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Work Camps

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Would you like to volunteer on an archeological dig? Help host a children's camp in the Swiss Alps? Repair houses in a poor neighborhood in Latin America? You can volunteer to work anywhere around the world by participating in a work camp program.

Work camps are organized camps that aim to help people in other countries. Camps also allow young people to meet others with different cultural backgrounds.

Work camps are usually one to four weeks long and are held during the summer. They are held almost everywhere in Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and North America.

There's a variety of camps to attend. You could help with the construction of new housing or the restoration of old buildings, take part in an archeological dig, work with children or do agricultural work.

Work camps provide volunteers with the opportunity to experience other cultures and other parts of the world.
Courtesy of: Amizade

Work camps are sponsored by international organizations. The camps themselves are coordinated by people in the community where the activity is taking place.

The typical camp involves 10 to 20 volunteers from at least four different countries. They meet in the host community. The campers may be housed in a school, church, private home or community center. The volunteers are told where they will be working and what hours they will work. This is also the time when people meet who they will be working with.

Campers share the day-to-day chores such as cooking and cleaning. They work together on the project and also spend leisure time together. Since work camp participants spend so much time together, they usually develop close friendships. With workers from several different countries, work campers can't help but learn about different cultures.

There's always time set aside to explore the local community. The group will go on excursions in the region. They'll also enjoy dinners at their host families' homes.

There is lots of challenge involved in these camps. Part of the challenge is doing the work assigned to you. The other challenge is learning to get along with your co-workers!

To make the most of these challenges, you should be the kind of person who is interested in people and other cultures. Volunteering at a work camp will help you learn about the culture of the country. You will also learn about the cultures of your co-workers.

"You see the little differences," says work camper M.C. Campbell of Montreal, Quebec. "But mostly you just realize how similar we all are."

You can be at any level of fitness to join in these camps. The physical demands vary greatly with each kind of camp. Be prepared for heavy lifting and hard work in construction. Generally the work is casual and won't cause too much strain.

Social camps don't require much physical labor. Some camps are suited to physically challenged people.

Going to a work camp is usually an inexpensive way to travel. Costs vary from camp to camp. You likely have to pay your own travel, but have your food and lodging covered. Or, you may have to pay a stipend for food and shelter too.

Campers also have to pay for any extras they might need.

The reasonable cost is one of the reasons that work camping is becoming increasingly popular.

"It's less expensive than any other form of travel," says Volunteers for Peace director Peter Coldwell.

Many people combine a work camp with travel.

"It's great if you want to travel alone but are a bit apprehensive about always having to find a place to eat and a place to sleep," says Campbell. You often meet people to travel with in the camps.

Some work camps are designed for those 13 to 17 years old. Others are for people over 17 years old.

Work camping is most popular with people aged 17 to 25. As many as 200,000 people volunteer for work camps around the world every year.

Volunteer work prepares you to work in other fields. Helping to run a children's camp will be useful knowledge if you decide to work with kids once you're back home, either as a recreation programmer or teacher. If you work on a construction project, you may learn skills helpful to you as a backhoe operator or engineer.

Likewise, learning how to work with others and learning about other cultures is a valuable experience that will help you in all aspects of your life.

Work camp experience also looks good on a resume.

"Doing voluntary service is in vogue because of reduced employment opportunities," says Coldwell. And doing this work may also get you into the school of your choice. "Many educational institutions now require service of some sort prior to graduation," he says.

Getting Started

To volunteer at a camp, call or write to an international work camp organization. There are many organizations to consider. Make sure to find out all you can about the organization first, before you sign up.

Acceptance into a camp is usually given on a first come, first serve basis. Registration normally occurs from mid-April to mid-May. It's still a good idea to check with an organization to find out the earliest date that you can choose a camp.

If you're going to be doing construction or restoration work, you probably won't need references. Just sign up and that's it! If you want to be involved in counseling or work with children, be prepared to write an essay explaining why you would like to go. Have references ready to send with your letter of application.

Campbell advises that you choose your camp carefully, and be prepared to work hard.

If you'd like to do more than one camp in a summer, Campbell and the Volunteers for Peace advise that you take at least a two-week break between camps to regroup.

"It's emotionally stressing to work so closely with a group of people," says Campbell. "It's too much to jump right into another group."

Do your homework. Planning ahead with the dates of arrival, departure, choice of work and your desired country will give you the best chance of getting the camp you want.

"Most of the best camps fill early," says Michael Baedke, a University of Richmond student who worked at a children's camp in Germany called Waldpark.

Keep an open mind at all times.

"You must be open-minded to get the most out of the camp," says Baedke. You can't expect that life will be the same as it is at home.

"Be prepared to learn other ways of looking at the same issues and be willing to share your own," says Baedke. "And be prepared to have a great time while doing it."


WorldTeach, Inc.
Harvard Institute for International Development

Volunteers for Peace


Action Without Borders -- Idealist
A directory of volunteer opportunities nationwide

Association of Voluntary Service Organizations
Find out more about voluntary service in Europe

Global Citizens Network
Sends small teams of volunteers to rural communities around the world

Institute for International Cooperation and Development
Trains volunteers for work in community development projects in Africa, the Americas and Asia

World Relief Foundation
Offers emergency aid and development assistance to other countries, thanks to volunteers

A non-profit organization with a focus on saving the rainforest by helping the people of the rainforest

American Jewish Society for Service
Camps usually involve construction or repair in locations across the U.S.

Volunteer for Our Children
Volunteer work can be done year-round and close to home

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