Sixteen thousand feet in the air, high above the Chinese mainland on the Northern slope of the Himalayas, lies the wondrous plateau of Tibet. A faraway land of spiritual mystery to most, Tibet is in reality a region of over 6 million people with a rich history, distinct local culture, and strong religious integrity. Governed by China as an autonomous region, Tibet technically stands as the country’s least developed province. Individuals who choose to volunteer in Tibet will thus find no shortage of volunteering opportunities which allow them to help educate and develop local communities.
Projects & Placements
Most voluntary work in Tibet will be in the field of education or community building. It is common for volunteers to work at local schools in Tibet teaching English or other subjects to young children (often with the assistance of a translator). Since Tibet is largely a poor agricultural region, education and literacy rates are fairly low, so foreign teachers are always appreciated.
Other opportunities to volunteer in Tibet may include working at an orphanage or assisting with various community development projects. Many volunteer programs in Tibet will combine volunteerism with a variety of outdoor adventure activities in the Himalayas, such as trekking and kayaking. This can be a good way to explore the beautiful and exciting parts of the region while also working to make a positive impact on needy local communities.
Volunteer placements in Tibet are more commonly offered in the summer months because winter can become bitingly cold and harsh in Tibet. Programs typically last anywhere from two weeks to three months, and it is generally up to each volunteer to decide how long they wish to stay. Thankfully, foreigners are not expected to know how to speak any of the Tibetan dialects in order to volunteer in abroad Tibet, so English will generally suffice.
Life in Tibet
Tibet is a largely rural province that thrives primarily off of subsistence agriculture. So do not expect your stay to be a five star hotel. Accommodations and provisions are likely to be basic for individuals who volunteer in Tibet, as volunteers will likely be living among local villagers who are the beneficiaries of their volunteer work. Volunteers will certainly be treated with great hospitality and care as a guest, but should be prepared to live like a local.
Tibet is also a very religious culture, the majority of the population primarily observing different sects of Tibetan Buddhism. This may produce some culture shock, but will also prove to be a fantastic introspective experience, as there is something about the Himalayan landscape and the Tibetan communities which is undeniably of spiritual significance. Beautiful monasteries, intricate shrines, and exuberant festivals will all make for a great experience volunteering in Tibet, even for those that are not metaphysically inclined.
Some things to keep in mind while volunteering abroad in Tibet. While it is common to hear of political dissent in other parts of the world, the subject is taboo in the region itself. Following Tibet’s annexation by China and subsequent failed uprising in the 1950s, political dissent has continuously been cracked down upon and protesting is generally not tolerated. Focus on your volunteer work in Tibet and you will gain wisdom from a beautiful culture and region of the earth while undergoing tremendous personal growth – but try to keep your political opinions to yourself.
Costs & Affordability
Tibet is a very affordable region for foreigners travelling from developed countries. However, prices tend to increase greatly around the province’s tourist attractions, so be mindful about what you spend in these areas. Most individuals that volunteer in Tibet will find that programs cover the costs of housing, meals, and excursions in upfront program fees, so volunteers typically will not have to worry about day-to-day expenses too much. Volunteer programs in Tibet can be fairly expensive, but entirely worth the investment.
Accommodations & Visas
Your accommodations are likely to be basic while volunteering in Tibet, however your volunteer program provider will ensure that you are comfortable. Most volunteer placements in Tibet are located in rural areas, away from most Western luxuries. Living basically among locals is all part of the volunteer experience, and will make your volunteering in Tibet all the more rewarding. You will soon come to discover that most luxuries of living are by definition unnecessary, and life becomes much simpler the less you have.
In order to volunteer abroad in Tibet, you will need to apply both for a Chinese visa and special entry permit for Tibet. Chinese visas can be obtained easily through your local embassy, and it is likely that your volunteer program provider will help to facilitate the special entry permit for Tibet (these are generally organized through a local Chinese tourist agency). One-entry Chinese visas typically last for six months, while Tibet permits last three months. Consult GoAbroad’s Chinese Embassy Directory to find a Chinese embassy or consulate near you to begin inquiring about the visa process.
Benefits & Challenges
Volunteering in Tibet will be a fundamentally eye-opening, spiritually enriching, and personally fulfilling experience for anyone who is willing to go on an adventure.
A beautiful country with a rich cultural and religious legacy, Tibet pervades a wisdom which can benefit the lives of volunteers from all corners of the earth.
High up in the Himalayas you will come to explore a region of the earth which most will only dream of - and coming back down the mountain you will have gained invaluable insight which will certainly change your life forever.