The Global Voluntourist's Bucket List

by Julie Schwietert May 27, 2010

That’s a quote by Matador Goods editor, Lola Akinmade, who volunteers as a photojournalist with NGOs around the world.

For passionate travelers who are equally passionate about volunteering, Matador has devised the ultimate bucket list. Here are 25 volunteer projects we want to get involved in:

1. Help save sea turtles.

The sea turtle life is tough from the get-go; everything, it seems, conspires against a hatchling’s survival. All seven species of marine turtles in the United States are listed as endangered, and the situation isn’t much better elsewhere in the world.

Saving sea turtles involves many human interventions, including protecting nesting habitats, assisting hatchlings from nest to sea, and monitoring turtle populations.

Matador contributor Teresa Ponikvar profiles one organization, Project Todos Tortugueros, in her article, “Saving Turtles in Baja California Sur, Mexico.”

2. Learn an endangered language in order to help save it.

Languages, like animals and cultures, are endangered.

According to UNESCO, more than half of the 6,700 languages spoken in the world are likely to be extinct by the end of this century.

Find out which languages are at immediate risk of being lost, and then check out Matador Abroad and Glimpse Editor-in-Chief Sarah Menkedick’s article about ways you can help prevent language extinction.

3. Help build a house.

Maybe not with Habitat for Humanity, which contributor Bryan Fox has questioned for its opaque accounting practices, but building a house–or better yet, helping build a community–is one important way of providing people with the basic resources they need to be able to meet their other needs.

Baclayon Medical Clinic, Philippines; Photo: beshigyawn

4. Translate at a medical clinic.

If you’re fluent in another language, you can provide vital support as a translator at short-term or permanent medical clinics abroad. The Humanity Exchange, which works with the Afro-Colombian community in Choco, Colombia, seeks volunteer translators to translate documents from Spanish to English and vice versa. The documents are vital for securing funding to continue its medical work in the region.

5. Donate needed supplies.

Check the Stuff Your Rucksack bulletin board before leaving home to find out if an organization at your destination is in need of health, educational, or other supplies. Save a permanent space in your backpack for a donation of books; organizations like Big Brother Mouse, based in Laos, welcome donations to expand their libraries.

6. Build a website for a community co-op.

One of the challenges for people leading projects in developing countries is they often lack access to platforms where they can disseminate information about their work. If you have web development skills, inquire if a local co-op might be interested in a pro-bono website. Just make sure that there’s a way for them to update the site–or for you to do so through ongoing contact with a local liaison.

Bam, Iran, an endangered WHS; Photo: Charlie Phillips

7. Help preserve a World Heritage Site.

30 of the world’s UNESCO Heritage Sites are in critical danger due to climate change, overdevelopment, poorly managed tourism, political conflict, or natural disasters. If you’re headed to an area that has an endangered World Heritage Site and you possess specific skills, such as archaeological or artifact conservation, contact local cultural organizations to see if you can join their preservation efforts.

8. Organize a beach clean up.

Maybe you attended a full moon party in Thailand with a bunch of fun-loving travelers from your hostel. Visit the beach again after your hangover has worn off–it’s probably a pretty dirty patch of sand.

Trash on beaches causes animal deaths, human injuries, and other environmental problems. Be part of the solution — organize a beach clean up.

9. Shoot photos for an NGO.

Non-profits all over the world are doing incredible work, but many lack the financial resources to document their efforts. Photographs, in particular, are an important part of that documentation process, because they provide tangible evidence that the organization is achieving the objectives it has articulated, evidence that is required for continued funding.

If you have photography skills, consider volunteering with an NGO. Offer a set amount of time to document their work and then give the photos to them on a CD/DVD and jump drive– pro bono.

10. Adopt a school or classroom.

When I spent a month in Mompox, Colombia in 2008, I was blown away by how some modest efforts could make a big difference in the lives of kids. If I could adopt a class of ninth graders and make sure they all had gym shoes (at $5 USD each), then I’d be supporting school attendance–teachers would make students go home if they showed up without gym shoes, yet many parents couldn’t afford them.

