Is Volunteering Abroad for Everyone?

by Published

This is a question that has certainly come up many times and the answer isn’t always consensual about what volunteer requirements exist. Can I take the family? Am I old enough? Do I have to have experience? Does my...Yes! The answer is yes, because volunteering is for everyone! Helping has no age, gender, race, or religion. 

Going on a volunteer trip is a very fun and rewarding experience that can be tailored to each and every person, or group of people for that matter. To help you understand how diverse volunteers really are, here are some frequently asked questions about volunteer trips, and some examples of unique volunteer travelers that made their volunteering dreams come true in 2016:

Volunteer all dressed up for their mission
Volunteer all dressed up for their mission

Have you thought about bringing your children on a volunteer?

Carmen's mother thought so and brought her three children and a niece with her to volunteer in Portugal. They came from the United States and, besides visiting Lisbon, Cascais, and Sintra with local guides, they had the opportunity to spend several hours with children in need. At the time, the institution that welcomed them was preparing the end-of-school party and the family could help throughout the event preparation, alongside with the Portuguese staff.

Carmen spent most of the time playing with the other children, teaching them different games that she plays with her friends back home, and learning new ones. This interaction allowed the Portuguese children to have a different experience and get in touch with a completely different culture. It also supported the institution that could count on more help to make a great party for the kids. Carmen, who was only six years old, and her siblings, aged 15 and 16, had an experience they will not soon forget and that has given them different, and very fun, holidays.

Can newlyweds go on a volunteer trip as an alternative honeymoon?

Anna and Scott got married this year. As all recently married couples, they could not afford to miss their honeymoon. But, unlike most, Anna and Scott did not go to a paradisiacal beach in the middle of the ocean or a tropical resort. Instead, they came to Portugal to experience a volunteer trip together. This experience was undoubtedly much more memorable than the normal stay at a luxury resort.

The couple stayed in a social hostel with a fantastic view over the Atlantic Ocean, at S. Pedro do Estoril, a short distance away from Cascais, Sintra, and Lisbon, to where they used to walk, try Portuguese wines from different regions, and take time just to relax together. In addition to the fantastic moments and fun stories they took home to tell their family and friends, they have also helped an institution to fight against food waste. For three hours a day, they helped to collect, sort, and pack meals and delivered them to underprivileged families. No doubt this honeymoon could not have been more unforgettable.

Locals and internationals develop a true relationship by working side by side
Locals and internationals develop a true relationship by working side by side

Is there an age limit for international volunteers?

Mary came from Scotland to change lives. This 75-year-old volunteer traveler decided to visit Porto in a different way. She took a ride on an ecologic tuk-tuk, walked through the narrow streets of the city center, tasted the best dishes in neighborhood restaurants (tasquinhas, as we call them in Lisbon), and helped autistic children by teaching them Tai-chi and yoga. She came on her own but returned home full of new friends, because, in addition to having had the opportunity to meet one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal, she was also able to help children through a martial art she loves so much.

Does a physical disability restrict you from volunteer trips?

John came from Florida with a group of five friends to participate in a truly unique volunteer trip, aiming to help with the preservation of the Iberian Wolf. In this program, his mission was to preserve the wolves’ natural habitat by giving them the conditions to live well and safely. None of the volunteers had direct contact with the animals, but, throughout the days and weeks they were there, they created a real bond with these creatures and got to know their names and personality.

This work was very physically demanding, but that didn’t discourage John, who has a physical condition: dwarfism. Like his friends, he had a lot of fun and participated in most of the activities, making a valuable contribution to the center and showing that there are no barriers when you want to help.

The Marine Conservation project collected over 588 kgs of trash from the Ocean
The Marine Conservation project collected over 588 kgs of trash from the Ocean

Is religion a limitation for volunteering abroad?

There are religions, creeds, and ways of life that make getting out of our comfort zone a little harder, but not impossible.

