Voluntary travel, or voluntourism, is on its way to becoming a preferred way to travel for many, and these 10 organisations foster the spirit of community amongst travellers. By Naina Atri

Sometimes, a vacation is all about taking a breather and escaping the mundane routines of our lives. A vacation could also be an exploration, for the history buffs, culinary aficionados and architectural enthusiasts of the world. However, there are some vacations that go beyond the personal and tap into one’s sense of community. Voluntourism, a.k.a. voluntary travel, brings together one’s thirst to travel with their urge to be part of something larger than themselves. Whether it’s the environment or local communities, voluntary travel allows you to explore, discover and work with others toward an important goal.

Certain organisations have cropped up over the years that target the needs of an area and orchestrate volunteers. From allocating work to organising stay, these organisations know just how to best utilise their resource base.

10 Voluntary Travel Organisations In India To Check Out

1
Spiti Ecosphere, Himachal Pradesh

Collaboration is at the heart of Ecosphere, an organisation that operates in Spiti, cold desert mountain valley in Himachal Pradesh. The aim of Ecosphere, which was founded in 2002, is to cultivate sustainable livelihoods and enable the local community to develop consciously. Given its location amidst the grand Himalayas, travel and adventure are part of the experience. Above all, Ecosphere seeks to share with the world Spiti’s rich cultural heritage.

Ecosphere offers various programs that allow one to travel ‘with a difference’. These programs aim at giving back to the environment to creating additional livelihoods. The organisation also has a series of other programs, such as educational tours and ‘Responsible Eco-travel’.

Accommodation and meals  are covered in the nominal fee charged, and volunteers usually stay for about a month. Check out their schedule for 2022. For more information, check out their website or their Instagram, and email them at [email protected]

Image: spitiecosphere/Instagram

2
Lha Charitable Trust, Dharamsala

Founded in 1997, the Lha Charitable Trust works with the local and refugee peoples of the Himalayas, and provides them with educational resources. The NGO helps refugees acclimate to their new lives by providing long-term rehabilitation and educational resources. The organisation has six focus areas – preservation and promotion of the Tibetan language and cultural heritage, social work initiatives, educational resources, creating awareness of the Tibetan issue, volunteering opportunities and cultural exchange programs. The hands-on experience offered to volunteers allows them to immerse themselves into native cultures, and those of the refugees. Lha provides a wide array of long- and short-term stays, as well as pre-arranged and drop-in volunteer opportunities, at no cost to either individuals or groups.

If you’re looking to volunteer for over a month, Lha requires an application to be filled out. For those looking to volunteer for less than a month, the NGO suggests dropping in at their office in Mcleod Ganj. However, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the organisation is not open to volunteers, however, we suggest you keep an eye out on their website  or Instagram for updates.

Image: lha_charitable_trust/Instagram

3
Hamsah Organic Farm and Sustainable Living, Karnataka

The Hamsah Organic Farm is an environmental, cooperative, collective farm in Sarjapur Road, Karnataka, run by John Fennessy. Volunteers sometimes visit for a weekend, others spend the summer taking part in the mango harvest. One can walk the cows or plant trees during the monsoons. The farm allows for a quick escape from city life. The farm seeks to bring together humans and nature, without seeking to control with the latter or intervene with its progressions. The farm also offers space for campers.

For more details, one can reach John Fennessy at 97390 97356, email [email protected] or check out their Instagram.

Image: hamsahorganic/Instagram

4
SECMOL, Ladakh

The Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh, founded in 1988, began with an aim to reform the government school system. Over the years, the solar powered and solar heated SECMOL campus evolved into a community of volunteers, students and staff. Within the compounds of the campus, students are equipped with the knowledge, skills, perspective, and confidence to develop sustainably. From ancient Ladakhi songs to modern academia, students are exposed to a plethora of experiences.

