"Volunteering in Bolivia helped me simplify my life, strengthen my spirituality and concretize my commitment to peace and justice."

- Renée Grogg, volunteer at an orphanage in La Paz Bolivia

People of all ages, backgrounds, income levels, and abilities have chosen to spend two weeks to three years of their lives, volunteering in many different capacities on projects all over the world. With enough research and persistence, you could volunteer on almost any type of project imaginable.

Here are some examples of the types of projects you can expect to find:

- Constructing a school or clinic;

- Promoting healthcare in rural villages;

- Working with a women's cooperative;

- Practicing sustainable agriculture;

- Teaching English;

- Protecting sea turtle habitat;

- Joining an archeological dig;

- Helping renovate a castle or monastery;

- Developing small business enterprises; and

- Supporting human rights efforts . . . the possibilities are endless!

why you should you consider volunteering abroad

There are countless reasons why thousands of people volunteer abroad each year. You may start with a desire to travel, learn a new language, or meet new people.

By volunteering, you'll also have the opportunity to lend a hand to people who are working to improve life in their communities. Through your daily work and interactions with members of a local community, you'll gain a better understanding of the culture, as well as the issues that affect that part of the world.

You'll also learn a lot about yourself, as you take on the challenge of living and working in a completely new environment.

how you really make a difference

According to the authors of Alternatives to the Peace Corps: "While a volunteer may wish to feed the hungry, heal the sick or house the homeless, these social and political problems are often more complex than they may seem.Thus the volunteer's most appropriate role is that of a student. Working abroad can better your understanding of the world and the forces that keep people impoverished, and enhance your appreciation of the richness of other cultures.For many, volunteer experiences marks the beginning of a lifelong commitment to ending poverty and hunger."

International volunteers who were interviewed for the forthcoming publication How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas had this to say about the things they learned and gained from volunteering abroad:

- "I think it's given me a greater opportunity to define who I am, to expand the way I view things, to see the world through other people's eyes, to incorporate my experiences into the way I live, think, and feel." - Marlene Larocque, volunteer in Ecuador;

- "Volunteering gave me a new perspective on my own cultural values and assumptions. It made me more thoughtful about which ones I truly want to adopt." - Tracy Hessel, volunteer with Amigos de las Americas;

- "I spent the last year working for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as an International Program Analyst. I got this job because of my overseas experience, including working in a health setting with under-served populations, knowledge of a foreign language, as well as a demonstrated leadership ability and maturity." - Brenda Pierce, volunteer in Costa Rica;

- "Volunteering abroad can be one of the most educational, inspiring and exciting things you do in your life.

Despite all the challenges, most volunteers we spoke with said that, given the opportunity, they would do it again. Living and working in another culture while donating your time and energy to a worthwhile cause has great rewards and may enrich your life long after you return home.

overcoming obstacles

There are many reasons people don't consider volunteering abroad as an option. Some of these include:

- Money - can't afford it;

- Language - don't speak a foreign one;

- Skills - don't have specific skills to offer abroad;

- Solo travel - never done it;

- Homesickness - sure to get it; and

- Health - can't risk it.

Most of these "obstacles" can be overcome if your desire is strong enough.

There are so many different types of international volunteer opportunities that you'll be surprised to find there may be a program that seems tailor-made for you.

Different types of projects offer different levels of support so you may want to choose one that offers financial aid, language training, group travel, or easy access for people with disabilities.

Though you'll need to be persistent and self-motivated, in most cases you'll find that the program administrators will be eager to help you overcome your fears and obstacles. Through their written materials or predeparture trainings, they will address most of your concerns and help you realize your goal of volunteering abroad.

why should you pay to volunteer abroad?

This is a commonly asked (but easily answered) question. Most of the programs that offer international volunteer opportunities charge volunteers a fee in order to cover their year-round coordinating and operational costs.

Many of them also need to raise funds to contribute materials and other resources to the overseas project.

A host community generally will not have extra resources to house and feed you, and if they had the money to pay you a stipend, they would probably hire a local person instead - someone who speaks the language, understands the community and culture, and is more inclined to stick around.

That said, there are a few international volunteer programs - such as the Peace Corps, International Executive Service Corps, and a few others - will cover the cost of your room, board, and airfare.

Some programs offer scholarships.

If you are a San Francisco Bay Area (USA) resident at least 18 years of age, you can apply to the LaFetra Fellows Program or the World PULSE scholarship program.

