So you would like to plan a volunteering trip to an animal project in Southeast Asia? Or maybe you would like to spend a part of your (world)trip on a cause that is close to your heart. Regardless the occasion, contributing as a volunteer is a rewarding event and an absolute must-do. However, you might wonder what to expect when signing up as a volunteer. Therefore in this blog a few things to take into account in order to prepare yourself decently.
Tropical climate and local pests
First of all, physical work in Asia requires some adaptability to the new climate. Working in the tropics can be tough, especially when you are not used to the heath yet. The magic trick: keep drinking! You will sweat a lot and therefore need to keep hydrated to prevent headaches, muscle pain and dehydration. Bring your own water bottle and make sure to drink at least five bottles a day. For some hydrating support you can add a mineral supplement like Royal-D. Very important: don’t forget to go the toilet! Due to all the sweating you might not feel the need to visit the toilet, but you still have to get rid of the toxins in your bladder to prevent a bladder infection.
Make sure to bring protection from sun and rain, such as a hat or cap and a poncho. I usually like bringing a scarf as it both can be used to protect my head from the sun and as an extra layer in case of falling temperatures. Decent walking shoes or sandals are also helpful to get you through the day.
Local pests like mosquitos and sandflies can be quite challenging. I tackle this by wearing long pants and long sleeved shirts of a light fabric at night and in the jungle, supplemented with a mosquito repellent – preferably environment friendly. A mosquito net at night is a must! Most volunteering projects provide nets but you can also bring your own to be sure. Don’t forget to bring an after-bite treatment to erase itching.
When constantly sweating, you will be longing for a shower at the end of the day. Usually the projects provide basic sanitation amenities. Often you are required to share the toilet and the bathroom with the other volunteers. Taking a shower may be less luxurious than it is at home, with no hot water and in some cases no shower at all but a ton of water to pour over yourself. This might sound as a challenge, but you can take it from me: when working in the tropics, any form of showering is rewarding and a welcome cool-down. In addition it is all part of the experience, you will get used to it very fast.
A very important element for every trip regardless the destination: Food! Often this is basic but really good as it is being prepared by a local chef. Vegans and vegetarians don’t have to worry as many animal projects provide nothing but vegan/vegetarian food while other projects offer dishes that suit your diet.
A different culture also means different standards and values. For example: The local views about animal welfare may differ a bit from the views of us travelers. You might witness this in the surrounded area or hear shocking stories about the animals you take care off. This is something that can be hard to get confronted with, so it is very important to be prepared for this.
Another example is the way we dress. Most projects will ask you to wear appropriate clothing. This includes not wearing just a bikini but also a t-shirt and shorts to meet the local standard. Make sure to properly read the information package as provided by your volunteer coordinator, usually the cultural rules and differences are described in detail.
Meeting other people
Travelling alone? Not to worry! Being a volunteer means meeting a lot of new people from all over the world. Passionate, kind, funny, nice travelers that work their hearts out for a good cause – just like you. Chances are you will not feel lonely at all!
On the contrary, spending the whole day with new people you don’t know (yet) can be quit intense. At some projects you will have a bedroom for yourself, at other projects you might have to share a room with other volunteers. As a result, you might experience not much privacy. Don’t bother to pull yourself back in a comfortable spot every now and than, if not at your bedroom than find another relaxing hangout like a hammock.
At last, when arriving at the project you might feel a little confused by all the new impressions and even feel a bit overwhelmed. This is all perfectly understandable, after all you are out of your comfort zone in a strange country with people you don’t know. Take your time to get used to your home-away-from-home and to settle down. You will see that once you get used to life at the project, it will bring you nothing but a rewarding experience that it some cases might even turn out to be a life-changer.