If you’re looking for a holiday with a difference, one that will do you good and help you do good, we’ve got you covered. We list brilliant volunteering trip ideas across India and around the world that are bound to make your holiday unforgettable. Whether you want to work with rescued animals in Delhi, building greenhouses in Spiti, or helping release baby turtles into the ocean in Costa Rica, there’s a trip for you.
Conservation of the tiger and other large mammals is top priority for the Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS), a Bengaluru-based non-profit trust. CWS has one of the most comprehensive volunteer programmes in India, and they accept applications all through the year. You can apply for a volunteer programme at any point through the year; work—and opportunities—peak between mid-April and May. For more details, visit the website or email email@example.com.
There are a range of tiger-focussed volunteering programmes across the country that will teach you about the big cat and its ecology; see our 10 picks here.
Laxmi is the gentlest of the centre’s elephants, and may allow volunteers to pet her as she chomps down her breakfast. Photo: Debarpita Banerjee
Volunteers can visit Wildlife SOS’s elephant and bear sanctuaries for a day or a week. A night’s stay, including accommodation, three vegetarian meals, volunteering, forest department admission fees, and transfers, costs ₹4,500. A week-long stay with similar inclusions is ₹20,000 for Indians (for foreign nationals, $100 a day and $500 for a week). Booking in advance is mandatory.
Typically, volunteers go on sunrise and sunset walks with the elephants, help prepare the animals’ meals and bathe them. They also build hammocks for the bears and help distribute their food. They may also get to assist experts during special rescue projects, brainstorm about fundraising and animal wellbeing, and do other odd jobs. The volunteer’s duties can be modified based on individual interests. For example, zoology students or aspiring vets can also help with medical services.
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For over a decade, Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra has worked on nature conservation along the Konkan coastline. Their projects have focused on protecting the olive ridley turtle, the Indian swiftlet whose edible nests are exploited by international wildlife trade, and the critically endangered white-rumped vulture and white-bellied sea eagle. In the past, volunteers have helped conduct surveys and monitor breeding and nesting sites of the marine turtles, and assisted at workshops and awareness programmes. For details, visit the website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Work in progress at the greenhouse. Photo: Sonali Gupta
Ecosphere is a social enterprise that helps create sustainable livelihoods linked to nature and culture conservation in Spiti, Himachal Pradesh. Volunteers work with local communities on projects like building greenhouses and installing solar panels. They stay in homestays in villages throughout the region and get a deep sense of life in the high-altitude desert.
Urban farming, beach clean-ups, and monitoring flamingoes all rank high for Sprouts Mumbai. The city-based NGO spotlights environmental awareness for kids and youth, and building green communities. It conducts an annual Earth Mela with workshops, film screenings, and nature trails. Sprouts Mumbai is open to volunteers of any age; for details, visit the website, or email email@example.com.
The Malabar pit viper is nocturnal, but often basks on rocks during the daytime. It has something of a sixth sense to detect heat, allowing it to track warm-blooded prey. Photo: Harish Shanthi Kumar
The Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS) sits deep within the rainforest of Karnataka’s Shimoga district, with no signboards or banners belying its existence. A small group of researchers go about their business of tracking king cobras, flying lizards, and other interesting creatures, in addition to studying forest ecology and climatic change. Beyond the research, though, the ARRS’s primary aim is to educate the locals about why they need to help preserve the rainforests. Enthusiasts can sign up to volunteer and help with the research, although a minimum commitment of two weeks is required, along with willingness to live a no-frills life filled with leeches.
Jodie Underhill visited India in 2008 on holiday, and decided to pitch in to clean up the country’s undeniable garbage problem. She started Waste Warriors, a non-profit waste management organisation, which has projects in Dehradun, Dharamshala, and Corbett. Volunteers conduct clean-up drives and collect trash, which is disposed or sent on for recycling or composting. For details, visit the website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Examining a baby turtle that’s just hatched, volunteers notice that their eyes are still closed. Photo: Trupti Devdas Nayak
The Turtle Survival Alliance works to protect endangered turtle species across India from extinction. Changing climatic conditions and poachers are among the biggest threats to turtles. TSA-India is currently working on ten conservation projects across five areas of the country. Email email@example.com for details and get more information on the organisation’s Facebook page.
Make your vacation in Costa Rica a little more special by volunteering with the Osa Conservation’s Piro Research Center. Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica has pristine black sand beaches, flanked by dense green jungle on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. It is to these shores that thousands of olive ridley and green sea turtles return every year, to nest on the same beach where they were born. You can sign up with the centre to participate in a beachside turtle release.
Elephants usually grow around seven sets of teeth in a lifetime. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee/National Geographic Creative
The Elephant Valley Sanctuary, Cambodia, has 9 elephants and the strong belief that this generation of elephants should be the last to be domesticated. The elephants here have been rescued from unpleasant working situations and cruel owners. They live in an environment that is as close to the wild as possible, foraging for their own food. There are no chains and no tourist rides. Visitors can spend the whole day with the mahout and learn to take care of elephants. Volunteers at the sanctuary also work with locals to help them find sources of income that do not include elephant domestication.
Updated in March 2016.
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