Every year increasing numbers of young people under 18 are volunteering abroad for the first time on either specialist programmes catering only for under 18s or joining established programmes welcoming volunteers of all ages.
What age do I need to be to volunteer?
Our volunteer programmes in Morocco and Ghana are ideally suited to first time volunteers who will be 16 or 17 on arrival when they travel abroad. We have lowered our age limits on these two programmes due to the following programme components which are offered:
• Group volunteering activities (rather than individual placements).
• Over 10 years experience of supporting under 18s.
• Shared volunteer housing altogether (rather than private family homestays).
• Door to door transfers on arrival.
• Experienced in-country team who regularly manage large school and sixth form groups.
• Full support organising weekend tours and free time activities.
Contact us if you would like to gain experience for a course you plan to do later and we will be happy to advise which programme will suit you best.
For example, if you are planning to study health related courses later such as nursing, social care or medicine then volunteering in Ghana would be a great option where you can try out basic first aid perhaps for the first time.
Can under 16s volunteer?
Yes under 16 year olds can volunteer abroad if accompanied. Our youngest volunteer was 7 years old and went with mum to Kenya to live with a Maasai family! We accept a growing number of families every year and have exciting opportunities available in the following countries:
Kenya – Live with a traditional Maasai family and experience every day life for a challenging experience of a life time. Private room. Minimum age 7.
Uganda – Live on site at friendly school in tropical highlands. Private traditional hut with bathroom. Minimum age 7.
Thailand – Teach English together in school. Private room at comfortable hostel close to school. Minimum age 10.
Call us today 01603 280702 or send us your questions for further advice on volunteering as a family.
Will I need permission to volunteer under 18?
If you will be volunteering under 18 you may need permission or formal authorisation to board your flight. Some countries may also require some kind of permission or formal authorisation. The minimum requirement if travelling independently will be usually be written permission from parents or guardians. It is a good idea to check with the airline, the embassy and your volunteer sending organisation.
For example, if you are in the UK and searching on google for ‘under 18s travel to south africa’. You will find detailed information from a variety of sites including the British Government, the Post Office and British Airways and South African Home Affairs on the new change in requirements.
Why volunteer under 18?
It gives you a time advantage
Volunteering under 18 can give you a massive advantage over young people a year or two older than you. For example, many 18 year old volunteers, unless they are taking a gap year will have already applied for University when they volunteer so it will be too late to make use of it on their personal statements.
Many first time volunteers at 16 or 17 years old often make similar second and third trips abroad, exponentially increasing their confidence, team working and organisation skills. The effect this has on the way you perform at job or course interviews and assessments later on cannot be underestimated.
Because it fits in with exams
Most under 18s based in the UK will be volunteering in the summer at either 16 or 17 years old.
Most sixteen year olds will travel at the end of their GCSE exams, which although there are a lot of them to study for, they are probably not game changers at this point. So if you get a grade lower here or there because you were dreaming about the children’s smiles or beaches in West Africa, this will probably not mean you have to change career plans.
Volunteers heading out at 17 years old after their first year of A levels or BTECs know they have another year to concentrate before the important exams.
Great cure for shyness
Volunteering under 18 can help shake off any shyness or nerves and it’s not always for the obvious reasons. Increased confidence often comes from an unexpected source. Our in-country teams have often remarked that for the shyest volunteer in the team, it will be a new arrival that makes the shy volunteer realise quite how far they have progressed.
Faced with a newbie asking them where everything is in the accommodation, how to use the shower, or ask for a bottle of water at the local shop, he or she will start to feel like they are the go-to person. This can skyrocket anyone’s confidence.
To try out new things
Most volunteer programmes offer a range of activities to try out. It is always a good idea to do more than one thing on your programme if available. A teaching volunteer in a school may realise they prefer teaching the infants after teaching all age groups or discover a natural aptitude for painting and decorating that they helped with after classes.
Trying out different things may inspire you to follow up a new career path when you get back home.
To Make New Friends
Volunteering brings everyone together in one place and going through the same experience for the first time. You can be pretty certain that for 80% of your volunteer group this is their first time they are doing anything like this. Typically
This shared experience is quite unique from most back at home. Many first year university students can struggle with others they connect with who might be studying different courses or living in another hall of residence.
Staying in touch after your trip is so much easier with FB these days. Do make sure you keep in touch, many volunteers like to organise annual reunions.
Great preparation for University
Many first year University students can struggle with being away from home for the first time. When and where to eat? How to manage your laundry (or not)? Making new friends?
By volunteering a long way from home, you will have already been through this on your project in far more adventurous circumstances. University life will feel like a walk in the park.
Many younger volunteers will hear other volunteers at some point saying, ‘wow, you’re so young, I wish I had had the courage or knowledge to do this when I was your age’. This can be quite a nice feeling in itself and boost your confidence.
Some younger volunteers find they experience less pressure being younger which helped them to relax and go with the flow where older volunteers may feel the need to compete to perform and achieve the best results by nature of their age, background or interests.
If everyone knows how old you are you may find they’ll be more than happy to show you round and take you under their wing.
Something to talk about
Because you will be ahead of everyone else by starting younger, you will have a lot more to say when you and your friends get together. There is sure to be one or more funny stories involving toilets, insects, mosquito nets and countless other challenges you overcame.
To gain a reference
It is a good idea to keep a journal of what you do each day. Highlight work you achieved or challenges you overcame rather than a more personal diary. It is a good idea to take some photos or video footage which highlights you in action.
At the end of your trip, ask one of the senior members of your local team to provide a written reference for you which includes your main areas of work and achievements and don’t forget to make a note of their contact details.
Your sending organisation should also be able to provide you with a reference for a future job or study application but check with them first. At Original Volunteers we are happy to allow all our participating volunteers to list us as references after their trip.
It demonstrates that you mean business
If you are under 18 when you volunteer you know you are in the minority and that it is something special an unique. It shows to family and friends you are prepared to push yourself that bit further.
Providing you come back with more than just safari and beach pictures you may find people around you take your personal ambitions more seriously and may help you to achieve future goals more actively from now on.