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Volunteer opportunities for teens with GVI

By Jana Jansen van Vuuren 1 year ago

If you’re in high school today, chances are you’re way more clued up about global issues than any previous generation. Even more impressive, you’ve probably already contributed to projects in support of causes you truly care about.

For you, it’s not simply about making your voice is heard, it’s about working towards the future you envision: one which celebrates diversity, shows compassion to those who have fled their homes due to natural or man-made disasters, and acknowledges the responsibility of us all to care for the environment.

Although you’re driven and committed to making a real impact, being in high school means you’ve probably faced some unique challenges when trying to join projects that deal with the world’s most critical issues. You’ve had to deal with the strict age limits of many programs, the concerns of your parents and the limitations of your school schedule.

For many, these restrictions mean that they never join a program that they really believe in, but rather sign up for the program that helps them complete their volunteer hours as quickly as possible.    

At GVI we know that high school students don’t really want to shy away from the real issues, they want to be given the opportunity to make an impact. We have numerous volunteer opportunities for teens, designed for students between the ages of 15 and 17, in nine countries around the world. In these programs, high school students can contribute to ongoing sustainable development projects, the objectives of which are set and measured according to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs)



These programs aren’t just your average volunteer project, designed solely for the purpose of ticking off the required volunteer hours for high school. Our projects that have been running for many years, some for far over a decade, and have been contributing to community development goals and long-term environmental studies throughout all this time.

While on a GVI project, you’ll get the chance to meet high school students from around the world, learn from experts on base, interact with locals and immerse yourself in a completely new culture. It’s truly the kind of experience most of our volunteers describe as ‘life-changing’, so much so that many of them have used their time with GVI as inspiration for their college essays.

Our volunteer opportunities for teens include both environmental and community service programs. They run over the summer break, between July and August, as well as the spring break, during February, March, and April. Students are encouraged to book at least a year in advance as spaces are limited and tend to fill up rather quickly.

Start planning your trip by taking a look at some of the exciting programs we’ve listed below and read what previous volunteers have had to say about their experience.

volunteer opportunities for teens

Summer volunteer programs for high school students

Teen community service and adventure trips

Our volunteer and adventure trips are some of our most popular teen programs. They are all two-week community development programs that include an adventure element such as trekking in the Himalayas, ziplining in the Amazon rainforest or exploring the Kuang Si falls.

Students typically work on maintenance and construction projects, as these have been shown to be one of the easiest and fastest ways to feel like you’ve made a tangible impact on the lives of local community members. 

Volunteer in Nepal

volunteer opportunities for teens in Nepal

GVI teen volunteers add a fresh coat of paint to bookshelves at a Nepalese school.

In 2015, a devastating earthquake hit Nepal, which destroyed much of the local infrastructure. Although we already had a community development project set up in Nepal at the time, after the earthquake we shifted our focus towards rebuilding the educational facilities in the area, improving the children’s access to comfortable learning environments and adequate sanitation.

Teens volunteering with GVI in Nepal continue to work on these infrastructure development projects during the week. Over weekends, teens get the chance to peruse crafts at the lakeside market, take a ferry to a tiny Hindu temple at the center of Phewa Lake and hike part of the Annapurna mountain trail.    

“When I first signed up for GVI Nepal’s teen program I never could have imagined the impact just a few weeks would have on me. Both the people I have met and the things that I have experienced have changed my outlook on how the world works and what it means to be part of it.

Interacting and living with people from places like the UK, China, Oman, and France, to name a few, as well as being immersed in Nepalese culture has allowed me to experience different cultures firsthand and form lifelong friendships with people from around the world.

The highlight of the trip though was volunteering at the school in rural Nepal. My fellow volunteers and I had the chance to renovate some of the classrooms in the school and the smiles the kids flashed when they saw the finished rooms were almost a bright as the sunny yellow paint on the walls … 

The most memorable, and most challenging, few days were the trek. Although it was difficult, being surrounded by my all the friends I made over there, as well as a bunch of cute dogs, helped me get to the top and I have no doubt in my mind that the views and the adventure made the struggle worth it. All in all this past month has been the best month in my life and the memories I have made will stick with me forever.”

