I’ve been trying to volunteer my time ever since I started my trip four months ago. I looked at HelpX and Workaway. I even signed up for a so far useless Workaway premium account. I e-mailed people in countries I thought I might go to and didn’t really get any useful responses. The only e-mails I received were people in harvest seasons in countries I wasn’t going to be anywhere near who wanted free farm hands. A lot of the volunteer opportunities seemed to involve going somewhere for a longer period of time like three or six months. Applying to volunteer gigs has been harder than when I apply for paid jobs, probably because I have a lot less experience.
I gave up on volunteering in South America and just relaxed. Now in the new year I started looking again. I tried to volunteer in the Yunnan province of China. The people I contacted from the Lonely Planet guide ended up not needing any volunteers, but they were a lot of fun to hang out with. If volunteering always turns into minority group antique hunts, I’m ok with that. See my post on Xishuangbanna for more details.
Finally I got into Laos and was excited to find out there are commitment free volunteer opportunities. The larger organization is called Big Brother Mouse. Slightly ironic in a Communist country where the media is heavily controlled. They run book donation drives to bring books to rural areas, host English practice two times a day six days a week, and publish children’s books in both Laotian and English. There’s no need to sign up for English practice and you just show up at the specified times to meet eager kids.
I got to read a children’s story to some adorable little girls. I was amused that the book was a western book and referenced things the kids were confused by. Why would a guy throw away a perfectly good cup just because it had a small crack in it? And why do tea kettles look like that in this book? When the little girls were done, I met some teenage boys. Their English skills were rather impressive given they had all been learning less than a year. They are taught English with the goal of becoming involved in the lucrative tourism industry. It’s really one of the only industries here. The most vocal kid managed to read me a complex page long essay on the history of Luang Prabang temple history. Many of the other kids worked through the conversation scripts they had been taught. I sat as straight faced as I could through multiple seventeen year old boys asking me if I had scaled Phu Si (pronounced “Pussy”) mountain. I am impressed by how hard these kids are trying to learn and how badly they want to learn English.
Definitely worth a few of your hours if you are in town. I wish there were more volunteer opportunities like this. They were so excited to have a young American there that a few asked when I could come back so they could practice with me again. I’ll be going back, but I’m also going to check out the other volunteer opportunity in town and report back on that.