Volunteering can be quite expensive, it looks great on your CV and promises to get you as close to living in a local community as possible, but prices can sometimes reach into the thousand’s, add to that the costs of your flights, travel equipment and insurance and it can all seem very pricey. But is the price worth it?
Well I’ve been on more than one volunteer project and I can honestly say that the money I spent on them is some of the best I’ve spent whilst travelling..
My first volunteering project was teaching sports in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 2005.with GAP. Sports Abroad Having stayed at home whilst attending university, once my course was finished I was desperate to escape. Browsing the internet I found GAP Sports and was soon signing up. It’s a nervous experience, leaving home for a prolonged amount of time for the very first time.
I wasn’t the biggest personality in the house, but I was by no means left out. Its amazing how the 30 of us managed to get through 6 weeks without a major scrap. Instead everyone was amazingly positive and creative, and we had the best time. By the end
Teaching would take place on Monday to Friday , and obviously the weekends were ours. The Monday to Friday was also quite relaxed, so you wanted an extended weekend away to do some travelling it wasn’t a problem.
To start with we would often just assist in classes, but before the end of our placements we were each taking leading roles in teaching. The kids were mega cute and never stopped smiling. At break time, they loved nothing more than to convert us all into human climbing frames, but we had no complaints.
Asides from teaching we were also given the chance to playing football against some local township men out of work. The twice weekly games offered these men and boys a form of routine, and something to focus on each week … namely scoring against me as I was the goalkeeper. Later in our placement we would return to the township, but this time to have a drink with our opponents in one of their local bars. Beers and song followed in an experience few tour groups would have offered. I firmly believe that only by Volunteering did I get so close to the local community within Port Elizabeth.
SRI LANKA & INDIA
12 months after South Africa more teaching followed, this time in both Sri Lanka and India, this time with Traveller Worldwide. I taught sports in a small village an hour outside of Colombo called Ja Ela for 6 weeks before taking the short flight to India and then spending another 6 weeks teaching sports in a town called Madurai.
In Ja Ela I was the only volunteer doing football (soccer) coaching, so this time I was on my own when at the local school. I was also challenged with a distinct language barrier issue, but actions speak louder than words as they say, and I was soon laughing away with my school under9’s team.
The school was a mere 20 minute walk from where I was staying with the other travellers, two of whom I’m still good friends with 6 years later. Our volunteer house was only 1 hour from Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo.
On two occasions another teacher/coach called Tyron and I took the boys on the local bus to a football pitch just outside of Colombo to different phases on a school tournament. Tyron also took me to his house for dinner and to see his carpentry workshop on more than one occasion, and I got to play football with his friends once or twice too.
Along with teaching at the school, I also did a spot of coaching a local men’s club. The club was brilliant, and as most of the team spoke English I didn’t have to worry about the language barrier so much. Unfortunately the weather ended a couple of sessions, and then even worse was a death within the club. The time I did spend coaching at the stadium was brilliant though.
Outside of the teaching aspect of our placements, our liaisons were on hand to offer us travelling tips for our weekends, and even hooked up up with a driver who had the most awesome song selection.
In summary, I believe volunteering is awesome. If you’re nervous about travelling alone for the first time, maybe start by doing a placement. You’ll be away from home, but with an established base making you feel a bit more at ease.
You’ll meet some awesome people, and you usually end up staying with the same people throughout the duration of your placement, enabling you to make some really good friends.
I find it hard to believe that I would have been exposed to such amazing experiences if I hadn’t volunteered in the countries I’ve mentioned above, and instead simply backpacked my way around them. Worth every penny in my book!
What’s generally included …
- Your accommodation
- Most meals
- Pick up and drop off from the airport
- Local liaison
- Tips and advice
- Teaching aids (if on a teaching placement)
What’s not included …
- Weekend travel
- Nights out
- Insurance – make sure you’re covered for teaching