9 Top Tips on Volunteering

We’ve volunteered in five different countries and have a huge passion for travel, charity work and most importantly; change. We’ve therefore combined some top tips and experiences from our fellow travellers and volunteers to help you when planning your volunteering trip. Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start, who to trust and where to go so hopefully this will answer some of your questions.

1) Rox Oquendo; Former Director of Hands on Manila

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“You don’t always have to donate money to make a difference in small communities, your time can be much more beneficial. Contact NGO’s in the Philippines to find out how you can get involved with their ongoing programmes. If you have any special skills you think may be of benefit, for example if you’re a medical practitioner then make the NGO you are volunteering with aware, you may be able to help with specialist missions. By volunteering you’re exposed to the real Philippines and get to explore places off the beaten track.”

Our first volunteering experience abroad was with Hands on Manila and we can’t recommend them enough!

2) Skye Sandhu-Nelson; Community Champion

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“Each person has their own reasons to give or volunteer and you’ve got to have an affinity to the cause your supporting which will be unique to each individual. This needs to be taken into consideration before deciding on where is right for you to volunteer.”

Skye is an incredibly experienced volunteer and as has supported the YMCA, Salvation Army, The Citizens Advice Bureau, local schools and play groups, Womankind Worldwide and many more.

3) Emily Hudson; Explorer

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“All I would say is get stuck in as any little job goes a long way, get to know the locals, learn their ways and work with them to help your cause. Don’t forget to keep in touch even after your time volunteering has come to an end. It’s such a buzz to get updates and see how things are progressing when you’re back home. Also, do some research on how you can continue to support your project from home through online tasks and spreading the word.”

Emily volunteered at The African Impact, Marine Conservation Project in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

4) Sam Rees-Davies; Backpacking Biker

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We met Sam in February 2017 on our first day returning to Our Home Community. Unfortunately it was their last night volunteering there but although we had very little time together we instantly knew we shared the same passion about Our Home.

“Our first and most important tip when volunteering is always plan your route before you set off on your journey. Initially getting to Our Home seemed impossible as we were travelling by bike from Ooty with nothing but road signs! When we finally arrived we were mobbed by so many excitable children. One of the most refreshing things when you speak to anyone at Our Home is that they never refer to it as an orphanage, it is quite literally their home. The sense of community and family is breathtaking. Never have I seen so many children with such a zest for life, and if you need inspiration to volunteer, this is it!

We spent our days playing football, painting, cooking and also took the children on a trip to the local dam. Reflecting on my time at Our Home my biggest advice is get involved as much as you can and think of something new to introduce, cooking macaroni cheese was certainly a first time experience for these Indian kids and it was great I could give them that.”

5) Chloe Leach; Backpacker

“If I was to give any suggestions to someone wanting to volunteer abroad I’d say first and foremost – do your research. There are a lot of ‘volunteer projects’ that are scams, especially in SE Asia. They take your money and it doesn’t go to benefiting the cause they ‘stand for’. Please ensure you look for ethical projects.

I’d also say, GET STUCK IN. You’ll probably be given some tasks that aren’t as enjoyable as others. However, it is what you make it and at the end of the day you’re there volunteering to benefit the lives of others and not yourself.”

Chloe has volunteered at SchoolsWorldwide, a charity that runs volunteer trips through schools in Namibia, and Elephant Nature Park in Thailand where we also had a fantastic experience.

6) Sofia Candy; Backpacker

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Sofia volunteered with the Soi Dog Foundation, Thailand in 2015 and has incredibly now adopted Sansa, a dog they fell in love with during their time there. Sansa has been living in the U.K. for almost a year and is loving her new family life.

“If you wish to volunteer at Soi Dog make sure you contact them in advance to arrange your dates as they get booked up quickly during busy seasons. Take some dog treats with you in a bum bag for when you walk the dogs, they love a treat! Wear comfy shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and smelly … Hanging out with the dogs and cats all day can get messy but it’s an amazing experience and you’ll hear lots of stories about how these animals were saved from torture and cruelty. It’s a fab life experience you will never forget.”

