How to volunteer for a year

    Article by Zaytoen Domingo

    Zaytoen Domingo

    Posted: January 8, 2021

    Make the most of your time off from work or study with a volunteering project abroad. Here is why and how to volunteer for a year.

    Whether it’s your gap year, a sabbatical, or a career break, having a year off is a unique opportunity to travel and reflect on your personal goals. 

    Choose to volunteer abroad, and you’ll get to experience meaningful travel at its best. You’ll be able to enjoy adventures in exciting destinations, on a journey that will introduce you to new cuisines, customs and connections. You’ll also have the chance to make an impact where it counts.

    One year of volunteering and travelling could shape the next decade or more of your life. So, if you have a year to spare, consider a long-term volunteering project. 


    Why should you choose to volunteer on your year off?

    With all of the options available to you on a gap year, why volunteer to travel? 

    Volunteer travel with GVI is a meaningful experience that allows you to work on projects aligned with critical global issues.

    This is your opportunity to act upon some of the most urgent challenges in the world today while exploring your own interests and goals. 

    For example, GVI’s long-term volunteer projects abroad give volunteers the chance to contribute towards research on climate change, help to prevent plastic pollution, or add to environmental conservation, education, and women’s empowerment and gender equality.



    Joining volunteer abroad programs not only gives you an opportunity to collaborate with communities, but it’s also an opportunity to experience the area around your project base. With tips and insights from GVI staff, you’ll dive beneath the usual tourist haunts.

    Why volunteer for a whole year?

    Volunteering for the duration of your gap year can ensure you have structure, purpose and defined accomplishments during your time away.

    One year of volunteering gives you plenty of space to learn. Over the course of 12 months, you can develop career-building skills such as learning a new language, gaining a Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) qualification, or completing foundational courses in sustainable development. 

    With plenty of time to explore your passions and pursue new interests, a long-term volunteer project could help you define your career path and make an informed decision about what you want to do next. 



    And no matter what direction you choose, you’ll be in a strong position to make your next move.

    At the end of a year volunteering, you’ll have collected references, established a meaningful network of connections, and will have made a significant impact on your chosen project or projects. 

    Volunteering for a year will also boost your CV. Employers will be more impressed by long-term volunteering, as it shows off your commitment more than a short-term program.

    Gap year volunteer opportunities

    On many of GVI’s volunteer programs, you can volunteer for a duration of up to 12 weeks. 

    The length of a program, plus COVID-19 considerations and immigration restrictions, might mean you’ll switch between projects throughout the year. 

    This can be useful in giving you a broader view of international development. 

    For example, you could work on teaching projects in Thailand, Costa Rica and Fiji, gaining relevant teaching skills in each location while learning about the challenges affecting each country, and being immersed in different cultures. 

    Alternatively, you could join programs with different focuses to experience multiple facets of international development, such as environmental conservation, community development, and women’s empowerment. Your skillset will become more diverse as you increase your understanding of interconnected global issues. 

    With multiple locations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, you can also choose to experience one continent or countries around the world.

    Here are some of GVI’s 12-week or longer volunteer programs, which you can combine for a year of insightful volunteering. 


    Volunteer with elephants in Thailand

    You can join this program for up to 24 weeks, enjoying life in Northern Thailand as you support elephants that have been relieved from the tourism industry.

    You’ll assist with monitoring elephant behaviour as they are reintegrated into forests in the Chiang Mai Province. This is an incredible opportunity to observe elephants in their natural habitat. 

    Teach English to Buddhist monks in Cambodia

    Spend three months in Siem Reap teaching English to children from the local community as well as novice Buddhist monks. 

    While helping to improve education in the area, you’ll be immersed in Cambodian culture and language. 

    Support big cat conservation and research in South Africa

    Base yourself in the wild beauty of the South African savannah for 12 weeks as you contribute to ongoing conservation efforts. You’ll be working alongside qualified field guides, learning how to identify and track animals, plus record data on their numbers and behaviour. 


    Volunteer with children in Southeast Asia

    Lend a hand on children’s education initiatives in India, Laos and Nepal. This program is a great way of experiencing three nations, connecting with their cultures and getting to visit their heritage sites and landscapes.

    Your volunteer duties will involve teaching at local educational institutions and helping work towards the United Nation Sustainable Development Goal (UN SDG) 4: Quality Education. 

    Volunteer on a public health project in Nepal

    Get to know a Nepali community and their needs around public health as you work directly with local people for 12 weeks in Nepal.



    You’ll be supporting preventative health measures through interactive workshops that address topics such as daily hygiene practices, first aid, and puberty and menstruation. 

    Learn Spanish in Costa Rica

    Spend a few months practising Spanish with Costa Ricans, as you absorb the pura vida – meaning the simple life – lifestyle of the coastal town of Quepos. 

    You’ll also have the opportunity to support education and gender equality initiatives, such as teaching English or facilitating vocational, educational or environmental workshops. 

    Learn to dive while on a marine conservation expedition in Mexico

    Take the opportunity to learn how to dive in the warm waters off the coast of the town of Puerto Morelos when you set off on a marine conservation expedition in Mexico. You’ll get to know the underwater world as you carry out research on coral reefs. 



    The work you do will contribute to the conservation of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second-largest reef in the world.

    Delve into a world of gap year opportunities with GVI. Browse our award-winning international volunteer programs today. 

    By Zaytoen Domingo

    Zaytoen Domingo is a content writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently enrolled in the Masters program in English at the University of the Western Cape. After graduating with an Honours Degree in English and Creative Writing, Zaytoen completed a skills-development program for writers and became an alum of the GVI Writing Academy.