The past decade has seen a surge in the number of Westerners who spend their vacation time volunteering abroad. College graduates have been doing it for decades, but now working adults, families and even retirees are taking time off to use their skills helping the impoverished around the globe, including Southeast Asia. If you're thinking of volunteering abroad, there are some important things to consider.
How much time can you spare?
Volunteer vacations can last from one week to six months or longer. The most beneficial ones last at least a month, but not everyone can take that much time off. A week or two of hard work building shelters or farming can make a big difference for a community, so if that's all you have, it's still worth doing.
What skills can you share?
Organizations vary widely and need all sorts of skill sets. Do you like working with children? Do you want to teach adults? Would you prefer to construct buildings? Are you a successful entrepreneur? Are you an animal lover? There is a place that can use the skills that you have. Check out the needs and goals for the organizations you are interested in to find one that fits what you can offer.
Who's coming with you?
While many young adults head out on their own, it isn't the only way to go. More and more couples are heading out to volunteer together. I know a couple who built a schoolhouse in Honduras for the honeymoon! A few organizations accept children, so you can make it a family adventure. I was able to take my two kids along with me to Vietnam where we all worked together at several orphanages. It can be difficult for young children, so it's best to go when they're school-age.
Is it a reputable organization?
Research the organizations that you are interested in and ask for references from former volunteers. By doing some online searches, you're likely to find blogs of past volunteers and remarks on bulletin boards that will give you a clearer picture of how the organization works. Generally there is a substantial fee that covers housing, food and transportation while in-country, so make sure to find out what the fees cover (visa? tours?). The more information you can find about the group, the better.
Where do you want to go?
Wherever your interests lie, you'll likely find a group that has volunteer opportunities there: Bali, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos... there are ways to volunteer throughout Southeast Asia. It's just a matter of searching out what works best for you, your skills and your interests.
For more information on volunteering abroad, check out these books at Powells.com.