If you are looking for raw volunteering, without extras like pre-dawn yoga classes and sunset trips to the Taj, there are several organizations you can get involved with in Pakistan. Since there isn’t an infrastructure for casual volunteering, applicants are expected to commit at least six months for the majority of volunteer positions.
Alternatively, you could sign up for a short-term work camp or visit a local NGO during your travels to see if there are any opportunities available.
Volunteer Service International (VSO)
VSO is one of the international organizations that has stuck it out in Pakistan when other companies and NGOs have pulled out. In Pakistan, VSO places volunteers in three fields: education, HIV and AIDS, and participation and governance awareness. Each VSO volunteer works directly with a local NGO, school or institution.
A limited number of short-term assignments of three to six months are available, but most volunteers sign a two-year contract. Volunteer benefits include training, transportation, accommodation, life and health insurance, and necessary vaccinations.
VSO also applies for and secures volunteers a work or NGO visa, which can be an onerous and lengthy process if you try to do it yourself. Volunteers comfortably have enough for a modest living, although if you want to travel and splurge on mocha lattés, you’ll need to have some cash reserves.
Applicants must have professional training and at least two years work experience. When you apply, VSO matches your professional profile with open positions around the world. Teacher trainers and curriculum development specialists stand a good chance of being able to find a position in Pakistan.
United Nations Volunteers
If you’re over 25 with a degree and two years of work experience, you can apply to be a UN volunteer in Pakistan. Renewable contracts are offered for six to 12 months, although volunteers are expected to commit at least one year to a specific post.
Some of the projects that UN volunteers have been involved with in Pakistan include human rights advocacy, earthquake relief and recovery, and working with Afghan refugees. Volunteers are provided with a living allowance, settling-in grant, travel expenses, life insurance, and health insurance.
Whereas VSO workers often find themselves working with other foreigners, UN volunteers should be prepared to work independently and live in more remote regions.
World Wildlife Federation
Located in Lahore, WWF Pakistan is involved with a variety of countrywide conservation projects. If your background is in environmental protection, agriculture, climate change, or wildlife management, you can apply to volunteer with WWF. Current projects include an initiative for sustainable cotton farming, ensuring water security in the Indus River Basin, restoring the native vulture population, and protecting Pakistani wetlands and highlands.
Most employees at the WWF Lahore base are locals, but international volunteers are welcome to contact Maryam Aurangzeb to find out how you can get involved.
Service Civil International
More than 5,000 volunteers filter through SCI’s short-term work camps in over 60 countries each year. In previous years, Pakistan has hosted SCI volunteer teams for work camps two to three weeks in duration. Camp work often involves physical labor and collaborating with community organizations.
To sign up for a work camp, you’ll need to pay a $35 annual membership fee plus $235 for participation in the camp. All travel related costs are the responsibility of the volunteer. No camps have been listed yet for Pakistan in 2010, but you can check SCI’s news page to find out when new camps are added.
Applicants must be at least 21 to apply, but no technical skills are necessary for general volunteers.
Remember, if you accept a volunteer position with benefits or a stipend, you will need to apply for a valid work or NGO visa. Be wary of any volunteer organization that cannot provide a visa, as it can be nearly impossible to get one on your own. The visa application process can take anywhere from two months to an entire year, so if you’d like to volunteer in Pakistan, it’s essential to plan ahead.
If you plan on visiting Pakistan as a tourist and offering a few hours or days of your time to a local NGO, you should be fine with a tourist visa. Just don’t mention the volunteer part when you are going through immigration so as not to raise any eyebrows or rob your wallet of a few thousand rupees in “fines.”
Check out our Middle East Travel Focus Page for more articles about Pakistan.