Can I volunteer abroad with my child?
You already travel regularly with your kids. You know that family travel can be eye-opening and foster better global understanding. Taking your children out of their home environment near or far broadens their minds and discourages prejudice. Are you ready for a volunteer vacation? Here’s what you need to know before volunteering abroad with kids.
What to Consider before Volunteering with Children?
Be much more cautious in your choice of the country than you would be if travelling by yourself. For most families, recommend stable countries are Costa Rica, Belize, or European nations. There will still be plenty of health, safety, language and cultural concerns, but you (probably) won’t have the additional complications of political unrest. Avoid countries with high levels of malaria or other diseases that can be particularly harmful to kids, unless you have doctor’s approval and the advice of an excellent traveller’s clinic. (In some countries malaria is endemic on one region and almost absent in another.) The alternative is to go to countries that you know well.
Chose a company that specializes in family programs. These days, many organizations offer to organize programs for a family. But only a few truly specialize in the complicated issues that arise in intergenerational volunteering. Even if you choose one of these organizations, ask to speak to a family that has volunteered on the specific program you are considering. That way you can learn about their experiences and make sure the program is a match for you before you sign up.
Of course, your kids have built-in free time for travel with summer, spring, and winter breaks, but the older teens and adults in your family may not necessarily have the same flexibility. If that’s the case for your family, it’s important to work out a time to volunteer that fits into everyone’s schedule. Summer breaks especially are a great opportunity to volunteer for a month or longer! (And, we really think everyone should volunteer abroad for longer.
The obvious perks of volunteering for longer is the opportunity to watch a project development and, hopefully, come to fruition. This still may be difficult in the span of a couple months, but it’s far more likely that you’ll see growth in a couple months versus a couple of weeks. Seeing the effects that a positive volunteer experience can have on individuals or a community is a great way to help your family evolve into lifelong active citizens. That being said, short-term volunteer programs are still worth doing, if you do them right and responsibly.
The age and maturity of your children. Ideally, your kids are tweens or teens. Why? Volunteer vacations involve providing aid in many forms, from manual labour to skilled assistance. Kids need to be old enough to follow instructions and be of help, but also mature enough to see the bigger picture: they may be working hard serving food or cleaning up a field of debris, but this effort will have lasting results. Also consider the environment your children will work in and the situations they may witness while volunteering abroad: are they ready (and emotionally prepared) to see poverty or need up-close? While being part of the solution is very beneficial to kids (and adults!), children need to be developmentally ready.
Top Countries to Volunteer with Children
Some countries might do well to be avoided due to high rates of corruption or scandal stories – Cambodia, for instance, with recent reports of exploitation and abuse; Nepal and Uganda are two others with a host of recent problems in child-based institutions.
Other countries have a better track record with quality, long-term organizations. The most important thing is to exercise due diligence; look deeply into any organization, its history and transparency, and the work being done.
Countries in South and Central America, like Costa Rica, are establishing themselves in the eco-tourism industry which means there are plenty of opportunities for volunteers to help out with conservation efforts.
In addition, countries like Peru, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic need volunteers to help in the community centres and orphanages. Finally, because several of these countries are tourist destinations, the need to learn English is vital, especially for adults.
Why volunteer with your child
Volunteering with your kids can be an incredible way to strengthen your bonds, working together for a common cause away from the stresses of daily life. Whether you’re positioned abroad in a developing country or working in disadvantaged communities back home, being exposed to real-world issues can put your own in perspective.
If you’ve grown apart over the last few years or are having disagreements, this is the ideal opportunity to put your differences aside and reconnect again. Having a new setting and inspiring goals can redefine the way you look at the world and the importance of having family around you. Volunteering also creates an energetic and positive atmosphere which you can harness as a family to have a lot of fun, despite being hard at work.
When you volunteer with your child, it is the perfect time for parents to teach their children about compassion, kindness and humility. Helping others directly through your own time and labour is an ideal opportunity to foster caring citizens and community members, as well as establish a global outlook that strives for equality for all. Whether you head overseas or stay in your hometown, chances are you will meet a new community of people and establish lifelong friends.
If you’re heading abroad, you will suddenly be immersed in a completely different culture and way of living, which will broaden your horizons about the diversity of our world. Perhaps it will inspire your children to travel independently in the future, which will open up a world of opportunities to them.
It is fun and challenging when a family travels together. There’s the excitement of visiting new places, having a break from the everyday routine, and building precious memories with your family. Everyone has fond memories of the fun they’ve had on family vacations, and everyone cringes and laughs at all the awkward moments reminiscent of a National Lampoon movie.
What are some of your favourite memories from your childhood or with your own children? Think how those memories felt, sounded, and looked. We can almost guarantee that some of the best memories included laughter. Volunteering abroad with your child will not be any different!
Volunteering abroad with your children will leave a lasting impression on your entire family and if you don’t laugh while you volunteer, you’ll at least laugh at the memories!