On this page you can find out more about family volunteering abroad, advice & considerations for volunteering abroad with your family, and details on family volunteer opportunities available. Please see below for a personal letter from WorkingAbroad.com Co-Founder Vicky McNeil, who has volunteered abroad numerous times with her children, and a list of our current projects which are suitable for family volunteering abroad.
My name is Vicky McNeil and I am the co-Founder of WorkingAbroad and also a mother of two girls aged 11 and 14 years old. I have been involved with volunteering programmes since I went off backpacking and volunteering around in the mid 1990s with my partner - and in 1997, we founded WorkingAbroad.
Voluntary work overseas has been traditionally for those who don’t have children. Since taking our girls to visit our sea turtle programmes in Grenada and Costa Rica, to the townships and game reserves in South Africa and Namibia, to the Dolphin Research projects in Greece and Croatia, and to our Bear Tracking Project in Sweden, we want to open up the family volunteering sector and offer this to other parents.
There are multiple projects abroad that can host families as the work engages volunteers to observe wildlife and gain hands-on experience, such as fin profiling dolphins and whales, tagging sea turtles or counting turtle eggs, or plotting GPS co-ordinates for predators in national parks, to teaching and working with children in preschools. Most of this work can be undertaken by parents whilst the children learn and take part. The work often takes place over half-days, leaving the rest of the day to engage in beneficial recreational activities, snorkelling, hiking, tracking, and so on.
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.
Being with our children is the most precious time we have, and we spend a lot of our time doing school runs, and being caught up in a stressful working week cycle. A family volunteer programme abroad will be a great challenge, far removed from every day life at home, and away from a typical holiday sitting on a beach all day watching your children hooked on the iPad. A family volunteer programme will enable you and your children to go out, learn, volunteer and experience something worthwhile far away from the school classroom, which will be remembered for the rest of your lives.
Below, you can find our current programmes that are most suited to family volunteering abroad - where there are specific family dates, we have listed them. For any questions on family volunteering abroad or if you are looking for some guidance, please email me!
Our Family Volunteer projects have recently been featured in Family Traveller, showcasing the top 10 family volunteering trips abroad. Read more about the top 10 family volunteering trips here.
WorkingAbroad's family volunteering projects have also recently been featured in JUNO parenting magazine. To read more about the magazine article please click here.
Elephant Volunteer Project, Thailand - Volunteer at an Elephant Sanctuary and home for old elephants in Mae Chaem, situated in the countryside of Northern Thailand near Chiang Mai. Help to give elephants a chance to live free. Families can join all year round, but children must be over the age of 10 to join this project.
Playa Tortuga Conservation Volunteer Project, Costa Rica - Volunteer in Costa Rica and live and work in a biological research station and take part in sea turtle, butterfly, crocodile, mammal research and environmental education. Families with children over 10 yrs old welcome all year round.
Desert Elephants Volunteer Project, Namibia - Track desert elephants and take part in community building volunteer work in the beautiful Damaraland region of the Namib Desert. **Special Family Volunteering Dates - 29th July to 7th August and 12th to 21st August 2019**
Bear Tracking Volunteer Project, Sweden - Volunteer to take part in a short-term bear and wildlife tracking project in the Sånfjället National Park, Northern Sweden, and learn about wilderness tracking and survival techniques. Children of all ages welcome - we can tailor family dates for the summer or you can join the groups in August.
Dolphin & Whale Volunteer Research Project, Italy - A sailing-boat based cetacean volunteer research and conservation programme in the Western Mediterranean located between Italy and France from May to September each year. Families will share 4-bed berths in the sailing boat.
Shamwari Game Reserve Conservation Volunteer Programme, South Africa - Join an award-winning conservation team in a Big Five Game Reserve in South Africa, boasting a huge variety of game over a vast 25,000 hectares. Suitable for families with children over 15 years old.
Macaw Conservation Programme, Costa Rica - Become a wildlife conservation volunteer in Costa Rica and work to help rescue, rehabilitate and release critically endangered Scarlet Macaws back into the wild. Opportunities available to for 1 to 12 weeks in duration all year round. The centre is located in the Osa Peninsula – home to at least 1200 wild Scarlet Macaws.
Cloud Forest Conservation & Sustainability Volunteer Project, Ecuador - Become an environmental volunteer in Ecuador to conserve a part of the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest and get involved in reforestation, organic agriculture, sustainable living and building projects. An authentic and worthwhile short-term experience for Families, this project is designed for families of all ages who may only have a limited time to travel in Ecuador and want to maximise their experience. Activities available are condensed into a 5-day package, however if visitors want to extend or reduce their stay they are more than welcome to do so.
Volunteer in Spain - Our language & volunteer programmes in Valencia are specifically designed to fit the lifestyle and requirements of each individual family. Children (must be over 15 years) can join our exciting junior or teenager summer courses, while parents share their international learning experience with other adults from around the world. It’s a perfect combination of language lessons, volunteering, tours, activities and excursions.
Pacific Sea Turtle Volunteer Project, Costa Rica - Volunteer with sea turtles in Costa Rica as one of our marine conservation volunteers, and join this Olive Ridley and Green sea turtle programme in the spectacular Osa Peninsula on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Families with children aged 13+ are welcome between July & December every year.
Dolphin Research Volunteer Project, Greece - Become a marine conservation volunteer and participate in dolphin research in the Ionian Sea, helping to provide a marine environment that provides long-term viability for the species. Children over 13 years of age can join with an adult. Alternatively, all ages are accepted when booking as a family group of 4 or 5 people.