— Naomi Ptak

Volunteer in India

GVI teen volunteers in India work on a construction project carry out an expansion project at a local school.

GVI teen volunteers in India complete an expansion project at a local school.

Many parents in India are opting to transfer their students out of public schools and into private ones due to a lack of adequate learning facilities and a low ratio of teachers to students.

GVI helps schools in India improve their facilities and provides volunteers to help teach certain subjects. Teen volunteers working with GVI in India will be building and maintaining playgrounds, bathrooms, libraries, and classrooms at these schools. On weekends, they have the chance to explore historical sites like Fort Kochi, as well as environmentally significant ones like the Western Ghats – which is a UNESCO protected site due to its incredible biodiversity. High school volunteers will also have the opportunity to learn more about Southern India culture by joining a cooking or dance class.

“A trip that was supposed to only change my life for a few weeks ended up changing my entire future. Before my stay in Kerala, India with the GVI team, I had no idea what it would be like to dedicate myself to the benefit of other people.

My past experience with charity organizations was never hands-on, so when I started my GVI journey I felt as if I were an entirely different person. Not only did I get to immerse myself into a completely different culture, but I also got to develop skills and interests that have allowed me to realize the career I want to pursue.

At first I thought the teen program would not entail much responsibility or activity; however, the childcare and construction work my team and I had to take on proved my assumptions wrong. How many seventeen-year-olds can say they built a playground with a group of other seventeen-year-olds in the middle of South India? Not many.”

— Layal Hussami

Volunteer in Fiji

teen volunteer abroad fiji

Teens volunteering abroad in Fiji finish off a wendy house for school students.

GVI had been working Fiji for several years when, in February of 2016, cyclone Winston, the most severe storm in the Southern Hemisphere in recorded history, devasted the area.

Since then, our staff and volunteers have been rebuilding schools, community centers, and homes. Although we have come a long way, there is still much work to do and teen volunteers on a trip to Fiji can participate in one of our many construction projects. They will also get a chance to experience the unique Fijian culture firsthand by interacting with locals and participating in traditional ceremonies. A weekend of snorkeling in the South Pacific Ocean is also included in this program. 

“When arriving in Fiji with GVI I was aware of the country’s status as the happiest place on earth. Now I am not sure how this is judged but its safe to say you can just give the trophy to Fiji every year! From the moment I arrived in Fiji I was greeted with nothing but warmth and appreciation from all whom I met.

My role as part of GVI’s community construction project was to focus on installing and digging the base for vital water tanks. Not only are they a resource for fresh drinking water, but are used as a way of growing crops that can sustain the villages throughout the particularly hot summer months.

I quickly realized that despite being in paradise many islanders lacked basics that we take for granted. As a group, we were invited into the home of a local family who put on the most amazing lunch and thanked us so much for our efforts. I honestly believe that participating in projects like [this] changes your whole outlook on travel and how we can all give back.

GVI has created an amazing project and cultivated such great relationships with the local communities. I urge you to give this a try and see Fiji in a way a tourist just simply never can!”

—  James Mckie

Volunteer in Thailand

teen service trip to thailand

Volunteers on a teen service trip to Thailand prepare the soil for a school garden.

Like in many other regions around the world, smaller schools in Thailand tend to suffer because of lack of governmental support. We provide these school with the funds and manpower they need to improve their facilities.

High school students joining our Thailand volunteer program will be working on these infrastructure development projects. Weekend activities like island hopping, relaxing on the beach and kayaking are also included in this trip.

“I was worried before I arrived here in Thailand, but it turned out that I had no reason to be. I’ve enjoyed every day, from playing football with the school children to performing ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. I’ve met some really great people, from the GVI staff to my fellow teen volunteers, to those in the local community. 

I’m really glad that I signed up and my only regret is that we didn’t get to stay longer. If I had to choose one thing as my takeaway experience it would probably be helping to teach the kids English. I’d never done anything like it before and I’ve found that it is an immensely satisfying thing to do. Seeing how happy and excited they were to be there with us was an amazing contrast to back home. Their ability to pick up English is certainly better than my ability to pick up Thai!”

