Whilst backpacking through India during my gap year, I decided to book myself onto a six week volunteer program. As I was travelling solo and was going to be starting my English degree when I got home, I thought volunteering would be a great way for me to meet some like-minded people whilst also, getting experience teaching English to people who really needed/wanted to learn it.
During my project I taught English to children between the ages of two and fifteen in a Day Care Centre in a slum in Jaipur. It was an eye-opening and unforgettable experience, which I would recommend to any traveller.
Therefore, if you are on the fence about whether you should book yourself onto a program, here are my top perks of volunteering to push you straight over that fence:
Most projects include food and accommodation
Although many volunteer programs can be off-puttingly pricey, most projects include food and accommodation in the price. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about budgeting for these necessities whilst you are there.
As well as this, the daily meals tend to be cooked by locals, which means you get the chance to sample authentic cuisine that you may not have otherwise stumbled upon.
You will meet other travellers
Whilst volunteering, you are bound to meet travellers from all over globe who have come from completely different walks of life. During my time in India, I made friends with people from Canada, USA, France, England, Poland, Ireland, the list goes on.
On top of this, if you’re travelling solo, volunteering is the perfect way to ensure you make new friends (ooooo travelling friends) and find potential travel companions for any other trips you may have planned.
I was lucky enough to meet a girl from the UK who I ended up travelling around India with for a week or so. This cut down the time I was travelling alone considerably and, meant I had a pal to ‘cheers’ my Kingfisher with at the end of a long day of sightseeing.
You will be thrown head first into a country’s culture
By volunteering you get the invaluable opportunity to be thrown head first into a country’s culture. Although wandering around a buzzing bazaar or visiting a well-known temple gives you an insight into the religion and culture of a country, it doesn’t even scrape the surface of the reality of how many people live.
Volunteering exposes you to this reality.
It wasn’t until I approached the slum I volunteered in, weaved my way through the back alleys of the houses where sewage and rubbish cluttered the walkway and entered the dark, box room, which was where I was going to be teaching my classes, that it dawned on me that this was the children and their family’s reality. But they didn’t mind. They were so incredibly happy, friendly and content.
It is insights such as these, which are not readily available for tourists to see and ones that I feel, are the most important.
I had the chance to visit the kids homes, chat with their parents about their outlook on the importance of health and education for their children, try staple food dishes, which were cooked and served in an Indian household and even had a sari top tailored by the local seamstress!
These are all cultural experiences, which I would not have encountered without volunteering.
You will get to talk to locals
Volunteering is the perfect opportunity to have a good ol’ chinwag with the locals.
You can ask them questions about the culture, religion, politics and traditions of their country, which you wouldn’t necessarily be able to ask a stranger on the street and believe me, you’ll probably be surprised by a lot of the answers…
You will get opportunities you might not have otherwise been offered
It is likely that where you will be living, you’ll be surrounded by locals on a daily basis – the cooks, cleaners, project managers, translators etc. will all be from the area, meaning, you might get great opportunities, which you wouldn’t have otherwise been offered.
A few weeks into my program, I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to go to an Indian Wedding (read about my experience here), which was one of the most fascinating and memorable experiences of my time travelling.
There is no way I would have been lucky enough to go, if it hadn’t been for one of the project managers inviting us.
You will make a big difference to the lives of others
So far, most of the perks I have mentioned above have been, to put it rather bluntly, daymmmm right selfish (check out my post on the ‘Philosophical Question of Volunteering’, where I have written about this in a bit more depth).
And this is why I have left the most obvious and most important benefit of volunteering until last – making a difference to the lives of people in need. Although all of the advantages above are great reasons to volunteer, the desire to help others, tends to be at the root of wanting to partake in one of these programs.
There isn’t anything more rewarding than helping people who are less fortunate than ourselves… especially when it is so appreciated.
I came away from my project very teary eyed, but knowing that I had (hopefully) taught the children a considerable amount of English, drummed into them the importance of hygiene and had a lot of fun playing games, singing and laughing…
SO, have I pushed you over that fence yet ;)?