. Take it in turns to cook with your volunteering companions. Keep tabs on how much you spend in the first week or so, and regularly check your bank balance.
Best Places to Volunteer: Mumbai, Jaipur (Rajasthan), Delhi, and Bangalore are good starting points but India has no end of great volunteering locations. What's most important is that the program is right for you.
Questions to Ask: Lots! Here are a few examples: How many people will I be working with? What is an average working day? What amenities are available? Which nearby sites should I visit?
Health and Safety of Volunteers
You'll need to be up to date with a number of vaccines for India. These include typhoid, hepatitis A and diphtheria. Depending on the areas you plan to visit, you may also require jabs for tuberculosis, hepatitis B, rabies, cholera, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis. These latter vaccinations often apply to more rural areas. Tap water is generally unsafe for drinking, so stick to the bottled stuff. For detailed info visit MD Travel Health.
India is not without its problems and wherever you are in the country, you should keep your wits about you, aware of such dangers as theft and reckless driving. There are certain areas of India which you are advised against traveling to altogether. These include the rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir (other than Ladakh) the immediate vicinity of the border with Pakistan (other than at Wagah) and all travel in Manipur. More in-depth advice can be found on the U.S. Department of State and Foreign and Commonwealth Office websites.
Most visitors to India experience little or no trouble, and your volunteer agency will also be looking out for you.
Visitors from the U.S., UK, Canada and Australia require an Indian visa. A tourist visa lasts up to 6 months. Allow yourself plenty of time to apply for your visa and ensure that your passport has remaining validity on it (6 months is usually needed). Visit your own government's official travel site for more details on obtaining a visa or visit VISA HQ.
Contributed by Will Noble
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