It is fun and challenging when a family travels together. There’s the excitement of visiting new places, having a break from the everyday routine, and building precious memories with your family. Everyone has fond memories of the fun they’ve had on family vacations, and everyone cringes and laughs at all the awkward moments reminiscent of a National Lampoon movie.
However, have you ever thought of using your family vacations to make a real difference in the world? You can help your family become more aware of issues like poverty, lack of education, poor hygiene and water, and more importantly, give them a chance to reach out and help solve the problems. Instead of going on another cruise, you can take your family off the beaten tourist track and get involved in a volunteer program.
Family volunteering programs can provide many benefits to family members of multiple ages. It’s an opportunity to teach children from a young age that the world is much bigger and more diverse than they can imagine. In addition, everyone in your family can benefit from increasing human interaction, giving back to those in need, and engaging in unique, challenging and fun experiences that are quite unforgettable. This guide will provide information and resources to check out as you plan volunteering adventures with your family.
Education: Education projects run the spectrum from teaching English to running sports activities to teaching IT skills. Education volunteers can teach children, teens or adults in a school, community center or an orphanage. Some programs set age limits for families, suggesting that their children be over the age of 11 to be teachers.
Education volunteers work at least 5 days a week, but hours do vary depending on the program and the location. Another thing to keep in mind is that the schools, community centers, and orphanages will very likely have limited resources, so this is a great opportunity for your kids to learn how to make the most of what they have and use their creativity!
Community: Community development projects can include building projects, farming, helping out in a community center, and working on art projects. All of these projects have the goal of bettering facilities in the community or helping a charity organization raise awareness about issues in a community. Like teaching projects, resources may be limited, and you may work 5 days a week with varying hours.
Conservation: If you have a family that likes to be in the outdoors, conservation projects may be a good choice. Volunteers in conservation projects can help conserve coral reefs, gather data on the environment, practice sustainable agriculture and learn about animal protection. There are minimum age requirements for some programs and if you’re interested in marine conservation, you should make sure your family can swim and is comfortable in the water.
Child care: Several programs recommend that family volunteers consider child care programs because this gives children a chance to interact with kids from other cultures. Child care projects usually involve providing emotional and physical support to children ranging in age from babies to teenagers. Child care volunteers can teach, feed, provide comfort, and come up with activities for children, and they usually work at community centers and orphanages.
There are often limited resources, and many of the stories of how these children came to be in the orphanages and centers can be truly heartbreaking. For some programs, there are age limits as well.
Central & South America: Countries in South and Central America, like Costa Rica, are establishing themselves in the eco-tourism industry which means there are plenty of opportunities for volunteers to help out with conservation efforts.
In addition, countries like Peru, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic need volunteers to help in the community centers and orphanages. Finally, because several of these countries are tourist destinations, the need to learn English is vital, especially for adults.
Eastern Europe: While countries like Romania are working to grow their economy through tourism, the countries of Eastern Europe are still suffering from the scars of Soviet rule. Many of these areas are still quite isolated from what we in first-world countries are accustomed to, and the resources are lacking. However, there is a need for volunteers to come to orphanages and community centers to spend time with children and teach English and other activities.
Asia: In remote areas of Nepal and India, there are limited resources, and there are many children that are orphaned or living in extreme poverty. Consequently, volunteers are desperately needed to teach English and other necessary skills, and to spend time with children in community centers and orphanages.
Africa: Various countries in Africa are frequent recipients of international aid, from medical to education. Community centers and orphanages are established for street children who need a safe place to go to learn and play. Volunteers can help in these centers and orphanages, with teaching English, and even with conservation efforts.
Planning Your Trip
- For some inspiration from those that have taken their families out into the world, check out this list of Top 25 Family Travel Blogs.
- Vagabond Family was created for parents, by parents, who want to enrich their families’ lives through traveling. It’s crammed with tips from budgeting, to learning and education while traveling, for short-term and long-term traveling.
- Volunteering Solutions has some great information on the benefits of Volunteering abroad as a family. Their page also offers guidelines on which projects are suitable for children.
- Global Volunteers has been around since 1984, and they welcome volunteers for short-term (1 week) to long-term (several months) projects. On their Family page, they have interviews and videos of families and young people volunteering. They also have opportunities to volunteer in the U.S. as well.
- Personal Overseas Development is a British organization, but it welcomes international volunteers. They have a great chart on their Family page that shows which programs would be appropriate for families with children under 18, and what ages would be most preferred. They also have a Child and Vulnerable Adult Policy, which should definitely be given a read.
- United Planet is a popular resource with us here at Go Overseas. They have great suggestions for good family volunteer projects with younger children, including Nepal, Romania, and Peru.
Contributed by Whitney Zahar
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