7) Thuy An; Community Outreach Coordinator; YMCA Vietnam

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“Vietnam is a great place to volunteer and have a life changing experience. To make sure you have the most enjoyable time possible and not too much of a culture shock, this is what I would recommend:

  • First and foremost make sure you participate in a voluntary experience that will excite you. This way you will be able to put 100% into everything you too.
  • When planning to volunteer make sure you obtain necessary visas and documents required before you arrive to avoid any problems.
  • Be prepared to eat all kinds of food in Vietnam … the infamous durian and fish sauce is typical for daily meals, if you’re a picky eater or dislike smelly food Vietnam might not be the place for you!
  • Most Vietnamese people are nice and friendly but always be aware of scams and rip-offs when shopping in local or tourist markets.
  • Don’t get run over by a car! The traffic is crazy. When crossing the streets be alert, confident and steady.
  • Lastly, equip yourself with some local knowledge about wherever you go. The Vietnamese people will love that you’ve taken the time to get to know their culture.

Thuy An organised our brilliant voluntary trip with YMCA Vietnam in 2015.

8) Swostik Pandey; Student and Entrepreneur

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“Whilst volunteering in Vietnam I often found myself being so thankful for the opportunity to give back. My main advice for volunteering abroad is to be as passionate as possible. Most people only volunteer once or twice in their lifetime so give it all you have and make sure you don’t forget to embrace the culture. Not only does this teach you about the local people, food and lifestyle of where you are volunteering but it also makes you appreciate everything you have in life. My second tip would be to be outgoing. Being able to create memories is great but always remember the people around you are the ones who help form those memories. Whether it is sharing a smile or attempting to speak an unknown language, every little thing will go a very long way!”

We volunteered with Swostik in 2015 as part of the YMCA Vietnam Overseas Community Project.

9) KHTravels; Blogging & Volunteering Couple 

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Our ultimate tip would be to prepare yourself for the hardships that go alongside the incredible experience you will have whilst volunteering. Volunteering isn’t easy and can be a very emotional journey.

Your accommodation will be very basic with no luxuries; uncomfortable beds, no fans, mosquito bites, squat toilets, hand washing clothes, no TV and no wifi! Culture shock can also be daunting and you’re often in remote communities that may not have seen foreigners before so expect a mixture of responses. These are the first things to come to terms with and the rest will fall into place. We of course do not want to deter your from volunteering but you need to be aware of what you’re letting yourself in for and if this doesn’t put you off, then you’re ready to go!

So there you have it, from some of our most trusted friends from around the world, we hope you’ll find their suggestions and advice helpful. If you still have any unanswered questions then please get in touch.

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We’ve got 99 problems but travelling isn’t one!

The realities of coming home…

2380Two people, two back packs, nine countries, twelve planes, ten months and then … home. Did that just happen? Did we really just spend the majority of 2015 living our dream, fulfilling our wanderlust, exploring, adventuring, and travelling the world… to now be home?

The harsh reality is coming home is harder, much harder than going away and this is our first really personal blog. We’re going to let you into our minds and see how we are feeling now we’re home. If you’re NOT a traveller the likelihood is you won’t have a clue what we’re talking about reading this, and if you ARE a traveller we know you’ll be able to relate to this more than anything else you’ve read today.

Our year travelling Singapore, Australia, Bali, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and India came to an abrupt ending the minute we arrived back on home turf. As the plane landed in Heathrow we were a mixture of emotions; tired, sad, shocked, excited to see our families (we were surprising them) uncertainty, and most of all it all just seemed like a big haze, a dream, we couldn’t accept that we were now home. They say time flies when you’re having fun, well boy, we must have had a blast because it felt like we simply blinked and we were home again.

781After three months in India the journey in a black cab down the M25 was somewhat different to a tuctuc zooming around Delhi. All of a sudden we were being bombarded with being home; red busses, Ford KA’s, level roads, road signs, Costa Coffees, rain and we had to take all of this in as we made our way into Essex. Culture shock going to India? Forget that, coming home after so long is the biggest culture shock ever and you’ll either settle back in going back to your old ways or you’ll feel this now alien country is no longer home.

