Written in collaboration with Elizabeth Hehir.
Whether you're on winter break from college, or just fed up with the deluge of snowstorms and want to escape -- why not consider taking some time to volunteer abroad this winter?
Obviously, we here at Go Overseas think this is an awesome idea. At the same time, it's long been our answer to some of the most common excuses people have for not going abroad during the winter.
Why not consider taking some time to volunteer abroad this winter?
"I don't have the time": Well, you get time off around the holidays, right? Volunteer in the winter.
"It's too expensive": Winter is the low season in a lot of places, which means discounts! Heck yeah, volunteer in the winter!
"I'm too busy." Really? You're too busy watching Modern Family re-runs and drinking hot cocoa while snowed into your apartment? C'mon, get out there! Volunteer abroad this winter!
Now that we've got you on board, it's time to start thinking about where you want to go. Naturally, we've got you covered with these great destinations for a volunteer abroad trip in the winter:
Over 1 billion people call India home, and a huge part of this population relies on volunteer programs for food, shelter, and other basic necessities. There are many non-profits in India that you can volunteer directly with, or you can choose a program to go through.
Winter's also fantastic time to experience Indian culture, with Christmas and New Years celebrations throughout the country, as well as being the peak season for weddings.
India is so large that it can offer almost any volunteer experience you can imagine, from Sadhana Village's project working with developmentally disabled adults, to preventing prostitution and trafficking or working with women's rights.
We're especially fond of India in the winter for it's burst of color and greenery in post-Monsoon Kerala; warm, time-warped, coastal Goa, and stunning snow-capped mountains in Kashmir.
Winter's also fantastic time to experience Indian culture, with Christmas and New Years celebrations throughout the country, as well as being the peak season for weddings. (Ever seen a Bollywood film? Yeah? Then you KNOW you want to go to one of these...) Start looking at the many, many, many volunteer programs in India now.
2. South Africa
There's just something wonderful and majestic about South Africa. But if going on a safari seems a bit too "mainstream" or voyeuristic for you -- you want to make an impact, not a great Facebook album -- then working with animals in South Africa may be just the alternative for you.
So, if caring for and tracking endangered species, such as leopards, elephants and rhinos sounds like a great way to spend your winter break, go to South Africa. In South Africa, you can help with animal conservation projects on reserves and sanctuaries as well as in the wild.
You’ll be working with some of the most amazing and large creatures on the planet and will be involved in an effort to raise population numbers of many species. If that’s not enough of an incentive for you, just do a quick Google image search of South Africa and just tell me you don't want to be in those beautiful landscapes right now.
And oh yeah, winter in North American and Europe means it's summer time in South Africa. So peruse your options for volunteering in South Africa and promise me you'll take a break from your volunteer work to sunbathe with some penguins in Cape Town.
P.S. there are no ebola cases in South Africa, guys. Don't even try using that as an excuse.
Haiti has long been a popular spot for volunteer projects. With one of the highest poverty rates in the world (80%) and a tendency to be rocked by natural disasters, there's a clear need for international aid and volunteers within the country.
However, Haiti is best visited in the winter (specifically, between November to March), when hurricane season has passed and the weather is (just a little) less hot and humid.
While some of these projects are best done by volunteers who can commit to a little longer, some of them lend well to volunteers who can only commit to a couple of weeks.
As for the volunteer projects themselves, organizations in Haiti tend to focus on construction, disaster relief, childcare, and healthcare. While some of these projects are best done by volunteers who can commit to a little longer, some of them lend well to volunteers who can only commit to a couple of weeks. For example, Habitat for Humanity runs short-term construction projects, and The Colline Foundation runs 4-week long healthcare apprenticeships.
An added bonus? For North Americans, flights to Haiti are short and won't break the bank. So go ahead, take a look at all of the volunteer programs in Haiti.
Between November and February, when we're bundling up in coats and bracing ourselves for winter snowstorms, Thailand is also experiencing a bit of a cool season. But trust me, this is a very good thing and quite frankly the most pleasant time of year to visit this tropical, delicious-food-filled, friendly nation.
And of course, Thailand has a large number of established non-profit organizations and providers who offer volunteer programs here.
Whether you're interested in teaching English as a volunteer to Buddhist monks or refugees from Burma, volunteering with an elephant sanctuary, agriculture, or community development, there's a project in Thailand that will be able to make use of your skills.
We know that Thailand has long been on your bucket list, so book a ticket this winter and volunteer in Thailand.
If you dream of going Down Under, why not volunteer there while exploring Australia’s famous Great Barrier Reef, modern cities, and scorching outback? Especially in the northern hemisphere's winter months, Australia's sunny summer weather and laid-back vibes can be a great appeal for to-be volunteers who want to make an impact, but relax a bit after work as well.
Its fantastic landscapes, both on land and under the sea, provide opportunities for volunteers to work with environmental conservation.
So then, what can you do as a volunteer in Australia? After all, unlike some of the other countries on our list, it is far from impoverished (in fact, you may find yourself cringing at your bar tab more than a couple of times on your trip). Even so, its fantastic landscapes, both on land and under the sea, provide opportunities for volunteers to work with environmental conservation.
Another perk? A fair amount of volunteer providers working in Australia will pair your project with a bit of adventure, so you can get the best of both worlds while exploring and volunteering in Australia.
Peru is probably best known for its ancient Incan civilization and the remnants of those people in the city of Machu Picchu. It’s also home to the Andes and hundreds of small villages that call these mountains home.
However, despite it's powerful history, modern Peru is far from perfect. Throughout the country, volunteers are needed at health clinics both in large cities, and in small, rural villages.
Other organizations focus on promoting gender equality, youth development and education, and environmental conservation. Again, some of these projects will prefer volunteers who can stay for longer, but with the huge variety of projects and organizations working towards development in Peru, you're sure to find a project that fits your timeline and skills.
Do note that some level of Spanish may be required for some projects. But hey, you won't know until you flip through your options for volunteering abroad in Peru, right?
This winter 2014, we're putting the Philippines on our list not just because winter (January to May) is the best time to visit, but because the Philippines are still struggling after the typhoon that hit in November 2013. So, if you’re a hands-on person, you can make a difference by building homes, hospitals and schools to replace the miles of land and thousands of buildings that were wiped out last year.
Start exploring all the wonderful volunteer programs in the Philippines.
Before this disaster, there was already a problem of children living in the streets; after the typhoon, this problem only grew. You can devote your volunteering experience in the Philippines to helping street children, promoting community development, or working with healthcare.
Do keep in mind, however, that winter is peak tourist season in the Philippines, which means slightly higher prices. Also, typhoon season runs up until early December, so the Philippines makes a better destination for a mid- to late- winter volunteer program. However, if this is fine by you, then by all means, start exploring all the wonderful volunteer programs in the Philippines.
Ready to Shed Your Winter Coat?
Instead of spending your winter break as you normally do, why not create memories to last a lifetime and leave an impact on another country? No matter where you go, your volunteer experience will be more fun and rewarding than hanging out at home, waiting for the second semester of college to start, that winter snowstorm to pass, or shivering with friends as you bring in the New Years. Make it your resolution to give back to the greater good this winter and volunteer abroad!Photo Credit: Vivian Bi and Jessica Hill.