Volunteering with your family, whether overseas or at home, can be an exciting way to take a break together as a family as well as an immensely rewarding and worthwhile – and perhaps even life-changing – one. As a parent, it’s a great way of introducing your children to a world they may not be aware of and of teaching them the value of helping and of communities working to a common end.
Until recently, the time commitment that was required made volunteering overseas very difficult to organise for most families with school-age children, but a growing number of organisations now offer short-break (usually 2wk–1 month) volunteering programs for families in school holidays.
The following are just some of the many extraordinary volunteering trips on offer. For longer-term projects overseas, try GVI, Operation Raleigh, Gap Year for Grown Ups and VSO.
The well-known conservation organisation, which owns and runs many family-friendly heritage properties around the country, is introducing family volunteering holidays in Wales – at Craflwyn Hall in Snowdonia and the Stackpole Estate in Pembrokeshire – and at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire. Aimed at parents and up to three children aged 8–16, they involve vegetation and in some cases beach clearance, and the creation of deadwood habitat piles. Volunteers also get chance to explore the area they’re staying in by foot or bike; accommodation is hostel-style, sharing with three other families.
For more volunteering in the UK, see CSV, Volunteering England or Do-it.
Family adventure specialist Families Worldwide offers those with kids aged 7+ the chance to combine volunteering with an actual holiday. Volunteers work in an elephant transit home, a local school and a community project, with trips to cultural sites and beaches to relax between projects. This is a great introduction to volunteering.
Responsible Travel’s more serious trip offers the whole family the opportunity to spend four weeks in a village in an ancient colonial town in Central America, helping locals with building or farming projects. Spanish lessons are on offer and volunteers live and work with local families. There’s no minimum age, but those with younger children will need to assess how suited the trip is to their particular family.
Go Differently’s wonderful two-week break combines helping out in an elephant mahout camp with a visit to the famous elephant festival in Surin. Along the way, you visit the country and relax on a couple of beaches. This is one that is really intended for adults, but children are very welcome to come along and muck in.
Also run by Families Worldwide, this exciting volunteer holiday for families 12+ combines real practical help with thrills and adventure: you begin by staying with local people and helping a rural community, then canoe along the Zambezi River and visit Victoria Falls.
This three-week trip run by Responsible Travel combines serious work (determined according to your skills) in local communities with the chance to sample the best of South Africa, with tips to visit the Addo Elephant National Park and Plattenberg Bay on offer for the whole family.
- Overnight Island Volunteer Experience (doc.govt.nz)
- Teen learns life lessons from local treasures (charlotteobserver.com)