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Best volunteer vacation programs

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Have you ever heard the terms “voluntourism”, “volunteer vacation”, “volunteer vacation program”, “gap year volunteering” or “traveling with a purpose”? 

Volunteer travel has become very popular over the past few decades with almost 1 million US students heading abroad every year, over a third of the students in the UK taking a gap year with the purpose of volunteering abroad and major universities such as Harvard or Princeton allocating gap year support for students to travel abroad on volunteering programs.

We see this too in our community where questions around volunteering are common, and on our Solo Female Travel Survey, where women traveling solo have told us they are interested in traveling with a purpose and that, when choosing a travel provider, they take into account the impact a travel company has on the environment, the local community and society in general.

We also know from personal experience how rewarding and beneficial the right vacation volunteer program can be for the volunteer and that organizations who don’t lose sight of what their purpose is do exist. 

For example, our Co-Founder Mar spent the summer of 2002 helping Asociación Colaboración y Esfuerzo (ACOES), a charity entirely run by volunteers and focused on education. 

But with the growth of voluntourism, that is, volunteers heading to the global south with the hope of helping local communities through development projects, comes a rising concern about this kind of well-intentioned projects doing more harm than good to the recipient communities. 

The concerns raised are many and growing with many reports highlighting the grimmest side of profiteering acts at the expense of the most vulnerable.

Volunteers taking jobs away from qualified locals, projects creating dependency and leaving unfinished work after they end, programs designed to enrich the volunteer experience instead of focusing on the communities’ needs, profits being made at the expense of poverty or worse, poverty porn, volunteer vacation projects promoting child trafficking and abuse and creating growing demand for orphanages and an attitude of superiority by volunteers that tends towards the paternalistic and white saviorism complex

Going back to Harvard and Princeton promoting gap years, the focus is more on the benefits voluntourism provides the giver (aka the students) through personal growth, rather than on the positive impact the volunteering trip has on the local communities.

With this new dynamic, volunteer placing for-profit businesses have started to appear with the sole focus of providing a volunteering experience whereby the focus is on the “client” or volunteer, having a great time rather than on the program having a positive impact on the community. 

These charge a often hefty fee that goes to the bottom line of the placing agency, with little trickling down to the local community who will host the volunteer.

We are not here to discourage you from your volunteering dream. However, it is important to do your homework and understand that some volunteer travel opportunities may do more harm than good and to divert attention to the volunteer travel programs that leave a lasting positive impact. 

Ultimately, our objective is to avoid well-intentioned travelers being taken advantage of or negatively impacting the community they so genuinely wanted to help. 

We will do that by giving you the tools to make a more informed decision so that we can reduce demand for unethical voluntourism. As Dan Meyer, Founder of BACK&PACK, puts it “It’s critically important for volunteers to help drive change in the industry”. 

If volunteering abroad has been on your bucket list or you want to travel and make a real difference in the world, keep reading to find some of the best abroad volunteer programs. If you don’t have the possibility to travel abroad but want to help, we have also included a section at the end with alternative ways to leave a positive impact in the world.

Key elements an ethical volunteer program should have

The good news is that ethical volunteer travel programs do exist, the bad news is that many aren’t, even those appearing legitimate and advertised at universities or on Government websites as “humanitarian trips”. You need to spend time researching and vetting each opportunity only to realize that the type of volunteer trip you had in mind is not the right one for you given your training, experience and time available.

Ethical volunteering is a complex topic so the most important first step is to educate yourself on the subject to identify the positive and negative aspects of volunteering abroad. 

Then, search for organizations that do meaningful volunteer work which has a positive impact on the local communities and find the right one for you. 

Finally, look at their programs and identify the most suitable one to your skills, time available, experience, etc. 

We compiled the key elements that an ethical volunteer program should have and hope you take them into account when choosing your next volunteering opportunity.

The organization puts the needs of the community ahead of profit

We have briefly discussed this above but you should discard those organizations that focus on profit generation and on providing a “volunteering experience” above sustainability and the community’s needs. 

