“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
- Hellen Keller
What if we told you there is more to travelling than discovering new places? And that you can travel and make a difference at the same time? Enter, voluntourism: a combination of volunteering and tourism. A concept that has gained a lot of attention (both, good and bad) internationally and in India over the last few years. Some believe it enables the modern, knowledgeable traveller to give back in a whole new way—working at orphanages, helping to rehabilitate refugees or practising wildlife conservation—during their time off while others have taken to megaphones to declare its incredibly dark side. There have been (credible) stories coming out of countries like Nepal and Cambodia where orphanages actually drug and kidnap children and make them appear orphaned so as to encourage privileged westerners to come care for them as part of major money-making rackets, and this appears to be a formulae many ‘developing’ countries seem to use.
While we believe it’s incredibly important to weigh out the facts as you see fit, not to mention view the concept of voluntourism holistically, we’ve done the research to identify a few such programs in India which have till date, been doing important, honest, and good work. Plus, as we quickly discovered, there are a few steps you can take to ensure your experiences are genuine. One of which is to stick to your own country—because you understand the language and you know the mentality.
Scroll on to see which of these interests you the most, and start planning your next holiday with a greater sense of purpose.
I. Dance Movement Therapy in Kolkata
If you enjoy dancing, this will most definitely be a cause that you could get on board with. The Dance Therapy Movement(DMT) is a program that forms the crux of Sanved, a Kolkata-based NGO that aims to empower victims of human trafficking, abuse and exploitation through the power of dance. They believe that everyone should live with self-respect and dignity—and that this sense of empowerment and integrity, once taken from these victims, can be instilled again through this art form. By combining western and Indian dance forms, they’ve created an all new form of therapy.
Donations in the form of both, money and kind are accepted. If you’re interested, contact Sanved and highlight any specific skills you possess that could be of use to them. You can also contribute online by helping with grant writing, workshop designing, brochure contributions, and bridging gaps in translation.
To know more about their volunteering program, check their website
II. Elephant Conservation in Jaipur
NGO: Volunteering With India
Visit Jaipur and be a part of the Elephants in India initiative! The program takes place at Elephant Village, India’s first (and the world’s third) village dedicated to elephants, situated near Jaipur’s Amber Fort. Spread out over 30 hectares, it is a large, lovely space and the elephants love it here. Their favourite spot is the big lake—elephants love bathing, after all.
Elephants have been an integral part of Indian culture for years. For most mahouts, taking care of these animals is their only source of income and very often, they need help—which the government does not provide. So, they take in volunteers all year round who help to feed, bathe and care for the elephants. The project requires a minimum commitment of a week, which can be extended for up to four months.
Even though the program is open throughout the year, it is best to avoid volunteering during the summer, as Jaipur gets almost unbearably hot. Anytime between October to March is a good time to help do your bit.
To know more about this program, check out their website.
III. Khiddirpore Red Light Area Community Program in Kolkata
NGO: Destiny Foundation
Destiny Foundation was started to empower women belonging to the city’s red light area. The foundation aims to combat sex trafficking by rehabilitating former sex workers, educating them, and teaching them skills so that they can earn money and work towards a better future. Further, the staff members, volunteers, and interns have created a resource bank for the education program.
The foundation mostly needs volunteers who can help conduct classes in specific crafts such as sewing and embroidery, or in English-speaking and communication skills. If you don’t think you can help in any of those areas, you can assist in business and administration.
To know more about this program, check out their website.
IV. Sexual, Reproductive and Health Rights in New Delhi
NGO: The Y.P. Foundation
As a part of the foundation’s effort to raise awareness about issues such as gender and sexuality. In several parts of India, sex is still considered to be a taboo topic. Understanding the need to educate children about sexual and reproductive health and rights and problems such as abuse, gender inequality and STDs, the foundation started the Know Your Body, Know Your Rights program. The programme equips the youth with the technical capacities to access unbiased, evidence-based information on gender, sexuality, health and rights, which will enable them to promote awareness about the same.
They work with young people from peri-urban and semi-rural areas, focusing on adolescents and young people living in at-risk areas, such as street and slum children, young people living with HIV, young injecting drug users, children of female sex workers, and young people living below the poverty line. There are two different initiatives under this program, through which the volunteers work towards providing them comprehensive education on sexuality.
The programs go on throughout the year and each of them have their schedules mentioned on the website.
V. Sports volunteering/Coaching in Jaipur, Delhi or Bangalore
NGO: Sankalp Organization
Do you like sports? If so, volunteering with Sankalp might be for you. The NGO provides sports development programs for schools in rural India. It’s your chance to give back through physical exercise. Aside from improving physical endurance, sports also teach kids about teamwork and the importance of good leadership. Popular games are cricket, volleyball and football.So if you play any of these, give signing up a thought.
The programs stretch on for 8 weeks and an age limit of minimum 20 years and maximum depending on the participant’s health. The qualification is a necessary high school certificate, basic English communication skills and a certificate in any sport.
Additionally, Sankalp also works in other areas—teaching English, helping out at orphanages, and conducting a project for street kids and women’s empowerment.
Regretfully they are only accepting male volunteers but girls, keep an eye on it just in case!
You can visit their website to know more about these programs.
VI. The WWOOF (Organic Farming) Program in Nainital
WWOOF (World Wide Opportunity on Organic Farms) was started as a way to help people learn about organic food, farming, and its ways of life. They have tied up with 230 organic farms across 16 states and they help connect them to interested volunteers from different parts of the world who come to help with day-to-day activities in exchange for food and stay. The volunteers are expected to work for a minimum of four to six hours.
The organisation allows them to choose the farms themselves after reading a couple of host profiles provided to the by the organisation. Each host has their own minimum requirement, but most prefer those who can come for a longer period.
If someone wishes to start a farm, they can approach the organisation, which will provide them with the necessary literature needed to understand the nuances of organic farming practices. They then provide them with a host farm where they can volunteer and gain some practical experience. These farmers require helping hands throughout the year. If you are wondering when is the best time to go, it depends from state-to-state. It is best to work on a farm in the south during the winter and a farm in north during the summer.
To know more about their program take a look at their website.
VII. Teach Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala
NGO: Lha Charitable Trust
The Trust aims to provide long-term assistance to the Tibetan refugee community when it comes to rehabilitation and transition into the Indian community, through social services, courses and vocational training. That’s where the volunteers come in! Whether you are skilled or unskilled, they will find a spot for you on their team of volunteers. Their constant services consist of English Language conversation classes, graded language classes and computer training.
Feel free to contact them if you’re interested in volunteering with them, especially if you feel your particular skill-set is not listed on their website.
You can reach out to them on through their website here.