Volunteering overseas is a life-changing experience that can benefit the volunteer as much as it does the cause. Volunteering can be a meaningful exchange where the volunteer contributes time and effort and shares knowledge, and in exchange learns new skills and gains an insight into diverse cultures.
As such, it’s a worthwhile experience to share with a group, whether it’s your own family, circle of childhood buddies looking to make a difference, team of socially conscious colleagues looking to bond over a new activity, or fellow members of the economics club at university who want to take their knowledge out of the classroom and put it to use in the real world.
Every member of the group brings a fresh perspective and different skill to the table, members learn from each other, and new friendships develop, resulting in a valuable overall contribution both to the cause and the dynamics of the group.
Whether it’s in one of the well-traversed countries in South East Asia such as Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos or the relatively less-explored ones in South Asia such as India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, there’s no lack of causes in Asia that could benefit from the efforts of volunteers.
From teaching English to ethnic minorities and lending a hand to female farm workers so they can support their families, to helping rebuild homes, schools, and hospitals, there are many volunteer opportunities that are suitable for groups of various sizes and abilities.
Countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia in South America are popular choices for volunteer groups. There, you can contribute to causes such as organic gardening, construction of greenhouses, nutrition training, teaching English, microfinance projects, rebuilding and renovating disaster-affected villages, and providing health, hygiene, and sanitation training.
Additionally, it's an excellent place to learn and practice Spanish or Portuguese, and South America offers plenty of opportunities for cultural immersion.
From teaching English, sports education, music, art, financial, and computer literacy to young adults, working with children in orphanages, towards female empowerment or on wildlife conservation projects, imparting HIV/AIDS awareness, to rebuilding and construction, Africa provides of plenty of opportunities that could benefit from the joint contribution of groups.
Popular countries for volunteers are Malawi, Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, and Zambia.
Nearly every country with opportunities to volunteer needs teachers. You can teach English and other subjects, computer literacy, creative writing, music, sports, art, sewing and knitting, and business concepts among other skills.
Your students could be 10-year-old children in a Nepalese village who haven’t got the opportunity to attend school, women in Sri Lanka who want to be able to sew to support their families, or rickshaw drivers in Bangladesh who want to learn English to be better at their jobs.
Rebuilding and Construction
A group effort may be particularly beneficial to a project that involves rebuilding, restoration, and construction in areas that have been affected by natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, or typhoons.
Expect to spend a major part of your day doing strenuous physical work alongside villagers, living in basic conditions, and helping with ongoing relief work, all of which feels extremely rewarding.
Working with Small Businesses
Corporate teams may find a good fit in volunteer projects that help small businesses and grassroots organizations to become profitable and sustainable. This involves teaching them business and operational skills that can improve their efficiency and increase confidence, helping them best utilize microloans and secure additional funding.
Healthcare and Nutrition
In several of the world’s poorest countries, there is a need for medical volunteers who can work to create awareness of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and others STDs, educate people about sanitation best practices, young mothers about nutrition education, and teach people about general hygiene and well-being.
Define Goals and Assess Skills
Before you decide on a volunteer program, it’s essential to define the objectives of the group to undertake a project together. Often, the objective can be twofold, the primary one being a desire to make an impact towards the cause itself and the secondary one being the reason they want to volunteer as a group.
For example, a team of colleagues from the HR department of a corporation might decide to volunteer to teach English in Bangladesh for two weeks as part of their CSR efforts. While their primary objective might be to contribute to the education of slum children in Dhaka, their secondary objective might be to improve how they work together as a team, hoping to apply the same methods in their usual work environment.
It’s also important to assess the skills of individual team members and then decide on a suitable volunteer project for the group. If team members are very young and have neither the experience nor the patience required for working with children, then it’s not a good idea to volunteer at a school. If they are a group of athletes who enjoy being outdoors and doing hard physical work, then a building project would be a good fit.
Customize the Program
While finalizing details, you need to ensure that the strengths of the group are properly utilized, that’s why it’s important to communicate them to the coordinator.
There is no one-size-fits-all and this is especially true for groups. If there are specific activities involved, you’ll need to consider if they’re suitable for each member of the group and find alternatives in cases where they are not. Organizing a volunteer project for a group costs time and resources, both for the organizer and you, so you don’t want to end up with wasted efforts.
Fortunately, program providers who specialize in group volunteering abroad will help you customize and organize your program to the needs and skills of your group.
To simplify organizing logistics, from arranging transportation and housing to communicating program changes, it’s helpful to appoint one person as the main point of contact between the group and the volunteer organization.
Accommodation and Cost of Living
If the group volunteer project is overseas, then it might involve additional costs for the group such as housing for a few weeks, in case that is not included in the program. To ensure that each member is comfortable with accommodation expenses and living costs, look for options across a range of budgets.
Generally, living costs are much lower in small cities and towns in Asia, Africa, and South America than they are in big cities in the U.S. In towns like Sapa, Vietnam you can get a private room in a hotel for as low as $10. In more expensive cities, consider renting big apartments that can be cheaper than hotels and more practical for groups of friends or families.
Whether your volunteer project is overseas or closer to home, it’s important to ensure that your group is both aware and sensitive to the cultural nuances of the community where you will volunteer. It might be that this kind of experience is a first for some members of the group while others might have never traveled before to a certain part of the world.
As such, ensure that every group member has a basic understanding of what is and isn’t culturally appropriate when it comes to attire, social interaction with men and women, dining etiquette, religious practices, traditions, and customs.
Health and Safety
In cases of overseas group volunteer projects, ensure that all team members have necessary vaccinations and are in good health to undertake the project. Ensure that all members of the group have emergency numbers and safety information that they may need at any point in time, especially when in a foreign country.
It’s highly recommended to advise every member to be covered by travel insurance while traveling overseas to volunteer, as it will protect them in case of travel delays, emergency evacuations, health issues, and damage to belongings.
Contributed by Natasha Amar