—  Alice Kerr

Volunteer in Laos

Teens volunteering in Laos will be working with young learners at the Luang Prabang library.

Teens volunteering in Laos will be working with young learners at the Luang Prabang library.

While most people in Laos work as farmers, an increase in the number of tourists visiting Laos every year, means that more locals are working in the hospitality industry.

In order to secure these jobs, locals have to be able to engage with tourists who speak English. As a teen volunteer in Laos, you will be involved in a cultural and language exchange project with students your age or younger. Weekend activities include visiting the famous Kuang Si cascading waterfalls and learning what life is like for rice farmers.

“I went to Laos to join the GVI teaching project in Luang Prabang with zero expectations. In fact, I was convinced that I would be living in the middle of nowhere with the most basic of living conditions. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at a beautiful guesthouse in the middle of the bustling city of Luang Prabang. 

Most days, I got up early and went for a run with one of the other volunteers along the Nam Kong River which is the most beautiful view in the morning. I would get back and get changed into my teaching sinh, a traditional Lao skirt. We would then go to a nearby village and play a Lao football match.

After that, we would walk back to the guesthouse, grabbing a fruit-shake from the food market, arriving just in time for lunch. We would then go to the city library. When I got back I could change out of my sinh, have supper and go to the night market with the other volunteers. 

On one weekend, I visited the beautiful Kuang Si Waterfalls. The time went by too quickly and saying goodbye to the friends I had made was heartbreaking. It’s impossible not to fall in love with the people and the culture – I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.”

— Lydia Gethin

Volunteer in South Africa

high school volunteer abroad south africa

High school students volunteering abroad in South Africa plant crops at a community garden near Cape Town.

Many schools do not have the funds to maintain or improve their facilities. This means that many children simply do not receive an adequate level of education, which is every person’s basic right.

As a teen volunteer working on community development projects in South Africa, you will help to improve educational facilities in Cape Town. On the weekend, you will get to experience some of the region’s famously stunning coastline and spot South African wildlife on a short safari tour.

“I went to Cape town with GVI on a teen program. For me, this program encompassed the best of both worlds, work, and play. You had the ability to get a feel for volunteer work, but also a chance to travel the country. 

GVI staff makes you feel welcome and valued at all points of the program. Our leader made sure that we could come to her with anything, whether it be a request for more peanut butter or asking about problems currently facing the country. One of our leaders was from South Africa, which really helped, as she could give an honest perspective on life there. 

GVI really makes sure to immerse you in the history and culture of the place you are in. All meals were traditional South African food, there was a history lesson as well a film nights with South African movies. The accommodation had facts about South Africa on the wall, as well as a quiz night on our final day there. 

Before we went to the project we were given a presentation on the daycare and the work that had been done there. Our leader was really open and helpful, explaining why GVI was doing this project and how it was going to help the locals. This showed me that GVI really thought through their projects and carefully decided how best to use the volunteers.

We would be collected at our accommodation and driven to the project to arrive around 9 am. My group and I worked at a crèche in a township in Cape town, Ikalytempa … Our job was to build a water tank stand, which would hold the Jo Jo tanks so that the daycare would have access to rainwater. The daycare already had a few water tanks, but these had problems. This showed that we weren’t just there to do the classic ‘Westerner’s idea of making things better’ but actually improving a situation.

Furthermore, it highlighted that GVI can see and fix problems, ensuring that their resources are put to the best use. The work was surprisingly difficult, mixing cement with spades and trowels is much harder work than it looks. And you have not met irritation until you try and get your bricks to all lie level. Within the first hour, my group and I were all self-proclaimed experts on cement making and bricklaying.

Furthermore, by being in the daycare each day, we could see that we were making a difference, which motivated us to keep working even when it was pouring down, or sideways, with rain … 

Seeing the way GVI ran the projects was inspiring as you could tell that they really cared about what they were doing. Furthermore the flexibility and logic were outstanding. South Africa has four seasons in a day, so, therefore, some days it was not possible to make cement. But GVI has planned everything so that we were never just standing around. When it rained we painted market stands and plant pots, as well as making bookshelves from old milk crates.

