Traveling is selfish! How about becoming a volunteer while you travel?

Tried & Tested

Traveling is selfish!

We travel out of our own curiosity, for our own benefit and pleasure and there is nothing wrong about it. However, when I decided to set of on a journey into the World, being a 'tourist' was the last thing I wanted to do. A tourist can see with his eyes but ''the eyes are blind. One must look with his heart''. I wished to experience the life through within, live with the locals, learn from them, share my skills, tell their stories and thus, I have taken a very different approach to this journey compared to my usual travel style. This time, it is not a fast paced holiday or a short break when I am so greedy with my time. This time I am a traveler with all the time in the world and a desire to get to know it. I wanted to be part of the communities, get involved in local projects, become a volunteer and give help where it is needed. So if you are like me and you wish to find projects in need for your help, where do you start?


How to find volunteering opportunities?

When you simply Google ''volunteering opportunities'' you will find a multitude of commercial ''voluntourist'' offers : projects run by Western companies, costing more than they should and essentially making you a tourist on a volunteering holiday. While such experience may feel like you are doing The Right Thing to you, most likely the local community does not benefit from even a quarter of the money you have contributed which, instead, makes a good profit for the Western agency you have contacted. Personally, I find such commercial projects ''anti fairtrade'' and abusive both to the volunteers and the local communities. Therefore, I have spent considerable time looking for options for responsible tourism and ethical volunteering. There are two online platforms that I have been using in order to find and contact different projects :
1. Helpx - an online volunteering database active and having extensively grown over the last 15 years. It is a useful tool to find all sort of hosting projects around the Globe. There is a subscription fee of 20 euros for 2 years.
2. Se7en - encourages social and environmental volunteering with free or low cost host projects all over the world. There is a fee of 15 euros per year with money back guaranteed if you do not receive any reply from the projects you contacted. In other words, they guarantee that all of the projects in the database are up and running. 

These two resources offer free and low cost volunteering opportunities, which means you may be asked to pay a contribution to your accommodation and food in some of the poorer countries but in most cases you will be hosted with some meals provided in exchange for 4-5 hours of work per day. You will find a variety of projects to choose from, whether you are interested in eco-farming, earth-bag construction work, teaching English, helping at an animal shelter or an orphanage...

You will not be a tourist and a mare observer of life, instead, you will live with the locals, experience their lifestyle firsthand, share your skills and acquire new ones. Surely, you still need to choose wisely when deciding which projects to help as some of them may be less than ethical or scams. It is best to contact the hosting person or NGO well in advance, asking as many questions as possible, monitoring their activity reports on their web page or facebook, reading testimonials of other volunteers before committing to work for them.
While planning my journey I did not have a preference of a country to begin it with. I simply picked one of the cheapest flights I could find which happened to take me to Kathmandu. I then contacted a dozen of volunteering projects around Nepal, chose 7 of them I felt most interested in and scheduled my itinerary across the country which would allow me to make the best of my visit as well as giving a helping hand to the community. With an open mind and an open heart I arrive to Nepal and set of on a journey of learning, giving and sharing. I will be telling the stories of the wonderful people I meet on my way, but for now, just a few pictures illustrating my first impressions of life in Kathmandu - a city full of contrasts. Namaste!