My sister and I began volunteering at a very young age while growing up in rural KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.  I spent my weekends and holidays helping out at the local SPCA, while my sister volunteered her time at a wildlife care centre.

There was something very special about spending our time giving back and feeling that we were making a difference.  It empowered us and gave us a sense of purpose and place in the world.  This desire to help continued into adulthood and we are still both actively involved in beach clean-ups, community work and conservation whenever possible.

Volunteering together has the power to change your life; for us it enriched our sibling bond and helped reaffirm the important things in life. I would encourage more families, even with young children, to consider a volunteering trip abroad over a standard vacation, and here’s why:

1.  You’re more than just a tourist
When your family chooses a voluntourism holiday, you aren’t just exposed to the frilly highlights of a particular place or country; you have the opportunity to visit rural communities, get off the beaten track, experience new cultures, and gain perspective on different ways of life.  Not only that, but you’ll find you appreciate the beauty of everything around you much more than you would on a pre-packaged trip along the popular tourist routes.

2.  Your family will benefit from an authentic cultural exchange
Volunteering in a community unlike your own gives you amazing insight into how other people live, what they believe in and what is important to them.  Oftentimes voluntourism helps you appreciate all that you have, particularly when travelling to poorer areas where issues like HIV/AIDS, unemployment and lack of education are prevalent.  Your children will meet other children from completely different backgrounds and discover new human connections that makes them realise they’re not so different after all – play, laughter and love are things which can be understood in any language.

3.  You’ll strengthen your family bond
When you’re working together to a common goal and feeling as though you’re making a positive difference in the lives of those less fortunate it’s bound to bring you closer to your loved ones. Your family will share this enlightening experience and your wonderful memories will be something you’ll talk about for years.

4.  You’ll teach your kids acceptance and what really matters
Spending time in communities that have little can give you immense insight into your own life. Your kids will understand that not everyone is privileged and will learn to accept different cultures.  We all have a global responsibility to give back where we can and the younger we can learn this valuable lesson, the better.

6.  Volunteering keeps you active
When you volunteer abroad with your family the opportunities to spend time outdoors are endless, particularly if you’re volunteering on conservation-focussed projects.  Volunteering is also not all work and no play – there’s plenty of free time to see local sights, go on safari, enjoy adventure sports or enjoy the many cultural delights in the area.

5.  You’ll learn more than you ever have before – mostly about yourselves
Fully immersing yourself in a volunteer project gives you the chance to learn so many new things: you could learn greetings in a new language, learn about wildlife and nature conservation, learn how to make local dishes or gain insight the issues facing other nations and communities.  Volunteering opens your children’s eyes to the idea that they have the power to make a difference in the lives of others – this is a terrific confidence booster!