If you are reading this guide, you are well on your way to making one of the best decisions of your life! Thailand has it all – it’s exotic, it’s friendly, it’s affordable. It’s enough off-the-beaten-path to be unique, yet it’s accessible and safe enough for a high schooler to navigate. You also have the chance to do some real good during a volunteer stint in this Southeast Asian country.
Are you interested in shadowing a mahout (elephant trainer) while working at an elephant sanctuary? How about getting a leg up in the English teaching world, or working in an orphanage? Thailand has all this and more. And this beautiful country could use your help.
Thailand offers many different opportunities for those wishing to combine travel and volunteer work. To get started, it’s important to decide what sort of volunteer work you’re interested in. This will influence other factors, such as location and dates. Below is a list of some of the more popular types of volunteer programs, as well as information to get you started.
Conservation: Hands-down, one of the most popular types of volunteer programs in Thailand is in conservation. There are a number of wildlife sanctuaries located around the country, especially for elephants. You can assist with feeding the animals, cleaning the surrounding area, harvesting pineapples and bananas for feedings, and even go on an elephant safari!
Be careful when researching elephant sanctuaries, however, to ensure the elephants are not being mistreated or used to bring in tourist money.
Community Development: If you’re interested in building, renovation, or painting murals, there are plenty of these options available. With many of the organizations on Go Overseas, you can find opportunities to work with a task group of other people your age to build and maintain infrastructures such as schools or learning centers, or work to beautify these spaces by painting murals. This is a great project for high schoolers because it provides an introduction to the country with language and culture classes, while also allowing you to develop your volunteering skills.
Service Learning One of the best ways to combine travel with volunteer work is through a service learning program. There are numerous organizations that cater to a high schooler's short term availability while providing great resume builders for college. In a service learning program you will have the chance to learn about Thai culture, learn to cook Thai cuisine, and converse with a Buddhist monk… all while making a difference!
When and Where to Volunteer Abroad
Most volunteer programs of these types occur during late summer – June through August. This way, you miss the hot season (and will be quite thankful for that) and are in Thailand during rainy season. During this time, it rains almost every day, but only for a few hours.
In terms of location, the jungle-y northern town of Chiang Mai is a good place for conservation programs. They also serve as a jumping-off point for the hill tribes, along with a whole host of NGOs (read: volunteer opportunities) that serve them. The southern peninsula – with its beautiful beaches and island charm – is lovely to visit and also provides volunteer opportunities, but is thick with tourists.
Bangkok may have its fair share of tourists as well, but in this capital city, one can find a truly authentic experience, along with many schools who would love an English language teacher.
Resources for Parents
Parents can rest assured that most under-18 program providers in Thailand will be very vigilant with the participants. They often live in shared housing with other volunteers, are accompanied on any excursions, and have the ability to stay in contact with folks back home (Internet cafés are everywhere and cell phones are quite cheap).
Thailand is, for the most part, safe, with people who are friendly and willing to help farengi (foreigners). Travelers should be alert and take the same precautions they would when traveling anywhere. While no vaccinations are required in order to enter the country, the CDC also recommends Typhoid and Hepatitis A vaccinations.
These types of heavily chaperoned volunteer programs tend to be a bit costly. In program fees, you can expect to pay around $1,000 per week. The upside is that these programs tend to be all-inclusive, covering housing, meals, etc. with tons of on location support for students.