When we say free volunteer programs, it usually means a program you can apply for without paying a participation fee, but most of the organizations require some costs to be covered by the volunteer. So, it doesn’t actually mean you won’t have to spend a dime. Unfortunately, many of these organizations have simply brought down the notion of volunteerism to working without getting paid, but getting some things in exchange for work, i.e. experience, food, and shelter. There have also been cases of mistreating volunteers, so many young people have begun to perceive volunteerism as a form of exploitation of their time and energy. The feeling of doing something important can often fade out in these circumstances, so many volunteers start experiencing a lack of meaning, as well as a lack of motivation to contribute to anything, because they feel like they are just working hard without getting any money out of it. It is a great issue. Of course, it all depends on the program and the people you work with.
There are many benefits to volunteering, but it does seem like the emphasis is often directed at things other than the actual human wish to help those in need or to support important causes. Volunteerism should be understood seriously, as a unique experience and a chance for an individual to grow as a human being, to widen perspectives, to learn about what is really important, to understand fully the meaning of gratitude, and to support social change. That should be the main reason for you to volunteer. Meeting new people, exploring new cultures and traveling – all are very important, but you should percieve them as unbelievable perks of your volunteering involvement, not as your main goal. Get motivated by what you can do, rather than what you will get out of it. We have conducted thorough research for you and have prepared a top five list of some of the best free and low cost volunteer programs around the globe. Read them through and think about your own personal motives for volunteering.
The UNV program truly focuses on social change and basically functions through selecting the volunteers they need from their database. It is fully funded. The program is active in circa 130 countries around the globe. They have established a Strategic Framework 2014-2017 in which there are clearly defined international goals and well-defined measurements for tackling major global issues and supporting positive social change. If you are not sure where to start or what exactly are the worthy causes to fight and work for, reading through this strategy statement can really be helpful. In general, the UNV site offers many great documents and the organization is really specific when it comes to the volunteer’s rights and the importance of volunteer work. See how they define advocacy for volunteerism:
UNV defines advocacy for volunteerism as a deliberate effort, based on evidence, aimed at persuading decision-makers to adopt policies and take actions that promote people’s participation in local and international development through volunteerism.
Volunteering opportunities via the UNV program:
There are many different types of volunteering opportunities within the UNV program. If you wish to register as a UN volunteer, there are two areas to focus on: Development Assistance and Humanitarian and Peacekeeping Operations. Every year, around 7500 qualified volunteers serve in some of 130 countries around the globe this way. During registration, you may state your preferences regarding the duty station you believe you are suitable for, but a team of experts that are professional recruiters will decide on what is the best placement for you based on your skills and profile. When you register, you are in the UNV database, so they will contact you if your skills, expertise, or profile are needed (especially during their Special Recruitment for Specialists). There are also short-term assignments, if you want to volunteer for three months or less.
In order to become a regular UN volunteer, you must be at least 25 years old and have a university degree or higher technical diploma, have two years of relevant work experience and a good knowledge of English, French, or Spanish.
What if I’m not 25 years old yet or not sufficiently qualified?
If that is the case, but you do wish to contribute, the program also organizes Special Recruitment for Youth (aged between 18 and 29 years). Keep an eye on their site and social network profiles to see when there are open calls. Also, there is a useful opportunity to become an Online Volunteer, where you can contribute your skills online to help organizations address development challenges.
WorldTeach is a non-profit NGO founded by students at Harvard University. Their mission is to promote responsible global citizenship by establishing partnerships with governments and other organizations in developing countries, in order to provide them with much needed teacher volunteers. As we mentioned before, a free volunteering program does not necessarily mean you won’t have to spend a dime. Most of the programs offered by the WorldTeach Organization require a not-so-small amount of money in order to participate. But, the Marshall Island Program is funded by that country’s Ministry of Education, so the program is fully free for volunteers. If they wish, volunteers can pay the amount of $350 as an enrollment fee for the TEFL Certification, which is a great opportunity. However, volunteers have to file a deposit ($2000) in order to start their volunteer engagement that will be returned to them right after the program is finished.
