Volunteering Around the World

I met my friend Julia at a hostel in La Paz, Bolivia. She and I were sitting at the bar, re-charging our iPhones and struck up a conversation. I then invited myself to tag along with her to visit the Coca Museum and the Witch’s Market.

As we chatted throughout the day, it became clear that Julia was the poster child of volunteering abroad. She had several significant stints under her belt, and had two more engagements lined up – all around the world, all sorts of activities.

Here’s a taste of her volunteer experiences in Iceland, Bolivia, the Galapagos and Cambodia:

Iceland: As an environmental scientist, Julia tends to volunteer with orgs that focus on conservation work. Here first gig was in 2008 with the Environmental Agency of Iceland (so strictly speaking, not an NGO). She spent 3 weeks with the agency working on a conservation trail team in the national parks around the country, which sounds like a pretty fabulous way to peruse and preserve Iceland’s beautiful terrain.

Bolivia: When we met, Julia was just coming off her second gig – 3 months volunteering with an organization called Sustainable Bolivia. She was based in Cochabamba (about 3 hours outside of La Paz), volunteering for the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative.

Unfortunately, Julia spent weeks gathering data on the frogs that live in Lake Titicaca, only to have all the information lost because the org was using bootleg software that wouldn’t sync up with the international database. Apparently, she found it pretty disheartening to repeatedly have all the data she meticulously collected simply flushed down the toilet.

She was in Cochabamba with her husband, Josh, who was working on the educational side of the Lake Titicaca conservation effort. His project was going really well and he was able to engage the community in his work and make a long-standing change in the surrounding countryside.

Sustainable Bolivia offers a number of volunteer opportunities that center on helping preserve the country’s biodiversity. But as is often the case, not all volunteer work is equal, so talk to someone who has recently participated in the program to get the inside scoop on the soundness of the project.

Galapagos Islands: Julia will be volunteering for 2 weeks in December at the Jatun Sacha Foundation in San Cristobal, the Galapagos Islands. The org is dedicated to the conservation, investigation and management of ecologically important habitats in Ecuador, as well as environmental education and community development. Tres cool!

A main portion of the group’s work is conducted in 4 biological reserves. Each reserve has a central station that helps to manage volunteers as they assist with reforestation, environmental education in nearby schools, and the promotion of sustainable agricultural methods.

Julia will be assisting with scientific studies on the fauna and flora of the Galapagos Islands. She’s only paying about $600 to be able to live and work on the Galapagos for 2 weeks (which is an amazing deal, since a trip to the Galapagos usually runs at least $2,500). It sounds like a great way to do some good work, while having a great time exploring the islands.

Cambodia: In the spring, Julia will be traveling to Cambodia to work with the Trailblazer Foundation. She originally got involved in the group through her friendship with the organization’s founders: Scott and Chris Coats, based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Julia and Josh started volunteering with the group locally, helping the organization with several fundraising initiatives (including a stint DJing – see every skill is needed!). Now they’ve decided to continue their work in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where they’ll be helping build a water sanitization and filtration system for several villages. The clean-water work goes hand-in-hand with a local initiative in sustainable agriculture, micro finance and health awareness.

Poster Child Representing

See why I call Julia the poster child of volunteering?! Most importantly, she seems to be getting the most from her volunteer experiences:

  • Using her professional skills to learn more about an area of interest she loves: environmental conservation
  • Building her work experience with international projects
  • Spending extended periods of time living in local communities
  • Exploring the world in an economical way

All good stuff! What do you think? Can you use a volunteer experience to help expand your industry knowledge and gain valuable professional skills? You bet! Just follow Julia as a role model.

Interested in hearing more about overseas volunteering opportunities? Check out:


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This entry was posted on Monday, November 26th, 2012 and is filed under Adventure Philanthropists.

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