A reef in the Maldives; Photo: nattu

11. Dive to document reef conditions.

Reefs around the world are dying due to global warming, but divers are playing a key role in documenting reef conditions and gathering data that may help slow or prevent further damage. The UK based organization ReefDoctor leads conservation and research dives in Madagascar.

12. Document world music.

If you’re handy with a video camera and/or video editing software, the renowned public radio program Afropop Worldwide is seeking a volunteer to document performances as part of a living archive. More details can be found here.

13. Help save strays.

Stray animals, especially dogs and cats, are a huge problem in many parts of the world, including Santiago, Chile. Learn more about how you can help strays while you’re traveling.

14. Fund raise for the arts in Africa.

Ghana’s Foundation for Contemporary Art “provides an information resource for artists, regularly holds workshops and exhibitions, and provides a space for artists, curators and academics to share ideas on the future for African art.” It’s currently seeking a volunteer to help fund raise, so if you’re good at hustling for dollars, this might be a good match for you. Bonus? The ideal volunteer is expected to “frequent galleries and cultural organisations in Accra and to attend occasional evening events.” More details can be found here.

15. Teach kids conflict resolution skills… and how to make movies.

Use this curriculum from the organization Where Peace Lives to help kids learn how to use a video camera and, in the process, “to learn to work through problems in a non-violent way.”

The planetarium in Ghana; Photo: satm test

16. Run a planetarium.

Got a thing for the stars? So does Dr. Jacob Ashong, founder and director of the Ghana Planetarium Project. Dr. Ashong wants to hear from volunteers who are interested in a long-term assignment as a planetarium assistant or project coordinator. Teach astronomy to kids… and then tell the world you helped run a planetarium.

17. Design a wiki for peace.

Join the Michigan Peace Team, an “international organization that trains people from all walks of life (and increasingly, all areas of the world) in nonviolence and conflict intervention skills,” as a tech-savvy volunteer. The MPT needs someone proficient in wiki development to help set up a wiki set for its International Peace Teams Advanced Nonviolence Training Program.

18. WWOOF on six continents.

Got a green thumb? Organic farms around the world could use your expertise. Check our beginners’ guide to WWOOFing for tips on finding a farm and getting started as a WWOOFer.

19. Provide counseling and mental health support to the blind in Bolivia.

Sustainable Bolivia has numerous volunteer opportunities, including the chance for trained mental health professionals to provide short-term counseling support to blind Bolivians through its partnership with the Manuel E. Gandarillas Rehabilitation Center for the Blind. Though the focus of his volunteer placement was different, Matador Trips co-editor Hal Amen has volunteered with Sustainable Bolivia. Read more about his experiences in his Volunteer Voice series.

20. Coach a soccer team in Tanzania.

Sports are an important aspect of community development, and the organization Hope Tanzania is actively seeking volunteers to coach soccer and other sports, including net ball and volleyball. The placement provides lots of other experience as well, including the opportunity to teach HIV/AIDS awareness.

21. Lead participatory art events in El Salvador.

Puppetry, mural-making, theatre performances, and storytelling are four ways you can get involved in community arts projects in El Salvador. The ArtCorps is seeking long-term volunteers for a one-year placement.

What’s on your voluntourism bucket list?
22. Teach orphaned children in Nepal.

Orphanages around the world are typically strapped for resources, including teachers to give lessons in basic literacy skills. Nepal is just one of the many countries where you can volunteer to teach orphans; learn more here.

23. Teach English to African refugees in Israel.

Language acquisition is one of the predictors of a refugee’s success in transitioning to a new culture and country. Tel Aviv’s African Refugee Development Center seeks volunteers to teach evening English classes to recently arrived refugees. Placements are for two months.

24. Support endangered species research.

The US-based Endangered Species Coalition has an ongoing need for volunteers to conduct research and help develop educational awareness materials regarding endangered species.

25. Make GIS maps of marine and land habitats.

Your specialized skills can be of benefit. If you know how to make GIS maps, the Greek organization Archipelagos could use your help. The organization is documenting biodiversity in the Aegean Sea and needs assistance analyzing data.

Community Connection:

What’s on your voluntourism bucket list? Tell us in the comments!

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