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Volunteering Abroad for Older People

July 3rd 2019

Senior volunteer in South AfricaVolunteering 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.’ 

Group of volunteers in house in South AfricaIn 2015, Ben’s wife Dianne sadly passed away. “Dianne and I shared a love of golf and travel and over the years we were able to fill our vacation time with both.” Since then, Ben has been looking for ways to travel with a purpose. In 2017, he volunteered with the Ocean Spirits’ Leatherback Sea Turtle Project in Grenada, followed by our Ocean Research and Conservation programme in South Africa in 2018. His most recent volunteer work saw him at our Shamwari Big Five Game reserve in South Africa.  All three of these projects we recommend are suitable for mature volunteers. Ben says: “It would not be fair to compare the three because of their unique differences.” he says. 

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.” 

Volunteer group in South AfricaThe 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: 

Our Maldives Island Volunteer Project and Elephant Volunteer project in Thailand  are slower paced, along with our Cloud Forest Project in Ecuador which includes research activities, sustainable living and food production, allowing you to get involved with environmental conservation without having to do any hard, physical work. 

Furthermore, if more luxurious accommodation is required then you might consider our Elephant Volunteer Project in Laos or Turtle Project in Kenya

Ben Briggs volunteering in South Africa

Here are some more projects you might want to consider: 

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

Article By WorkingAbroad Intern Amy Burchill

About the Author

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Blog articles about our volunteer projects, the wider world and from volunteers in the field are shared here for everyone to get inspired and learn more about wildlife conservation topics, volunteering abroad and much more.