Have you always wished to trade the daily grind for a life of working on an organic farm or cuddling and comforting sick animals back to health or being a language coach to a group of refugees? Volunteer travel just might help you live your dream! The concept of “voluntourism” has lately been gaining ground in India, with a number of places offering the opportunity to do voluntary work in a diverse range of settings, from animal farms and plantations to agricultural communities and grassroot organizations. As a volun-tourist, you not just earn karmic brownie points, but also get to learn new skills; soak in the local culture; and meet new people, all while staying at incredible places usually off the tourist trail. Note that most of these places offer volunteering opportunities for a flexible time period (check websites for details) and free of cost, however, some of them might involve a minimal cost for accommodation and meals. Read on to find out about places where you could go on your next vacation to not only make productive use of your skills for the good of society, but also to engage in some serious soul-searching.
In the lap of nature
Choose from a variety of farm stays hosted on WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) that brings together organic farmers and volunteers to promote an educational and cultural exchange while living and working on a farm or an organic property. Experience life in the countryside as a WWOOFer to learn what it takes to get your favourite foods from farm to plate by volunteering assistance at a variety of organic farms across India: think tea estates, coffee plantations, orchards and spice plantations! Or make your way to Fertile Ground (Assam) where you can get hands-on experience at growing fruit, vegetables and flowers, using organic farming techniques at their farms in Digboi and Jorhat. Carbon conscious people will love Sadhana Forest, in Auroville (Tamil Nadu), where they can participate in reforestation and water conservation activities, while staying at this vegan-friendly forest retreat. When you’re not planting trees, mulching, or maintaining the community area, you can cool off in the mud pool or regale fellow volunteers with dancing, singing or any other form of performing arts at their “Open Stage”.
Mountain lovers can check out Spiti Ecosphere, in Spiti Valley (Himachal Pradesh), which offers a range of exciting eco-travel itineraries, covering activities such as assisting the local communities in building greenhouses and solar passive structures, as well as village volunteering. And all of this comes with trekking through highland pastures, yak safaris and a traditional Spitian homestay! You can also put on your cleaning gloves and boots to join the clean-up hikes (or initiate one yourself) organized by Waste Warriors, at their waste management projects in Dharamshala, Dehradun and Corbett (Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh). Those with artistic skills can join their art project, which invites people to paint wall murals at designated areas to raise awareness on cleanliness and waste management. The Chennai Trekkers Club (Tamil Nadu) organizes coastal clean-ups and tree plantation drives as well. While working with them, you can also join their trekking expeditions through the lush rolling hills of the Western and Eastern Ghats.
If intensive physical labour sounds daunting and not quite along the lines of taking a vacation, teaching art and craft to kids or becoming a language coach to adults might be a perfect fit for you. At LHA, in Mcleodganj (Himachal Pradesh), you can teach conversational English or computer skills to the Tibetan refugee community. Volunteers can also stay in the picturesque hill town with a Tibetan host family for the duration of their volunteering — a great way to learn about the local life and culture. Sports enthusiasts might want to drop by SEMCOL (Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh) in Leh (Jammu & Kashmir), which lists volunteering opportunities in teaching ice-skating, figure skating and hockey in January, every year. If sports is not quite your thing, you can help the students with daily tasks around the SEMCOL campus, such as gardening, helping in the kitchen, taking care of the library, and so on. Or you can host creative workshops, besides holding English conversation classes. Ladli, in Jaipur (Rajasthan), also runs a similar programme, whereby volunteers get to teach English language to destitute children as well as host workshops in art, craft, physical exercise and dance. Those with special skills at jewellery designing or textiles are especially encouraged to hold workshops and vocational training programmes here. Sadhana Village, in Pune (Maharashtra), is another place where you can volunteer to develop a kitchen garden; impart life skills to rural girls; and offer music and yoga therapies to differently abled people.
If the company of animals makes you happier than that of humans, you could volunteer at an animal rescue or a wildlife preservation centre. Dog lovers will especially enjoy working at the stray animal recovery centre in Peepal Farm near Dharamshala (Himachal Pradesh) — there are dogs to be taken out for walks; baths to be given; and puppies to be fed and played with. Those with green fingers can assist with weeding, mulching and digging at the organic farm here. Peepal Farm also encourages voluntary work in making videos, spoofs and culture jams to raise awareness on animal welfare. Situated in the pretty village of Rakkhar, Dharamshala Animal Rescue is another place where you can not just look after sick animals, but also participate in their fundraising and marketing activities, such as writing newsletters, blog posts and social media posts. Fancy handling a crocodile? The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, in Mamallapuram (Tamil Nadu), is the place for you! Besides helping with the daily tasks involved in running this zoo, you can adopt a reptile (albeit the reptile will still live in the zoo) to support the zoo’s efforts in wildlife conservation. Round off your stay with a visit to the Croc Bank Beach and a dip in the shimmering waters of the Indian Ocean. The Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra, in Chiplun (Maharashtra), runs wildlife volunteering programmes for vulture and marine turtle conservation.