Any humanitarian travel experience can be rewarding, but choosing the right experience can be life changing. So how do you find an experience that will change your life and also improve the lives of others? According to Dane Andersen, a humanitarian project enthusiast, “you need to do your research.”
Why is research so important? Because you’ll find many types of humanitarian groups to choose from: short-term groups (2–6 weeks) or long-term groups (3–12 months); groups that allow personal travel time or groups that are dedicated solely to humanitarian work; and groups that depend entirely on volunteers to complete service projects or groups that bring in volunteers to help year-round staff.
Not sure how to go about researching humanitarian aid organizations? Start with these four questions:
- What’s my goal? To do service? To make a travel experience more meaningful?
- What skills do I have that can help make a difference?
- Which organization will best help me use my skills to benefit others?
- What will this organization do after I leave to sustain my efforts and make a real impact?
To get you started, here are some organizations Stowaway has checked out. But don’t limit yourself to these options. Let your goals and talents be your guide in selecting a rewarding humanitarian aid experience.
Cost: $3,000 for 6 weeks (or $2,300 for 3 weeks)
Objective: Sustain Haiti seeks to strengthen Haitian communities by empowering community leaders. Volunteers accomplish this goal by teaching English, hosting hygiene classes, and working side by side with locals to improve agroforestry.
What You’ll Experience: “They really needed us all the time, whether that was working in the gardens, installing pipes in roads to people’s gardens, teaching English, or just playing with people’s kids. Every step of the way, people need a helping hand.” —Michelle Peets
Volunteer Reflection: “I have never felt such love permeate a community. . . . What I learned and felt was worth any sacrifice I had to make to get there. I highly recommend that you make humanitarian service to an organization you believe in a top priority.” —Michelle Peets
How to Get Involved: sustain-haiti.org
Destinations: Cambodia, Guatemala, Kenya, Nepal, Peru, and Thailand
Cost: $2,500 to $3,800 (typically 2 weeks)
Objective: YouthLinc’s vision is for youth to understand local and global needs and become lifetime humanitarians. YouthLinc accomplishes this vision by encouraging young volunteers to participate in leadership, service, and other types of projects locally and internationally.
What You’ll Experience: “We helped build a water catchment system by building a well and bathrooms. We also cleaned and painted all of the classrooms, created a mural on their school, taught them microenterprise and health care, and shared cultures through dance.” —Liana Tan
Volunteer Reflection: “My favorite part was playing games with the children. . . . I was truly amazed at the friendships we could build though we didn’t even speak the same language. . . . The bonds I made with those villagers have inspired me to continue humanitarian work in my future.” —Liana Tan
How to Get Involved: youthlinc.org
Destinations: Belize, Fiji, India, Peru, Uganda, and Thailand
Cost: $1,050 to $3,750 (from 6 days to 15 weeks)
Objective: HELP International strives to find sustainable solutions to poverty by partnering with local organizations. HELP International emphasizes a variety of projects in entrepreneurship, public health, and community education.
What You’ll Experience: “I was a team leader for several projects. I tutored at-risk youth, and I created a curriculum that outlines coping skills for children who were victims of domestic violence or whose mothers were victims of domestic violence. I worked on building a garden with cinder block walls for a school, . . . [and] I worked at a nursing and rehabilitation center to support the nurses and staff with activities of daily living and physical therapy.”
Volunteer Reflection: “It was a life-changing experience for us and something we hope to do with our children later. It’s impossible to really understand what it’s like to live in a third-world country without experiencing it firsthand.” —Shanna Warr
How to Get Involved: help-international.org
Africa Is Life Changing (AILC)
Destinations: Kenya and Nakuru
Cost: $3,800 (typically 2 weeks)
Objective: The goal of AILC is to empower women and children by teaching them practical life skills and nurturing their individual worth.
What You’ll Experience: “We built two boarding schools for both younger and older kids, which include libraries, kitchens, rooms, classrooms, and more. We work with women, teaching them how to sew and create a business for themselves. We also work to sponsor children to go to school. I taught computer classes for 4 months to the children. We also do medical work in villages and IDP (internally displaced people) camps around Nakuru.”
Volunteer Reflection: “I absolutely love every minute I get to spend in Kenya. It feels like my second home. The family I lived with while I was out there became my own family. . . . I feel the work I did on a personal level with each individual is what counts the most. It is incredible to watch someone’s demeanor change because you showed them that they matter; nothing can replace that.” —Caralee Child
How to Get Involved: africaislifechanging.org
Brigham Young University’s Program Evaluation and Assessment Team (PEAT)
Destinations: Depends on the partner organizations
Cost: Funded by PEAT and partners for one semester
Objective: PEAT partners with organizations to research and evaluate the organizations and help them develop stronger and more effective programs.
What You’ll Experience: “We conducted interviews, gathered surveys, and did observations. Following our time in Uganda, we put together a large report of our findings to give to the organizations. Our hope was to provide them with data that they could use to apply for grants and other funding.” —Hayley Pierce
Volunteer Reflection: “You do a lot of work in the country for the nonprofit organizations you work for. I learned about conducting research, working with different people, and writing professional reports while actually doing those things, as opposed to simply being told how to do them. It was extremely stressful and hard work, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” —Hayley Pierce
How to Get Involved: kennedy.byu.edu/academic/development/peat
Top photo courtesy of Hayley Pierce.