Voluntourism in India: Travel to transform lives

Heal & help heal in mountains, by the sea, & everywhere in between

Tourism

February 10, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Voluntourism in India: Travel to transform lives

In recent years, several new volunteering destinations & organisations are exploring areas as diverse as environmental conservation, poverty reduction and education (Photo Credit: Pod Volunteer)

With an option to teach kids, conserve wildlife, plant trees, empower women by skill development or just learn sustainability from the locals, India is one of the top choices for voluntourism.

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”  Naveen Godiyal quotes Mary Anne Radmacher, a famed writer and an artist based in the United States while talking about his experience of volunteering across different places in India as a backpacker. Godiyal, 44, has been a full-time traveller for more than a decade now and says that ‘voluntourism’ has given him experiences beyond what just travelling does.

Voluntourism is the latest buzzword in tourism today and if there is one country that has truly taken ownership of this trend, it is India. Voluntourism or engaging in voluntary work and travelling for the same has picked up in India as more and more people today opt to travel for and with a cause. It combines meaningful volunteer work with an action-packed adventure tour. It enables tourists to give something back to the people and environment of their host land and also discover its diversity of cultural and natural attractions.

“With voluntourism, you become part of the community, get to know the local people and become much more than a tourist; you travel with a purpose and literally change your life and the lives of those you help through your efforts,” says Godiyal.

In recent years, several new volunteering destinations and organisations are exploring areas as diverse as environmental conservation, poverty reduction and education. And this sea change is driven primarily by an increase in interest among youngsters, both from within and outside the country to volunteer. Here are a few destinations and organisations that welcome tourists to volunteer across India.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Volunteers at ANET in Andaman (Photo Credit: anetindia.org)

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands on the Bay of Bengal boasts of not only some of the best beaches in the world but also of vibrant and diverse fauna and pristine, untouched ecosystem. But increasing tourism and development activities in the archipelago pose a serious threat to nature and the tribes living there, and that is where the Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team (ANET) comes in.

ANET is one of the largest conservation groups working in Andaman & Nicobar Islands and has a great volunteer programme for those wanting to help the reptiles of these islands and keep them away from harm’s way. The volunteer programme can last a minimum of two weeks, but to apply, candidates will need to have some experience in environmental conservation and related fields.

Spiti, Himachal Pradesh

For volunteering with travel to a remote high-altitude alpine region, Spiti in Himachal Pradesh is the perfect location. Ecosphere Spiti is an organisation that works with the local communities of Indian Himalayas in the picturesque Spiti Valley.

The main focus of Ecosphere, like the name suggests, is making sure that development of the region and the local community is achieved in a sustainable manner. Volunteers take part in activities such as construction and maintenance of much-needed facilities, such as greenhouses for growing vegetables and structures for passive solar heating. Apart from that, tourists also volunteer for maintaining sustainable housing and basic facilities such as schools and clinics.

Though dominated by the likes of construction and maintenance, another option is to assist the villagers with their daily activities from helping the elderly, babysitting, gardening as well as nursing in the local hospital.

Ladakh

Tourists who volunteer help with the development and education of the local population (Photo Credit: 17000ft.org)

The 17,000 ft Foundation is one of the most sought-after organisations for volunteering in India and operates in Ladakh, which is one of the most inaccessible and cut-off places, not just in India but the world.

The objective of the volunteering programme is to bring people from all across the globe to help out with the development and education of the local population, especially children.

17000 ft Foundation works in every remote school of Ladakh. A majority of them are government-run while a few are self-funded. While some of their needs are unique, a majority of them have similar problems. Limited infrastructure, lack of resources, shortage of teachers, limited training for existing teachers and almost no exposure to the outside world. While 17000 ft Foundation runs many structured programmes through its own facilitators, Voluntourists form an integral part of our plan for rural Ladakh.

Auroville, Puducherry

This sleepy experimental society in Puducherry is a pioneer of the voluntourism trend and has been attracting tourists and volunteers from all across the world for several decades now.

What Auroville is most famous for, however, is the fact that money has very little pull inside the city’s walls and everything inside is literally free! The catch is that volunteers at Auroville will have to work in some form or other to earn their keep. This work could be anything from helping out with the farms, maintaining the living quarters or using existing skillsets to Auroville’s benefit.

Since Auroville is counted among one of the best volunteering experiences, it is not very easy to get in and there are often interviews and checks are conducted before volunteers are inducted.

Sadhana Forest, Tamil Nadu

Sadhana Forest is working to reforest 70 acres of severely eroded land with tropical dry evergreen forest (Photo Credit: sadhanaforest.org)

If someone loves nature and working outdoors, this reforestation programme in Southern India is a great option. Sadhana Forest is working to reforest 70 acres of severely eroded land with tropical dry evergreen forest. This type of forest is extremely threatened these days and only exists in South India and Sri Lanka.

Volunteers at this reforestation programme are mainly involved in horticultural activities like planting, mulching, and watering trees, as well as working on the organisation’s water conservation project in the forest and the local community, and general maintenance of the area, including cooking and cleaning. It is an eco-friendly project as solar energy, biodegradable toiletries, and compost toilets are used, and a vegan diet followed.

Past volunteers have especially loved getting back to basics at this programme, the genuine commitment of the staff to the reforestation project, and the attention to detail that has been paid to sustainable living practices.

Udaipur, Rajasthan

Travellers who want to work with animals or children can do so with Pod Volunteer in the beautiful Rajasthani city of Udaipur. Volunteers also stay in a family-run guesthouse, which adds to the experience and helps them learn a new culture, language, taste amazing new food as well as create a homely atmosphere.

Travellers can work at an animal sanctuary, helping with tasks such as feeding and cleaning rescued and injured animals, including cows, dogs, goats, and birds. There are more than 200 animals at the shelter, so there’s always work to do. If working with children is more within one’s skill set and interest, they can do this at schools, nurseries, and community outreach programmes, such as with rag-pickers.

When tourists are not at work, they can explore the beautiful palaces, lakeshore and mountains of Udaipur, one of the most beautiful towns in Rajasthan, full of incredible heritage and historical tales sprinkled all over the city.

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