Enrich Your Life When You Travel: Volunteer!

Planting organic coffee in the Philippines

Next time you get long holidays or if you’re thinking of taking a gap year soon, how about considering giving a bit of your time for causes that matter? Volunteering has changed our lives for the better; it has been a very fulfilling and rewarding experience on many levels. The communities we have visited, the people we have met, the causes we have been involved with, the stories we have heard and the realities we have experienced have all shaped our lives and mission for the past two years.

Taking care of Mother Earth in Indonesia

When we started our nomadic life, volunteering hadn’t crossed our minds yet until one faithful day we stepped into a small restaurant in Pai, Thailand. There, we saw an ad from an organic farm looking for volunteers to help with farm work and in return they would get three organic vegan meals a day, accommodation, yoga, Buddhist teachings and meditation. We quickly signed up for it and a week later we arrived at the farm.

Mindful Farm was located in a local Thai village that saw zero tourists. Away from the hustle and bustle, this beautiful and quiet place was perfect to commune with nature and to gently work on the land. This was the place where we first learned the basic conversational Thai that would win us the heart of many locals.

Little Nobara, Pinnaworn and Noriko, our hosts and teachers at Mindful Farm

In McLeod GanJ, India we got involved with the Tibetan refugees and got to hear first-hand about their struggles, dreams and hopes. Despite all the fear, violence and despair, we saw great strength and compassion in those who managed to escape the Land of Snows. Many were young people who had dreams of going to college, traveling and having a normal life; they hoped Tibet would be once again a free nation and thus be reunited with the loved ones they had to leave behind. Also, before leaving town to head to our next project, we were treated to a nice surprise and had the great pleasure of attending one of the Dalai Lama’s teachings. How could all these authentic interactions not impact our lives?

These experiences have allowed us to become more open and compassionate and to look at the world, people and the purpose of our lives with different lenses. If we had been just passing through as ordinary tourists, we would have certainly missed all of this.

Volunteering with the Tibetan community in McLeod Ganj, home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile.
Tasting locally grown pineapple with Shekar, the project coordinator

In all the places where we have volunteered, we have been out in the open in gorgeous locations in nature, touching the Earth, away from hectic cities. In the South of India we volunteered at Sholai, an alternative school and center for learning organic agriculture and small-scale technologies. The school was beautifully placed in the forest, and one night we were woken up by some commotion going on outside our hut. When we opened the curtains, we saw a huge white thing poking out from the darkness. At first we couldn’t make out what it was until it took a step forward and what was revealed in front of us was a humongous elephant. Words cannot describe the intense fear and excitement we felt to be just a few meters away from this majestic creature. And to our surprise it wasn’t just one wild elephant but three wild elephants looking for water and food. Their little family excursion left us with a memory of a lifetime.

Helping with the construction of an auditorium at Sholai

Volunteering will enrich your life, and very likely the lives of others. At the end of the day you will have given your energy for a good cause; you will go to bed with a smile knowing that you have in some way contributed to building something beautiful, and that to us is what happiness and fulfillment feel like. In our opinion these are the main benefits of volunteering:

  • Feeling useful by giving a helping hand to communities that need it
  • Understanding the issues of our time better, particularly those linked to the community being helped
  • Having authentic interactions with locals
  • Learning about the local culture and language in depth
  • Meeting like-minded people and making friends with whom to have real and substantial conversations
  • Working in a unique environment and being surrounded by gorgeous nature (if in the countryside)
  • Living experiences that gives beautiful stories to share for the rest of life

Here’s how we got started. We mostly relied on:

  1. Suggestions from other like-minded travelers
  2. Ads we saw in eateries and guesthouses, especially those working on responsible tourism
  3. A platform called helpx.net. They have an impressive list of projects from organic farms, alternative schools, teaching yoga or English. There are other similar platforms too: workaway.info and wwoof.

So what do you say?! How would you like to volunteer on your next trip?

At the end of collecting donations for the Thabarwa center in Yangon, Myanmar

NOTE: We would like to kindly inform you that our book “Creating our (R)Evolution” is almost ready and will be available September 2016.

Originally published at www.weareco.org.

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