Volunteering overseas has always been popular with students looking for a break from University and older adults looking to ‘find themselves’ on an overseas trip helping others. In recent years the family gap year has become more popular with plenty of families putting their life at home on hold and heading out for a year to see the world.
The benefits of a family gap year are huge. A better understanding of each other, increased tolerance of each different personality and a much closer family unit are all possible positive side-effects of a year spent travelling together. Just some time spent away from technology being attached to your teenager 24 hours a day can be a catalyst for great change!
Including volunteering in your holiday abroad can be a particularly beneficial activity when you choose to take a family gap year. Cambodia has several great programmes where you can apply to assist in teaching children English or helping out in orphanages. Indonesia, the Pacific Islands, Africa, Laos, Thailand, Central America and South America … in almost every developing nation there are amazing volunteer opportunities where your family could spend their time and make a real difference to the community. As a family you have many different skills to offer; older members might like to teach, others to perform maintenance work and maybe your small kids just want to play soccer with other kids!
So how do you know which volunteer organisation to choose? If you’ve heard stories that some organisations aren’t really supporting the communities where they send volunteers you’ll want to be sure of where your money is going.
Making sure the organisation you are considering is ethical just needs a little research. The best place to start (as with almost all research these days) is good old Google. A quick search for volunteer opportunities will show you just how many places there are vying for your attention. To narrow down your choices consider some of the following:
- What kind of experience would you like? Do you want your family to visit, maybe help out over a couple of days and then continue on to have a tour of the area and see some sights? Or do you want to be hands on building, teaching and improving the community for the whole time? Every offer is different and you shouldn’t assume you are getting one thing or the other. Check and ask lots of questions before you commit.
- What kind of budget do you have? Some volunteer opportunities can cost thousands of dollars for just one week! The premise is that part of your fee goes towards the community you are helping so they get a double benefit from your visit. If your budget is tight you will need to find a community that allows you to assist more with your time and effort than with your wallet. This will be particularly important if your family is large and you are paying per person.
- How important is it to you to know that your money is indeed going to the community? If this matters to you, you will need to heavily research the organisations you are considering. Many volunteer schemes are run as businesses and much of the money you pay goes to the western booking agent with just a small amount reaching the community you want to assist. Be absolutely sure of these details before you make a booking and send your money.
It is important to note that in many developing nations food and accommodation costs extremely little. If you are paying money to volunteer abroad you need to ask questions about where the money goes. Once you arrive at your destination you might be horrified to discover just how cheaply you are being accommodated when you consider what you have paid for your trip. Of course if your trip involves a sight-seeing component and other activities your fees might well be warranted.
A family gap year can be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your life and change the way your family relates to each other for years to come. Taking the plunge and deciding to volunteer is a big step. When you book with the right volunteer organisation, your contribution might just change the future of a developing community as well as your own family dynamic!
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