This provided a really hardworking environment as our leader was never fazed by anything, and if she was she didn’t show it. My favourite and proudest moment were when we finished the stands and placed the water tanks on top. Our group felt such a sense of accomplishment, especially when we saw the owner of the crèche’s face. She hugged and thanked all of us for our hard work. All the children gathered around and were so excited. Despite only being there for a week, you felt so upset to leave the daycare but so overjoyed to know that you had had an impact.”

— Talya Sher

Environmental volunteer opportunities for high school students

Would you like to get a taste of what it’s like to be a conservationist or marine biologist? Our two-week teen conservation programs allow you to do just take. You’ll get a chance to work with real conservations in the field, speak to them about their work and even conduct a few surveys yourself. 

Volunteer in Costa Rica

environmental volunteer opportunities for high school students in costa rica

High school students on an environmental volunteer trip to Costa Rica take a well-deserved break after spending the morning identifying animals in the rainforest.

Costa Rica is committed to preserving its natural environment and has had a lot of success in the past three decades. However, there is still a lot of work to be done, especially in coastal areas.

Join the GVI teen program in Costa Rica, to work in the incredibly diverse Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean Coast. This is the only place in the world where jaguars and sea turtles interact. The canals are home to many unique bird species, as well as the West Indian manatee. Not only will you learn how to identify animals in the park, but you’ll also get a chance to try out your skills in the field.

“Volunteering with GVI has really changed my life. It was the best experience I’ve ever had, and in the short time I was there, I learned so much. I decided to go to Costa Rica as I am hugely interested in conservation and wildlife. Being immersed in an isolated location in the jungle with new people, doing incredible work for important research, really appealed to me!

Arriving in San Jose after a long trip was a little bit nerve-wracking but I [was] met by such happy, friendly GVI staff that I felt instantly at ease. The other volunteers I met were so interesting and I knew we’d all be great friends. The trip to the base was so memorable. Going through the cloud forest was amazing and I spent the entire journey looking out the window in awe.

The chicken bus was also enjoyable. Standing up in the crowded aisle, sweating in the heat, and completely squashed, it should have been a nightmare, but I loved experiencing something new and looking out the window at the banana plantations, and stopping every few meters at a banana crossing!

I loved living on base. It was amazing to get away and spend hours talking to inspiring people every day and working with incredible wildlife I thought I’d only ever see on National Geographic. I woke up before the sun rose every day and loved listening to the birds and wildlife wake up. I’d be one of the last to go to bed at night, making sure I didn’t waste a minute to soak up the whole experience.”

— Caroline Fitzgerald

Volunteer in Greece

teen sea turtle conservation volunteer

Teen sea turtle conservation volunteers in Greece help baby turtles make their way to the ocean.

Most species of sea turtles are endangered. Non-sustainable fishing methods, poaching, plastic pollution and developments along the world’s coastlines threaten the survival of sea turtles both young and old.

If you would like to help save this extraordinary marine animal, why not join our turtle conservation project in Greece. Teens working on this program will help tag mother turtles, record the number of nests in the area, protect nests from predators and guide baby turtles to the sea.

You’ll spend just about every waking moment on the beach during the week and on weekends your chaperone will travel with you to ancient Greek ruins for some sightseeing, and to the modern city to shop for souvenirs.

“I spent the best two weeks of my life volunteering with loggerhead turtles in Kyparissia Bay in Greece. I cannot describe how magical it was to both see my first turtle nesting and also to protect their nests.

GVI has opened my eyes to the world, I have this new-found ambition to travel the world, saving endangered species. You will make friends who you will keep for the rest of your life, simply because you all have made those memories together. 

GVI has made me realize that there really is more to life at the end of the day than the grades you get on a piece of paper after sitting an exam. The world is yours to explore.”

— Ellen Parry

Volunteer in Seychelles

conservation volunteer work for high school students in seychelles

High school conservation volunteers remove non-indigenous plants to restore the natural habitat on Curieuse island.