If you are being asked to pay a fee to help, that should be a red flag. If the website, communication and presentation of the volunteering opportunities focuses on you, as a volunteer, and offers very little insight into the program, that should be a second red flag.

Paying for your accommodation and food is ok, but you should not be paying for the “experience” of helping, like you would if you were on vacation. Viewing volunteering as an experience creates a distortion and a focus on the value for money equation whereby the “client” expects to receive something in exchange for what they paid.

Volunteering should be about helping others, not about enriching yourself, even though there is no doubt that giving is often more rewarding for the giver than the receiver.

The organization’s philosophy aligns with ethical volunteering

A volunteer organization’s philosophy will tell you a lot about the sustainability of their work. Take a look at their website, study their philosophy and make sure it prioritizes tackling the community’s issues in a responsible and sustainable way. 

Who is the founder, how long has it been offering volunteering programs, how do they manage their funding? Are they transparent in how the funds are applied?

Read their mission and philosophy, does it align with your personal values and does it focus on the betterment of the community it is trying to help? Or is it all about you, the volunteer, and how rewarding it is for the giver?

Projects are sustainable and prioritize the community’s issues and needs

We have said this before, but we will say it here again. Evaluate if the organization centers on the real needs of the people and contributes to solving those issues. 

“Find organizations that establish service projects in communities either by working with local organizations or by developing relationships with the community itself. The organization should design long-term projects with local partners that address high-priority community needs” advises Kayla Anzalone, Director of Rustic Pathways.

When researching volunteer opportunities, try to examine how that program was set up: what’s the reason it was created, how does it function, and if it will continue after volunteers leave. 

This will give you a better understanding of the cause and reveal if the project has a long-term sustainable impact on the community. Volunteering reaches its goal when the projects ensure a change which will stay despite volunteers leaving.

The organization is able to answer tough questions

It’s vital to call the organization you’re considering and ask some questions personally, as suggested by BACK&PACK’s founder. Dan recommends starting with these:

  1. How do you ensure you’re meeting the needs of the local community?
  2. Can you share examples of projects you’ve done in the past that have had positive outcomes?
  3. What about negative outcomes?

A reliable organization must provide sincere answers, and they must focus on the impact on the community, not on the traveler. Use these answers to evaluate the quality of their volunteering work and see if it aligns with your purpose. 

There is proof of positive impact

Continue with your research, now looking for evidence of past impact in the communities the organizations have worked with. Don’t be convinced by simple and generic “we are making a change” claims, which do not prove anything at all. 

Feel free to ask for any official report or stats that reflect the change that volunteers had in collaboration with the community. Look for testimonials or interviews with local community members talking about changes they have noticed.

Finally, investigate if the organization has any plans to continue with those projects and has a long-term commitment.

There is a selection process

It’s important for you to review the steps of the recruitment process of the volunteer organization. While it may feel like a vacation, going on a volunteer program abroad should feel more like a job interview than like booking a vacation; You should have to apply to the program  and there should be a selection process. 

As we’ve learned, it’s vital for a successful project to have qualified volunteers, this way they will contribute with a new skill rather than taking away a job from a qualified local person who would earn a living wage. 

A responsible organization must have a detailed application process for each volunteer program. Usual steps include an application form where you detail your credentials, an interview and a skills test in accordance to the volunteer position you’re applying to, so they can assure your suitability for the role. 

You are not allowed to do work you are not trained for

Unlike the situations portrayed in Unleashed Volunteers (on Amazon Prime), an ethical vacation volunteer program or organization would not allow you to do work you are not qualified to do and would not be able to do back home. 

If you would not be able to care for animals like a vet would back home, or teach a class at your local school, or care for sick children at your nearby hospital or clinic, you shouldn’t be able to do it elsewhere. Just because a community is disadvantaged or in need, that does not mean that you are qualified to help, and sending unqualified volunteers can do a lot of harm.

Furthermore, volunteer opportunities should not fill permanent positions. For example, teaching jobs should not be filled with a stream of short-term volunteers, and construction work at schools should not be done with “free” volunteers. This does not only make it hard to provide quality, consistent work, but also devalues the job done by locals because there is an oversupply of foreign volunteers willing to do it for free.

