Volunteering abroad (aka Voluntourism) is a great way to combine travel with charity. However, many prospective volunteers are dissuaded by the high costs associated with most overseas volunteer programs. A Google search will reveal numerous commercial volunteer agencies with fees of hundreds to thousands of dollars. Most of these agencies serve as middlemen, charging placement fees to connect volunteers with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other programs. Unfortunately much of that money is sucked up by overhead and administrative fees and does not trickle down to the host community. Luckily, there is a better (and cheaper) way to volunteer abroad. The Ethical Volunteer has an excellent Guide which highlights some of the ethical considerations you should contemplate before, during, and after an overseas volunteer placement.
Below, I have compiled a list of websites listing free and low-cost volunteer opportunities around the world. These grass roots organizations work directly with volunteers, rather than third parties. Although the actual programs are free or low cost, volunteers still have some out-of-pocket expenses, like airfare, food, and possibly housing. Volunteer Forever helps you offset those costs by launching a fundraising campaign and collecting donations for your trip. Omprakash also offers volunteer abroad grants to qualified individuals. Thanks to the power of the internet, cost is no longer an impediment to your desire to do good in the world.
By the way, even if you don’t volunteer you can still positively impact communities around the world by bringing meaningful contributions to the destinations you visit. Check out Pack For a Purpose to learn how you can use available space in your luggage to provide supplies to local community-based projects.
FREE AND LOW-COST VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES
Volunteer Africa – Lists information about free and low-cost volunteer opportunities throughout Africa.
Volunteer 4 Africa – Free membership allows you to view volunteer opportunities and project updates. They encourage volunteers to support charities thru direct participation or providing supplies.
The Ethical Volunteer – Lists various projects in Africa which can be directly contacted by the volunteer.
Volunteer Work Thailand – Includes a comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities in Thailand for all abilities and interests.
CENTRAL AMERICA / SOUTH AMERICA
Volunteer South America – Includes a long list of organizations offering free and low-cost volunteer programs in South America, and even a few in Central America. Visit the FAQ page for comprehensive information about volunteering and avoiding scam programs.
Omprakash – Connects volunteers with grassroots organizations around the world. Omprakash offers grants to help defer the costs of traveling and living abroad, and also free online resources on teaching, learning, traveling and international volunteering.
True Travellers Society – Blog and website about free and low cost international volunteer opportunities.
Free Volunteering – Lists a variety of free volunteer opportunities around the world.