Volunteer Work Holidays: Give Something Back...

At first sight the idea of a work holiday may seem contradictory. Surely the idea of a holiday is to do anything but work isn’t it? Well yes and no really. It isn’t as clear cut as that. When you consider what constitutes work and what doesn’t you find you’re in quite a grey area. Think about it. Do you play football at the weekends? If so is that work? No it’s sport, a leisure activity. Wayne Rooney plays football on a Saturday. Is that a leisure activity? No it’s work because playing football is what Wayne does for a living.

So if you turned professional, football would no longer be a leisure activity for you! It works the other way as well. One person’s work is another’s fun. Volunteer holidays give you an opportunity to go to new places and do things you wouldn’t normally do, so that’s not really work is it? Lots of holidays give you that of course but the difference with volunteer holidays is that what you’re doing benefits someone else.

For example if you volunteer in Africa you might be helping to provide a clean water supply to a rural community or helping to teach in a village school in a deprived area. Sadly Africa’s full of those! If wildlife conservation’s your particular interest there’s plenty of help needed out there.

Of course you don’t have to volunteer in Africa. There’s plenty of opportunities to give a hand in Asia, India, and many other parts of the world. There are quite a few organisations looking for volunteer help in the UK if you you’re worried about your carbon footprint or simply don’t like flying.

Most volunteer holidays are taken abroad because that’s where there’s so much to be done. Traditionally it’s been mostly young people taking gap years between school and further education who’ve embraced the idea but that’s changing. The idea of a gap year for grown ups is catching on and why not? Where young people bring to the party energy and idealism, the older folk bring skills of all kinds including the life skills that we hope maturity will bring.

Many people are finding that they can negotiate a year away from work, or maybe a bit less than that. Others decide to spend their first year of retirement helping on some worthwhile project, especially if they’ve taken early retirement. These days a great many people when they retire are still full of energy and enthusiasm and are not yet ready for a rocking chair! A gap year for grown ups is perfect for people like that.

Young or old on volunteer holidays you’ll be working for nothing, in fact it’ll cost you money to do it but that’s not what it’s about. You’ll gain immeasurably in so many other ways. You’ll go to places you’d never go to otherwise. You’ll learn new skills and make loads of new friends. You can’t really put a price on the things you’ll gain from the experience. However grown up you are you’ll grow up some more.

When you volunteer in Africa or in Asia, South America or wherever, you’ll live and work among people whose lives are far removed from your life back home. You’ll learn to understand and appreciate their values and probably re-think your own.

Whatever age you are you’ll almost certainly come back changed in some way. You’ll have a greater understanding of the world and its people if nothing else. Not only will it be the most amazing experience. It’ll be an experience that is sure to stay with you and influence you for the rest of your days.

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