Volunteering can be a life-changing experience that can be both rewarding and humbling. When I made a big life switch several years ago, I promised myself that my new life would involve helping. I didn’t know exactly what that meant at the time, but as I wandered to new lands, I observed all the ways that I could become useful and started to seek out volunteer opportunities actively.
I taught English to children and adults in Ecuador, volunteered at dog shelters and free spay and neuter clinics in Mexico, helped at a food pantry, organized beach clean-ups, and worked with ocean conservation efforts.
Volunteering has taught me a lot of things including how to be more culturally sensitive and mindful. I always knew that I was open-minded, but spending time with people in new-to-me countries opened the doors to more awareness and a real sense that we all want the same basic things in life.
Also, it became apparent that I was raised in a privileged country, and it was a challenging journey navigating that fact responsibly and respectfully. That being said, I quickly realized that my “savior cape” needed to be left at the border when I started volunteering abroad because I had just as much to learn from the people I was helping as they did from me.
There are several ways to find volunteer opportunities abroad. Every volunteer work that I have done has come about in different ways.
The internet is a great resource for finding volunteer opportunities abroad. You can search for organizations or programs that align with your interests and values.
Some popular websites that list international volunteer opportunities include Idealist, Go Overseas, and Volunteer World. These websites offer all-inclusive volunteer opportunities, meaning that everything will be set for you, from your accommodations to your scheduled daily volunteer activities.
Reach out to non-profit organizations that work in the field you’re interested in and inquire about volunteer opportunities. You can also check their websites or social media pages to see if they list any international volunteer opportunities.
Connect with other volunteers who have volunteered abroad and ask for recommendations on organizations or programs they have worked with. I joined Facebook groups and pages and responded to active call-outs for volunteers in the area I was in and that is how I found out that the local dog shelter needed volunteers with daily tasks.
Remember, make sure to consider factors such as cost, location, and the type of work you’ll be doing before committing to a volunteer opportunity abroad.
There are many volunteer opportunities available for women over 50. Here are a few common ways that you can volunteer abroad.
Many organizations around the world focus on education and providing access to skill learning for people who might not have the means to obtain it otherwise. You can volunteer to teach conversational English even if you don’t have a teaching degree.
I took a CELTA certification in Ecuador and went on to volunteer at the local school organized by my CELTA training center.
CELTA-certified teachers in Ecuador.
If you have experience in healthcare, you can volunteer in clinics or hospitals around the world. Opportunities may include providing care to patients, teaching healthcare skills to local healthcare workers, or assisting with healthcare administration.
Many organizations focus on conservation efforts around the world, such as protecting wildlife or preserving natural habitats. You can get involved in these efforts by volunteering for conservation projects such as monitoring wildlife, planting trees, or cleaning up natural areas.
A chance encounter with a conservationist opened the door for me to become actively involved in ocean conservation campaigns in Mexico.
Local beach clean-up crew in Mexico.
Volunteering at a Turtle Sanctuary on the west coast of Mexico.
Many organizations focus on community development efforts such as building infrastructure, providing access to clean water, or promoting economic development. You can volunteer in these efforts by helping to build homes, working in community gardens, or supporting local businesses.
In the wake of a natural disaster, many organizations need volunteers to help with cleanup efforts, provide medical care, or distribute food and supplies.
During the pandemic, I helped with the local food pantry to pack and deliver food and supplies to families that were directly affected by the lack of available work. This opportunity presented itself through a fellow volunteer I met at the ocean conservation events.
Are you an animal lover? Many animal shelters rely on volunteers to help with tasks such as feeding, cleaning, socializing, and exercising. Some animal shelters have foster programs that allow volunteers to take in animals temporarily until they find their forever homes. Also, look for organizations that offer free spay and neuter clinics and offer your help.
These are just a few examples of the many volunteer opportunities available for women over 50. It’s important to research and find opportunities that align with your skills and interests.
There are many great destinations with volunteer opportunities. Here is a list of some of the most popular destinations for active women over 50.
Costa Rica is a popular destination for eco-tourism and conservation projects. Many volunteer programs focus on environmental protection, wildlife conservation, and sustainable agriculture. Costa Rica is a safe and friendly country that is known for its stunning natural beauty and friendly people.
Consider volunteering with the sea turtle conservation work that is being done in Costa Rica. Help with beach patrolling, nest relocation, the building of hatcheries, and assisting new hatchlings. Visit this website to learn more.
India is a diverse and fascinating country that offers a wide range of volunteer opportunities. Women over 50 can get involved in programs that focus on education, healthcare, or community development. India can be challenging for first-time visitors, but many volunteer organizations offer all-inclusive programs and help volunteers adjust to their volunteer roles.
The Volunteer for Women Empowerment opens the door to volunteers who want to help young women in Delhi with English skills and also vocational training.
Peru is a country with a rich cultural heritage and stunning natural landscapes. Volunteers over 50 can get involved in projects that focus on education, healthcare, or conservation. Peru is a safe and welcoming country that is known for its friendly people and delicious food.
Visit this Volunteer World program and learn how you can volunteer at an assisted living facility for the elderly or a disabled children’s school.
