Soul vacations: Giving back while you’re on holiday

Soul vacations: Giving back while you’re on holiday

Be a volunteer

Text: Natasha Tulsi

From tea picking to feeding giant pandas, check out these volunteering opportunities that promise to be insightful, life-changing, and a whole lot of fun

1. Teach English in Northern Thailand

Forget the heady streets of Bangkok, or the pristine beaches in Chiang Mai — this time around, volunteer your time in Ban Nong Phong, a north-eastern province of Thailand known for its beautiful lakes, lush forests, and historic sites. Volunteer2thai gives you the opportunity to live in a volunteer village, be part of a thriving community, and teach English to kids and adults. The presence of volunteers here will educate the current generation of children, and help them gain insight into foreign cultures which helps in their personal development. 

2. Help out with marine conservation in the Maldives

What better way to soak in the gorgeous blue waters of the Maldives than to help marine biologists study the aquatic life around you? If you're a certified scuba diver, here's a once in a lifetime opportunity. Biosphere Expeditions trains volunteers to become Reef Check Eco Divers aboard a modern liveaboard yacht. Learn to research, investigate and contribute towards the protection of coral reefs and the resident whale shark population. You'll leave knowing you've helped life under the sea.

Maldives, marine conservation, animals

3. Live and work with a local host in Japan

This is your best chance to immerse yourself in local Japanese culture. WWOOF connects visitors with a local host in Japan, in order to give them a peek into their homes, work and culture. Whether it's organic farming, working in tea houses, or even beekeeping, the hosts at WWOOF will have something to suit your interests and activity levels. What's more? At WWOOF, there's the option of signing up for a couple of days, so you can unwind and relax on a proper holiday afterwards. 

4. Empower women in India

A brilliant way to immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and flavours of this stunning country is through volunteering. The programme at Volunteering Journeys gives you two whole weeks in Kerala, where you can choose to teach, work with disabled children or help to empower women. At the end of it all, enjoy a full week of guided sightseeing through Delhi, the Taj Mahal, and palaces in Rajasthan.

5. Be a panda keeper in China

Here's one for all panda lovers — Pandas International is a non-profit organisation that contributes towards the preservation of the endangered Giant Panda. The Dujiangyan volunteering centre is home to a panda hospital, a medical lab and even a panda kitchen, where you can get your hands dirty preparing carrots, apples and panda bread for your furry friends. You'll learn how to feed them, clean their enclosures, and fix their meals.panda, volunteer, holidays

6. Pick tea leaves in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka should be on every traveller's list, as should the tea plantations of this stunning country. Try this homestay opportunity with the folks behind Tea Leaf Trust, who work extra hard to provide accessible education to the people from tea estates around the Maskeliya area. As a Tea Leaf Vision volunteer, you'll immerse in the culture and live with a local family for a small fee. Volunteers then work at the school by teaching or supporting activities on a daily basis, such as tea leaves picking — that's your way of saying thank you for the opportunity and a tiny contribution to this welcoming community.

7. Live with monks in Nepal

Fascinated by Buddhism? Head to a Tibetan monastery in the mountains of Nepal and spend your holidays teaching, helping or playing with kids. Volunteer Initiative Nepal is dedicated towards improving the lives of marginalised communities in Nepal. Apart from giving you insight into Tibetan Buddhist rituals and practices, you'll be imparting knowledge, encouraging hygiene, and helping the children build conversation skills for better future employment opporuntities. A trek like no other, this vacation will leave you more grateful than ever before.

tea plantation, Thailand, volunteer holidays

8. Impart computer skills at the Thai-Myanmar border

Thousands of migrants live along the border between Thailand and Myanmar with little or no access to education. Open Mind Projects invites you to join mobile camps in these bordering mountains, where you can teach and advocate computer literacy. Stepping out of your comfort zone means roughing it for you, but a few days of imparting basic computer skills could mean a world of opportunity for this stateless community.