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A US Navy officer reads to children at a school in Goa, India as part of volunteer outreach programme
A US Navy officer reads to children at a school in Goa, India as part of volunteer outreach programme

The Best Volunteering Experiences in India

Picture of Arun Venkatraman
Updated: 4 January 2018

‘Voluntourism’ might be one of the biggest buzzwords in tourism today, and if there is one country that has truly taken ownership of this trend, it’s India. In recent years, several new volunteering destinations and organisations are exploring areas as diverse as environmental conservation, poverty reduction and education. And this sea change is driven primarily by an increase in interest among youngsters, both from within and outside the country to volunteer. So if you too are bored of mainstream tourism and want to spend your holiday in a more meaningful manner, here are some of the best volunteering experiences in India.

Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands on the Bay of Bengal boast not only some of the best beaches in the world but also of vibrant and diverse fauna and pristine, untouched ecosystem. But increasing tourism and development activities in the Union Territory are posing a serious threat to these natural gifts, and that is where the Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team comes in. ANET is one of the largest conservation groups working in the Islands and has a great volunteer program for those wanting to help the reptiles of these islands and keep them away from harm’s way. The volunteer program can last a minimum of two weeks, but to apply, candidates will need to have some experience in environmental conservation and related fields.

Duration: Over one month

Cost: 700 per day (accommodation and food)

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The coral reefs in Andaman and Nicobar Islands are among the most fragile ecosystems | ©Ritiks/Wiki Commons

Auroville

This sleepy experimental society in Pondicherry is a pioneer of the voluntourism trend and has been attracting tourists and volunteers from all across the world for several decades now. What Auroville is most famous for, however, is the fact that money has very little pull inside the city’s walls and everything inside is literally free! If that sounds too good to be true, well that’s because it is. The catch is that volunteers at Auroville will have to work in some form or other to earn their keep. This work could be anything from helping out with the farms or maintaining the living quarters or using existing skillsets to Auroville’s benefit. And since Auroville is counted among one of the best volunteering experience, it isn’t exactly easy to get in and there are often interviews and checks conducted before volunteers are inducted.

Duration: Flexible

Cost: Free

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Auroville is an experimental city that is trying to remove the concept of money from society | ©Sillybugger/Wiki Commons

The 17,000 feet foundation

The 17,000 Foundation is one of the most sought-after organisations for volunteering in India and operates in Ladakh, which is one of the most inaccessible and cut-off places, not just in India but the world. The objective of the volunteering programme is to bring people from all across the globe to help out with the development and education of the local population, especially children. The volunteering gig lasts a minimum of 10 days and involves improving infrastructure, constructing homes, and helping out with the education of the local children.

Duration: 10 days

Cost: Rs. 44,000 (incl. of stay, travel, and food)

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The 17,000 Feet Foundation works towards developing local communities in Ladakh | ©Sahil Moranker/Wiki Commons

Ecosphere

Similar to 17,000 Feet Foundation, Ecosphere is an organisation that works with the local communities of Indian Himalayas in the picturesque Spiti Valley. The main focus of Ecosphere, like the name suggests, is making sure that development of the region and the local community is achieved in a sustainable manner. Volunteers take part in activities such as construction and maintenance of sustainable housing and basic facilities such as schools and clinics.

Duration: 10 days

Cost: Rs.15,000 (incl. of stay, food, and commute within Spiti)

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Ecosphere works in Spiti Valley in providing education and infrastructure to the locals | ©John Hill/Wiki Commons

The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT)

Located on the outskirts of Chennai along the scenic East Coast Road, the MCBT is one of Chennai’s most popular wildlife destinations. It has been classified as a medium zoo by the Central Zoo Authority and houses over 3,000 reptiles including 7 major species of crocodiles. While it is a prominent tourist destination, what the MCBT is also famous for is its volunteer program that allows volunteers the opportunity to stay inside the MCBT campus and help with maintenance and conservation efforts. The volunteers take part in activities such as cleaning the reptile enclosures, feeding crocodiles and other animals and also activities that take place outside the MCBT such as turtle walks and biodiversity conservation efforts. While no payment is charged for the volunteer program, stay and food during the program is provided at a subsidised rate. The volunteers also get to learn from the MCBT employees and experts about conservation and herpetology.

Duration: Minimum of two weeks

Cost: 700/day for food and basic accommodation

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The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust is a leading centre for research in herpetology | © Sumit Bisht/Wiki Commons

Disha

Started in 1995, the Disha Foundation is a pioneering organisation in the field of care and education for the differently-abled. Based out of Jaipur in Rajasthan, Disha works with differently-abled people from the local community and has a fully-fledged volunteer program that gets volunteers to help out with the education of adults and children with multiple disabilities. While the idea is to connect volunteers with some teaching experience to those in need, even those with very little or no formal experience are allowed to apply since the Foundation also trains students in sports and other activities. The volunteer program duration is flexible and the Foundation also provides stay options at a guesthouse at a subsidised cost.

Duration: Flexible

Cost: Free (if accommodation is not availed)

Teach For India

Teach For India is credited to a large extent with popularising volunteerism among the younger generation in India and runs one of the most coveted volunteering fellowships in the country. Working in the field of education, the TFI Fellows work with schools in rural areas and unprivileged communities in Indian cities and engages volunteers in teaching children. The highly-selective program, however, requires a two-year commitment and also includes a basic stipend and accommodation to cover costs. While the fellowship is not for people from any particular field, prior experience in teaching is highly desirable.

Apply at apply.teachforindia.org

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A young student at a TFI classroom in Dharavi slum area, Mumbai | ©Satish K/Flickr

Kabani

Based out of the south Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala, this volunteering program is aimed at improving the tourism infrastructure and help communities dependent on it with the assistance of volunteers. Volunteers with Kabani are involved with the creation of content, marketing and overall improvement of tourism in destinations within the state. There are no particular requirements for the program and no cost is charged from the volunteers, however, a minimum commitment of one month is expected from volunteers.

Duration: Minimum 1 month

Cost: Free (does not provide accommodation)

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Kabani brings volunteers to work with traditional workers such as potters and craftsmen | ©Pixabay

Working Weekends on Organic Farms

Working Weekends on Organic Farms or WWOOF is one of the most flexible volunteering programs in the country and is based in several states across North India including Uttarakhand, UP, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. The basic idea is to get volunteers to work in over 270-plus organic farms in the region in exchange for food and accommodation. No prior training is required, however, the organisation does not take volunteers below the age of 18.

Duration: 3 days to 15 days

Cost: Free (accommodation and food provided in exchange for work)