Vacation is nice, but have you considered volunteering abroad?
Volunteering can make you more employable, enhance your potential as a manager and give you an insight into a culture that a mere tourist wouldn’t get.
Here’s a list of some superb international volunteer programs and what you can learn from each.
1) Child Empowerment - Teaching orphans in Sri Lanka
Bring a smile to the face of a Sri Lankan child. Photo by raindog
What they do: Provide leadership development for 400 orphans at two academies a few miles north of the capital of Colombo.
What you might do: Tutor, teach English, sports or other activities (e.g. arts and crafts, music).
What you can learn: Organizational skills, patience, listening skills.
Cultural tip: Leaving a small amount of food on your plate indicates that you’ve eaten your fill. Finishing all your food means that you are still hungry.
2) Asha – Improving life in the slums of India
Help bring dignity back to the slums of Delhi. Photo by Meanest Indian
What they do: Working closely in the Delhi slums, their mandate is to provide healthcare, financial services and education to help the people make long-term positive changes.
What you might do: Conduct a training workshop, ‘beautify’ a slum (painting buildings), coordinate a youth or women group activity (e.g. empowerment or a study group for college students).
What you can learn: Team building, coordination, communication.
Cultural tip: Always eat with your right hand.
3) Thandanani – Community care in South Africa
Bono dances with the orphans, why not you? Photo by blvesboy
What they do: Facilitate community based care for orphans and other vulnerable children in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands outside of Durban by providing assistance with access to counseling, early learning centers, community based kitchens and gardens or social grants from the government.
What you might do: Gardening, visit homes and villages, offer early child care, help with government documentation.
What you can learn: Procedural skills (how to fill out forms), courage, diplomacy skills.
Cultural tip: If you are invited to someone’s home, bring flowers, chocolates, or a bottle of South African wine for your hosts.
4) Elephant Nature Foundation – Elephant conservation in Thailand
Imagine feeding one of these! Photo by koliver
What they do: Increase awareness of the plight of endangered elephants, and educate the locals on how to properly care for and offer sanctuary to abused and neglected elephants. Offices located in Chang Mai.
What you might do: Build new fences, clean elephant areas, construct mud bricks, help prepare meals in the elephant kitchen or cut grass to ensure the elephants have enough food.
What you can learn: Integrity, competency, empathy.
Cultural tip: Thais believe the most sacred part of the body is the head. Refrain from touching someone on the head, even an adult.
5) Confradia Bilingual School – Teaching English in Honduras
Make a difference in one child’s life with language. Photo by Jonathan Assink
What they do: Located in San Pedro Sula, Confradia seeks out disadvantaged children in the area and provides them with a quality bilingual education. 140 students are enrolled with one quarter of them receiving scholarships based on need.
What you might do: Live and work near the school, and primarily teach English.
What you can learn: Imagination, being fair-minded and inspiring.
Cultural tip: Men can be forward, so if you’re a woman state your intentions clearly so that there are no mixed signals.
6) Green Gecko Project – Working with street children in Cambodia
Street kids in Siem Reap need to sleep in more than just a temple. Photo by ruby ang
What they do: Provide shelter, skills and activities for the street children of Siem Reap.
What you might be do: Teach arts and crafts, play games, dispense hygienic products, serve meals or just make a kid smile.
What you can learn: Humility, acceptance of diversity, how to be less judgmental.
Cultural tip: When greeting a local, practice sompeyar. Put your hands together at chest level, fingers up, and then slowly move your head forward as if you are making a bow.
7) Creative Hands – Community programs in rural Nepal
One of the rewards of volunteering in Nepal? Being a kid again. Photo by ley
What they do: Help orphans, street children and disabled persons through various programs in rural areas of Nepal.
What you might do: Visit remote village schools, assist with programs for the disabled, help with seminars to empower Nepalese women.
What you can learn: Self-discipline, maturity, flexibility.
Cultural tip: In many people’s homes and religious sites, shoes are not worn. Remove your shoes before entering.
8) Asa – Loans and educational programs in Bangladesh
Micro-finance can put food on a family’s table. Photo by bengal*foam
What they do: Offer micro-finance loans to the poor, as well as implement health and nutrition, education, and sanitation programs.
What you might do: Help write reports, assist with impact studies, develop website or marketing materials, spend time in rural communities.
What you can learn: Initiative, tact, enthusiasm.
Cultural tip: Personal space is less of an issue in Bangladesh than other cultures, Bengalis stand close when speaking to someone of the same gender and touch is common.
9) AVFAL – Coaching soccer in Cameroon
Ready for the soccer ball. Photo by Radio Nederland Wereldomroep
What they do: Teach kids soccer skills in Limbe, Cameroon and Freetown, Sierra Leone.
What you might do: Coach, teach soccer drills, play pick-up games, organize mini-tournaments.
What you can learn: Decisiveness, endurance and being level-headed.
Cultural tip: Dress modestly. Shorts and bared shoulders are no-nos.
10) Casa do Caminho Language Center – Non-profit language school in Brazil
Becoming “Portuguese” can help an orphanage. Photo by LoriConte
What they do: Study Portuguese at reasonable prices and your tuition directly supports the Casa Do Caminho Orphanage in Xerem. You can also volunteer at the language school in a variety of roles. The school is located in Rio de Janerio.
What you might do: Teach English courses (they have those too), marketing, IT, administration.
What you can learn: Responsibility, knowledge, discipline.
Cultural tip: When saying thank-you, use the proper pronunciation for the feminine and masculine: “Obrigado” for men and “Obrigada” for women.
Have you ever volunteered overseas? What leadership skills did you learn and how did these skills impact your career? Let me know in the comments.
If you liked this, you might also like: The 10 Best Places to Teach English Abroad.
Main image: Build leadership and cultural sensitivity skills by volunteering overseas by Hosteling International Bolivia.