Updated 23 May 2018 － In some countries, more than 50% of women say they would like to get involved in senior volunteering after their formal working lives are over.
While there are plenty of volunteer opportunities close to home, many women are looking to volunteer overseas.
Age no longer determines everything we do, and giving a bit of ourselves while we travel is relatively simple.
Extremely realistic. In fact, a growing number of volunteer schemes are removing the upper age limits (though they maintain the lower age limits of 18 or 21).
As long as you're healthy – and yes, that does seem to be a requirement in most if not all cases – finding volunteer work in your 60s, 70s and beyond is becoming easier every day.
Senior volunteers as a group have different needs and aspirations than 20-year-olds, so if you're an aspiring volunteer, you should keep these in mind when you search for your placement.
Volunteering is usually a two-step process: first, the idea appears, and then something triggers the action. This can be anything - a returning friend, a request from someone, information from another source.
Once you’ve decided to take the plunge and find a place that provides opportunities for volunteering abroad for older adults, you need to determine what kind of volunteering you want to do, where you want to go, how long you can go, and how much money you can spend. You also need to carefully consider which organization to join forces with: One whose volunteer travel programs are truly helping the people, communities or causes that are dear to you, and one that is ethical.
The answers to those questions should help you narrow down your options. If you want to save sea turtles for 6 months off the coast of Mexico and don’t have much money saved up, you know you have a better idea of what you’re looking for.
The next step, is determining the ethical standards of the programs and organizations that meet your criteria.
First things first, I want to direct you to two great resources: this article by Kirsty Henderson and this book by Shannon O’Donnell. Both of these go in to far greater detail than I can in this article about things to consider and how one should go about vetting volunteer organizations.
Shannon's book is especially interesting. She has travelled and volunteered all over the world, and the book goes into detail about the questions you need to ask yourself and the organization before volunteering anywhere.
Besides her book, she’s also worked diligently to create a list of sustainable, grassroots volunteer organizations across the globe. If you’re looking for a place to start your search, her directory is a gem. She takes the evaluation questions from her books and puts them into practise choosing which organizations get a spot on her website.
In addition to these resources, here are some things to consider and to ask your organization prior to committing to travel with them:
Your main goal is to make sure that your volunteer efforts are needed, aren’t taking away jobs from locals or depleting community resources, and that the organization has a long-term plan and isn’t simply in it for money.
Evaluate your own priorities as well: It’s ok to feel good about volunteering, but if the only reason you are doing it is to fill your Facebook feed with good deeds, you might want to think twice.
For more information about the ethics of voluntourism and volunteering abroad in general, check out these resources.
Besides volunteering for the wrong reasons, volunteers can easily make mistakes during their travels. Here are some common pitfalls to avoid:
This is just a sampling of volunteer opportunities for seniors across the globe but you'll have to do your own research to find the most suitable for you, now that you know what to ask. There are thousands of charitable organizations, many of which are becoming increasingly open to over 50s volunteering overseas.
This is a great resource to help you get started as you search for volunteering opportunities for older adults. It won’t ask the hard questions regarding ethical standards or where the money goes, but you can search for volunteer opportunities by country, cause and length of trip. From there, you can evaluate each match. The website also includes reviews of programs, which can be helpful as you vet agencies.
This platform isn’t specific to volunteer programs (it includes programs for teaching abroad, for example), but it allows you to talk to people who have taken similar trips with organizations, and it includes real reviews from travellers about organizations, which helps you in the vetting process. Simply search by project type, location and length of trip and see what comes up!
Search by country and activity (arts, conservation, disaster relief, etc.) and find grassroots non-profits looking for volunteers across the globe. There are no middlemen and no agencies involved and you talk directly to the charity that needs help. They also don’t allow any organizations running orphanages, which they explain in detail here.
This database is run by Shannon O’Donnell, who wrote the book I recommended above. She personally funds the page and vets the organizations looking for volunteers. These are grassroots charities in need of your help and you can search for opportunities based on region, country, duration, type and cost. Besides helping charities, the database also includes small businesses that you can choose to support.
And if these resources aren't enough, you can check your churches and other places of worship for faith based volunteering opportunities, many of which have volunteering opportunities for retired women.
Archaeological Institute of America
If archeology is something you’ve always wanted to delve into, this database can help you find volunteer opportunities across the globe. Search by location and keyword to see what you can dig up.
United Nations Volunteers
If you want to be a long-term volunteer and have a college degree and professional work experience, the United Nations is an excellent way to get involved in volunteer work. You can volunteer abroad and in your home country. - for long-term, skilled volunteers
If you’re a United States citizen, you can volunteer for the Peace Corps at any age. Service contracts last from three months to two years and you can choose your country, work type and departure dates. They have an entire page regarding voluntary work abroad for over 50s you can see here.
If you’re a Canadian citizen or permanent resident who is a senior-level professional, CESO can place you in positions both internationally and locally for anywhere from two days to four weeks where you’ll use your professional expertise to help others.
Skilled retirees from the United Kingdom can work in placements specific to their professional expertise, such as journalism, micro-finance, and business. These trips can be as short as two weeks long, although some are much longer. They have 443 reviews on TrustPilot, with excellent reviews.
International Volunteer Headquarters
Seniors are welcome to volunteer their time on various projects around the world for one week to 24 weeks, and can volunteer for any IVHQ project, instead of needing to choose opportunities labelled “volunteer abroad for adults”. The company boasts low fees, such as $180 for one week of serving. You can see which programs they recommend for seniors here. TrustPilot also gives them an excellent score.
Global Service Corps
This is a non-profit for seniors wanting to volunteer in Cambodia. You can select a program from their list: Opportunities include teaching English, community development and global public health. There aren’t many reviews about them online, but those I found are positive.
Open Minded Projects
If you want to serve in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Nepal, Open Minded Projects has volunteer opportunities for retirees doing everything from marine conservation to helping Burma migrants get an education. Costs are under $200/week and reviews on Go Overseas are overwhelmingly positive.
If you’re looking for a chance to volunteer with people of all age groups, Global Volunteers has great opportunities to join the generations in China, the Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Portugal, St Lucia, Tanzania, USA (Montana and West Virginia) and Vietnam. Projects include gardening, food production, parent workshops, senior care and much more. On Go Overseas, Global Volunteers has more than 100 positive reviews.
GVI offers more than 150 volunteer projects in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe and Australasia in disciplines including wildlife conservation, animal care, health care and teaching. You could work on a Woman’s Empowerment Project in Laos, or a HealthCare project in South Africa. GVI has more than 1,400 reviews on Go Abroad and a 9.8 star rating.
A Broader View
This organization takes anyone over the age of 17 who is physically able to volunteer and accepts volunteers from around the globe. Work to support women, prevent HIV/AIDS, care for animal life and so much more. They have excellent reviews on Go Overseas.
Volunteers of any age can serve in Asia, South America, Africa, Australia and the Pacific on projects ranging from women’s empowerment to medical volunteering to sports coaching. The organization has great reviews across the internet and offers plenty of flexibility in choosing location, dates and focus of volunteer work.