Types of Volunteering in Europe
Volunteering isn't necessarily just about helping people. Other equally important causes, such as environmental protection and scientific research also require large numbers of volunteers to keep their work going.
The following is a breakdown of the types of volunteer work you can expect to find in Europe. Almost every country will have at least some of each of these types of volunteer opportunities, most of which can be found on the websites of volunteer organizations.
Humanitarian Volunteer Programs
In Europe, as in all developed nations, there is still a need for volunteers to help with social programs that help the disadvantaged. Despite the wealth of these nations, there are still always people who need more help than the system seems to provide.
In most countries in Europe, there is volunteer work to be found with orphanages, food programs that feed the homeless, and affordable housing programs such as Habitat for Humanity. In many countries there are also volunteer programs where you can help with refugees. On the lighter side, countries like Romania and Poland, and even Greece and Portugal, have need of volunteers to teach English to children.
Historical/Archaeological Volunteer Programs
Civilization in Europe has been around so long that you can't go more than five steps before you are tripping over a site of historical significance. While the governments of countries in Europe do provide funds for the exploration, restoration, and maintenance of these sites, it is often not nearly enough to cover the costs that the site incurs.
To help offset these costs, most sites and archaeological digs use volunteers to do much of the required manual labor. For archaeological sites, the kind of work you will be doing will be cleaning and preparing dig areas as well as excavation work. Other volunteer possibilities include helping with restoring a historical building or helping to maintain an existing site. No matter what your skills or interests, there will be something that will suit you.
Most of these types of volunteer opportunities are going to be found through volunteer organizations such as the Earthwatch Institute rather than by a do-it-yourself method. This definitely makes this type of volunteer work one of the more expensive types to do, but well worth it if this is your passion.
Ecological Volunteer Programs
This type of volunteering falls into two categories. The first type is helping to preserve nature in some fashion. This could range from working in a National Park in Iceland helping to monitor the huge area to working with dolphins in the Mediterranean helping scientists to understand their life cycles. These types of programs are usually found through larger organized volunteer programs rather than self funding opportunities.
The other type of ecological volunteer work in Europe is in working with sustainable or organic farming. With this volunteer work you will be providing hands on help at a farm or community that is serious about sustainable agriculture techniques and organic farming. This means you will be weeding plots of land, harvesting, milking cows and so on; an excellent opportunity for someone who wants to learn more about working closely with the land. This type of volunteer work can be found with organized placement programs, self-funded programs, and work exchange with host families.
Work Exchange Programs
Rather than volunteering through or for a large organization, there is a growing list of sites that provide a contact point for small charities or individual people who are looking for help. With this type of volunteer work, the arrangement is usually a straight trade; you offer a few hours a day of work in exchange for food and accommodation. These arrangements could be for anywhere from a few days to a few months and depends entirely on what the host is looking for.
Some hosts are just families looking for help around the house, and people who are volunteering because they want to truly help people in need won't be interested in that. But there are also orphanages and English schools that also work under the same arrangement and you can find many of these types of hosts on the sites as well.
There are two great advantages to this type of volunteering abroad. First, the costs are extremely low, at most about $20-30 dollars for the sign-up fee for some of the work exchange websites. The other great advantage is that this is a perfect way to work in Europe which gives you lots of flexibility to travel and cuts down significantly on your costs. Also, you will generally still only need a tourist visa since you are not being paid for any of the work you do.