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Jenny Clark
The top 10 volunteer projects for this year

The images in this article were taken pre-COVID-19.

We’re well into the new year. And as you run down your checklist of things you want to accomplish, be sure to keep a spare sheet of paper for the top volunteering projects you’re looking to take part in.

There are plenty of reasons to volunteer abroad with international volunteer organisations. They allow you to experience meaningful travel overseas, and take part in impactful work that teaches you skills that’ll improve your employability

Anyone can volunteer, no matter their skill level, and training is provided to get you ready to make a positive impact. Run down the following top volunteering programs abroad for this year and get inspired to travel and volunteer abroad! 

Further reading: Three key reasons why international experience is a career must 

This is a list of our favourite volunteer projects abroad for this year. But in every location, you can either join a volunteer project, an international internship, or a service-learning project. And each of these opportunities can be factored into a gap year if that’s part of your plan!

Which volunteer abroad programs are best? Here are our top ten volunteer projects for this year.

1) Volunteer with elephants in Thailand

Two volunteers standing at a distance from a wild elephant in Chiang Mai.

 

Support community efforts in the mountainous forests of Northern Thailand. You’ll assist in reintegrating elephants into their natural habitats after their previous lives in tourist camps.

During your stay in a mountain community in Chiang Mai province, you’ll learn about elephant history, behaviour, training, biology, social interactions and more. You’ll also have the chance to observe elephants in their natural habitats and build up the body of research into this alternative model of ethical elephant tourism.

While learning about elephants from the local Karen community, who have worked alongside these colossal creatures for centuries, you’ll get to see how your contribution adds to the everyday well-being of the elephants and community alike. 

Learn more about this project here.

Further reading: The history – and future – of elephants in Thailand

2) Contribute to shark and turtle conservation in Seychelles 

Spend time on the coral-encircled  Curieuse Island while participating in our sicklefin lemon shark catch-and-release program. Track down shark pups nesting among the roots of mangrove trees to gather valuable data on their population and growth rate.

You’ll also study the nesting success and habits of both the endangered hawksbill and green turtles on the island. Collect and collate information such as tag numbers, carapace (shell) measurements and number of eggs laid, or carry out nest evacuations to measure hatching success rates.

 

A turtle swimming off the coast of Curieuse in Seychelles.

 

Throughout your time on project, you’ll live on a remote research station in one of the world’s most beautiful island areas.

Learn more about this project here.

Further reading: What’s so curious about Curieuse?

3) Teach English to Buddhist monks in Laos

Volunteers teaching English to novice monks in Laos.

 

Take in the Laos city of Luang Prabang, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, and teach English to novice Buddhist monks and community members (both children and young adults).

Our English-teaching projects add to the access that local people have to a quality education. This means that children and adults can build on their employability and the quality of life that they, their families and their communities will have in the future.  

You’ll visit local sites during your downtime, such as the well-known Mekong river, Kuang Si Waterfall, and Nong Khiaw mountain trail.

Learn more about this project here.

Further reading: What is the official language of Laos?

4) Participate in a wildlife research expedition in South Africa 

This project allows you to travel to a private big five  lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo game reserve in South Africa, and volunteer alongside an international team assisting in sustainable conservation work.

 

Volunteers in a safari vehicle with a game ranger in Limpopo.

 

You’ll collect behavioural data on reintroduced predators and large herbivores out in the savannah. 

In order to assist with this vital conservation work, you’ll be trained to use research equipment to help locate predators in the reserve. You’ll also receive professional training in large animal identification, tracking and behavioural study skills.

Learn more about this project here.

Further reading: Why you should consider volunteering in South Africa with animals

5) Work on a women’s empowerment project in India

a volunteer in India working on a womens empowerment program

 

Contribute to gender equality in Kerala on our sustainable women’s empowerment initiatives and help increase access that local girls and women have to education. 

Get involved in teaching subjects like literacy, human rights and life skills. You can also be part of alternative income generation skills workshops, or women’s health courses.

You’ll meet participants from across the world and immerse yourself in local cultures while soaking in everything this vast country has to offer. 