Our first few weeks home were incredible. Seeing the looks on the faces of both our families and friends when surprising them after so long was priceless, emotional and completely unforgettable. Sleeping in our own bed, the build up to Christmas, the welcome cold weather, the partying, it was good to be home. You know you’ve been away for a long time when you can feel yourself talking in slow, broken English to your mum!

However, as the weeks passed we both started to feel unsettled. Imagine being together 24/7 for nearly a year, just us in our own little bubble, doing what we want, when we wanted with no one to answer to and not being held back by the reality that is society. We feel it may have been easier if we came home and were living together, but we’ve both had to go back home to our parents, and we’re hugely thankful to them, but truthfully we just want to be together in our own little routine that we built whilst travelling.

671We’ve both had to adjust back in to our old lives, new clothes, hair and makeup done, nights out and expensive dinners. Gone are the days of 20p beer in the street with Pad Thai for dinner wearing anything we could reach for from our backpacks including the tops with international beer logos on (we would never wear those at home!) We found this really difficult, why can’t we walk around bare foot anymore?

As we’re writing this we don’t really know where we are going or what we are trying to say? It’s hard; it is really hard being home and we think people underestimate that. All we want to do is look for new and exciting opportunities, spend time on our blog, keep talking about the incredible experiences we’ve encountered and keep posting our favourite travel snaps. But the truth is no one really cares. At first this is hard to accept, but it’s true and you will soon realise that no one cares about the name of the volcano you spent a day climbing and were so proud of yourself for doing so. Yes of course everyone wants to know how it was… How was it? How was your year travelling? What was your favourite country? How can we answer any of these questions, have you got another year to listen to us? No not really, so you reply with “It was great, we can’t tell you our favourite country as they were all so different” If someone asks a question and you actually begin to open up and elaborate into your magical story, well to you it is, it’s almost guaranteed you will notice the person is not paying for attention, because they don’t care! And in all fairness why would they?

1051You experience all of these wonderful countries, with beautiful cultures and you embrace them throwing yourselves in head first. The people you meet become your family and you rely on them as much as you would your parents. We spent a lot of time volunteering so got to experience first-hand a lot of local communities and we fell in love with all of them particularly, Our Home Community in India. We now spend our days missing them and wondering why we aren’t there, we feel we could be of so much more use out in the big wide world, where we can freely express our love, passion and understanding that has become who we are.

We want to spend every minute of every day together because only we know what each other is feeling, but we can’t. That isn’t reality is it; we have to work to make a living so it’s back to our 9-5 desk jobs whilst our minds are still wandering to the days where what we would have for dinner was our hardest decision. We now realise the simplest luxuries that we took for granted, normal toilets and no more carrying around toilet roll? Much easier right? But so boring.

1118Travelling gave us a sense of purpose, and belonging that we can no longer feel here? And will we ever? It’s been three months since we returned and we still have the same hunger and desire to be waking up in the morning to something new, a different adventure every day. We miss the simplicities in life that is travelling and appreciating the treats when you get them! Our first Nando’s in Chennai was literally like heaven on a plate after six months. Being able to have it every week in Romford Brewery isn’t exactly the same. The excitement of having a decent Wi-Fi and being able to contact your friends and family for a real catch up is brilliant. So is being able to update yourself with the world of social media, not having it on hand every second of every day. Spending evenings watching countless friends episodes was a real treat, here they’re on Comedy Central all the time! The novelty wears off…

We were lucky travellers, only one case of bed bugs, a few Delhi belly occasions, a little bit of travel sickness, some sleepless nights. But we’ve come home with something much worse. We have a very bad case of the travel bug, and what’s the cure for that? To go again…

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<<<Our Home Country, The UKThe West End>>>

 

Travels

We have travelled 22 countries so far, and visited the majority of those during a year we spent backpacking through Australasia and Asia.

