With the rush on “volunteer vacations” — Celine’s Vagablogging article on spring break students comes to mind — there are numerous websites and agencies that, for a fee, will set up your volunteer experience for you. You pay them (usually between $1000 and the entire costs of everything) and they will find you a spot to plant trees or dig ditches or whatever else you might want to do with your time. Obviously, the Peace Corps is the most well-known and intense of these options, but smaller options exist (like IVP).
This is an excellent way to volunteer if you aren’t sure how you want to start or what you might be interested in. But if you have specific skills and don’t want to go through an agency, consider DIY volunteering. While in Guatemala, I met a gentleman who was working at an orphanage in the boonies; he found it by looking for work with children in Guatemala on Google, and then picking the first place that said they were looking for help. The Banyan, a women’s mental health rehabilitation clinic in Chennai, has job and volunteer listings on their website, and I heard about them on CBC Radio.
Think about what you might want to do: teach English? Help third world women learn business skills? Bring fresh water to an African village? Preserve cultural heritage? Then think about where you might want to do those things. Are there any businesses or nonprofits that you know of that have affiliates in areas you’d like to go? Planned Parenthood has affiliates all around the world; consider sending them emails to see if they need volunteers. If you are already working for a nonprofit, consider seeing if they will send you overseas to educate or train; offer to pay your own way.
You can find assistance in books such as “World Volunteers,” from We Care Guides — a directory of listings for both individual groups and larger agencies that need volunteer help. Ask around to your friends; perhaps they know someone who needs help, or have a friend. I have one friend who lived in a Guatemalan village for nine months, building their library, and another whose best friend just started a women’s health collective in Panama City. Ask for letters of recommendation. Write out a volunteer resume. The internet and email are your friends for setting up volunteering opportunities on your own. Consider using Facebook (yeah, I know) to network potential locations.
Most of all, pick something that YOU want to do, that matter deeply to you. If you care enough to put down your time and money for it, it should be something that makes your heart sing.
(Photo from Flickr: sofauxboho)