Love to volunteer abroad with your children? Here’s how to do it

Love an alternative to a bucket and spade holiday? Here’s how you can volunteer abroad with children.

Volunteering abroad is an exciting, and increasingly popular, alternative to a holiday. While it can be difficult to justify having time off, volunteering can give you experiences and skills that make it more than just a break.

But for working women (and men) with children, especially young ones, it can seem like an opportunity that’s just out of reach.

However, it is possible to volunteer abroad with your children, and it doesn’t have to be a headache. Here’s a starting guide to volunteering abroad with your kids.

What can kids do?

Whatever the age of your children, there will be something they can do to contribute to your volunteer project. Consider whether they’re old enough or capable of joining in with the actual project. Can they garden, read aloud, or carry items, for example?

If they’re very young, it might be better for them to do something unrelated, such as colouring books, nearby while you work. Perhaps they can play with local children and foster cultural exchange in doing so. Or maybe they’ll just keep staff and volunteers company with their sweet giggles and warm snuggles.

Older kids should be able to contribute to choosing the project. Ask them what they want to get out of it and think about what you hope they’ll get out of it, as well as what you want to do. Do they want to practice a language? Get to know a different culture? Learn about teaching, conservation, or animals? Do their desires match yours?

Any doubts can be put to rest by speaking to the program organiser. A good volunteer sending organisation will be able to answer any questions you have about how your children can contribute.

Juggling the cost

Financial commitments can be the most daunting part of arranging to volunteer abroad. But there are ways to do it cheaply, especially if you’re paying for yourself and your children.

First, consider fundraising your trip. Family and friends might be happy to donate towards the cost of a program that benefits not just you, but also a community in need.

You can look into low-cost volunteer sending organisations. Some keep their costs down by having you cook all your meals – which can be ideal if you’ve got fussy eaters! – or asking you to buy your own flights. And a good organisation will help you find your flights at a cost that suits you anyway.

You can also go independent and find your own roles at small projects, or organic farms. Look at Workaway or WWOOF for independent projects and check out Original Volunteers for their affordable and varied programs.

The benefits of volunteering abroad

Volunteering abroad offers a plethora of benefits for you and your children. First and foremost, you’ll be bonding with them. Going out of your comfort zone, without all the modern fixings, the experience will allow you to grow closer and learn more about each other.

It’s a real learning experience for your kids, too, giving them chance to see a side of your host country that doesn’t get taught in textbooks. They’ll learn about compassion, cultural exchange, and adapting to new environments. Volunteering also teaches about looking outside of your own bubble at home to issues that affect others, and gives them the tools to consider how they can help people in need.

It’s a chance for them – and you – to pick up a new language, try something new, and learn new skills that will help in both careers and personal life situations.

Things to think about before you commit

Committing to volunteer abroad with your kids is a big decision, and not one that should be taken lightly. While there are a multitude of positives, you need to be realistic and know what to expect.

Do your research before you make the commitment, and ask other parents how their trips went. And remember, you can always ask your program organisers for advice.

Consider that the accommodation might not be comfortable. There may not be electricity or running water, and you might have to share a room. Make sure you know what to expect from your particular program, and make sure your kids expect it too.

Be prepared for illness. In countries where doctors might not be quite so easily accessible, you need to steel yourself for upset tummies, fevers, and other illnesses. Take plenty of over-the-counter medicines with you. Make sure you know where the nearest doctor is and have a plan in place to get there quickly if necessary.

Think about looking for a program with a less structured schedule. Little ones can get tired or crabby at a moment’s notice, and you might need more breaks if you’re also attending to your children. A program where you’re not expected to adhere to a strict timetable might be more suitable. But it’s up to you to decide what will be best for you.

Photo by Tim Trad