The Honduras sun is hot in May, and I am grateful to enter the cool air of the small cinderblock home in the rural community I am volunteering in. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I scan the sparse room to see a bed, some pots, and a few tools set on the earthen floor. We get to work quickly, mixing cement and unloading our supply of bricks. A toothless grandmother watches us from over her cooking fire as we work, stacking and cementing bricks. We are building ovens that will allow them to use their wood more efficiently and make make enough bread to sell. Each oven reduces the strain on resources and boosts the local economy, creating more self sufficiency among the residents. After the work is done and the grandmother offers us a warm smile, we move on to the next house. The day is long and satisfyingly challenging. The local head of the NGO smiles at us as we pack up the truck. "Good work." He says. And it was.
This is just one example of the multitude of volunteer options available. I have taught English, harvested vegetables, helped to develop sustainable technologies, and written newsletters. I know people who have taught music or surfing, cooked, and used their advanced professional expertise to provide invaluable support to local projects. Any skill or hobby is valuable to someone in the world.
Isn't vacation about relaxing? Well it can be--different people have different styles of travel. But for those who have a desire to fully experience culture, create unforgettable memories and connections, and leave feeling they've accomplished something great, volunteering is a great option for many reasons.
Authentic experience. Many tourists spend their travels isolated in fancy hotels and confined to tour groups. What volunteering does is bring you out of the experience that is catered to tourists (which is sometimes difficult to do, even when you're consciously trying) and into the difficulties, joys, and daily lives of real people. Those who are used to making their living from tourists may not be as interested to connect with you as those who rarely interact with those from other countries. Working directly with "everyday people" will give you deep insight into the true nature of the culture and the inner workings of a country.
Do something valuable. Studies have shown that giving to others is one of the most effective ways to make yourself happy. While relaxing on the beach is great, psychology tells us that finding somewhere to help others will lead to a much more fulfilling travel experience. That's not to say you shouldn't lie on the beach! But some time spent doing both will round you your travel experience and leave you with a deeper sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
There are countless organizations now offering travelers the opportunity to help out, for anywhere from a few days to a matter of months or years. While some will even offer room and board in exchange for what you do, don't be surprised if many reputable organizations ask for a fee to volunteer. Training and managing work with volunteers takes time and resources, both of which are often in short supply for organizations that benefit their communities. By giving some money, you are giving yourself the opportunity to be of total benefit to the people--giving while taking nothing but deep connections, beautiful experiences, and a photo or two in return.
Interested? We have loads of information on all types of travel here on our website. You can also use many other online resources to find the perfect volunteer opportunity for you. Happy travels!