Though relatively small and one of the newest members of the European Union, Slovenia is a favorite destination for travelers looking to get off-the-beaten-path.
Despite its size, there is a wealth of opportunities for volunteers to help provide Slovenians with support as they continue to experience rapid economic and social development after the end of Communist government in 1991. From rural communities to larger towns, you can help build the fabric of the community and country as a whole through your role as a volunteer.
Where to Go
There are several areas you may consider volunteering in Slovenia, depending on your interests and volunteer goals.
While there are only two million people living in Slovenia, there are a few urban spots that offer volunteer opportunities alongside a bit more hustle-and-bustle. The capital, Ljubljana, is home to a quarter-million people and is the largest city in the country. Other cities and large towns include Maribor, Celje, and Kranj.
Much of Slovenia is rural, and there are plenty of volunteer opportunities in the small communities that exist all over the country. Remember to screen volunteer opportunities to ensure they'll provide responsible and conscientious help to the people you're working with.
Along the Coastline
For those interested in more outdoors or ecological volunteer opportunities, the Slovenian coast will be your best bet. There are only two towns along the Slovenian coast of the Adriatic, Koper and Izola, which will likely be your base for any volunteer work in the area.
Slovenia is small but mighty when it comes to both environmental and biological diversity within its borders. From the mountainous regions to the coastlines along the Adriatic Sea, there are many programs in which you can be involved in helping preserve or restore natural ecosystems to support wildlife and responsible tourism for years to come.
Economic & Community Development
Despite having moved away from a communist government structure 25 years ago, there is still plenty of growth that can occur in Slovenia. From teaching a trade to local Slovenians that they can in turn practice for their profession to supporting community development through social services, there are plenty of ways to give back to Slovenians through your volunteer work.
Education is improving dramatically in Slovenia, though there are always opportunities to become involved in the education system. Consider enrolling in a global teaching program to gain certification before finding a placement in Slovenia where you can teach English or other subjects to eager students.
Planning Your Trip
In many cases, housing and other basic amenities will be provided as part of a volunteer placement, if only because of Slovenia's primarily rural volunteer opportunities. In a larger city like Ljubljana, you may be expected to find your own housing, but there will be plenty of options at reasonable prices.
Being part of the European Schengen Zone, you may need a visa or encounter limits in the amount of time you're allowed to stay in Slovenia without a visa (usually this is 90 days within every 180 days). Be sure to review any visa policies and plan your trips accordingly; though Slovenia is itself small, the visa rules are enforced at a continental scale and penalties are severe for visa infractions.
While Slovenia is certainly cheaper than Western European countries, you might be surprised to learn that the cost of living is not dramatically lower than neighboring countries like Italy. As a volunteer (and especially depending on your visa status), you may be unable to work to supplement your income, so be sure to budget to cover any expenses you have during the entire duration of your volunteer program.
Choosing a Program
Most programs in Slovenia should have a background you can review, as well as testimonials from past volunteers. They should be completely transparent about where your money goes and what it's being used for. Look for programs that are linked to local organizations, and stay away from ones that allow uncertified volunteers to take part in projects that require professional expertise.
There are also independent volunteer opportunities out there, so be sure to understand any financial or contractual obligations that are associated before you sign up or show up to volunteer. As always, ensure you're protected and understand your rights before you sign up for a volunteer program, even in Slovenia.
Contributed by Valerie Stimac