If the idea of exploring the unknown or discovering new locations gets you as pumped up as does the chance to gain some good karma, there is no reason to choose one over the other. Volunteer tourism -- the opportunity to travel the world and save it at the same time -- is slowly catching on in India. And while we still prefer soft options like wildlife conservation and teaching to building homes or rebuilding communities affected by natural disasters, there are more and more people willing to give urban life a skip and bring rural and rustic India on their radar.
"My sole motivation while volunteering was to do something that gave back to society while travelling," says Bipasha Mazumder, 38, who works for an international venture and has visited and helped communities in Arunachal Pradesh and Kumaon. She adds that since she is into wildlife, she chooses projects that give her a chance to make a difference to this area. Her last volunteering project was with the Satpuda Foundation and dealt with wildlife conservation.
There are several options to try depending on your area of interest. For instance, you could spend days, months or even a year teaching children and communities in rural India or join Delhi-based Ecosphere that works with local people in Spiti (in Himachal Pradesh) towards conserving the environment and developing the area. Visits to the Pin Valley National Park as well as the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary are included in this volunteer project.
Then, Help Tourism has a number of naturalist-led trips that allow wildlife enthusiasts to volunteer for the Red Panda or Tiger and Elephant Projects. And the Gerry Martin Project that has assignments all over India and welcomes anyone interested in wildlife.
There's more. WWOOF India is a network that allows volunteers to live and learn on organic properties/farms. It promotes cultural understanding through the intercultural exchange that takes place while sharing in the daily life of others. "I was part of their programme in Thailand and came away enriched. I hope to be part of their India chapter this year," says Vishal Singh, 22, management student.
And the latest entrant to the field is i-to-i Volunteer India. Launched on February 14, they provide packages that allow people to do good deeds in Kerala such as taking care of elephants and teaching the local community. Also on offer are customised packages like teaching theatre to kids in Jaipur or teaching in an orphanage in Goa. Says Kalpana Bedi, product head of i-to-i Volunteer India, "We offer a hands-on experience. The minimum stay is two weeks. You live close to community and work with them." Their packages are on offer year round and can be customised for individuals or groups. Still waiting to do your good deed?
Keep in mind:
Choose the area you want to be in. You need to be comfortable with the idea of being there. At the same time, choose a good cause to associate with. NGOs don't work like corporates and villages are not cities. Be prepared for a slower-paced life. You may have to use your own money and skills at times. Be prepared for it. Locals may take a while to understand and accept you. Don't get frustrated. Villages may not have the amenities and utilities that you are used to, such as electricity and 24/7 water supply. Accept it. Lastly, volunteering is not something that should be done because everyone you know is doing it. Opt for it when your reasons are right.
To enroll for volunteer-based projects, log on to
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be a part of WWOOF-India
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Top five travel destinations for those interested in volunteer work abroad, according to Goabroad.com.
1. Africa: The continent of Africa boasts 54 different countries. This means that there is a vast amount of opportunities to do volunteer work.
2. Australia: The sheer diversity of its people, culture and history makes it the perfect place to combine travel with volunteer work.
3. Japan: Japan experienced a devastating earthquake and tsunami just about a year ago. There is still much work to be done.
4. Spain: Like Australia, it offers opportunities to travel and do good.
5. France: One of the best places to learn and teach languages.