Training is provided

Volunteer organizations that understand the impact, positive and negative, that volunteering placements and volunteer vacations can have, will provide pre-departure training as well as training and support during your stay. 

The main downside of short term volunteer programs is that by the time you are up to speed and trained for the job, it’s time to return home, leaving the local organization with the investment they made on your training and limited return from your contributions. 

Whether the volunteering program is long or short, training should always be provided ahead of time to ensure you are prepared and ready to contribute to the project or can do so in the best way possible. That should include cultural training so you can fit right in.

There are children protection, environmental and ethical policies established

The ethical aspect of volunteering is very complex, even more so if the projects involve children in vulnerable positions. Any reputable volunteering organization will have a policy for every ethically-relevant matter, in particular that which concerns children. 

A child’s protection policy should include background checks of volunteers, strict rules around photographing children and prohibit the posting of any materials on social media or other public forums, even if the child or the parents asked the volunteer to do so. 

Unless you are a trained professional and plan to volunteer for a long time, you should avoid organizations that offer orphanage visits at all costs, those pose real risks to children and contribute to an industry that makes money at the expense of child exploitation and incentivizes child separation in cases of children who may have one living parent. 

Orphanage volunteering is perhaps the darkest side of voluntourism and its rise in some countries such as Cambodia, is having devastating consequences on already at-risk children.

Ask yourself, would you like your children being taken photos of by strangers and then posted on social media? Are you qualified to care for children who are victims of abuse and trauma? And, will your visit to an orphanage benefit the children in any way or will it just make you feel better? 

Likewise, search for environmental and ethical policies, which will demonstrate if the organization cares about its environmental impact, as well as having a long term commitment through sustainable projects that are based on a collaboration with the community. 

It’s vital to ensure the projects employ and are led by local community members who are consulted on any issues and can decide on the best way for the projects to have a positive impact.

Volunteers are not showcased as superior “saviors”

Many volunteer organizations and placement platforms perpetuate the “West is best” white saviorism complex by showing images on the website or on the program materials that show foreign, often Western, volunteers in positions of superiority over unempowered locals, and which perpetuate stereotypes that volunteers come from superior moral and technological backgrounds. 

For example, foreigners are always shown teaching, while locals smile, gratefully, or the website is filled with messages that reinforce how life changing a difference an unqualified (“No experience required”) volunteer can have on the lives of the local community who appears as having no resources, skills or ability to grow on their own, all, in just two weeks.

Instead, responsible organizations approach abroad volunteer programs as a cultural exchange where no group is superior to the other and promote understanding, tolerance and open-mindedness which is, arguably, the most important benefit of traveling. They also showcase the communities as empowered, like Mama hope does.

Solidarity, before, during and after the program ends, provides a lasting effect on the host organization; Volunteers go back home and they spread the word about the community’s challenges and often fundraise on their behalf.

20 years later, Mar remains an advocate for ACOES and has continued to sponsor the education of 8 children every year while also convincing friends and family to donate.

Tips for choosing a volunteer vacation program

Now that you know how to sort through all the possible volunteering opportunities abroad to distil the legitimate ones, we want to give you some tips for choosing the right one for you.

Ask yourself why you want to volunteer

We all want to do good, some may even start with an international volunteering program as a stepping stone towards a career in the humanitarian world, but we must recognise that a relevant percentage of that willingness to have a positive impact comes from the feel-good aspect of helping others, the pat on the back we will receive from others and the meaningfulness that doing good has, for us. 

Numerous studies prove that helping others is more beneficial for the giver than the receiver, and being aware of that will allow you to be more critical with yourself and your motivations when choosing the right volunteer program and steer you away from the more harmful ones that provide the highest-level of feel-good and the lowest positive impact on the recipient communities. Always start with why.

Understand where you can help

What are you qualified for? What do you have experience with? Where can you help the most? 

