There isn’t a better way to travel around the world with a purpose than by volunteering! In this series on alternative tourism we are covering popular international volunteer programs for youth to participate in. If you feel that you’re ready to share knowledge with others, learn new skills, and boost your life experience, read on! In this article we will talk about Openmind Projects, a foundation in Southeast Asia that provides underprivileged communities with skills and knowledge by engaging international volunteers in meaningful work.
About the Foundation
The Openmind Projects Foundation is an NGO that is active in Southeast Asia. Its work is focused on helping communities in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Nepal through creating and managing grass roots projects in the areas of e-learning, education, and the environment. The Openmind Projects’ mission is to fight poverty and inequality through providing educational opportunities with a focus on IT skills and the English language. With the help of international volunteers, great emphasis is placed on transferrable skills at schools, orphanages, national parks, and villages.
How to Become a Volunteer
Openmind Projects makes volunteering at low cost possible since all volunteer and other donations go to local people, projects, and supporting volunteer work. Before arrival, applicants submit a free application and receive registration advice and support.
The minimum amount of time you can volunteer for is two weeks. One to three months is the most common period of stay. The registration process includes filling out an online form and receiving a confirmation of available positions on chosen dates. After that, volunteers are required to pay a deposit or the full amount of the administrative fee. The administration fee of $295 applies to all projects. Additionally, a fee of $95/week is required and will go towards covering living costs and catering.
OMP provides support with travel arrangements and airport transfer as well as a visa invitation letter for Thailand. On arrival, volunteers undergo four days of volunteer training at the OMP office in Nong Khai, Thailand on the local culture, language, and traditions, after which they are placed with a host family or at a guesthouse.
Areas of Volunteer Work
Volunteer responsibilities on local projects include teaching at a school or temple, helping village women develop and sell their handicrafts, taking care of children at a nursery, and many more. There are eight main areas of work that volunteers can choose from.
Teaching IT. As rural students and their parents learn computer skills, they access digital government information and benefits. IT volunteers pass on their understanding of the internet and social media use and online learning resources
Teaching English. The OMP has developed a unique style of teaching English which enables local students to start speaking English and, consequently, receive better scores in international English tests.
Learning Camps. Volunteers are invited to take part in helping to organize a summer camp for kids to learn study techniques and internet skills. Participants learn about issues like climate change, pollution, technology and its effects on jobs & education, health, food, and drugs.
Volunteering with Burmese Migrants includes being a part of the Mobile Learning Camps that help students at Thai-Burmese border schools acquire IT skills and learn English. Prior to that, volunteers complete a free training week at the OMP training center.
Community & Eco Volunteers help locals in Thailand, Laos, and Nepal become less dependent on tour operators and attract more tourists. Volunteers help locals with English skills and hospitality advice and train them to advertise their services.
Marine Conservation volunteer work with Thai Marine Research Centers along the Andaman Coast helps protect the marine ecosystem from the aftermath of over-development, mass tourism, global plastic waste, oil spills, and other threats. The dive season starts in November and lasts until April.
Child & Health Care. Qualified care volunteers may be assigned special, clinical tasks as volunteers at hospitals. Volunteers must have health care experience to work in hospitals or must be nurses or doctors or nurse/medical students. Depending on your skills, you may assist nurses and make family and village visits together. Volunteers are often asked to teach English, too.
Development. Volunteers may want to consider intern positions with Openmind Projects to boost their experience in international relations and development and gain credit for university studies. Interns may choose positions in fundraising and grant writing, social media, travel writing, and web design. Specialists may be offered subsidized internships depending on the type of expertise and the period of the internship.
Visa Application Process
Depending on your nationality, different immigration rules may apply. In case you require a visa to enter Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, or Nepal, here are some steps to consider.
Most nationalities don’t require any visa for stays of up to 30 days. If staying for over 30 days, it is recommended to apply for an appropriate visa. If required, volunteers will receive an invitation letter from the OMP.
International travelers can apply for tourist visas at Lao embassies and consulates that are valid for 30 days. Laos has only 25 embassies worldwide. It is also possible to obtain a “visa on arrival” at border crossings including Nong Khai or airports. Visas can be extended twice in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, for 30 days.
Visas are available on arrival for almost all nationalities. A tourist visa ($30) is valid for 30 days and can be extended only once ($20). You can also apply for an e-visa online from the Cambodian Immigration Department that allows you to skip the visa-on-arrival lines and go directly to immigration. It costs $37 and takes three days to process.
International volunteers normally travel with a tourist visa which you can get at the Kathmandu airport and most border crossings. The visa costs $40 for 30 days and $100 for 90 days. You can also apply online through the Department of Immigration website.
To comply with country entry requirements for Openmind projects and just to be on the safe side, visit your doctor at least four to six weeks before your trip and inquire about necessary vaccinations. The following vaccines are often recommended by doctors and governments in Europe and America:
- Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B
- Rabies, if you will be exposed to animals through your work or recreation
- Typhoid vaccination
- Anti-malaria vaccination in case you will be visiting high-risk areas such as the Phu Khao Khouai Mountains in Laos
Essential Items to Bring With You
To ensure a smooth adjustment to a new climate as well as to avoid unintentionally breaking local norms, consider adding the following items to your luggage:
- Bed sheets and a sleeping bag for the cold season (November to February)
- A Bank/Credit card that you can use in ATMs. Bring two, in case one does not work
- Your travel insurance policy/certificate
- Long-sleeved shirts, pants
- Insect repellent
- Bed net
- Anti-diarrheal medicine
Openmind Projects allows underprivileged communities to learn IT skills and the English language. These skills then provide educational opportunities that can break the circle of poverty and ensure a better quality of life. To contribute your skills to this cause, apply to become a volunteer.
Read more on Alternative Tourism and Volunteering!
Photos: Shutterstock / Edited by: Martina Advaney
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