Free time activities could include kayaking along nearby riverers, cycling through local villages, spending the night on a houseboat and cruising along Kerala’s winding backwaters, or relaxing on one of the many beaches in the area.

Learn more about this project here.

Further reading: Guide to travelling Kochi as a volunteer

6) Contribute to jaguar conservation in Costa Rica

A jaguar laying in green grass.

Original photo: “Animal Carnivore Cat” by PublicDomainPictures is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Join a team contributing to the development and management of long-term wildlife conservation efforts along Central America’s Caribbean coast. 

Our conservation base is situated in Jalova, in Tortuguero National Park, a protected rainforest near the Caribbean Sea.

Our work here focuses on the long-term conservation and management of the rainforest and the wildlife that inhabits it – including the elusive jaguars that prowl the area. 

You’ll be searching for signs of jaguars and their prey species by setting up remote cameras and surveying a 16-mile stretch of a turtle nesting beach.

Relaying data to the Costa Rican government and other prominent conservation organisations, our team aids conservation efforts through species monitoring and tracking.

Learn more about this project here.

7) Join a marine conservation expedition in Mexico

Volunteers doing an underwater survey of a coral reef in Peurto Morelos, Mexico.

 

Travel to the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea and earn a Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) diving certification while protecting the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System – the second largest barrier reef in the world.

You’ll contribute to efforts that assess the overall health of the reef – including coral reef and fish monitoring – and you’ll develop your knowledge of this underwater environment and its inhabitants.

As a member of an international team of participants in partnership with highly regarded marine organisations, you can be sure your marine conservation efforts will make a valuable impact.

Learn more about this project here.

Further reading: Four reasons why Mexico’s a treat for any type of traveller

8) Work on a community development project in Nepal

Childrn from Pokhara gather under a large tree with volunteers from GVI.

 

Travel to Nepal’s lake-side city of Pokhara and volunteer alongside an international team to provide educational support to children.

Following the 2015 Nepal earthquake, our projects adjusted focus to provide disaster relief. In conjunction with our partners, trucks of supplies and family care packages were taken to some of the most affected areas.

Now our projects are focused on initiatives within local communities that require assistance with education, and improved educational facilities. 

During your spare time, you can visit traditional Hindu and Buddhist temples or embrace your adventurous side with white water rafting or mountain trekking trips.

Learn more about this project here.

Further reading: Volunteer and trekking in Nepal: best trekking routes to try

9) Travel to the Mediterranean and work with turtles in Greece

A sea turtle moving along a sandy beach to find a good spot for nesting in Greece.

 

Our project site is a ten-minute walk from the village of Giannitsochori, a small, traditional village located near to ancient ruins. 

As a participant in our volunteer program in Greece, you’ll contribute to conservation efforts for the endangered loggerhead turtles that nest on the white-sand beaches of Giannitsochori.

You’ll assist our partners in recording nesting activity and protecting hatchlings from predators as they make their first journey to the ocean.

Learn more about this project here.

Further reading: The ultimate travel guide to the Gulf of Kyparissia Greece

10) Join a community development initiative in Fiji

As a community development volunteer in Fiji, you’ll work alongside local people on a range of initiatives from one of our two bases, on either on Caqalai Island or in the Dawasamu district.

On these expedition teams you could get involved in projects on freshwater management, education, environmental education, marine conservation, environmental monitoring and mapping, waste management, health awareness,, or sustainable agricultural practices.

 

GVI volunteers assissting the community of Dawasamu in setting up a food garden.

 

On weekends, or whenever you have free time, you can enjoy island-hopping between remote locations. Here you could dive into activities like scuba diving, dolphin watching, hiking to waterfalls, snorkelling, traditional ceremonies, and Fijian language lessons.

Learn more about this project here.

Further reading: Seven steps to become a global citizen

The best volunteer opportunities around the world

When you go abroad with a reputable volunteer abroad program, you’ll be exposed to a range of learning opportunities, both personal and professional. 

The best volunteer abroad programs for college students, as well as the best volunteering programs for high school students, bring together personal and professional development with the chance to make an impact in global sustainable development. 

Feel ready to start making a contribution on a global scale? 

Find out more about GVI’s top volunteer projects and internships, and choose from our range of programs worldwide.