Understand your strengths so you can assess volunteering programs against your skills and abilities and filter out options for which there are more qualified individuals. Remember, if you would not be able to take the volunteer position as a full time paid job back home, you should not be able to do it abroad, even if unpaid.

A relevant portion of volunteering program resources is wasted on the mismatch between volunteer skills and position requirements, it pays to reduce your contribution to that wastage.

Be ready to learn

The most beautiful gift a volunteering abroad vacation program will provide you is the perspective, tolerance and learning that comes with being exposed to challenges you never faced back home, and to realities that may be completely opposite to yours, embrace the challenge, and come with an open heart and mind not to pass judgement and criticize the way the local community views any topic.

Make it all about them

This may seem obvious, but you may start your humanitarian trip thinking that you will be helping in an area only to realise that your help is most needed elsewhere where the organization is most lacking.

Maybe you think you can help write a business plan when in reality you can be of most valuable proof-reading and rewriting a donor report or helping update the website. Even if you feel you are overqualified for the work, be open to help out where you are most useful, not where it will provide you most joy or fulfillment, volunteer travel should always be about helping the local organization, not about making you feel good. 

Best volunteer abroad programs and organizations

We know there are lots of different options out there, but we narrowed it down to this list of companies who we consider ethical, reputable and have abroad volunteer programs that ensure long-term commitment and positive impact to communities in need throughout the world.

Take a look!

The United Nations Volunteers

The United Nations defines volunteerism as “one of the most vital delivery mechanisms for social, environmental and economic transformation, ensuring a lasting impact with its ability to change people’s mindsets, attitudes and behaviors”.

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) Program commits to achieving peace and development through international volunteerism. They collaborate with partners to ensure highly qualified UN volunteers, which receive the necessary support. 

Generally, UN volunteers are mid-career professionals in their 30s and a level of experience is required depending on the volunteer category you’re assigned to. From youth volunteers, that require 0-2 years of experience, all the way to expert volunteers, that require up to 15+ years of practice. 

A distinctive factor of UN volunteers is that they combine technical and professional expertise, with motivation and commitment. The UN workforce is vastly diverse and inclusive, recruiting volunteers from all over the world regardless of age, gender, nationality, background, etc.

UNV is active in 154 countries annually and the average deployment time for volunteers is 8 and 12 weeks, considering the host entity confirms funding and chooses candidates.

Amid the COVID pandemic, the organization has taken measures to ensure the safety of volunteers. Currently there are around 150 volunteering opportunities around the world, like a Social Science and Research Specialist in Nepal (12-month duration), a Digital Engagement position in Colombia (12-month duration), or a Child Protection Officer in South Africa (12-month duration). Look for other opportunities here

Omprakash

Omprakash focuses on building relationships between social impact organizations and volunteers, donors and classrooms all over the world. They have a solid platform in which their partners (social organizations) find volunteers and interns, raise funds and make connections with each other. 

The company has a primary educational goal and individuals can use the platform to find international volunteer and internship opportunities, plus obtain accredited online training and mentorship. 

Antonia, one of our group members, has worked with Omprakash for 10 years, in and out of Africa, and she recommended it as “a legit organization to work through”.

Omprakash has more than 180 partners in 40+ countries. To ensure having ethical organizations as partners, the organization has a strict set of expectations their partners must meet. 

Partners must be locally led and community driven, have a sustainable model, reasonable volunteer daily cost, and a clear process for measuring impact, among many other requirements. Omprakash also provides grants for those who want to volunteer but do not have the means to pay for their travel and living expenses abroad.

Besides their platform, Omprakash developed the EdGE program, “an online learning platform designed to foster critical reflection and dialogue amongst people seeking to ‘do good’ when crossing differences of culture and power — whether under the banner of volunteering, interning, service-learning, gap years, or any other”. 

The EdGE program mentors and supports volunteers before, during and after their field positions, and can be also imparted to students in schools and universities, to strengthen their dialogue on social issues.  

Volunteering Matters

Volunteering Matters is a UK organization that “brings people together to overcome some of society’s most complex issues through the power of volunteering”. They ensure social impact by building partnerships with communities to tackle their main issues. 

