Volunteering is an enriching experience, especially when you know you are personally making a difference. Volunteering in National Parks all over the world with your kids helps them appreciate the wonders of nature, of giving back and why conservation is important to help protect our planet.
National Parks all over the world are crying for help, and as they’re government owned, they often struggle with a lack of resources. Their job is an important one for sure; we want to leave a better planet to our kids, and we want our entire natural heritage to be protected, whether it’s animals, plants or oceans. All of them, each and every single one, need to be kept nice and safe and healthy. In most countries in the world, volunteers are always knocking on the parks doors to try and help and they put these awesome volunteers to good use. They get involved in all sorts of tasks including, getting rid of invasive species – like the rampant rhododendrons of Killarney National Park in Ireland; restoring damaged habitats and planting trees – as with the New Zealand Department of Conservation; protecting rare plants species – like the orchids in Khao Phra Wihan on the Thai-Cambodian border; and researching endangered animal species – like the marine turtles that nest in Costa Rica’s Tortuguero National Park.
Ninety percent of the work is done to fix the harm that’s been done, yes, by us humans! We all know that we’re the ones doing the damage, so we’re the ones that need to fix it! Other projects can include building and maintaining trails and getting rid of that awful litter that people still do in this day and age! Sometimes volunteers will also get busy by helping to defend protected areas from poachers – although, this is not a job suitable for families! It can get really dangerous out there!
Do you remember the massive eruption from the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano in Iceland back in March 2010, where millions of air travellers were grounded? Well, the world was able to breathe a sigh of relief and believe in the goodness of mankind. A group of volunteers were sent to the area under the volcano within days by an Icelandic volunteer agency, who works in partnership with organizations around the world. Tons of volunteers responded in super-speedy time and were apparently really taken aback by the amazing reception they got from locals. In volunteer projects at National Parks, you will always be welcomed with big open arms, meet some cool new people and be making a difference to our environment.
Volunteering in conservation projects are unbelievably rewarding, as we mentioned before, you know that you personally are making a massive impact on our environment and another bonus – you get to spend time in some pretty awesome parts of the world and see some amazing things on your journey!
You will generally get charged for room and board, admin fees and sometimes there are compulsory donations, which can vary between US$120 to US$250 a week, which really isn’t much when you consider what you’re getting out of it! For example, volunteers who take part in the ASVO scheme (Asociación de Voluntarios para el Servicio en Áreas Protegidas) in Costa Rica, will spend a month or more building and maintaining trails, greeting visitors, cleaning beaches and helping park rangers. The food and accommodation cost just US$17 a day, plus there’s a US$30 registration fee. Where in the world are you going to spend that kind of money for visiting such an awesome National Park? In short, nowhere!
Instead of applying directly through the park, most people actually apply through an agency. You’ll find that some are commercial, whereas others are non-profit. If you go this route, your costs might be slightly higher, but it still won’t break the bank! For example, the CADIP (the Canadian Alliance for Development Initiatives and Projects) have heaps of international environmental volunteering projects to choose from. They’ve got a 15-day summer project in Portugal’s best-known National Park, Peneda-Gerês, which involves an environmental clean-up. For this project they charge US$290, but included in that cost you also get to hike, swim and explore stunning remote regions in Terras de Bouro. So, we figure $290 is worth it.
Most programmes charge a lower fee the longer you stay. If you’re planning on visiting some really remote places in some of the world’s most sought-after destinations, like the Galápagos National Park, you won’t get individual placements – you’ll have to go through an agency like LEAD Adventures. In this programme you’ll do some conservation work and you’ll visit local, and truly spectacular, attractions. Fees for this type of work are approximately US$1,590 for a 3-week stay. GVI offers a volunteering programme in the Galápagos and a giant tortoise project in the Seychelles. These will still work out to be worthy projects and cost effective too.
A quick tip! Always, always do research before you commit to a volunteering project. Just as an example, some of the private game parks in South Africa charge tons of money to wildlife tourists who mistakenly think they’re heading off into the great African plains to do volunteer work, which they actually don’t do. If you’re going private, and not through an agency, make sure they’re credible, and check their websites too to see what they charge for a normal tourist projects. Try to go the National Park route as opposed to private game reserves, as National Parks need it most, whereas private game reserves are more cash rich.
When you’re heading out with your kids, always check the age groups, as often there are age restrictions. If they show an age restriction, get in touch with them, as they can often make exceptions.
Here are some organisations you can contact to volunteer in National Parks worldwide:
St. Eustatius (Netherlands Antilles)
International Organisations in North America
International Organizations in the UK
You’ve got lots of cool stuff to choose from – do your research, choose your project and go forth into the world to leave your special footprint on our planet while teaching your kids important lessons along the way!