Top 5 Free and Unique Volunteer Opportunities and Programs Abroad

This is Boracay Island in the Philippines. 

Walking along in the blistering cold here in eastern Europe, my heart broke as I watched a thin, hungry grandmother in her 70s eating out of a rubbish bin. No family to take care of her, no one to put a warm blanket around her frail body and give her a hug and a warm meal. Completely left alone in the cold. That could be my grandmother I thought, if she had the bad luck of being born in the wrong country at the wrong time. This can't be the world we live in, where things like that are allowed to just happen. This inspired me to write this article about free and unique volunteer opportunities abroad, because I know that many travelers are not just looking for a good time, but also to do some good in the world.

There is something truly beautiful that all of us can bring to this world - whether it be the simply human, warm feeling of a hug you give to the little girl in the Bulgarian orphanage that never knew her parents, the smile of deep heartfelt gratitude on a mother's face in Africa, who now can feel safe knowing that her child has something as basic as clean drinking water, or the little boy in the Tibetan community of India, whose heart and eyes light up with hope of the opportunity for a better life from the English lessons you are giving him. Even something that seems like such a small amount of help to you, can be such a huge sigh of relief for those who aren't used to having anyone care about their plight. 

We are so lucky in many parts of the world to have most of our basics covered, we can sometimes forget the suffering in other places. When we connect our will to our hearts and understanding of what is right, we can really find the inner strength and willpower to make our world a place with less suffering and more opportunities for everyone. I am a firm believer of this.

Whether your a college student, a teenager, or someone simply looking to do some good in the world, volunteering overseas can broaden your horizons and bring you a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.
Back when I started traveling in 2009, there were very few free volunteer opportunities or programs. Instead what I came across was all these corporations selling "volunteer holidays", charging ridiculous amounts for them, giving virtually nothing to the communities they were supposed to be helping and pocketing it instead. It really disgusted me. Thankfully today however there are many, many genuinely free volunteer opportunities and organisations that let you do good for the world without lining the pockets of Wall Street executives.

I have separated them into four areas - Africa, Asia, Latin America, and worldwide. Read on to find the opportunity that is right for you. By the way if you get to the end of the article and still aren't sure what you'd like to do, join our  facebook group to receive updates on upcoming volunteering opportunities.

BTW, wherever you choose to go, and whoever you choose to help, when you are flying there, be sure to get the best deal on a flight. Since 2009 I've been using this flight search engine and have again and again found it to be the cheapest flight search engine I can find as they don't take commission from the passengers but a very small one from the airlines instead. If you've found cheaper please leave me a comment below. Thanks :)


VSO is one of the largest and best organised international development charities that exist. Judging by the programs they offer, their values are based on:
  • Compassion -  Targeting and eliminating Tuberculosis and other preventable diseases.
  • Creating Autonomy - Through the development of critical thinking in education.
  • Equality - Educating people on the importance of equal rights among genders.
VSO also provides all volunteers with the relevant training required to make a difference. They do not charge volunteers anything, in fact they actually provide their volunteers with some financial support to make life easier for them. 

A short excerpt from a volunteer:

."VSO volunteer Patricia Gilhooley spent a year in Western Ethiopia working as a CPD (continuous professional development) adviser encouraging the use of active learning methods in several primary schools and a teacher training college.

I think what prompted me to volunteer through VSO, was that I was partly influenced by watching TV news and seeing that, so often, news items are about people who are less fortunate than we are. Eventually you feel, “Is there something I could do that would make any kind of difference?” VSO has a very good reputation; I felt there would be training before I left and that the organisation would support me while I was overseas."

By the way, sometimes you may want to get to the place a few days early to check out the area and explore it in a relaxed way before the volunteering begins (and before the included program accommodation becomes available). If you are in this boat, be sure to get a good price for nearby hostels before going, because if you just show up on a hostel doorstep, sometime they don't have rooms or their prices are much higher. 


A free opportunity to do good in the world.

This is an Australian based organisation that focuses on developing an eco-friendly children's village in Tanzania, that provides education, health, and social facilities to women, children, and orphans.

