5 Reasons You Should Have at Least One Long-Term Volunteer Experience

Volunteering your time is a great way to help make the world a better place. There are thousands of projects underway around the world with every focus you can imagine, from helping children to helping animals, environmental conservation projects to home-building projects.

Some people volunteer for local projects, whether that’s working at a soup kitchen every week, helping out at the local animal shelter, or tutoring kids after school. This is awesome and something I think everyone should do. Find a project or cause you’re passionate about and get involved. Make your community a better place. Make helping a part of your life.

That said, I also think everyone should try full-time, long-term (at least a couple of weeks) volunteering at least once. You can fit it into a vacation or make it a longer term project. There’s something special about traveling to a project and staying for an extended period of time. The experience is different when the project is your entire focus, rather than being just one of the things you fit into your busy week.

Bottle-feeding orphaned monkeys at the Vervet Monkey Foundation in South Africa.

Here are 5 reasons you should consider joining a long-term volunteer project:

Contribute to non-local issues

When you incorporate volunteering into your day-to-day life, you are mostly restricted to issues that affect your local community or have advocacy organizations located in your town. In the latter case, you can absolutely make a difference, but it won’t be hands on. For example, you can raise money to protect elephants from your home in Los Angeles, but it’s a completely different experience to go to Thailand and be directly involved in their rescue and care.

elephant bath
Giving an elephant a bath at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand.

Immerse yourself in the experience

Local volunteer projects are fantastic and are a great way to give back to your community. But no matter how invested you are in the project, volunteering is just one of many things on your weekly to-do list and just one of dozens of tasks competing for your attention. When you live at the project site though, the project becomes your primary focus. Your entire day is focused on the problem at hand and the work you are doing.

Check out from reality for a while

Sometimes it’s nice to not have to worry about bills or traffic or sorting out your social calendar for a while. It’s nice to have a singular positive focus and, when you’re not working, be able to unapologetically tune out the rest of the world. Read those books you haven’t gotten to, sleep in, take a nap, or just wander around exploring new parts of the world without the responsibility or constraints of “normal life.”

Meet people from around the world

Long-term volunteer projects attract people from around the world, all coming together to reach a common goal. You’ll have the chance to meet people you might never have otherwise met, learn their stories, be inspired by their experiences, and have friends in all corners of the globe.

Building bridges through the Bornean jungle to facilitate day releases of rescued orangutans.

Try something different

Whether it’s living in the jungle for a while or doing manual labor, long-term volunteer projects give you the chance to try something out of the ordinary. There aren’t too many people who monitor sea turtles on an ongoing basis, but it’s something you can do for a while. Same goes with caring for elephants or digging wells. Have those amazing experiences, even if they aren’t what you decide to do full-time.

Whatever you decide to do, be sure to research the project and organization you are interested in. There are, unfortunately, a lot of unethical organizations out there and you want to make sure that your time and money are going where you think they are, and that you will be helping people or animals who want to be helped in a way that is actually useful.

4 thoughts on “5 Reasons You Should Have at Least One Long-Term Volunteer Experience

    1. Hi Meg! The main thing is making sure that the animals aren’t forced to perform in any way, as many so-called ‘sanctuaries’ still include elephant painting or other animal shows for visitors. Also, day visitors shouldn’t have direct interaction with the animals, as an increased level of ‘control’ is required to maintain safety when so many untrained individuals are so close to the animals. And, of course, no riding (even without the chair/harness setup). The two best places to volunteer in Thailand are Elephant Nature Park and Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. Enjoy!!


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