This organization serves as a platform for volunteers and communities, to collaborate and overcome challenges while reducing barriers and inequalities.

They have more than 60 programs operating throughout the UK, which are specifically tailored to each community and focused on creating sustainable change. There are volunteering opportunities for all: young people, older people, families and disabled people. 

Some of their projects and programmes are:

  • Action earth: volunteers who come together to improve their local environment.
  • Developing youth volunteering in health and care: a project for young people who want to get involved supporting the health and care of others.
  • Family mentors: trained volunteers who serve as mentors and support families in need.
  • Knowledge equals opportunities: volunteers who empower families to take an active role on their children’s education
  • SAFE (Sexual Awareness for Everyone): a project directed to women who have a learning need or disability. Its objective is to provide women with tools to identify appropriate and safe relationships. 

Check out the rest of their programs here

Global Vision International

Global Vision International (GVI) was founded in 1998 in the UK and offers programs in 21 locations, in 13 countries. Each project is managed by their own staff and is aligned with the objectives of local partners, as well as to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Their mission is to “build a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference”. GVVI welcomes volunteers and interns from all over the world and contributes to their development as global citizens while helping local organizations primarily in the wildlife conservation space.

GVI has been recognized by organizations such as Save the Children, Stanford University, and Panthera, for their high-quality sustainable development and experiential education programs. 

The organization is guided by ethical principles and committed to sustainable development and human empowerment and offers transparent reporting of impact, clear ethical principles and guidelines that meet the above criteria and is able to answer tough questions. 

All their projects are managed by their own staff, which has undergone training and has on-site support, and focuses primarily on teen volunteering opportunities which combine pre-trip training and awareness with support to local projects and cultural immersion, vacation-style so they are closer to a volunteer vacation program than a volunteering placement. 

There are plenty of volunteer opportunities to choose from, depending on your skills and motivations. The projects can last from 2 to 12 weeks and contribute to many different causes including wildlife conservation, plastic pollution prevention, environmental conservation, women empowerment and gender equality, education and global public health. 

Lifting Hands International

Lifting Hands International (LHI) is a US organization founded by Hayley Smith that provides aid to refugees around the world. They have a humanitarian mission focussed on helping refugees be stable, self-sufficient and achieve a decent standard of living. Their programs are built with a passion to help altruistically.

LHI supports refugees with different backgrounds and cultures, who had to flee their homes and precarious life conditions, to have a new start somewhere else. 

Among the refugees helped are Afghans, Syrians, Yazidis who fled the 2014 ISIS genocide in Iraq, the stateless Rohingya from Myanmar and Central American refugees fleeing the drug cartels and gangs towards the US border.

The organization has 6 programs which help refugees in different ways. The programs primarily focus on meeting their essential needs and making a difference in the ongoing refugee crisis around the world. 

The programs are:

  • Greatest Need: project initiatives that respond to the needs of refugees in emergency crisis situations.
  • Refugee Center (Greece): supports the refugee camps in Serres, Greece which count 1,100+ residents. Camp residents have access to language classes, social events, a female-friendly space, a children-friendly space and an aid distribution warehouse. 
  • Gather for goats (Jordan): milk goats contribute to the life of Syrian refugees. They make cheese and yogurt from the milk, and sell some baby goats to obtain income.
  • International aid: LHI’s humanitarian aid warehouse located in Utah, where they collect and distribute supplies to refugee families in camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Bangladesh.
  • US Border Aid: LHI delivers aid to shelters along the border, in which Central American refugees are held in detention centers before processing.
  • Utah Refugee Aid: provide aid to refugees that resettle in the state. Provision of basic supplies to individuals and families, as well as aid and services to kids. 

Check out which programs currently accept volunteers here.

Animal Rescue Algarve in Portugal

Animal Rescue Algarve (ARA) is a charitable association that operates an animal shelter devoted to the progress of dog and cat welfare in Portugal. They give a home and responsible care to abandoned dogs and cats. 