Tanzania is a country with incredible natural beauty and a diverse wildlife population. You can get involved in volunteer projects that focus on education, healthcare, or wildlife conservation. Tanzania can be a challenging destination for some, but many volunteers find the experience to be rewarding and life-changing.
Check out the Construction and Renovation Volunteer Program to find out how you can help improve the infrastructure of local schools, childcare centers, and important community spaces.
Vietnam is a beautiful country with a rich cultural heritage and friendly people. You can get involved in volunteer programs that focus on education, healthcare, or community development. Vietnam is a safe and friendly country known for its delicious food and stunning landscapes.
The Food Outreach Project is a soup kitchen that helps feed the people of Ho Chi Minh City with affordable meals.
Thailand is a popular volunteer destination for women over 50 due to its welcoming culture and friendly people. Volunteers can get involved in programs that focus on education, healthcare, or conservation. Thailand is also known for its delicious food and beautiful beaches.
Volunteer to work on important conservation initiatives and help support conservation projects that help teach local communities about sustainability.
Kenya is a great destination for women over 50 who are interested in wildlife conservation or community development. Volunteers can work on projects that focus on animal conservation, education, or healthcare.
Why not give your pair of helping hands to the local orphans in Nairobi?
Guatemala is a beautiful country with a rich history and vibrant culture. You can get involved in programs that focus on education, healthcare, animal welfare, or community development. Guatemala is a country that is known for its beautiful landscapes and colorful markets.
The Animal Care Volunteer Project in Antigua is an excellent opportunity to help out with local domesticated animals.
Ecuador is another great destination for women over 50 who are interested in conservation, community development, or education. Volunteers can work on projects that focus on environmental protection, healthcare, or education.
Participate in Beach Clean-up and Permaculture on the Ecuadorian Coast.
Remember to research volunteer organizations and programs carefully to find the best fit for you. Prices vary depending on what is included. I have linked several structured volunteer opportunities abroad that I found interesting for women over 50 but do not have first-hand experience with any of them.
You can also plan and organize your own transportation and accommodations and volunteer at your own pace when you arrive in a new country.
Preparing for volunteering abroad can be an exciting and unnerving experience. Here are some steps to help you prepare for your trip.
Before you go, it’s important to research the country and culture you’ll be visiting. This can include learning about the language, customs, and etiquette of the country you’ll be volunteering in. Understanding the culture can help you better communicate with locals and avoid any cultural misunderstandings.
Also, the term “third-world countries” has historically been used to refer to countries that are less developed or economically disadvantaged, but it can be seen as derogatory or outdated. Try using something like developing countries instead. Using respectful and inclusive language can help us avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes or biases.
Depending on where you’re volunteering, you may need to get certain vaccinations or medical supplies. Consult with your doctor or a travel clinic to determine which vaccinations you’ll need and make sure to pack any necessary medications and first-aid supplies.
Make sure you have a valid passport and any necessary visas or travel documents before you leave. Depending on the country, the visa application process can take several weeks or months, so it’s important to plan ahead.
Most volunteer organizations will require that you have travel insurance in order to participate in the programs. Travel insurance companies like World Nomads offer insurance plans that specifically cater to volunteers, with coverage for medical expenses, trip cancellations, and emergency evacuation.
Connecting with other volunteers or organizations can help you get a better understanding of the volunteer work you’ll be doing and the conditions you’ll be living in. Social media groups and online forums can be great resources for connecting with other volunteers.
Learning some basic phrases in the local language can help you communicate with locals and show that you respect their culture. Consider learning phrases like “hello,” “thank you,” and “how are you?”
I used Duolingo to learn some basic Spanish and found it very helpful to feel comfortable upon arriving in South America for the first time.
Volunteering abroad can be a challenging experience, and it’s important to be prepared for cultural differences and any challenges that may arise. Keep an open mind and be flexible in adapting to new situations. You are not there to change the local culture even if some things don’t align with your values.
I always try to carve out time for volunteering and my heart always feels full every time I do. Sometimes it’s an hour picking up trash on the beach and other times it’s several consecutive days helping at animal clinics; every little bit counts. Volunteering abroad is certainly a rewarding experience that can broaden your horizons and help you make a positive impact in the world.
Have you ever volunteered abroad? Do you have plans to volunteer in another country? What skills do you have and would like to share? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Hi! I have not volunteered abroad but contemplated this for a year or two. It’s one of my plans now that I have retired. I am in the field of education and my interest is teachers training. I am looking at the possibility of starting from Vietnam. I hope someone can connect me to the proper organization.
You fail to mention that not only are you giving free labour, but you also have to PAY to do it, sometimes thousands of dollars. It costs the same as if you were touring the country as a conventional tourist. I’ve looked into this and eventually said “Meh!” and moved on.
This article was beyond helpful. Thank you! Currently, I am a semi retired RN and would love to volunteer in a healthcare setting abroad. I have already been to Honduras but it was only for a week. I hope to find a longer commitment and you reminded me of all the need that is out there!
What about the US Peace Corps? A lot of women over 50 volunteering in so many countries worldwide.