Traveling with a Disability -Mobility International USA operates a National Clearinghouse on Disability & Exchange which can offer suggestions and resources for people with disabilities who want to volunteer abroad. Call 541-343-1284 or email for more information.


The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia has a hotline for international travelers where you can obtain country-specific health advisories and advice: (888) 232-3228

Also check with your doctor for recommended innoculations and medications that you'll need while traveling.

health care publications

  • Where There is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook;
  • Where Women Have No Doctor; and
  • Staying Healthy in Asia, Africa, & Latin America.
selecting the right program

While allows you may search this site for international volunteer programs by country or type of work, there are many other factors to consider in choosing a program that is right for you. We have not screened or evaluated any of the programs, and thus we can't guarantee their quality or level of responsibility. One of the best ways to evaluate a program is to ask for the names and numbers of returned volunteers, to learn about their experiences first-hand.

But first, take the time to reflect upon your own motivations for volunteering abroad:

- Why do you want to become an international volunteer?

- What people, events, and experiences have led to your interest in volunteering abroad?

- What do you hope to get out of the experience?

- What do you hope to contribute?

- How do you see international volunteering affecting your life?

- Where do you see yourself in five years?

duration + time of year

How long do you hope to be abroad for? There are international volunteer projects lasting from one week to three years. Many of the programs have set dates, while others allow the volunteer to determine their own start and end dates.

The shorter-term (1-3 week) opportunities often entail a specific project like building a medical clinic or repairing trails. In longer-term programs, volunteers live and work side by side with the local people, virtually becoming a part of the local community and its rhythms of daily life.

type of volunteer organization

Find out if the program you are considering volunteering abroad with is a government agency, a for-profit tourist agency, or a non-profit or non-governmental organization (NGO).

In some cases government programs are intimately tied to a government's foreign policy initiatives; in this case you would need to decide whether you can stand behind those policies, and to determine how those policies might impact the communities you hope to serve.

While most organizations listed on this website are non-profit and non-governmental, we can not guarantee that they are all reputable. Many of them are significantly influenced by the experiences and interests of their founders.

are the sending and host organizations faith-based or secular?

Decide what role if any, religion or spirituality play in your motivation for volunteering abroad. Quite a few programs that place and receive volunteers are identified with a religious organization. Some of these seek volunteers that subscribe to a particular faith, while others don't require any type of religious affiliation.

Some have a specific evangelistic agenda, while others only emphasize peace and justice issues with no reference to religious beliefs. Once again, speak with returned volunteers and the agency representatives to get a clear picture of the type of work you'll be doing and the nature of the organization you'll be representing.

Whether you are a religious person or not, you'll want to make sure your values and objectives are in line with those of the sending and host organizations.


Most of the opportunities don't require volunteers to have special skills. A willing spirit and open mind is often all that's required to assist in the work initiated by local community members.

However, if you have professional experience in a certain field (medical, technical, business, etc), you may want to choose a program that will allow you to put your skills to use.

On the other hand, if you're hoping to gain new skills or explore new career options, consider programs that provide the greatest opportunity for hands-on work in your area of interest.

remember - it's never too late to acquire new skills!

If you know that you will be teaching abroad then try volunteering at a local school before you go. Check the individual program pages on this site for any special requirements or needs. Language Some programs require conversational ability in the local language, but many don't. Some offer language training before your volunteer work begins.

Either way, volunteering abroad is an excellent way to practice or learn a new language. If one of your primary objectives is to practice another language, look for a program that offers a home-stay or cultural immersion experience.

the institute for international development + cooperation

IICD offers programs in Africa, Central America, and South America lasting between six and nineteen months.

They offer you a chance to learn and grow through studies, team work, training in practical skills, international travel, work in community development projects and much more.

The programs will challenge you to work hard, to solve problems, to overcome shortcomings and to contribute to development on many levels.

At IICD we start training new teams of volunteers every three months. The programs focus on different regions of the world, offering opportunities for work in various types of development projects.

However, all programs share a common structure with a preparation period, an international period and a follow-up period. IICD is a unique program.

It is not only about being an international volunteer; our preparation and follow-up periods hold many other challenges and opportunities.

The preparation period provides you with skills and information needed for your work abroad as well as for life in general; in the follow up period you play an important role in your own country as an educator about the developing world.

IICD provides fantastic education and opportunities to those willing to take on the challenge.

Copyright 2002 IICD

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