They define their values in the following way:

"Well…it’s like this: those involved with fws believe that while a person is on earth, they either get a dodge deal or a great deal. If you get a great deal, then it only seems fair that you help those who got the dodge deal. When you’ve had the privilege of living and volunteering in a developing country, as each of us at fwshave, you soon see how the smallest amount to us, in the western world (a night out, a new top, a movie), can make a drastic difference to someone in a developing country (food for a month, school fees, life-saving medicine)."

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Zidisha is an amazing and unique organisation that is based around the key value of helping people become autonomous and self sufficient. It uses the internet to cut out the expensive middle man and connects small businesses in Africa who require loans to expand their businesses, directly with people like you and me who are willing to give them a small loan to expand. For example the target may be $500 and they receive small loans from individuals of something like $20 and then pay it back with interest. I personally loaned to this awesome initiative after a friend of mine showed me how he had given something like 33 individual loans and had them repaid with interest. You can also check the credit history of the person you are loaning to.

Apart from being able to give people loans to help them become self sufficient, you can also volunteer/intern with the organisation directly in roles where you will gain first hand experience in microfinance and international development, communication and media outreach, web site development, and translating.

LHA Charitable Trust - Tibetans

It's a very rare and unique opportunity to be able to have a real experience of the Tibetan culture - in the way that locals experience it. LHA Charitable Trust lets you do just that - by hooking you up with a home stay with Tibetan refugee families that live in Dharamsala, India. Pretty amazing! 

The organisation defines its mission in the following way:

One of the main objectives behind the Tibetan home stay program is to let the world come to know about our daily life – providing you with a once in a lifetime opportunity for a cultural and knowledge exchange with an authentic Tibetan flavor. Sharing daily meals with your host family and playing a significant role in the rituals of daily life will ensure you are left with incredible insights and unforgettable memories that you can take back home. In other words experiencing first-hand the rich culture of the Tibetan people that still lives on today after centuries, despite all the hardships they are facing, will give you souvenirs of the mind and heart that other holidays don't even begin to deliver.

The organisation also offers many other volunteering opportunities including inviting drop-in volunteers with no previous communication or planning, and also options for those who like to plan and commit ahead of time.


First light educates 70 children in a school in a village which is situated 150 kilometers out of Calcutta city in India. You will be teaching English to poor tribal children between the ages of 4-10 years in the Santhal tribal community. You will be provided with English breakfast, and traditional Indian meals for lunch and dinner (spicy/non spicy).

You will be living in a well furnished apartment which you will share with other volunteers. There is a maid that cleans the apartment every day. Working hours are from 3pm-5:30pm Monday to Friday. The free accommodation and food is only available to volunteers who are staying for 3 months or more. If you wish to stay for 6 months or more, the organisation will also pay for your airfare. If you wish to stay for less than 3 months there is a charge of US$12 per day / US$200 per month.

Note that You will need to pay for your own vaccinations / travel insurance and that only women are welcome to apply for this position.


The International Humanity Foundation (IHF) is searching for forward-thinking, dynamic graduates to help develop their children’s home in Chiand Rai, Thailand. IHF is a charity that has been growing with the help of thousands of volunteers for the past 25 years 

IHF is a unique charity in that each part of the organisation adapts to the local environment and follows the cultural norms of the country in which it is serving. As a volunteer, you have the option of teaching English, computer literacy, or mathematics. In addition to this, you will have the opportunity to gain experience in public relations, fundraising,  legal matters, financial management, and media management.

If you choose to apply for the position of a director, you will be splitting your time between teaching and working on international projects such as university relations, photography, media, and special projects such as the transportation of food during famines. All directors must agree to serve one year with the organisation.

To be selected you will need to be fluent in English and you will need to engage in pre-trip activities so as to have an understanding of how the organisation works.

Basic accommodation and meals are covered by the charity.


Intiwawa is an organisation dedicated to fighting poverty in Peru's second biggest city -  beautiful Arequipa. They do this by providing education, nutrition, and engaging in social projects. There are no application fees to join Intiwawa's work, nor are there any minimum time commitments required from volunteers. You can also change your position in the organisation as you wish - for example if you want to try doing a bit of everything, you are welcome to - or if you don't enjoy what you are currently doing, you are welcome to work on a different project. 

Whilst the organisation does not demand a minimum time period, they do prefer that volunteers stay for at least a month so that the children are able to adjust and be comfortable with you. The children can feel a little unsettled when volunteers come and go very quickly - this will also be more fulfilling for you as you strengthen your connection with the children.