Travelling is something that is a priority for us, we’d even go as far to say a necessity. We have a hunger to explore, and will continue to fulfil our wanderlust through budget travelling and luxury breaks.

We’re currently back in London after four months volunteering at Our Home Community Orphanage. You can read about our adventures below:

Good morning Vietnam

Vietnam is one of those places where if you haven’t been, you won’t understand, a real “if you know, then you know”. Coming from Hong Kong, we left the luxury of air con and sky scrapers behind to enter into a world of pho and fun.

Hanoi was our first stop with the old quarter being one of our favourite hang out spots. With freshly brewed draft beers for £0.20, an array of awesome food and some great people, Vietnam was quickly becoming one of our favourite countries.

If you are thinking about taking a trip to Vietnam you will almost certainly be looking at carrying out a variety of excursions and spending a lot of your time travelling the country. A trustworthy and reliable service operator we found was “The Sinh Tourist“, they diligently sorted the majority of our travel plans and also offer travel to neighbouring countries such as Cambodia and Laos.

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Our first trip took us North to the mountainous region of Sapa. This was our first view of the real Vietnam and we loved it! Taking the night train journey North was confusing but after a little help from some new Vietnamese friends we found our way. Sapa is a gorgeous town with endless eating opportunities but you come to Sapa for one thing and one thing only. Trekking.

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Trekking up the rice field mountains, we were led by a group of tribal women who had lived in the mountains their whole lives. This was one of our best experiences yet, the classic phrase of “don’t look down” was used more than once! Walking on the very edge of a mountain side with a water logged rice field in front of you and a 50ft drop behind you, was literally living life on the edge.

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Following a few days in the mountains, our next trip took us to Ha Long Bay which was incredible on a whole other level. Rated as one of the natural wonders of the world we knew why as soon as we arrived on the boat. The name Ha Long actually translates to “descending dragon”. This is in reference to the legend that a dragon came and placed hundreds of mountain islands scattered across the sea to stop rivalling countries from invading Vietnam.

Beautiful, amazing, wonderful, unbelievable, describe it how you will but words cannot do it justice, just make sure you visit this heaven on earth if you get the chance.

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Two moments stick out strong in the memory from this trip. The first of which was our time canoeing through the open sea from island to island after visiting “Surprise Cave”. Free from the world you canoe to your own private island, each unique and each magnificent.

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Watching the moonlit sky across the open sea and through the islands we witnessed one of the biggest lightening storms we have ever seen. Forks of electricity shooting across the sky in utter silence as we gazed through our open window was a once in a lifetime moment, never to be forgotten.

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Heading further south our next stop was Hoi An. A beautiful little town with a real French heritage located along a river, this was one of those places where you could liver forever while doing very little but never having nothing to do. You should definitely give this place a visit, especially if you are after a tailor made suit for a cut price deal!

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Back to the adventure, next up was canyoning in Da Lat, one of the scariest but most fun days of our travels! Starting with a simple trek through the hillsides we made our way to a river and spent the morning sliding through fast flowing streams. Great fun but still quite easy and safe, this soon changed…

Arriving at a huge waterfall the harnesses were strapped on, as one by one we abseiled our way through the water. The current was ferocious as it lashed against our legs, with strict instructions to follow, legs shaking and water almost suffocating our face came THE moment.

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A slip of the foot and both of us had fallen and began smashing against the rock. Water pounding on our heads, the rock sliding beneath our feet, we were holding onto the rope for dear life! It really was a do or die moment (maybe a slight exaggeration but that’s allowed).

With sheer determination we made it to our feet and climbed down the final few metres before jumping into the deep pool of water below. With a crazy cackle as we climbed ashore we made it, only to realise this was just the beginning as we were given the good news… We had another, bigger, fiercer waterfall to abseil down.

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With a genuine fear of falling to our deaths driving us on, we climbed down this waterfall with less drama, practise makes perfect after all. With instruction to keep our arms and legs tucked in when reaching the bottom,  we were forced underwater for what seems an eternity as we bashed against the rocks before finally reaching the placid lake. Canyoning was one of those things which you look back on and think, “I loved it and so glad I did it but I will never do that again!”

