Anyone who loves camping will have heard the phrase ‘leave no trace.’ Now some travelers are taking it a step further and trying to leave a positive footprint during their adventures. Young backpackers sometimes volunteer to offset the cost of travel, as many places are willing to subsidize food and accommodation in exchange for participation. Additionally, skilled professionals such as doctors, nurses, teachers, and architects can take a sabbatical from their regular work in order to contribute while discovering a new country and culture.
In Israel, the classic volunteer experience is to live and work on a Kibbutz – a collective, Utopian-Zionist community unique to Israel. Famous Kibbutz volunteers include Sigourney Weaver, Jerry Seinfeld and the former president of Austria, Heinz Fischer. The Kibbutzim played an important role in defining Israel in the early days and until today are standard bearers in agricultural, military and social change. The numerous jobs on the kibbutz include gardening, dishwashing, child-care or even bartending. Volunteers will typically rotate through tasks while contributing to the socialist experiment, so don’t worry if you get stuck with a job in the factory as you will get a turn at something else soon afterwards. Many communities accept direct volunteer inquiries, or check out your options through Kibbutz.org, which officially represents all 270 Kibbutzim.
Many placements focus on specific environmental agendas, where volunteers can not only contribute but gain valuable skills such as permaculture, water management and eco-building in Kibbutz Lotan Center for Creative Ecology. Organic farming opportunities abound and the best ones can be found in Israel by joining the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) organization. If you are searching for the perfect experience to bridge the gap between agriculture and social justice, the EcoME Home for Peace and Ecology is doing just that and runs fantastic programmes for anywhere between a weekend to a semester in Jerusalem and the dramatically beautiful Arava valley.
For the animal lover, there are unique opportunities for sea and wildlife preservation, as well as rescue operations for homeless dogs and cats for which there are up-to-date English listings on the Israel SPCA website. Israel has finally begun efforts to repopulate native desert species and protect the beautiful coral reefs of the Red Sea. Volunteering placements in these and many other ecologically-focused programs can be organized through the comprehensive GoEco Israel Volunteering.
For those who prefer an urban environment or a more humanitarian experience, the cities offer many opportunities for volunteer projects, including rewarding work with asylum seekers and the organizations assisting them. The NGOs who work to petition for refugee rights, equality and government assistance are run in large part by foreigners, including the African Refugee Development Center, Physicians for Human Rights and Hotline for Migrant Workers particularly in their Crisis Intervention Center and legal counsel unit.
Other ways to volunteer in the social services sector are through the Tikkun Olam organization, famous for their coexistence activities between Arabs and Jews. Tikkun Olam means ‘repairing the world’ and is an essential concept of charity in Judaism, so anywhere you see that phrase it is a good sign you are on the track of a volunteering opportunity. If you are looking for a shorter commitment or a single day of service, consider joining a support team for an event like the Tel Aviv Marathon, or a beach cleanup, which happens every fall and usually ends in a great party.
By Jennifer Strauss
Originally hailing from the USA, Jenny has explored some of the world’s most remote locations, climbing and sampling the local cuisine. Her passions are compost, mountaineering, and sourdough baking. Jenny currently makes her happy home in the Galilean hills, participating in local food culture, health initiatives, and travel writing.