So you want to volunteer or intern abroad, but you have no idea where to start. Join the club! Trust me, everyone interested in global health feels this way at some point. You’re probably a bit unsure of what websites are reputable, which organizations will give you the experience you’re seeking, and I’m sure there’s some hesitation about entering your credit card number to seal the deal.
It took a lot of trial and error (and some wasted money) before I found some go-to resources and legit organizations to work with. While none of life’s experiences are ever a waste of time, over-paying by hundreds of dollars and realizing this once you get abroad is frustrating. And it can be avoided.
I’ve traveled abroad for over a decade now to volunteer in education, nursing, social enterprise, and just straight up I’ll-do-whatever-you-need-me-to-do work. I’ve worked with some ground-breaking, awe-inspiring organizations. . . And I’ve worked with others that were so awful I wouldn’t recommend them to my worst enemy. One thing that has been consistent, though, is the ability to wring life-changing, positive experiences out of every trip. So don’t worry, that part should come naturally.
Below is a list of some resources, organizations, and tips that I have used over the years – Hopefully I can help expedite your search, spare you some wasted money, and get you on that flight abroad to start making a difference.
The Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC)
My experience: I traveled to Nicaragua with FIMRC as in undergrad and volunteered with nurses at a rural clinic in one of the poorest communities in the country. It was this trip that set my heart on global health and led me to my career as a NP!
No requirements to be a licensed health professional. You can go as a pre-med student, a licensed nurse or doctor, or as an eager volunteer (like I was!).
FIMRC is a safe, trusted, organization that works with many students and is affiliated with a ton of university chapters. After I went on my trip, I served as President of the FIMRC university chapter at CU Boulder chapter, which is still going strong today.
They’re organized and they work with some of the most impoverished populations in the world. They’re transparent with their costs up front and they’ll give you a detailed description of what your day-to-day will look like abroad.
You can go for as little as one week (most sites) or longer. Your start date is also up to you, allowing for flexibility. Not all organizations are willing to work with volunteers for just a week at a time and many have set start dates.
Child Family Health International (CFHI)
I have never worked with CFHI but I know many medical and nursing students who have and their experiences looked wonderful.
CFHI programs are interdisciplinary and open to undergrad, graduate, professional and post-grad students of any major.
Program sites are set up all over the world – Central and South America, India, SE Asia, Africa. . . SO many to choose from.
You can earn academic credit through your school for working with CFHI! (More on their website about this)
You must be 20 years or older to travel with CFHI but you can be from any major, background, and career interest. All that’s necessary is an interest in human health and the desire to work abroad.
CFHI does have set start dates, so there is not as much flexibility as FIMRC.
An application with 2 references is required to work with this organization.
Timmy Global Health
Timmy is very similar to FIMRC. They are highly affiliated with universities around the nation. You can volunteer as a licensed healthcare professional or a student.
Idealist.org is a huge database of NGOs, social enterprises, schools, hospitals, and organizations abroad seeking volunteers, interns, employees, ambassadors – you name it.
When I volunteered at an orphanage in Kenya, I booked the trip through goabroad.com (or something similar, not trying to slander here) and paid about 5x morethan fellow volunteers who found the orphanage directly through idealist.org.
The major upside of Idealist?? You can find orphanages, schools, hospitals etc directly and can book your trip without a third party beneficiary. This means you can rest assured close to 100% of your funds are going toward the cause you’re traveling for, rather than losing hundreds of dollars to pay some fancy website’s Google fees and advertising.
The only downside. . .
There is A LOT to weed through. Be strategic in your search and take the time to sift through the options on there and you’re bound to find something great. **See my tips below on strategic searching**
JAMA Volunteer Board
Website: JAMA Volunteer
JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, has an extensive list of organizations to volunteer abroad with.
If you’re seeking a mission-style trip, there are quite a few organizations on JAMA’s list that are affiliated with various churches and religious organizations.
University recommended programs
Do a quick, simple search of a major university followed by “volunteer abroad” and most schools have already done this dirty work for you. I did a quick search just now for “Harvard volunteer abroad” and this is the list that popped up:
So easy! If an accredited, well known university has sent students abroad with an organization before, you can probably bet that it’s legit.
Notice that most, if not all, of the websites abroad end in “.org”. If you find yourself looking at trips on a .com website, be skeptical. I’m not saying all .com-ers are scammers or BS-ers, but a .org is most likely a nonprofit organization, they should have less fees, and in the end will be the experience you’re looking for.
Don’t be scared away by cheap-looking, janky websites!! I can’t stress this one enough. If you compare the website I booked my Kenya trip through (check out goabroad.com) to the actual orphanage’s website (africanorphanage.wordpress.com) and you base your decision off website curb appeal. . . you’ll prob make the same mistake I did and you’ll WASTE A BUNCH OF MONEY.
(I paid about $500/wk and the price listed on the orphanage’s website is $140/wk. (((WTF))) This means the majority of my money was never seen by the orphanage or the babies I traveled across the world to help.)
These small nonprofits and start-ups in need of help don’t have a ton of money! That’s the point and the problem, right?Fancy does not always = legit. Jussayin’ – don’t run from a cheap, simple, low-cost, homely website (you’ll find a lot of these on Idealist.org!). These websites are usually representing the exact cause you’re seeking.
“The essence of global health equity is the idea that something so precious as health might be viewed as a right.” – Paul Farmer
Check out my post on Making a Global Health Impact without Leaving the US!