There is no feeling more satisfying than knowing that the time and work you are selflessly putting into a project is going to improve the lives of others, and that your efforts will be appreciated for ages to come.
Well, almost. You can travel a lot by teaching English
If you combine the high of volunteerism with the thrill of an exotic location, both traveler and global citizen will be dancing a happy jig- and there’s no better feeling than that. By taking your volunteer hours out of the local library and investing them in an off-the-travel-radar country, the effects of your involvement will shine all the brighter. Whether it’s restoration work on a vampire’s castle or cassava harvests, the experience will be life-changing and the rewards eternal.
Pick the country that catches your breath, chose a line of work that makes your heart beat faster, and embark on a positive adventure with your next volunteer placement in one of these overlooked locations:
5 Cool Volunteer Destinations
Between slave rebellions, the Cold War, and the current communist regime, life in Cuba hasn’t just been sandy beaches and piña coladas (although there is no shortage of either). There is a need for teachers and green thumbs, both of which can enjoy the fascinating backdrop of history and culture of this island. Take a long volunteer vacation in one of the most intriguing and unique countries in the Caribbean.
Prevalently placed in the urban centers, education opportunities form a major part of volunteering programs in Cuba. Whether it is to teach English or expose citizens to international viewpoints, volunteers are needed to bring the best of the world into this island nation. Create cultural awareness and facilitate communications, while making friends and joining in on a couple of salsa classes.
With an increasing tourist industry, land and animal conservation projects are on the rise. In the midst of sugar cane plantations, among tobacco fields, or along the coast, the current question of ecological work is torn between preservation and increasing revenue. The issue of sustainability is also growing, with most efforts needed alongside small, local farmers who provide the food necessary to keep this self-sustainable country fed and running.
Landlocked and rugged, Bolivia’s inadequate infrastructure leads to no shortage of great volunteering opportunities. It also has no lack of attractions to amuse when not working: the tranquil vastness of Lake Titicaca, the mirrored magic of the Uyuni Salt Flats, the colorful parades at the Ororu Festival, “Death Road” and the hospitality of its indigenous people- many of them with two long braids and a bowler hat on top.
Like in most Latin American countries, there has been an increase in the rural-urban migration rate in recent years. This leads to a variety of problems, such as overcrowding, a lack of services to its people, and the negative effects of slums on the environment. Jump into the heart of this growing epidemic with an English teaching position, where you will be able to inspire future leaders with effective land management ideas and make that dream a reality with the language skills required for global cooperation.
If you’re not into playtime with kiddos, lend a helping hand at a hospital or with administration work at the many under-staffed health care centers. Both La Paz and Sucre offer plenty of opportunities in either field, and will reward you with cultural festivals, unique museums, and cafes catering to internationals.
Romania isn’t just Count Dracula and Transylvania. It’s also small, traditional villages scattered throughout the majestic Carpathian Mountains, shining seas, and a whole lot of brown bears that need your saving.
Between volunteer assignments, explore the wealth of culture that Romania will present you with in return: churches built out of bones, the largest rock sculpture in Europe (it’s 55 meters high, dedicated to the last king of Dacia, and can only be reached by boat), and the happiest cemetery in the world.
With long years of seclusion behind the Iron Curtain, Romania is still combating challenges of geographic and mental isolation. Helping out in an orphanage is a common volunteering placement in Romania, and the children will be quick to steal your heart with their hands sticky from papnasi. Likewise, community development is a volunteer hotspot, with plenty of infrastructure that could use your help.
If you prefer nature to people, Romania will keep you on your toes while you put your hands to work. Historic preservation and animal conservation are calling your name; there are more than 7 UNESCO sights and more than half of Europe’s black bear population in Romania.
Why wouldn’t you want to go help out in a country that will welcome you with a glass of ruou ran (rice wine with a pickled snake inside) and where potbelly pigs are considered pets? There’s also a god dedicated to the kitchen and a lot of motorbikes to hop onto, if that first couple of facts didn’t grab your attention.
On top of the above (and a lot of cashews and coffee beans), there’s plenty of chances to experience this slice of Asian paradise as you make a positive difference. From education to infrastructure, Vietnam is a prime candidate for hard work and easy relaxation. (We’re not sure if the “S” shape of Vietnam stands for Super, Spellbinding, or Sensational, but any pick is a good guess.)
Social development is a particularly active field, with the disabled needing most of your attention. The aftermath of Agent Orange’s mental and physical destruction are still seen daily, and there are plenty of options to get involved.
The country’s rapid social growth and increase of Street Kids also leads to a need of volunteers in orphanages and classrooms, where a friend is even better than a teacher. With low wages and without a free education system, your participation in a community school project will offer a future to children that otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to leave the house with a backpack every morning.
Also known as “Little Africa,” Cameroon is a microcosm of the continent, bustling with life, smells, and colors. Gang up with pygmies as you participate in a tug-of-war competition or go canoe racing, then pound your feet to the rhythm of makossa. During the day, make Cameroon a better place by volunteering in a number of possible projects, while continuing your cultural (and culinary) explorations.
With agriculture accounting for a large part of its economy, Cameroon never has too many hands working in the fields. Become a part of coffee, cocoa, yam, or banana harvests (yum!), and help with rural innovations as this fertile country is put to good use. If you prefer mammals to cotton balls, volunteer with a wildlife conservation project. Having some of the most diverse flora and fauna of Africa, you can take part of anything from counting butterflies in rainforests to monkeying around with chimpanzees. With seven national parks, you can document, preserve, and multiply current species to your heart’s delight.
Youth development opportunities are available in both urban and rural areas; your presence will have a lasting impact in both settings. Children need positive mentors to teach fresh mentalities, inspire new problem-solving strategies, or simply offer a good heart-to-heart conversation. Learn while you teach, and gain while you give, with a camp or youth counseling placement.
If the above list didn’t satisfy your volunteer cravings, check out these 12 other great volunteering opportunities abroad. From voodoo and reggaeton to moose and maple syrup, there’s bound to be something just for you.
Regardless of where you end up, and in which field you find yourself working in, you will be able to combine some good ol’ philanthropy with fascinating landscapes, memorable people, and a new stamp in your passport. Hop on the volunteering train with the license plate that most sticks out at you!
Julia is an avid traveler, lifelong artist, theater geek, interior designer, future author, and occasional teacher. Originally from Germany, she was raised and started her university studies in Texas, before moving to Italy for her first formal teaching experience. Since then, she has traveled throughout Europe and the Americas, constantly on the look-out for the next adventure.
She is currently working as an editorial assistant at GoAbroad, hoping to encourage people to travel abroad and experience the world beyond a textbook.