I am often asked how I can afford to travel for such long stints of time while having such meaningful experiences abroad AND while not spending ridiculous amounts of money. My answer is this: Volunteers For Peace.
Here’s the truth: the first time I saw the website for Volunteers For Peace (VFP), I thought… this is too good to be true. The sheer number of affordable programs offered in a plethora of countries was a beautiful sight. From social work to architecture, animal care to agricultural work, VFP embraces our span of capabilities as humans and allows us to dabble in a wide variety of fields.
Volunteers For Peace is a non-government organization founded in 1982 whose name fully embodies their aim: promoting peace through volunteer efforts. I find that the volunteer projects reach past cross-cultural exchange and delve into solving pressing problems in this world; VFP grasps ‘the big picture.’
As VFP states in their mission, “We provide projects where people from diverse backgrounds can work together to help overcome the need, violence, and environmental challenges facing our planet…Through the exchange of ideas and international understanding, our projects are practical ways to both prevent and resolve conflict while meeting local needs.”
VFP continues to be my number one choice, because I know I am traveling not only as a volunteer, but as an activist united with passionate organizations who strive to make this world a little better. With over 30,000 volunteers exchanged already, the roots of these projects have taken a stronghold, and they continue to provide solutions for tomorrow.
Ok, so how much is it? The volunteer pays for his or her own airfare. (Fear not, there are some good deals to be had.) The base registration fee for VFP is $350 for every project, no matter how long the project. After that, 40% of the projects (many in the US, Europe, and Asia) don’t have any fees on top of that. However, depending on project location and duration, there may be an additional fee for food, accommodation, and travel. For example, the extra cost for my two-week project in Costa Rica was $150, which included food, location, and some transportation. With everything, I have not paid more than $1,200 for a VFP trip, including spending money, which I think is unbeatable for a month-long experiences in a foreign country. Think of it as saving $200 a month for 6 months. Definitely do-able.
Although some projects have specific dates, there is a huge flexibility with dates and duration for projects that are offered year round. Furthermore, many projects offer the option of a homestay, which allows volunteers to gain an even deeper understanding of the host culture. When volunteering in Haiti this last summer, I stayed with a family, and it was such and eye-opening experience.
While in Haiti, I also had the pleasure of working alongside Meg Brook, the Executive Director of VFP. Before leaving for Haiti, we had had several skype-in sessions with her, and she was able to prepare the rest of the group and myself for our journey. (Check out the Haiti program info if your interested http://www.vfp.org/explore-volunteer-destinations/volunteer-central-america/haiti )
Because the staff of VFP partakes in projects, they have a true understanding of the projected project goals, and they help to guide volunteers in the right place. They are actively involved in the creation of cross-cultural connections.
Chelsea Frisbee, the international placement coordinator of VFP states, “Travel is such a huge part of my life, and it helps us gain an understanding of the world. We come out as better people, and we develop relationships with people the world.” Their passion and involvement is evident in their work. Chelsea fervently declares, “There’s a lot I love about my job. My favorite part about working with volunteers is seeing them change… When they come back they have a different sense of self, and a different air about them. It’s incredible to see the confidence they come back with.”
Although the VFP staff guides the process, volunteers are always involved in decisions and discussions during projects; we are completely active in the process of problem solving. I love the fact that projects are not micro-managed; this complete, hands-on learning experience is very much volunteer-led. In this cooperative process, we all must work together to create ideal solutions for problems that may arise.
Chelsea states, “We live in a world of so many different people…VFP is about the cultural exchange, becoming global citizens, thinking about the impacts we have on the world.” When I asked her, how important in travel? Her answer echoed my own personal opinions on the subject. “Personally, it’s the best decision I ever made. And I think it’s especially important for young people, and women. And it’s not just about the change, but becoming more aware of what is happening in the world around us.”
Travel in general is a great way to get to know a country and its people; however, volunteering with like-minded volunteers and locals in a cooperative setting in order to achieve a common vision takes it up a notch.
With Volunteers For Peace, I have traveled to Haiti and Costa Rica, participating in education and permaculture projects. (I have several previous blog posts about these experiences, if you would like to read more about them!) I will be participating in another project this summer; I will be working in Peru at a girls home, which aims to strengthen the development and self-esteem of young girls who have been victims of sexual and physical abuse.
If you’re your not looking to go half way around the world, VFP has a new project in Jamaica; volunteers will work to teach sustainability in elementary schools. (Check out the info- http://www.vfp.org/explore-volunteer-destinations/volunteer-central-america/jamaica )
I highly encourage you to check out their site, and volunteer abroad. Their website is www.vfp.org or you can shoot them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can always guide me to exactly what I’m looking for; they have something for everyone.
If your still not convinced, VFP gives out 10 scholarships to volunteers, so be sure to check this option out, the deadline comes up yearly in March. These would help to cover volunteering expenses!
Seriously, go scroll through the projects, and sign up for a project now. Travel is one of the few decisions that you will never regret, and volunteering for a cause in a foreign place is when we are truly opening our minds and becoming active citizens of our planet.
Be an advocate and activist for global solutions… Become a volunteer for peace!