Wildlife Rescue Volunteer Programme, Costa Rica - Volunteer with rescued animals, whilst also having the opportunity to learn Spanish, and take yoga and surf lessons in the stunning Nicoya province on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Families with children over 12 years old are welcome all year round.
Amazon Basin Research & Conservation Programme, Peru – Volunteer in some of the most remote and beautiful parts of the Amazon rainforest with your family and assist in a wide range of tasks that our local project partners are engaged with. This can be tasks such as primate research, Macaw birds monitoring, wildlife research and tracking, identification of reptiles and amphibians, visit local native communities and patrolling the boundaries and rivers of the rainforest. Children from 4 years can join with their parent(s), however, some programmes only allow children from 8 years.
Elephant Sanctuary Volunteer Project, Cambodia - Volunteer with your family at our Elephant Sanctuary project in the forests of Eastern Cambodia. Observe and learn about the elephants, while they roam in their natural habitat, and help out with projects such as growing food or building facilities for the elephants. Children of any age are welcome, as long as they always have adult supervision from a parent.
David Siouville joined with his partner Chris and their two children Fern and Sian for 1 week in August 2017:
It was a privilege to have spent albeit a short time with the Playa Tortuga project. The staff are clearly passionate in their work and are so devoted. It is the first time we have done any volunteering work and the project was an ideal choice for us.The community spirit was wonderful and the fact you are living so close to everyone at the project helps everyone to bond that much more quickly.
Whilst our youngest enjoyed her time there in hindsight, I don't think she was mature enough to get the most out of her time. On the other hand our eldest daughter (13) absolutely loved her experience and threw herself into each task she was permitted to be involved in with gusto.We were very proud of the way she engaged so openly with many of the other volunteers, even though they were much more senior than her. Chris' various aches and pains did cause her to struggle at times, which took the shine off of her time there to a degree; although we would stress that was not the project's fault.
I found the experience much more enjoyable than I had expected. The fact you are amongst the forest and the wildlife is on your door step make sthe experience that much more real. Whilst Chris' physical limitations may hinder her doing something like this again in future I can see myself and certainly Fern doing some more volunteering work in future. Fern was adamant she wanted to come back at some time.The accommodation was certainly cosy for four, but that was largely our choice, as both the girls chose to sleep in one room with us rather than have a separate room of their own. Yes, it was hot and humid, but that is what we expected.
Overall a fantastic experience which we would recommend to anyone who is prepared to muck in. You don't have to be super fit (we most certainly don't fit into that category), but you do need to be of a reasonable fitness to get the most out of your stay. Many thanks go to Oscar, Adrian, Gabby, Melissa and Brian and all the other staff.
Marianne Freire joined the Elephant Sanctuary project in Thailand for 1 week with her daughter in July 2017:
It was a fabulous experience. My 14 year old loved it. We were involved in a variety of different experiences - feeding, cleaning, walking, and observing the elephants. We helped prepare their food and clean their living space. We also collected and harvested bananas, squash, greeneries etc for the elephants from surrounding farms. We went on hikes, walks, played in the water, temple visits, waterfall visit, cooked, ate, slept and spent evenings playing games with the hosts and other volunteers. We were constantly surrounded by the numerous (friendly) rescue cats and dogs that are fortunate to live on the property. Our hosts were super accommodating, obviously totally committed to the elephants and promoting a sustainable future for them. We had a fabulous time and learned so much. I totally recommend this experience for everyone who is truly cares about animals.
Sara McNeillis travelled with her 3 daughters (12, 15 and 17 yrs old) to our Playa Tortuga Project in Costa Rica for 2 weeks in August 2015:
The project staff were very welcoming and made us feel at home. We were shown to our rooms which were very comfortable. The area was in the middle of a rainforest near the Tortuga beach. One could already hear the multitude of screeches and tuneful noises emanating from the forest. It was like being in a simulated zoo enclosure, but with the air of authenticity.
In the evening we had an early dinner and got ready for beach patrol. The short way to the beach was under tide therefore we had to walk an hour or so to the beach camp, through a swamp. Once we got to the beach camp, we changed our shoes for beach friendly and started the patrol. Three hours of walking up and down the beach looking for turtle tracks. Although we were quite excited about the prospect of seeing a turtle, we didn't. We enjoyed the walk nevertheless. We were taken back to the reserva. On one of our beach patrols, we eventually managed to see a turtle laying eggs, we watched as she finished laying eggs and cover the nest with her back flippers. She then slowly turned and made her way back to the beach, taking what appeared to be a long diagonal path back to the sea. She stopped along the way for a rest, which seemed to get longer and longer as she got closer to the sea. It was a wonderful experience seeing the turtle return to the ocean and swim away.
We cannot thank the project staff enough for an amazing programme of activities we had the pleasure to be involved in.
Family Itier - Severine, Eric, and their two children (13 and 11 yrs old) from France joined the Shamwari Game Reserve programme in August 2014:
We are all very pleased with the experience. Very rewarding on many levels. The variety of meals, preparation and consideration of the culinary requirements of each (allergies, vegetarian ...) was really good - we were pleasantly surprised. The meals were very good and properly dosed. Access to the dining room is great for evenings. We dispel all your fears about the physical activities we have done. They are easily accessible to children, with Emmy 11 years. It did not hurt and our son Thomas was delighted by the activities in the community. The monitoring was our favourite. In addition, comments, notes and information by rangers are perfect. They are also extremely professional and very adaptable to each person. A big thank you to all your staff, cooks, laundresses, cleaners, rangers responsible. All were very friendly and helpful. I would advise this to all those who want to discover wildlife and enjoy being close to nature. The SHAMWARI spirit is really very important in this modern society that loses its bearings. An unforgettable experience... especially for families with children! We would gladly have stayed longer.