Curieuse island in the Seychelles has one of the most unique island ecosystems in the world. It is one of only three islands where the giant coconut palm, Coco de Mer, grows. It is also home to the giant Aldabra tortoise and the Seychelles black parrot. As a teen volunteer traveling to Seychelles, you’ll live in Curieuse Marine National Park where you’ll work on beach profiling and habitat restoration projects.  

“I cannot speak highly enough when it comes to GVI; without babbling on too much, I was the epitome of a girly girl who rarely got her hands dirty, so when I revealed to my friends and family I was planning on volunteering on a remote island, to say their reaction was surprised is an understatement.

I’d put a lot of time into researching any volunteering ideas I had beforehand, and I when it came to GVI I found every review to be bursting with positivity, and after reading comments and posts from GVI volunteers and staff the enthusiasm was infectious! And my decision was made, which lead to me having the most amazing time of my life, which I have everyone at GVI to thank for.

Working in the Seychelles is truly paradise, and although I took thousands of pictures none of them can quite capture how beautiful and unspoiled it really is. Aside from the idyllic beaches and island setting, I was initially drawn to variety within this program. Mornings could be spent hiking to the top of the island, in search of the endemic Seychelles palm tree, the Coco de Mer, and by the afternoon you could be hip deep in mud wading through the mangroves, spotting giant tortoises along the way!”

— Brooklyn Norton

Volunteer in South Africa

teen wildlife conservation volunteer program south africa

Teen volunteers on our wildlife conservation program in South Africa read up on indigenous animal species before heading out to identify them in the wild.

South Africa’s native wildlife is under threat. Animals like the African wild dog, the white rhino and the blue crane are already on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

To find out more about what is causing this demise in biodiversity and how you can help, join GVI’s teen wildlife conservation program in South Africa. The data you collect while on safari will help reserve managers make more informed decisions about the park’s future. The data might also contribute to long-term studies that will be published in international conservation journals.

While conducting surveys, you might also catch a glimpse of creatures like the cheetah and pangolin, which are likely to be gone by the time the next generation is born if not enough is done to ensure their survival. 

“Growing up, my closeness to South Africa and its wildlife came in the form of wildlife documentaries: seeing acacia trees with a giraffe’s slender neck rising above or hearing the powerful roar of a lion. Suddenly after years of this, I found I was seeing and hearing these things for real in Karongwe, and nothing could have prepared me for how that felt.

Seeing the burning sun rise and fall in the bush for one month was the most incredible time of my life and by no means long enough. As well as the incredible experience of simply spending time in Karongwe, however, I was also trained and supervised to help the project record vital scientific data on the various species in the reserve.

We have all seen worldwide media publication regarding the plight of much of Africa’s wildlife, so to be able to spend a month making a genuine difference to their conservation was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My time in Karongwe was a life’s dream come true and fulfilled every expectation and hope I could have ever had.”

— Sam Whittall

Alternative Spring Break for high school students

You might think that spring break is too short a time for you to make a real impact, but this simply isn’t true. We run two community service programs over the spring break period in Mexico and Costa Rica, which allow high school students to complete high-impact projects with the timespan of only one week. 

Volunteer in Costa Rica

teen volunteering alternative spring break in costa rica

GVI teen volunteers in Quepos, Costa Rica, spent their spring break constructing a walkway in the community of El Cocal.

Costa Rica has a large Nicaraguan migrant community. The settlement is considered informal, which means that people here do not have access to the same level of support as those living in formal settlements.

The parents of many children in these communities need to work many odd jobs in order to provide for their families, leaving children alone for many hours of the day. Schools here also don’t have the kind of funding they actually need. This means that children do not have the same access to quality education as other children in Costa Rica.

Teens can help the community of El Cocal by joining the GVI volunteer project in Costa RicaYou’ll be working on improving community centers, educational facilities, and roads in the community. You will provide educational support for language or sports lessons. Weekend activities include environmental awareness trips to nearby Manuel Antonio park as well as cultural activities like cooking and dance classes.

“I’ve recently returned from my two-week teen volunteer and adventure program in Costa Rica. It was a fantastic experience where I was able to make so many new friends, whilst also feeling like we made a really positive impact on the El Cocal community.

I loved the side trips, especially the white water rafting. However, my favorite part was definitely working with the community as everyone was so welcoming and we were able to feel a great sense of accomplishment.

