Volunteering abroad is exciting, no matter how old you are. It is a chance to experience new cultures, visit new places, meet new people and develop new skills.
It is, of course, not exclusive to those classic gap year students and young travellers.
In fact, many volunteer projects welcome mature and retired people for their wealth of skills and knowledge accumulated over a lifetime of invaluable experiences. You could have medical qualifications, professional experience with families or conservation work. In some cases, it might simply be the logic skills and problem-solving skills that many communities seek in older people. In return, volunteer projects can offer you a multitude of freedoms, opportunities and friendships that you might not have access to at home.
One of our much-loved volunteers Ben Briggs recently completed his third project abroad with us. At 77, Ben says that his primary reason for volunteering is that it keeps him young. ‘Age is not a number’, he says, but ‘a state of mind.’
Ben does, however, show a particular fondness for his latest project at the Shamwari Big Five Game Reserve. “Everybody made me feel like I was a ‘Shamwari’. I was told ‘Shamwari’ means friend.”
The work here consists of wildlife conservation involving game monitoring, assisting at the Born Free big cat sanctuary and looking after orphaned animals at the wildlife rehabilitation centre. Whilst there are laborious tasks including road maintenance, Eucalyptus removal and fence removal and replacement – all vital to the conservation efforts – Ben felt comfortable as “…each task had parts that were easier than others, which meant you could work at your own comfort level and pace.”
It is important to be mindful of your own health and comfort levels and we strive to make sure our projects are adaptable to take different needs into account. Some of the following projects we have picked out as offering good inclusivity for mature volunteers:
In all cases, it is important to keep in mind that many of our projects are located in very hot and often humid climates. Working in the heat and contending with bugs and insects can be a problem and we always advise to check in with your doctor who can offer you advice, vaccinations and check-ups to ensure you’re prepared for the physical conditions of your destination.
Finally, one of the greatest gifts Ben took away from his time volunteering was the friendships he made.
“A 25-year-old volunteer from Australia when he was leaving Shamwari this year said to me; ‘If someone had told him that his best mate would be a 77-year-old from the USA he would have said they were crazy’… He and I parted good friends.”
Companionship can be vital for older people in order to combat loneliness, particularly after losing a partner or loved one.
For more information on the suitability of our projects and for any advice please contact us by clicking here.