Many young people I know tend to do volunteering to travel and have some fun, get acquainted with a new culture while working, but not too much, and get food and shelter in exchange of labor which itself is not really important for them. But I think there is so much more you and others can get from volunteering experience.
First of all, let me share 4 types of volunteer that I identified:
1) A volunteer who wants to discover the surroundings, working a little bit in exchange for food and shelter.
Advice to volunteer: Make sure you know the area you are going, identify enough nice places to visit, choose a good season and find an appropriate way to reach the identified places before coming. Sometimes volunteering opportunities are far from civilization and not accessible by public transport, there mights be no shops or Internet.
Advice to host: make sure that the coming volunteer is interested in your activity and would like to learn and contribute, if not his or her workforce might not be that useful and you can spend more on food, except you produce and cook your own food. To make the learning process simple and minimize the time spend on it, you may write down your typical working processes and a presentation of your place and vision to organize your ideas, then explain it to the volunteer on arrival and improve it with each newcomer. Better understanding leads to better contribution. Spend some time with volunteer, showing him or her the best local places you like.
2) A volunteer who wants to learn local language, culture and traditions.
Advice to volunteer: Make sure you will not work and live alone, but with local people, that you can talk to and better the same age as you or are having similar interests to experience something local you will probably like.
Advice to host: before accepting a new volunteer, ask why he or she is coming and make sure it matches with your expectations, that you will have time to exchange with newcomer and satisfy his or her curiosity or reach the goal.
3) A learner about host’s main activity or passion.
Advice to volunteer: try to know in advance about the place you are coming, ask what would be your tasks and responsibilities, what you can learn, the host’s availability and whether you will work together.
Advice to host: prepare an overview presentation of your place and activity, use Shuhari learning concept (show how to do, do together, let the student do), share your knowledge and experience regularly.
4) Help others.
Usually purely altruistic activity, such as medicine, education, emergency rescue or response to a natural disaster.
General information that is important to agree with in advance:
Working hours and days off: in Europe the schedule is very light in general with 4 to 6 hours per day and 2 days off, but, for example, in Japan is more severe, some places expect you to work up to 9 hours every day without any day off.
Living conditions: clarify that might be a good idea, because everyone has different needs and expectations in terms of housing facilities. For example, once I lived alone in the middle of nowhere in a cold cabin, sleeping under seven blankets with shower facilities and kitchen in another house.
Food: the host usually has quite low income, don’t produce all the necessary food and buying food in a grocery story might be very pricy. It might be useful to agree about your diet in advance.
Internet connection: as the greatest source of information and communication it’s good to have it and still it might not be provided. If so, take enough books with you for a good leisure time spending.
Duration: learning process for a volunteer takes time and the host will usually spend few days just explaining how making the work done, while paying food, water and energy. It means that short stays might not have a sens for the host. Up to my experience, 2 weeks seems the best deal for both volunteer and host. In case that the activity or the place are not interesting, volunteer can go away in two weeks, while host will have some meaningful contribution. Extend is easy if needed. 3 months with 3 different project made my trip really meaningful, increased my wisdom and helped me to have a better understanding of sustainability, that I wanted to learn about. I would advise you to have this duration and this number of projects. I mixed it with some visits to the city and meeting some local friends and it helped me to have a wider understanding making comparison with other existing models of society and different ways of thinking.
What is important for a good volunteering?
For great volunteering I recommend to choose an activity you are passionate about or interested in, then go for it and make your labor mutually beneficial for you as new rich and meaningful learning and for your host as creative and resourceful contribution in his idea development. It can still be in a country that you want to visit to make it diversely interesting.
Your would be inspiring if you experience various working activities every day, living and talking with locals, work, have fun, cook and eat together, be able to meet new people, have some other volunteers and make friends, learn about local culture, have good warm living conditions and Internet.
For me volunteering is the best way to travel and learn about a new culture so far, because it is useful, meaningful and you experience ordinary local people’s life.