The shelter was built in 2018 in the area of Cabanita, northwest of Loule. The area consists of 5 acres of forested land in a stunning valley, it has more than 100 animals and 48 eco-friendly kennels, including 7 social play areas for up to 100 dogs, and a cattery for up to 30 cats. 

Together with the rescue, ARA does a full rehabilitation of the animals, assuring their welfare. One key element in their mission is to find new homes for the animals via a strict process of adoption. 

“Besides their efforts in animal care, they also organize adoptions, visit schools and are involved in the communities. With their community work, they try to teach people the importance of taking care of animals”, shares Gilian Manassee, who runs a sustainable travel blog.

ARA welcomes volunteers who contribute to take care of the animals in the shelter, as well as help carry out the adoption process. There’s usually 7 or 8 dogs per volunteer, which allows for each of them to be walked outside the shelter, have socializing time in the kennels and parks, be fed, etc. 

The majority of volunteers come via the International Workaway scheme and they get free accommodation in return for about 6 hours work per day over a 5 day week. Workaway stay periods are from 2 to 4 weeks and volunteers receive training on-site. Find more information about volunteering in this animal shelter here

Global Himalayan Expeditions

This organization gives travelers the possibility of combining travel with a lifelong impact in Himalayan local communities. Global Himalayan Expeditions (GHE) embraces climate positive travel, that’s why all their trips are carbon negative and aim for sustainable development. 

GHE provides a transformative experience for travelers in which they connect and learn from local communities. Their programs make impact in different areas:

  • Solar power: work towards providing clean energy access through solar power to remote communities.
  • Digital education: they operate an Innovation Center which provides students with access to education resources and material that sparks their interest in a variety of topics.
  • Livelihood: developing home-stays in the electrified villages and training women on tourism and hospitality.

GHE has many expedition options including a Women Leaders Expedition, which unites passionate female volunteers to bring Solar Energy to a remote Himalayan village, creating a tangible social and environmental impact and putting an end to ages of darkness in that village community. See their upcoming expeditions here.

Voluntary Service Overseas

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) creates a lasting impact in some of the world’s poorest regions by working with volunteers and partners to empower communities. They have worked in over 90 countries and with over 80,000 volunteers.

VSO partners with many organizations and has outstanding initiatives including inclusive education, health and resilient livelihood programs. They use volunteering as a powerful tool to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Their volunteer placements are carefully determined with governments and local community groups to ensure volunteers provide the right skills to the right people. VSO also takes volunteer safety and health very seriously, and has staff in each country who can assist at all times. 

To volunteer with VSO you have to be an experienced professional. There are many projects across Africa and Asia, and the volunteer opportunities are divided by sectors including: medical and healthcare, teaching and education, community and social work, engineering and technical, among others. Browse current opportunities here.

Other ways of making a positive impact in the world 

International volunteering is not the only way to make a difference. There are alternative ways in which you can contribute significantly to solving global issues. Being more mindful and involved is a huge step and can benefit the awareness and work that goes into these causes. 

Here are some ways you can make a change for the better without necessarily going abroad for weeks. Get inspired and take action!

Volunteer locally

Sometimes the best way to help is by not traveling abroad and volunteering locally instead. If you have only a short period to volunteer, your efforts may not be as effective abroad as they will be in your own community. Locally, you could volunteer for free and avoid plane ticket fares and abroad volunteer program fees.

For example, teaching children demands time to know and connect with them and cultural immersion to understand their challenges, thus a 2 week program is rewarding for the teacher but can be harmful for the students and cause attachment issues in children that prevent them from having healthy relationships in the future. If your time is limited, invest it at a local organization where you can help on the weekends rather than by crossing the world and take time away from the local organization to train you for minimal productive time to pay it back.

A UN Volunteers report estimates that local volunteering amounts to 109 million equivalent full time employees. Unless you have the right skills and time to make a difference, you help will be most appreciated by your local community.

Educate yourself on global issues

Sometimes the best way to help is to be more informed on social issues concerning our world so you can spread awareness and inspire others who may have the financial means to donate or not be aware of the challenges of disadvantaged communities you want to support.

