If you have looked into volunteering abroad you may have been surprised to find out it can be incredibly expensive. There are however options that can give you a low cost international travel experience and an opportunity to live and work with the locals without having to pay for food or housing.
What is WWOOF?
WWOOF now stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (it used to be WillingWorkers on Organic Farms). It all started in England in 1971 with urbanites volunteering on organic farms to get out of the city on the weekend. The goal was to promote organic farming in a mutually beneficial way. Farmers got volunteer help and could share their ideas and experience; the volunteers learned new skills and had free food and lodging out in the countryside in exchange for their time. The idea was popular, and some volunteers ended up staying much longer than a weekend. WWOOF has since grown into an international network with a large variety of options for volunteering abroad.
How does it work?
WWOOF is a group of national and international organizations that publish lists of organic farmers and gardeners looking for volunteer help. Volunteers (WWOOFers) can pick the listing that most interests them and arrange a stay.
Volunteers receive free food and housing, usually living with the host family, and get hands on lessons in organic farming, sustainable growing, and country living. In exchange WWOOFers work an agreed number of hours helping out on the farm with their host.
Where can you go?
WWOOF (link) currently has listings in 106 countries for international volunteering. There are hosts worldwide but there is no central list to see all the opportunities available in every country.
There are 52 countries that have their own national WWOOF organization, and another 54 countries listed by WWOOF independents. You can also look for an opportunity closer to home for a chance to live the rural life or explore a new part of your own country.
What kind of work would I do?
A sampling of current listings include harvesting fruit and herding goats on Tonga, gathering wild mushrooms and berries in Russia, helping build an adobe house and making ginger wine in Thailand, and learning to make cheese in Norway.
Most listings have a minimum stay listed and a general idea of the working hours and type of work that will be expected from you.
What do I do if I want to go WWOOFing?
You must join the WWOOF organization for the area/s you are interested in visiting. There is a small fee to join most national groups, or the independent organization. After finding some interesting listings get in touch with the hosts and ask lots of questions to help you make a good choice.
WWOOF provides free room and board and a chance to learn something new. It could also be a great way to get involved with the local people and culture instead of being a tourist. If you are looking for an opportunity for low cost international travel, or an experience volunteering abroad and have an interest in organic farming and sustainable living then WWOOF may be a good fit for you.