The support from GVI was amazing throughout and the staff were really fun to volunteer with. I certainly hope to be involved with GVI in the future!”

— Elle Carter

Volunteer in Mexico

teen spring break volunteer trip mexico

These high school students spent an unconventional spring break in Mexico cleaning beaches and earning their PADI Open Water.

Warmer oceans are resulting in the loss of coral reefs all across the world. We don’t fully understand the impact the loss of these reefs will have on our global ecosystem or on the livelihoods of countless fishermen.

What we do know is that coral helps purify our air, provides nutrients for life underwater, acts as a safe place for young fish to grow up and protects our coastlines from storms that develop at sea. You can contribute to understanding the value of coral reefs and protecting them by joining our teen program in Mexico.

GVI staff will help you train for your PADI Open Water so that you can head out into the ocean to study the nearby Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest reef in the world.

“I am very passionate about the ocean and I love scuba diving. Furthermore, I liked the idea of working as a volunteer and trying to make a difference for the planet we’re endangering every day. GVI seemed like the perfect choice! 

I had no expectations! The only thing I did know, was that I would be living under very primitive conditions in a jungle and doing research diving. What’s not to like? Basically, I came for the diving, but I left with so much more! I was really inspired by living and working closely with people from so many different cultures and backgrounds who all shared the same passion for protecting the environment. 

We were diving a lot, studying fish and corals, learning about aquatic life, spotting birds, collecting trash on the beach and working hard in order to make the base run smoothly. The GVI staff taught me so much, they’re working so hard with such great passion. I would like to encourage everybody to go help out, to save the coral reefs before it’s too late and we lose them forever!  

Have you ever dived with a whale shark?  Have you ever tried to make a difference for the natural world surrounding us? It’s never too late and I’m sure GVI will gladly help you!”

— Tobias Rytter

I’d like to go, but how will I convince my parents?

Probably the best way to convince your parents that volunteering abroad is a great idea is to explain to them that this kind of project will help you get into college and excel when you get there.

Most high school graduates leave school with little or no work experience and zero international experience. After completing a GVI project, you will have both. You could also let them know that many of our volunteers use this experience to help them discover what they’re passionate about and get clear about what they would like to study after high school. 

If your parents are still not convinced about the value of this trip why not refer them to this testimonial sent to us by the parent of an under 18 volunteer:

“This is a very belated thank you all at GVI, who recently hosted my son, Joss Cary when he came for the teen program in Mexico. He had in his words the ‘best day of his life’ when he swam with the whale sharks. As he’s swum with whale sharks already, it must have been good!

He enjoyed it all, the cooking, bonding, and diving. He has already been in contact with his GVI friends here in London and will be visiting one of them for Christmas this year. You opened up a whole new world.

He hopes to return next year to maybe do the intern course for a month if he’s old enough. He was very happy with all the care you provided. He felt safe and that everything was well-organized, a particular concern for me as a parent so far away, as you will appreciate. Thank you from all of us.”

– Soraya Cary, parent to Joss Cary

If your parents are concerned about your safety, refer them to our health and safety as well as our child protection policy page. Before you book we’ll answer any questions your parents might have.

Once you’re ready to book your trip, we’ll send you a guide to staying safe while in a foreign country. When arriving at the airport, GVI staff will meet you there and ensure you are safely transported to our designated under 18 accommodation facilities. You’ll be staying here up until the time you are ready to leave for home.

While you are on the project your parents can call our staff at any time and you’ll also have access to a 24-hour emergency phone line should anything unexpected happen. 

Your parents will also likely want to know exactly what the cost of the program covers. Your fees will pay for your accommodation, transport, food and weekend activities. If you’re worried about funding then take a look at our fundraising page to get some ideas. Why not offer to fundraise half the fees on your own and have your parents fund the rest?

If you’d like to discuss your options, feel free to contact us, but please note that we cannot secure your spot until your parents sign a consent form.

You can always discuss with us which kinds of projects you’re most interested in and we can help you decide. You can then speak to your parents and, if they agree, you can ask them to give us a call. Be sure to download our parent pack and send it along to them.