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PSF is also based in Peru, and gives volunteers the opportunity to work in the areas of construction, community development, and organisational management.

Volunteers who choose to work in construction will work to help build and refurbish community centers, schools, medical centers and nature parks. Whilst the organisation prefers skilled workers with experience in this area, they also welcome people with no experience in this field and are happy to teach volunteers new skills.

Those who would prefer to work in community development will be supporting sustainability development initiatives in the areas of education, youth development, and environmental conservation. You will also have the opportunity to develop skills in planning and co-ordination of projects in these 3 areas.

The final option for volunteers is to work in the organisational management of the charity. This will involve learning how to make a truly lasting impact in the community you are serving by ensuring that volunteers have everything they require for every project, every day.

The organisation sums up the benefits of volunteering well here:

"Throughout our history, many people have surpassed their own preconceived notions of      personal and professional capacities to accomplish incredible successes that have helped  shape the organisation as we know it"   


Eco-Trancoso is an NGO located in Trancoso, Bahia, near the Brazilian coastline and focuses on the development of organic agriculture and eco-construction. The area has a beautiful tropical climate and is less than a kilometer from the beach and the nearest town.
Should you choose to help out in developing the organic agriculture side of things, you will be assisting in the reforestation process of the Atlantic forest (only 7% still exists in Brazil).  You will be planting many species of fruit trees and rare endemic species such as cju, abacare, pau brazil, acai, and others.

If on the other hand eco-construction is more your thing, you will be helping build sustainable accommodation that exists in harmony with our earth.This will involve building cob houses with lime, green roofing, and solar thermal water heating.

You will need to be at least 18 years old and commit to a minimum period of 3 months. During this time you will work 8 hours per day, 5 days per week and you will also be participating in the life of the community through cooking, management and maybe some administration duties also.

Food and accommodation are provided free of charge.

Life In The Jungle - Oiyakaha

Oiyakaha is a center for art and ecology located in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil.

It's aims include promoting sustainable agriculatural practices and healthy ways of living.

As part of these aims it promotes the following:
Renewable energies in the form of gas, bio, hydo and solar.
Sustainable agriculture: permaculture, sustainable use of the rainforest.

A healthy lifestyle is also part of this, through balanced food and ecological sanitary facilities.

This is one of the more adventurous volunteering opportunities and is more for those who are happy to temporarily give up some day to day comforts.

Minimum stay is about one month and during that time you'll need to be ok with
using little electricity, no telephone/internet (but there is internet access in a nearby town),
sleeping in a hammock and washing in the river.

Iracambi is also a similar organisation worth checking out


"Live so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you.’" is an invaluable resource which brings together orphanages from all over the world and lists them on one simple page. There a variety of activities you can take part in as a volunteer, depending on which orphanage you choose. Some activities include but are not limited to:

  • Recreational week
  • Teaching week
  • Home based care
  • Art and crafts
  • Computer training week
  • Games and sports
  • Creative arts week
  • Recreational tours
  • Children's camp
  • Bible week
  • Creative arts and performance nights
  • Writing and painting week
A founder of one of the orphanages located in Uganda expresses his values and the reason why he set up a home for children with broken hearts:

"Whereas, I was blessed beyond measure to go to good schools and get a proper education, I am only one in a community of thousands. During my graduation party, I cried in front of a thousand people that came to witness my success. Looking at the faces of unfortunate children I grew up and played with during my childhood. I saw how everybody needs a chance in life at a time when they need to plant a seed for their future. I saw broken hearts and lives that had come to congratulate me. I could read from their faces a sense of resignation and despair. It was as though they were telling me to accomplish what they could all have done to build their lives and that of the community. For those of my age, I could do nothing… but for the children, I felt there was something I could do to avert the situation. Looking deep in their eyes, I could see their fears… but also hope and encouragement that there was someone of their own who had made it… and may be they too can."

- Henry Mutabe, Founder of Henry Children's Home.


Whether you want to support animal conservation in wild areas of Asia, or want to use your unique skills to help develop rural communities, this website has everything your heart could desire.

Update September 2016: As the crisis in Syria seems to not be ending and many families and young children are having their lives violently ripped apart, I have put together a complimentary post to this one, specifically focusing on volunteering to help orphaned children from Syria who are currently in Greece. Check it out :)

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