Volunteer Vacations and Workcamps in Europe
Working on Family Farms
Helping out on a family farm in Europe is a rewarding, hands-on travel experience that's easy to arrange. This past summer I combined a string of volunteer vacations during a 3-month trip through Europe and got to know not only the area but also volunteers from many other countries.
SCI International Voluntary Service, www.sci-ivs.org. SCI/IVS and similar organizations in the U.S., register working travelers at one or more of hundreds of workcamps in Europe and worldwide. Volunteers work on farms and at summer camps, homeless shelters, and even wildlife preserves.
The common element in all of these diverse opportunities is that participants sign up for a 1- to 4-week project and, in exchange for about six hours of work per day, receive free room and board. The application fee is $235 for international camps and $100 for domestic camps. The cost of the workcamp includes accommodation and meals during the project along with minimal health and acident insurance coverage. You must arrange and pay for travel to and from the workcamp site. I paid the equivalent of $125 for a 2-week workcamp. It's all remarkably simple. Most camps in Europe are accessible by train, and I was able to use a 2-month Eurail pass to get to three separate camps across Europe. English is spoken at most volunteer sites; however, opportunities abound to practice the local language. I spoke French with the farm owners and my fellow volunteers and with locals when we sold cheese at markets along the Mediterranean. The ages of participants range from 18 to 40 and older depending upon the individual camp; check with the organization for information on the typical volunteers. Some camps offer opportunities for families of for those under 18. In addition to SCI/IVS, other volunteer organizations include:
Volunteers For Peace, (1034 Tiffany Rd., Belmont, VT 05730; 802-259-2759, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.vfp.org). VFP offers over 3000 projects in more than 100 countries every year. Project costs start at $500, which includes food and accommodations. The volunteer projects include construction, environmental work, agricultural work, social work, work with kids, renovation, art & culture, community service and a plethora of other types of activities.
Volunteer workcamp organizations are only one way to find work on a European farm. Willing Workers on Organic Farms or WWOOF.
(WWOOF International, www.wwoof.org); connects people directly to farms interested in having travelers stay and work for varying lengths of time. After paying a membership fee of $10-$50 depending upon the country, you receive a book listing all farms that accept volunteers and you can contact the individual farmers directly to arrange start and end dates. As with organized camps, you receive room and board in exchange for your work. Like the workcamp organizations, the farms are not just looking for cheap labor. Your presence and the culture you represent are just as important as the work you provide. WWOOF works only with farms devoted to organic production as well as to cultural exchange.
Whether you choose satisfying manual work on a farm or more varied work at one or more international workcamps, you'll find that either is an inexpensive way to have an active, rich overseas travel experience. For a current list of other short- term voluntary service opportunities throughout the world visit the volunteer listings section of www.TransitionsAbroad.com.
ERIN E. AAS has worked and traveled in Europe, Africa and remote parts of North America and also studied for one year in Edinburgh, Scotland. She lives and writes music in Seattle, WA.