Volunteer on your Gap Year | Top Universities

Volunteer on your Gap Year

By Staff W

Updated April 11, 2016 Updated April 11, 2016

Want to make a difference on your gap year? Here's the TopUniversities.com guide to volunteering during your year out.

First things first, it helps to know what kind of project you would like to be involved with; do you want to work helping people or the environment?

If you want to work with people then you need to consider in which capacity. For example, would you rather work on community-based projects like building schools, centers or hospitals? Are you interested in teaching English or vocational skills, assisting health care professionals or helping in the administration of community initiatives? Do you want to work with children or adults?

Environmental projects can encompass almost as many different options as working with people. Again you should consider what type of area you wish to work in. Do you want to work protecting large game animals on the African plains?

Would you like to work at an animal sanctuary caring for sick or endangered animals? Does marine conservation interest and inspire you? Or perhaps you fancy working on a farm and becoming a real life cowboy or girl. The list is endless.

Once you have decided what type of project you would like to be involved with, the second question you should think about is where in the world would you like to do it? Do you want to work in the rainforests of South America? Protect nature reserves in South Africa? Teach English in South East Asia? Build hospitals in Central America?

Here are some of the most common types of volunteering projects:

Conservation/environmental projects

As mentioned above these projects could involve working in a wildlife sanctuary or animal shelter for rescued or endangered animals. Helping to protect and/or patrol a nature/game reserve or UNESCO heritage sites. Or working in a farming community to become a real life cowgirl or boy.

Building projects

As the name suggests, these projects involve building vital resources for the community under the instruction of qualified architects and engineers. Projects may include digging wells to provide clean drinking water and adequate irrigation of farming land, building hospitals or medical centres which can provide hygienic and safe healthcare in remote areas, or constructing schools and colleges to provide education for the local community.

Healthcare projects

This could be working as an extra pair of hands assisting doctors and nurses in a hospital, working to promote education on healthcare issues (particularly on HIV/AIDS related illness), helping to establish and run mobile healthcare centres that can provide vital inoculation and immunisation services, or working as part of a search and rescue team in areas of disaster. Most placements will obviously provide more extensive training for volunteering positions in the healthcare field and placements may vary depending on your previous knowledge and suitability to work. While often one of the most rewarding volunteering options, healthcare projects can also prove an emotionally tumultuous experience as many of the places where medical attention is most needed are invariably also the most poverty stricken and desperate.

Teaching English projects

Teaching English language to students is not only a great way of experiencing another country and culture but also a good way of earning a little money while you are travelling. You are invariably required to show proof of completing a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course. These can range from a weekend-long short course to several months of instruction in how to teach English along with invaluable time spent in the classroom with students.

Popular volunteering projects teaching English include teaching kids in developing countries to speak, read and write in English and helping women to become self empowered by learning English. Paid placements usually require higher levels of TEFL training and can involve teaching in private schools, colleges, and universities in almost all areas of the world.

Getting started

There are many companies out there that are happy to help you organize your volunteering projects abroad, and the costs associated with these can vary as much as the projects themselves. Be sure you know exactly what type of project you would like to be involved in and be sure to thoroughly research the company you intend to carry the project out with. Always check what is and isn't included in the price and what additional expenses you may incur during your time spent volunteering.

It is often possible to arrange your volunteering project on your own by contacting the people you would like to help directly, be this a school, hospital, orphanage, game reserve, heritage site, or wildlife sanctuary. However, this can prove tricky as there may be language barriers initially and, as these projects are often based in remote areas, organising your accommodation and meals may require a little extra effort.

For more advice contact Volunteering Services Overseas, an international charity that works through volunteers and carefully vets its programs and volunteers to ensure that all its projects are well run and really do benefit those in need. 

This article was originally published in November 2012 . It was last updated in April 2016

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