Volunteers are required to work for a minimum of four weeks, with a minimum of six weeks if one seeks a certificate of completion. Costs of accommodation vary, INR 700 per day for room and board is the standard, however if the stay is less than four weeks pay INR 1,300 per day. Long term volunteers who plan on staying for over 8 weeks will get discounted accommodation. The volunteers SECMOL typically look for (though there aren’t any restrictions on skill sets) vary from season to season. For instance, in January, they look for ice-skating volunteers who can teach ice-skating, figure skating, or hockey. For more details on requirements and volunteer life, check out their website. For those interested, here’s their volunteer form.

Image: secmol/Instagram

5
17000 ft, Ladakh

This not-for-profit organisation seeks to reach out to remote high-altitude frontier communities, specifically focusing on improving education, developing sustainable livelihoods and enabling interactions with the outside world. The organisation is spread across the Leh & Kargil districts of Ladakh, and North & East districts of Sikkim. 17000 ft always invites voluntourists to be part of their work, especially in their educational programs. Through such work, adventurous travellers get to discover off-beat destinations. 17000 ft has small group programs for individual and families, as well as more long term structured programs for School  and  Corporate  groups.

The duration of programs range from 10 days to a month. A stay involves training and orientation, travel to remote areas, stay at village homestays or guesthouses, volunteer  work at the local school and sightseeing. One can read to children, conduct science workshops, teach art and so on. The organisation seeks to bring these communities out of isolation.

Write to [email protected] for more details and check out their website and Instagram.

Image: 17000ft/Instagram

6
Pod Volunteer

Pod Volunteer is an NGO that connects volunteers from across the world to sustainable needs-based volunteering projects in 11 different countries. The duration of a project can range from one week upto one year. In India, one of their projects, located in Udaipur, focuses on providing veterinary treatment and care to animals. Volunteers are provided with stay and food, and costs vary depending on the length of one’s stay. Check out their website and Instagram for more details and other programs.

Image: pod_volunteer/Instagram

7
Auroville, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry

Auroville is an experimental township, spread across parts of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. It was built on the principles of sustainable and communal living. Volunteers can partake in Auroville’s wide range of activities – the Auroville Radio, alternative healthcare, ecological practices, building maintenance, renewable energy, primary and secondary education, village outreach, architecture, organic farming, and animal care. Volunteers tend to stay from two to 12 months. Lodging facilities in Auroville include guesthouses, home-stays and specific volunteer residences.

Check out their website on volunteering and internship opportunities to find what you’re best suited for. Auroville’s website is updated with their COVID-19 protocols.

Image: Shutterstock

 

8
Mandore Project

The volunteer programs of Mandore Project aim at improving the lives of the disadvantaged people of Rajasthan, focusing on rural education and women empowerment. One can teach based on their areas of interest, such as arts and crafts, music, nutrition and so on.

Write to them at  [email protected] to learn more about their upcoming programs.

Image: surendra.mandore/Instagram

 

9
Tdh CORE, Tamil Nadu

Terre des Hommes (Tdh) CORE Trust works with disadvantaged children, focusing on children rights, education, quality care, support and protection. The organisation has set up various homes and shelters in Tamil Nadu, intervention centres for the disabled, education and sponsorship programs. Given the sensitivity of the work they do, the organisation has mandated the minimum age for volunteering as 25. The minimum period of volunteering is usually three weeks and requirements vary from program to program.

Check out their website to learn how you can volunteer with their program.

Image: terredeshommescore/Instagram

10
ARRS Agumbe Rainforest, Karnataka

The Agumbe Rainforest Research Station is a permanent field station of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, located in the middle of Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary and Agumbe Reserve Forest. The long term mission is to study and conserve rainforests. Futher, the local community at Agumbe relies largely on the forest for livelihoods, and the villagers are repositories of traditional ecological knowledge. This provides for a wide range of social science research opportunities. Thus, there are a variety of projects that volunteers are placed into. Volunteers are expected to pay a nominal fee, based on whether their stay is long or short-term. Read more about the work they do on their website.

Given, the on-going pandemic, the organisation has currently put a hold on its volunteer programs, but one can contact them at [email protected] to get more information and updates.

Image: Shutterstock

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