Native or native-level English speakers are eligible to apply. It is required to have a bachelor’s degree by the starting date of the program. Age limitation: from 21 years old to 74 years old.
As a WorldTeach volunteer, you will be a part of a great social cause – bringing education and revolutionizing teaching in developing countries. FYI, the Marshall Islands is an island country located near the equator in the Pacific Ocean.
ACO-Africa is a non-profit organization committed to providing care and support for children and extremely vulnerable social groups. Their mission is to create sustainable socio-economic changes in a community that’s been crushed by poverty. They are fighting to make a difference in the fields of education, health, psychosocial issues and economic development. If you truly want to make a difference and feel like you are mentally strong enough to work with marginalized groups, such as orphans, HIV positive children and women, the deaf community, and youth who are prisoners, then this is the right program for you. The program is not fully funded, but it is affordable. Plus, you would become a part of something really important and life changing. Volunteers are provided free accommodation, all meals, and transportation from the airport. Travel expenses (flights), visa expenses, and travel insurance are not covered by the organization. You can apply for two positions: Community Development Volunteer or as a Prison Outreach Volunteer.
If you deeply care for animals, then maybe this opportunity will be great for you! They offer accommodation and everyday meals (vegetarian ones) for €2.6 per day, but they don’t cover the following expenses: flights, visa, pocket money, and travel insurance. Keep in mind that The Animal Sanctuary is a completely self-funded organization that relies on donations and people’s good will. The organization is currently running education programs about animal welfare and taking care of dozens of animals that need medical care, food, and shelter. They are looking for volunteers that would help in running the sanctuary, vets, and translators as well. If you are eager to contribute, but you cannot come to Thailand, you can volunteer from home. A ticket to Thailand may be a bit expensive, but not if you book it on time or explore cheap flights options.
If you are interested in wildlife and the environment, you can volunteer as a support researcher and an assistant for a study of southern elephant seals and the behavioral ecology of killer whales. This is a great opportunity to contribute to science and learn a lot about the cited species. Killer whales are not on the list of endangered species, but they are vulnerable to a number of threats, especially under the human factor and climate changes. The organization provides volunteers with accommodation and food, but you have to take care of all travel costs. Again, low-cost flights might be the answer here. Also, in order to apply for this program, you need to pay a membership fee for the site that is hosting all the information about various programs, including this one. A two year membership costs £9.99.
The five programs we have listed are just some of the opportunities that exist around the globe. We have tried to make a versatile list (from social causes supported by UN, to chances to teach in developing countries, work within extremely fragile communities, support animal protection and welfare, and study wild life). But, here is just another piece of advice regarding search engines and useful platforms for browsing volunteering programs.
There is a site called HelpStay and a one year membership costs €19.99. You need to pay the membership fee in order to apply for any program you choose, but you can browse for free. HelpStay is a great way to find meaningful opportunities to volunteer, but it does represent a departure from real social causes, since any organization can pay for a membership and offer their own program to potential volunteers. So, it offers many different volunteer programs that focus on traveling, new experiences, and working for free in exchange for food and accommodation, without any real social impact. Also, here you can calculate the cost of your travel insurance.
Another great way to search through programs is MovingWorlds. Membership costs $125, but it may be worth it since you get many benefits out of it. The search engine is really efficient, you can filter your search via specified skills you have, countries you are interested in, or causes you want to support. MovingWorlds connects real people and enables you to volunteer abroad using your skills and expertise and make a real impact.
It is extremely important for volunteers to know all the conditions they will be working in and to be notified in advance (in the form of a contract) about what will be provided for them. But there is a fine line between a real desire to contribute to social change, to do something extremely important as a global citizen, and to consider the act of volunteering as something you are obligated to do, because you have to do it – in order to get some other benefits (i.e. a chance to travel for free). Some may say that it is necessary for organizations to make volunteering attractive this way, but doesn’t it then say a lot about how truly genuine is the wish of the youth to contribute to the world? Some may say – why does it even matter, if the job gets done? Well, it does matter, because otherwise you are nurturing a generation of young people who are opportunists, rather than activists.