Elijah and his brother wanted to come to Portugal and join a construction and renovation program, because they had heard from a friend that these kinds of programs are really rewarding and Lisbon was a fantastic city to visit. But, there was a little issue: the brothers had a kosher diet, a very specific Jewish diet with various restrictions and rituals, which only allows them to eat kosher food. In countries where there isn’t a very big Jewish community, as is the case of Portugal, it is difficult to find kosher food or kosher restaurants. However, that didn’t stop them from coming and having fun through a meaningful volunteer trip. As for the food issue, the local team contacted some people from the Jewish community and quickly found a suitable solution for them.

Do famous people go on volunteer trips?

Emma, who had her 30th birthday in Portugal, is an up-and-coming Broadway actress and came to Lisbon to dive and clean the Atlantic Ocean. Contrary to what we usually think of American Broadway stars, the beautiful and talented Emma didn’t want to enjoy her holidays surrounded by the usual friends on a luxury-kind of paradise island. Instead she preferred to discover Europe, meet different people, and volunteer. During her volunteer trip, Emma made friends easily, wandered around Lisbon and Cascais, and picked up over 50 kilograms of trash from the Cascais coastline during the dives she did every day (even on Sundays!) as part of her diving volunteer program. She even played the role of Frozen in a little role-play, especially for a “little” big movie fan. In the end, she returned to her musicals with her heart full of memories and the desire to return to Portugal to volunteer again next summer.

This couple sorted different types of trash
This couple sorted different types of trash

Is having Portuguese heritage a good enough motivation to come to volunteer in Portugal?

Marina comes from the United States and is a Portuguese descendant. She was always very curious to know her ancestors’ country and so she decided to come for a month to volunteer and get to know Portugal. Studying to be a Chef de Cuisine, she embraced a volunteer program focused on fighting food waste for the four weeks she had planned to stay. But apart from the dedication to volunteering and enjoying Portuguese gastronomy, she traveled from north to south and made a lot of friends.

She enjoyed her stay so much that she decided to give up the two months she was supposed to volunteer in Costa Rica and extended her time in Portugal for that same period. In the following two months, she discovered more about Portugal, got to know more about the gastronomy and customs, and made great friends having been invited to birthday parties, family parties, and even weekends at holiday homes of other volunteers she met at her placement. Undoubtedly, this was an unforgettable volunteer trip that allowed her to discover part of her roots and find a new family that she will surely visit many times. 

This American family joined an eco-tuktuk tour in Belém, Lisbon
This American family joined an eco-tuktuk tour in Belém, Lisbon

Are wealthy people motivated to volunteer abroad as well?

Aisha is a 20 year old girl who comes from a wealthy Muslim family and is studying to be a plastic surgeon. Although her personal condition allows her to choose luxurious destinations, Aisha decided to volunteer in an institution that helps fighting food waste in Lisbon. She arrived with her mother, who left Aisha at her accommodation and went to another hotel, giving her daughter the freedom to visit the city and meet new people. Neither her financial condition nor her religious choice affected her relationship with the other travelers in any way, nor her commitment to the volunteer project that she embraced for a week. She returned home much richer, full of stories to tell, and with friends for life.

Volunteer trips can be full of surprises. People of all religions, social statuses, academic degrees, and styles of living can see this form of traveling as a way of discovering new countries with the locals and giving a little of themselves to others; with this in mind, anyone can have what it takes to volunteer abroad, because there are no global volunteer requirements. This different way of traveling allows all travelers to really make a difference. So yes, volunteering abroad IS for everyone!

Find a volunteer program on GoAbroad now!

This article was contributed by ImpacTrip, a social business dedicated to providing unique volunteer experiences in Portugal, which not only give back to local communities, but also immerse volunteers in Portuguese culture. Logging over 7000 hours of volunteering from hundreds of volunteers, ImpacTrip is committed to providing true positive impact through each volunteer program.

Topic:  Before You Go