Once leaving Da Lat we moved down to our last stop Ho Chi Min City, previously known as Saigon. Most of our time was spent volunteering with the YMCA, which you can read about here.

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When not volunteering we happily spent our days wandering the busy, motorbike filled streets, finding new places to eat and enjoying a Saigon beer.

The War Remnants Museum is unmissable. This beautiful country and their welcoming people were put through enormous agony and strain. Now thriving with its independence, this is a country which is proud of what it is and where it has come from and so it should be. With people still bearing scars from the war with smiles on their faces, it is a clear reminder as to just how lucky we are.

YMCA Vietnam

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Throughout our incredible journey around the world, we have been trying to do as much as we can to help those less fortunate than us. After a fantastic experience volunteering in the Philippines, our next place of action was Vietnam and this time with the YMCA.

We contacted the YMCA before leaving the UK and organised to volunteer as part of an overseas community service project in Ben Tre, a small province south of Saigon alongside a group of students from the YMCA HKCC. Thuy An, a senior member at the YMCA, arranged everything for us and it couldn’t have gone smoother. She was an excellent host for the week and we instantly felt right at home and could get stuck in just how we wanted to.

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The aim of the week was to concrete a playground of a very small community school in order to give the children a safer environment to learn in. As well as this, we also spent time teaching the children basic English at various levels of ability.

When we arrived the playground was concreted in patches, with the majority made up of mud, rubble and tree stubs, definitely not safe for children! The school was small, dusty, and grey with no signs of any colour or learning tools. However, despite this we still found that there was a great atmosphere amongst the children. They were eager to learn, happy, all in uniform and in very hight spirits, The teachers here had clearly been doing a superb job with the little resources they had. Being such a small community hub, the children were delighted to have people from outside their province to help, having probably never met anyone foreign before, it was very exciting for all of us.

To say that concreting was hard is an understatement! The heat of the sun was almost unbearable and with facemasks on we were sweating absolute buckets. Our jobs consisted of filling containers with sand and rocks, lifting them to cement mixers and then laying the cement, it sure was a good work out! Everyone worked together as a team and we eventually got the job done through sheer determination and a lot of sweating!

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Teaching the little rascals was a lot more enjoyable but just as difficult! From songs and sports, to weather and animals these children went from knowing zero English to being able to hold a basic conversation with us and they were thriving on everything they learnt. It was a pure joy seeing them develop and probably the most rewarding work either of us had ever done.

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The children were so sweet and at the end of the week they presented us with hand picked flower bouquets as thank you gifts, this was certainly one of the places we did not want to leave!

We were able to present gifts to the teachers from the school, which was fantastic. They were overjoyed and we simply wanted to thank them for the great work that they had been doing. They were also so kind to us throughout the week, welcoming us into their homes as if we were family, feeding us heaps of food and even letting us do some Vietnamese cooking! For this we will be eternally grateful to them, as we experienced a part of their culture we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to otherwise.

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Our time with the YMCA ended with them putting on a cultural evening for us, where we ate delicious food and were entertained by a variety of different performances, it was an excellent insight to their wonderful culture.

Vietnam was the country we feel we’ve had the most fun in, and this experience added to that. Thuy An has now become a lifetime friend along with the wonderful teachers and students from Hong Kong. We will never forget the memories we have made in the little school in the Ben Tre province and would love one day to be able to do more for them.

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Our volunteering adventure

As well as visiting incredible places, meeting wonderful people and making unforgettable memories, we also do our best to support those less fortunate than ourselves.

While at home we have been working alongside The Asian Circle, a fantastic organisation who support women in need throughout Asia.

We also provide ongoing support to Our Home Community Orphanage, a charity based in Kerala, India which is home to 40+ orphans.

Beyond the UK and India we have also volunteered with various international charities which we would highly recommend. If you have any questions about these organisations or would like more info on how to get involved please feel free to contact us.