Since China has been in the news lately, and has become an even more popular destination than ever for working and volunteering abroad, today we’ll spotlight a china volunteer organization that has been in the business a long time: Global Volunteers. While not exclusively serving China (they have volunteer and work abroad programs in Australia, Peru, Greece, Hungary and India, just to name a few) Global Volunteers’ China teaching program is incredibly popular, and they are the self-proclaimed "original adventure in service".
Global Volunteers started sending volunteers to China in 1995, which is well before most organizations set up shop in the People’s Republic. They work together with the Sino-American Society, an organization devoted to cross-cultural communications between the United States and China. The focus of the program is true immersion of the volunteers in to Chinese culture – Global Volunteers doesn’t only place volunteers in major cities, but in schools in the countryside as well.
What do volunteers do?
Volunteers in the Global Volunteers China program primarily work with children, either teaching English or caring for young children living in orphanages. It is also possible to be placed in a home for the elderly, caring for the aging. This is extremely important in Chinese culture, where the elderly and aging are viewed as the most important and respected members of society. There are also a number of projects focused on manual labor, including the painting and repair of buildings. These projects also attract families to volunteering, since no special skills (like teaching English) are involved, and almost anyone can participate.
Health care is also a major concern for people in China, and those volunteers with some health care experience might be placed with a local medical agency to help deliver services to people in need.
Where are volunteers placed?
While not all placements are city-based, a large portion of the China program is focused on the Xi’ian and Kunming cities, where the demand for English language is at an all time high.
When do volunteers leave?
Global Volunteers deploys volunteers to all corners of the globe year round, but volunteer projects in China are primarily concentrated in Spring (March – May) and Fall/Winter (September – December).
How long is a volunteer stay?
Global Volunteers is a short-term volunteer experience, using the term "volunteer vacation" which is similar in many respects to "voluntourism". Volunteer stays in China are typically two weeks long, leaving at the beginning of the month and returning in the middle. However, it is possible (and encouraged) for volunteers to stay as long as 24 weeks! Not all projects are eligible for an extension, so if you plan to volunteer with Global Volunteers for more than 4 weeks, make sure to indicate that as soon as possible in the application process. If you get to China and find that you’d like to stay longer, talk to your volunteer coordinator right away to see if it is a possibility for your project.
Who can volunteer?
Global Volunteers sets itself apart from most other organizations by adhering to the philosophy that truly anyone can volunteer. They have targeted programs and projects for people in all walks of life: families, students, retirees and baby boomers can all participate, and are welcome. Where many organizations focus on the college students and twenty-somethings, Global Volunteers has something for everyone. However, it is important to note that not all projects are available to everyone, and some do have age restrictions, so make sure to read all of the fine print if you plan on applying as a family, or as a solo volunteer under 21.
How much does it cost?
Since Global Volunteers is primarily a "volunteer vacation program" there are significant fees involved for participating. These can be anywhere from $500 – $3,000 for a few weeks of service. While I don’t have any personal experience with Global Volunteers, I am very impressed with their transparency about how the money is used, and why volunteers need to pay a fee. Global Volunteers really offers full service volunteering support to its volunteers, including an orientation, volunteer coordinator in country and room and board. If you are interested in Global Volunteers, take some time to read the "Why Pay to Volunteer" section, which will help you understand why you are paying a fee at all.
However, one thing I did notice about the Global Volunteers site is that they don’t tell you exactly what the fee will be until you are ready to apply…so while you can find out how the funds will be used right away, you may not have access to exactly how much you will be charged until later. While this is usually a red flag for me, Global Volunteers is a reputable and established organization that might just need to update its website.
Again, without any personal experience with Global Volunteers, I think that they are worth checking out as an option for short-term volunteer experience either in China, or virtually any where else in the world. For more information about how to apply, please visit the Global Volunteers website. For information about other volunteer organizations in China, please visit the JobMonkey Overseas Volunteering section.