The Middle East should really be called the Middle of Everything. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism were born here. The oldest city in the world, Damascus, is found here. Falafel was made here. There are a few well-known problems in the Middle East, which your mother might worry about, but you can reassure her that all this means is that the Middle East is perfect for meshing together experiences, like riding camels and making a genuine difference in the world. Volunteering in the Middle East will be the ultimate exchange; giving help where it is really needed, and taking away experiences of a lifetime.
With one foot in the Mediterranean and the other in the Persian Gulf, the Middle East spans white sand beaches, thriving metropolises, and ancient temples. A wellspring of culture since the beginning of human memory, this corner of the world delivers wanderlust-inducing volunteer (and Instagram) opportunities with finesse.
Small but fierce, Israel is a certified hotspot for volunteering in the Middle East. Proof that good things do come in small packages, the diversity of volunteer opportunities in Israel reflects the sheer range of land and cityscapes its modest borders contain. Between bumping nightlife in Tel Aviv and starkly beautiful desert, history-saturated Jerusalem, and the legendary Dead Sea, brace yourself for a sensory overload in the biblical Holy Land.
Only miles away, but miles apart from Israel, is Palestine. For a relatively tiny area, Palestine, has been at the center of disputes throughout the ages, changing hands and borders time and time again. Palestine is volatile to say the least, but the conflict means volunteers are a valuable commodity. Volunteering in Palestine is a completely unique experience, which allows volunteers to gain a first-hand understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the meaning of national identity.
Alternatively, cross the river of Jordan and step into a land of dramatic red sands, a great valley carving a rift into the earth, and the breathtaking wonder of a city carved into stone. Jordan is endlessly fascinating and ripe for exploring. Volunteering abroad in Jordan is a great introduction to life in an Islamic society, and distinctly Middle Eastern culture, while being in close proximity to wonders such as Petra, the Jordan Rift Valley, and the Dead Sea.
Volunteer Programs in the Middle East
In a region as rich and varied as any good Persian carpet, there is an appropriately diverse selection of ways to volunteer abroad in the Middle East. Whatever your interests or your experience, you will be able to find a volunteer program in the Middle East to fit your goals.
Volunteer programs in the Middle East are often geared towards community development and education. Efforts are concentrated on empowering youth and raising awareness about the conflicts in order to promote peace. International volunteers can play an extremely important role in promoting cross-cultural understanding and tolerance in all areas of the Middle East.
Those who volunteer in the Middle East should keep in mind that regardless of the specific skills they have to contribute, they can be an asset to any community, both rural and urban. Teaching English, for example, often requires no previous experience or qualifications, but is an essential charitable contribution to the region.
Individuals typically volunteer in the Middle East for anywhere from eight to twelve weeks, often making volunteering the the perfect way to spend a summer. If you have more time, and passion to spare, you can easily find long term volunteer programs in the Middle East that will last for six months, one year, or more.
Costs & Affordability
The Middle East isn’t the cheapest destination out there for international volunteering; program fees can run high, and a lack of tourism infrastructure in many places means traveling around independently can be expensive. With these costs in mind, volunteering in the Middle East isn’t a regular feature on budget backpackers’ agendas, but that is not to say volunteers are not needed or welcomed.
Considering the need and costs, most volunteer organizations in the Middle East do not require volunteers to have previous experience. If you are willing to volunteer in the Middle East, but are worried about affordability, remember that program fees often include everything from training to accommodation to 24 hour in-country support.
It is also important to note that Middle Eastern countries vary in everything from language, to religion, to cost of living. Some countries are more expensive than others, so if you are on a limited budget, it is worth taking the time to investigate the standard cost of living in each country. Finally, because cost should never get in the way of volunteering abroad, be sure to look into fundraising opportunities to facilitate your volunteer work in the Middle East.
Accommodation & Visas
Leaving your home country to volunteer abroad in the Middle East won’t be without a good dose of culture shock. Chances are, living with a Bedouin family in Wadi Rum is a little outside of your sphere of experience and comfort. However, not all volunteer programs in the Middle East will involve living in the desert, but they will all offer the opportunity to eat, sleep, and live like a local.
Accommodation is often provided to volunteers via a homestay with a local host family. Some volunteer programs will alternatively offer accommodation in a flat or apartment shared with other volunteers, which is an almost guaranteed way of connecting with other like-minded humans and making friendships for life.
Obtaining visas to volunteer in the Middle East can seem like a daunting process, if you don’t understand all the bureaucratic hoops that must be leapt through. Visa requirements vary depending on your country of origin, country of destination, and the length of your intended stay; therefore, research will be your bestfriend and information your ally. Taking the time to familiarize yourself with the visa requirements for the country you plan on volunteering in will save you a lot of headaches. Check out GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory to get started.
Benefits & Challenges
There is no doubt that setting foot in the “Land of One Thousand and One Nights” will push you so far from your comfort zone you will forget what comfortable feels like. But, don’t let this worry you; in a region as beautiful as Scheherazade herself, magic is bound to happen. The magic might be in the form of the ancient wonders and surreal landscapes that you will have the opportunity to discover, or you might come under the spell of the local people.
Volunteering abroad in the Middle East is the ideal opportunity to discover for yourself a region that is so often misrepresented on the world stage. As a volunteer in the Middle East you will be able to get under the skin of whichever country you choose to base yourself in. You will witness eye-opening hardships and struggles, but you will also get the chance to get close to the people that populate the countries that are by turns vilified, demonized, and patronized by the Western world. Replacing preconceived notions of the Middle East with faces and names, real people living real lives, will be an education more valuable than any degree.
Bear in mind, though, that while large parts of the Middle East are generally safe and conflict-free, this remains a volatile region. Do your homework, stay up to date on current events and travel alerts, and only consider travel to anywhere in or near Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan with extreme caution.
If your lust for adventure is matched only by your passion for making a difference, turn off your TV, close your newspaper, and look to the East. Go forth young volunteer, and exchange your brains, hands, and heart for friendships and memories that will never fade.