6 inspiring volunteer trips in Asia
1. Work at an elephant refuge in Thailand
Why? Elephants are at extreme risk in Thailand. With no protection laws, they are exploited as pets, traded or used for profit in the tourist industry. Those that are rescued often suffer from abuse or malnutrition.
How volunteering can help: The Thailand Animal Rescue Centre, located about 160km south of Bangkok, houses a clean, close-to-nature refuge for captive elephants. Volunteers learn all about the gentle giants and then get to work. Daily duties include bathing the elephants in the lake, riding them into the forest to forage and gathering fruit for them to eat.
Take a break: Days off can be spent at the beach, either at the quiet resort of Cha Am or the more bustling Hua Hin. Both are located less than an hour away.
When to go: Volunteers are needed year-round. There is a minimum one-week stay.
Requirements: Volunteers must speak English and be in good physical condition, capable of enduring hot and humid conditions.
Details: Book a trip through the international travel agency Ecovolunteer.org. A one-week stay in the center’s bungalows costs around US$550. Every additional week is an additional US$320. Lunches and dinners are provided.
2. Build a home in Vietnam
Why? Monsoon rains have destroyed poorly constructed houses in the rural Tan Phuoc district of Vietnam.
How volunteering can help: Through a project run by volunteer travel company i-to-i, travellers assist in all steps of the home rebuilding process, from transporting raw materials to making cement to hammering wood -- all under careful supervision. Also on the itinerary: teaching English to local schoolchildren.
Take a break: During rest periods, take in the views of the green jungles, mountains and rice paddies near the famous Mekong Delta.
When to go: There are multiple project dates in 2009 and 2010 to choose from. Volunteers must stay for a minimum of two weeks.
Requirements: Volunteers must be in good physical condition as the work is quite strenuous.
Details: Book a trip at www.i-to-i.com. A two-week stay in a shared room is US$1,295. Food is not provided.
3. Conserve coral reefs in the Andaman Sea
Why? Due to the effects of over-fishing, global warming and coral diseases, Thailand’s magnificent coral reefs, which support thousands of plants and animals, are fighting for survival.
How volunteering can help: Collect scientific data from the field -- which in this case is the great Andaman Sea. Nonprofit organizations Reef Check and Earthwatch run 'EcoExpeditions,' where volunteer scuba divers and snorkelers gather baseline and long-term data from the Gulf of Thailand, home to a multitude of hard coral species and their colorful inhabitants.
Take a break: Volunteers stay at the Koh Ra Ecolodge, a remote eco-resort located two hours north of Phuket. Activities near the site include jungle hiking, sea kayaking, bird watching and lounging on the private beach.
When to go: There are two more expeditions in 2009, November 15-24 and December 6-15.
Requirements: Volunteers should be at least 18 years old (exceptions may be made) and strong swimmers. Those who wish to scuba dive are required to obtain a diving certification.
Details: Book a trip through Earthwatch.org. The 10-day expedition, which includes accommodations in beach bungalows and all meals, costs US$2,570.
4. Mentor street children in Cambodia
Why? In Phnom Penh, poverty disproportionately affects children and teens. Without intervention, those living in the slums are at risk of being trafficked into prostitution or sold to adoption houses.
How volunteering can help: TakeMeToAsia.com, a Singapore-based travel company, operates an outreach program geared for impoverished youth in Phnom Penh. Volunteers lead workshops in subjects such as photography, cooking, journalism and the arts.
Take a break: Explore the local culture of Phnom Penh. The city has a unique mix of French colonial and Khmer architecture, and is home to several wats (temple-monasteries), museums and other attractions.
When to go: The program runs throughout the year.
Requirements: The program is open to everyone.
Details: Book a trip through TakeMeToAsia.com. Packages start at US$580 for three nights in a two-star hotel. Lunches are included.
5. Save the homes of grassland animals in Mongolia
Why? Populations of argali sheep, the largest mountain sheep in the world, are quickly declining due to poaching, competition with livestock and habitat loss. Other grassland animals face similar threats.
How volunteering can help: The Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, located in the East Gobi Province of Mongolia, harbors one of the last remaining populations of argali sheep. On an expedition organized by Earthwatch, adventurous volunteers capture and radio-collar these animals to help conserve their wilderness home. Other tasks might include collecting vegetation samples, surveying lizards and monitoring vulture nests.
Take a break: Venture into Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, which has art and history museums, fashion boutiques and exciting nightlife.
When to go: 2010 expeditions take place in May, June, August and September. There is a minimum two-week stay.
Requirements: Volunteers should be reasonably fit and familiar with hiking and camping.
Details: Book a trip through Earthwatch.org. A two-week stay in a Mongolian 'ger' (a traditional nomadic tent) costs US$2,950. Meals are provided.
Why? Simple: Mahatma Gandhi's advice that "the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” An easy and fulfilling way to do this in Mumbai is by volunteering to work with the Salaam Baalak Trust, whose mission is to get children off the streets into safer, more secure environments, where they can receive medical help, an education and all the things that make childhood worthwhile.
How volunteering can help: The trust's volunteer program allows short-term visitors to help in a variety of ways -- teaching kids art or yoga, helping them with homework and computers, or just giving them the opportunity to practice English. Professionals can also participate in marketing and mental health programs.
Requirements: Minimum volunteer terms are two weeks. Volunteers must arrange their own transportation and accommodation to the project site.
Details: Contact Dottie Wagle at email@example.com or +91 (0) 9867017017