>>>Do you want to be a ‘wwoofer’?
The countries that receive the highest number of WWOOF volunteers are France, Spain, Britain, Germany and Portugal.

Do you want to be a ‘wwoofer’?

We’re not asking you if you want to give up eating sugar or whether you fancy jumping into a whitewater river with a canoe. We only want to know if you like combining volunteer work with tourism.

ith a background in environmental science, I am keen to learn and get involved in organic farming. Living in the suburbs of Toronto, my backyard gardening skills were limited. Wwoofing provided an alternate travelling experience, meeting real Australians in their native countryside habitat. Their willingness to teach and share their passion for organic farming and sustainable agriculture gives me hope we all have to play our part if we want to see and be the change in the world’, says Candy, a Canadian volunteer, fresh from working in exchange for board and lodging in one of the four organic farms that participate in the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) association.

Founded by a secretary from London in 1971, WWOOF is one of the various opportunities available to anyone who wants to learn about other countries and cultures, whilst at the same time collaborating in a cause or forming part of a project without needing to be a member of an NGO, or a rescue team responding to an emergency. Apart from farms, Help Stay in Ireland offers the chance to work in vineyards, ranches, schools, ‘hostels’, art or surfing centres, or even monasteries and ‘kibbutz’. For example, looking after animals in an Indonesian centre, making home brewed beer in Ecuador or teaching music in a school in Taiwan.

Chico dando leche a una cría
Over 20,000 farms have joined WWOOF, to which more than 100,000 volunteers belong.
Photo: GillianVann / Shutterstock.com

Travel for free or pay your way?

For some initiatives volunteers might have to pay a fee or commission if they find a project they are interested in, but there are also organisations, such as Volunteers Base and Giving Way, that offer opportunities for free. The latter is funded by the optional extras it offers its volunteers.

These programmes are not package holidays, when an organisation takes care of arranging the transport or the project receives a donation from a voluntary worker who arranges and pays for the trip and, in exchange is given an agreed number of hours. Rather, they are given room and board free of charge, as well as advice from their hosts about the country, its traditions and how to learn new skills through their work.

It is an inexpensive way to travel and share experiences through a collaborative approach. “Too many good ideas for making the world a better place go unheard or unrealized’, says the Israeli activist, Ami Dar, founder of Idealist.org, one of the most popular websites for connecting people with projects, with over 100,000 organisations from all over the world.

Chico leyendo un libro a unos niños
Because the work is not remunerated, work permits are not necessary for the destination countries.

In some cases volunteers might need specialist knowledge, but most opportunities are for non-technical jobs, such as grape picking, tree planting or working with animals, or for volunteers to teach their native languages. For example, GoCambio enables people who want to travel to connect with others who have a spare room and would like to do two language classes every day.

Voluntarios en un comedor
Each establishment agrees a minimum and maximum stay, as well as the number of working hours and days off per week.

The Brazilian portal Worldpackers, founded by Riq Lima and Eric Faria, mainly acts as a link between hostels and travellers who are willing to work, either working in reception, cleaning or acting as a tour guide, in exchange for a bed. The portal also offers people the opportunity to work in social networks as a photographer, cook or craftsman. Like they say in WWOOF, you need to give it a chance and try it. The founders of Worldpackers add: ‘Life is about learning, sharing and travelling’.

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