You can contribute by taking online courses, discussing global issues with family, friends and coworkers, as well as sharing valuable information on ethical volunteerism or other ways to support these causes with them. 

Support ethical organizations with a donation

After reading this piece you may have realised that the 2 week trip to a faraway country to teach children you had envisioned will do more harm than good and that you want to support an organisation that you feel most identified with in a more ethical manner. 

The best support a charity can receive is the financial funds to pay for its local trained staff and for more project recipients to benefit from the program. It won’t involve you going anywhere, and it will not get you close to the beneficiaries of your donation, but it will be the best way to make a difference.

There are wonderful initiatives out there who need people’s donations. You could support an organization that works in your local community, or contribute to an international one. Below, we have listed a few reputable organizations you can be sure are making a difference.

No White saviors

No White Saviors, a female-led movement, formed by an African team based in Kampala, Uganda whose motto is “If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not listening”.

No White saviors focuses on advocacy work in the development and aid sectors, and has a meaningful and log term commitment towards a more equitable and anti-racist society. 

They work alongside Ugandan organizations to help them grow and have the necessary resources to serve their communities. If you follow their Instagram account you can also learn more about the challenges surrounding the community and the activism work they do.

African Wildlife Foundation

Since 1961, the African Wildlife Foundation, has done substantial work to protect Africa’s animal species. Their mission is to ensure wildlife and wildlands flourish throughout the continent and they have pioneered research projects, training programs for local rangers and wildlife conservation personnel, and published books on wildlife in the continent. 

Besides wildlife and land conservation, they also engage in community empowerment and have taken on a global leadership role in the protection of species through awareness campaigns.

African Parks

African Parks is a conservation NGO that combines its advocacy efforts with the management of parks. Unlike African Wildlife Foundation, African Parks takes on “direct responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of protected areas in partnership with governments and local communities” and thus has direct impact on the areas under its supervision. 

The organisation manages almost 20 camps and lodges in 11 countries across Africa and you can contribute to their projects by donating or by staying at their camps and lodges, many of which offer behind the scenes “a day in the life of a park ranger” experiences.

ACOES

This is the organization our Co-Founder, Mar, spent a summer helping back in 2002 and has supported since. Asociación Colaboración y Esfuerzo (ACOES) started in 1992 prompted by a group of young students in the impoverished “colonias” of Tegucigalpa who asked a Spanish missionary to help them get an education. Concerned that their neighbors and friends didn’t have the same opportunity, ACOES was born with this desire to provide education and help others and with a strong sense of solidarity. 

Students help as they get help and the organization continues to be run by 900 volunteers across Honduras, most of whom are the older students attending secondary school who help manage the projects after school hours. 

An additional 1,000 plus foreign volunteers based in cities across Canada, the US, France and Spain provide financial and organizational support from abroad, raising awareness, funds and looking for sponsors for the project.

It is because of this solidarity principle and volunteer-fueled approach that 100% of the donations to ACOES are used to finance the schools, pay the teachers’ salaries and finance kids’ uniforms, books, meals and tuition.

Against Malaria Foundation

For a more surgical impact on a specific topic that claims the lives of thousands every year, you can support the Against Malaria Foundation that protects underprivileged communities in Africa, Asia and South America from malaria by distributing insecticide-treated mosquito nets. 100% of public donations go to buying the nets which are distributed with the help of partners. 

Carbon 180

Carbon 180 is an NGO focused on climate change on a mission to radically rethink carbon. They work with expert scientists and businesses to implement carbon removal technologies and achieve a world that removes more carbon than it emits. 

Comhlámh

Comhlámh is a leading organization in Ireland that promotes responsible international volunteering practice. It’s a legit site with many resources on the subject like a code of good practice, a directory of ethical volunteer sending agencies and the main issues to consider before volunteering. 

The organizations listed on this site are reputable and ethical, as they adhere to certain standards. Browse the site and find additional resources to learn about social change and volunteer opportunities abroad. 

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