India may be beautiful, rich in culture and history, but poverty and hardship are the harsh reality for many people. Many travellers want to try to do something to help, and charities and aid organisations across the country welcome committed volunteers.
How to Volunteer
- Choosing an Organisation
Choose an organisation that can specifically benefit from your abilities and skills.
- Time Required
How much time you can devote to a project? You’re more likely to be of help if you commit for at least a month, ideally more.
Giving your time for free is only part of the story; most organisations expect volunteers to cover their accommodation, food and transport.
- Working 9 to 5
Make sure you understand what you are signing up for; many organisations expect volunteers to work full-time, five days a week.
Ensure that the organisation you choose is reputable and transparent about how it spends its money. Where possible, get feedback from former volunteers.
Aid Programs in India
There are numerous opportunities for volunteers in India. It may be possible to find a placement after you arrive, but charities and nongovernment organisations (NGOs) generally prefer volunteers who have applied in advance and been approved for the kind of work involved. Reputable organisations may insist on a criminal background check for working with children. Ethical Volunteering (www.ethicalvolunteering.org) provides useful guidelines for choosing an ethical sending agency.
As well as international organisations, local charities and NGOs often have opportunities, though it can be harder to assess the work that these organisations are doing. For listings of local agencies, check www.ngosindia.com or contact the Delhi-based Concern India Foundation.
The following programs are just some of many that may have opportunities for volunteers; contact them in advance to arrange a placement. Note that Lonely Planet does not endorse any organisations that we do not work with directly, so it is essential that you do your own thorough research before agreeing to volunteer with any organisation.
If you have medical experience, there are numerous opportunities to provide health care and support for the most vulnerable in Indian society.
Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh
Sambhavna Trust In Bhopal; accepts volunteers to help long-term victims of the toxic gas leak of 1984.
Sadhana Village Pune residence for disabled adults; has a minimum commitment of two months for volunteers.
Marwar Medical & Relief Society NGO running educational, health, environmental and other projects in villages in the Jodhpur district. Short- or long-term volunteers are welcome.
Many community volunteer projects work to provide health care and education to villages.
Bihar & Jharkhand
Root Institute for Wisdom Culture Occasional placements to train local Bodhgaya health workers.
Hope Project A broad-based community project, welcoming short- or long-term volunteers who can offer childcare, medical, ELT, IT or other skills.
Kishkinda Trust Volunteers needed to assist with sustainable community development; in Hampi.
Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh
Orchha Home-Stay Offers volunteer placements in varied roles to help rural villagers; Orchha.
Slum Aid Working in Mumbai slums to improve lives; placements from two weeks to six months.
URMUL Trust Provides primary health care and education to desert dwellers in arid western Rajasthan. Volunteer placements (minimum one month) are available in English teaching, health care and other work.
Seva Mandir NGO working in southern Rajasthan on projects including afforestation, water resources, health, education, and empowerment of women and village institutions.
Lha Arranges placements at a host of projects with the Tibetan community, including for language teachers and healthcare or IT professionals; in McLeod Ganj.
Helping Tibetan Refugees Box
Since 1959, more than 100,000 Tibetan refugees have fled to India to escape persecution. Newly arrived refugees require extensive support and there are often volunteering opportunities in McLeod Ganj, and other areas with large Tibetan populations.
Design & Restoration
There are various places where those with architectural and building skills can help.
ArcHeS Aims to preserve the architectural and cultural heritage of Chettinadu; openings for historians, geographers and architects, usually for around three to four months; Kothamangalam.
Jammu & Kashmir
Environment & Conservation
To help with environmental education and sustainable development, there are a range of local organisations.
Jammu & Kashmir
International Society for Ecology & Culture One-month placements on rural farms to promote sustainable agriculture; relaunched in 2015.
Rainforest Retreat Organic farming, sustainable agriculture and waste management are catchphrases at this lush hideway amid spice plantations; check the website for volunteering options; in Coorg.
Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute Offers internships in sustainable agriculture lasting two to six months for agriculture, engineering and science graduates; Phaltan.
Keystone Foundation Kotagiri-based, offers occasional opportunities to help improve environmental conditions, working with Indigenous communities.
Many Buddhist schools need teachers of English for long-term placements; enquire locally in Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal and Ladakh. Teaching experience is preferred. Ask questions if organisations do not require safety checks for adults working with children.
Learning & Ideas for Tibet Based in McLeod Ganj; current needs are for teachers of English, French, German, Mandarin, Japanese and computer skills, to work with Tibetan refugees.
West Bengal & Darjeeling
Hayden Hall Offers minimum two-month opportunities for volunteers with medical, teaching and business experience; in Darjeeling.
Jammu & Kashmir
Druk Padma Karpo School Buddhist monastery school in Ladakh (Shey) with long-term placements (May to September only) for English teachers.
We For Kargil Place volunteers in rural villages around the Kargil region.
Phuktal Gompa Accepts short-term EFL teaching volunteers; Zanskar.
Csoma's Room This Hungarian outfit takes teachers (as well as restorers) in Zangla.
Working with Animals
Seeing all those stray dogs can make you want to help out: you're in luck, opportunities for animal lovers are plentiful.
Blue Cross of Hyderabad A shelter with more than 1300 animals; volunteers help care for animals or work in the office.
International Animal Rescue Rescues and looks after dogs, cats and other animals; volunteers are welcome, but must have evidence of rabies vaccination.
Welfare of Stray Dogs Volunteers can work with the animals, manage stores or educate kids in school programs.
Animal Aid Unlimited In Udaipur, accepts volunteers to help injured, abandoned or stray animals.
Working with Children
Various charities provide support for disadvantaged children. Travellers should ask questions if organisations do not require safety checks for adults working with children.
Salaam Baalak Trust Volunteer English teachers, doctors, counsellors and computer experts provide education and support for street children.
Reality Tours & Travel Slum education projects; volunteers should have relevant professional or academic qualifications. Minimum three months.
Torch Works with homeless children, and looks for volunteers who can help with art activities, music and writing.
Learn for Life Society Volunteer opportunities at a small Varanasi school for disadvantaged children.
Working with Women
India has a range of local charities working to empower and educate women.
Sambhali Trust In Jodhpur; volunteers needed to teach and help organise workshops for disadvantaged women.
RIDE Works to empower village women and welcomes volunteers; Kanchipuram.
International volunteering agencies abound, and it can be tricky trying to assess which ones are worthwhile. Agencies offering the chance to do whatever you want, wherever you want, are almost always tailoring projects to the volunteer rather than finding the right volunteer for the work that needs to be done. Look for projects that will derive real benefits from your skills. To find agencies in your area, read Lonely Planet’s Volunteer: A Traveller’s Guide.
Himalayan Education Lifeline Programme (HELP; www.help-education.org) British-based charity organising placements for volunteer teachers at schools in Sikkim.
Indicorps (www.indicorps.org) Matches volunteers to projects across India, particularly in social development.
Jamyang Foundation (www.jamyang.org) Arranges volunteer placements for experienced teachers in Buddhist nunneries in Zanskar and Himachal Pradesh.
Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO; www.vso.org.uk) British organisation offering long-term professional placements in India and worldwide.
Workaway (www.workaway.info) Connects people with hotels, guesthouses, organic farms, restaurants and more, where they will get free accommodation and food in return for working five days a week.
Ethical Volunteering (www.ethicalvolunteering.org) Useful guidelines for choosing an ethical sending agency.
Working Abroad (www.workingabroad.com) Volunteer and professional work opportunities in over 150 countries.
Step Together Volunteering (www.step-together.org.uk) Database of worldwide volunteering opportunities.