Discover Wildlife Together: The Ultimate Guide to Family Volunteering with Animals Abroad
April 20th 2023
Family Volunteering Abroad: A Personal Perspective from Vicky McNeil, Co-Founder
Hi! My name is Vicky McNeil, and I am the co-founder of WorkingAbroad and also a mother of two girls aged 16 and 19 years old. I have been involved with volunteering programmes since I went off backpacking and volunteering in the mid-1990s with my partner, and in 1997, we founded WorkingAbroad.
As a mother who has volunteered abroad with my children at various projects since they were young, I want to share the top family volunteering opportunities with animals through WorkingAbroad and why they are perfect for families looking to make a difference together.
Sea Turtles and Marine Life:
For those families who have a love for the ocean and its inhabitants, there are several opportunities to participate in marine conservation efforts. I have had the pleasure of taking my girls to visit our sea turtle programmes in Grenada and Costa Rica. The Maldives Sea Turtle Family programme offers 2 family options for kids of all ages and they also offer optional Coral reef restoration diving as part of this programme.
In Costa Rica, you’ll find two programmes focused on sea turtle conservation. The Playa Tortuga Conservation Programme is popular among families and offers hands-on experiences for kids aged 5 and up. Activities include sea turtle monitoring, caiman research, and tending to a butterfly garden. The Deep Ecology & Sea Turtle Programme is another great option in Costa Rica, combining regenerative farming and sea turtle conservation efforts. This programme is suitable for children over 2 years old.
If you’re more interested in marine mammals, I have also taken my girls to visit the Dolphin Research projects in Greece and Portugal. The Dolphin Research Programme in Greece offers a fantastic opportunity for families to study bottlenose and common dolphins, as well as critically endangered monk seals. With a minimum age requirement of 6 years old, this project is perfect for families wanting to dive into marine conservation together.
Elephants and African Wildlife:
For those who are passionate about elephants, the Elephant Volunteer Programme in Thailand provides a unique opportunity to care for these gentle giants. This ethical elephant sanctuary is perfect for families with kids aged 10 and up, offering an immersive experience in Thai culture, local community support, and wildlife conservation. We have a similar ethical elephant sanctuary suitable for families also in Laos if you are looking for another Asian country.
I have taken my family to visit the townships and game reserves in South Africa and Namibia. In Namibia, there are two programmes that allow families to work closely with African wildlife. The Desert Elephant Programme offers elephant research, conservation, and community work, suitable for children aged 5 and up with our family special which runs every year in July and August. The Wildlife Sanctuary Programme in Namibia focuses on caring for injured, rescued, and orphaned African wildlife and you can combine it with a week in one of our game reserve research sites too. With a minimum age requirement of 12 years old, families can contribute to the well-being of animals and learn about conservation in a safe and malaria-free environment. We also offer a family experience at our Wildlife Reserve Programme in South Africa with dates in February, May/June and November of each year, which is also suited for families with children over 12 yrs old, where you can get involved in a variety of activities, including assisting vets with Rhino horn trimming as an anti-poaching deterrent.
Ecuador and Costa Rica’s Biodiversity:
Ecuador’s Cloudforest Conservation Programme and Costa Rica’s Deep Ecology & Sea Turtle Programme offer unique opportunities to explore the rich biodiversity of these regions. The Cloudforest Conservation Programme in Ecuador welcomes families with children as young as 2 years old and includes activities such as planting trees, working in the medicinal garden, making chocolate, learning Spanish, and exploring beautiful waterfalls on guided hikes. In addition to sea turtle conservation, the Deep Ecology & Sea Turtle Programme in Costa Rica offers free yoga and Spanish lessons along with tours into Costa Rica’s biodiversity hotspot – which is Corcovado National Park, along with an option to upgrade to a jungle bungalow for added privacy.
I have seen what works and what doesn’t work for a family volunteering abroad, and I am delighted to be able to help new families to go out and have a “once in a lifetime” experience. I am also here to advise if your kids are a little older, as from 12 yrs upwards, quite a few more opportunities open up too.
Contact me anytime if you would like more information.