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Volunteering in The Land of Gods: Uttarakhand


Picture green hills, snow-capped mountains, foggy roads, little cottage houses, and clean air - that's what beautiful Uttarakhand is all about. Uttarakhand or the ‘Land of Gods’ is a state situated in the north-east part of India with 13 districts, sharing borders with both Nepal and China. The state is known for its extensive and scenic beauty, history, yogic and ayurvedic practices, and soaring surrounding mountains. Uttarakhand is one of the most popular destinations for both Indians and foreigners alike due to the always-present stunning beauty that just changes and shifts, never disappears.


Within the state, there are many cities and spots most visited by travelers. This includes Dehradun, Kausani, Dehradun, Haridwar and Nainital, some of the more popular cities with more population than the smaller communities spread out in the valley. We should also not forget Rishikesh, a city made popular by The Beatles’ 1968 visit and consequent stay, known for its scenic beauty and the many adventures it offers to travelers. Uttarakhand is also known for being the entry point of the Ganga or Ganges River, where all the tributaries join to make one of the largest widths of the river in India.


Uttarakhand is popular for having various different opportunities for volunteering. Volunteering in India itself is something made easy by many NGOs, schools, communities, hospitals, etc. in the country, and many travelers opt for this while exploring India. Travelers are often plagued with the question of low-cost travel in India, and often volunteering is the way to not only explore the country but also help in the process.


Why should you volunteer in Uttarakhand?

Widely categorized, some of the ways you can volunteer in Uttarakhand are (explained further in detail below) :


1. Volunteering for Women and Community Empowerment

2. Volunteering in Rural Areas

3. Volunteering in Ashrams

4. Volunteering Through Teaching

5. Volunteering through Yoga and Wellness Activities

6. Volunteering as a Health Worker

7. Volunteering for Environmental and Sustainable Development purposes


You can find crowded schools in Rishikesh or isolated rural tribes in the mountains of the state, large yogic ashrams, or small farming-driven communities widely across the state to volunteer in. It is important to note that all these options differ in their volunteering process. Some will provide housing and food in exchange for dedicated volunteering, others will expect volunteers to find their own housing, although will guide them in the process, due to less area and funds. There are some NGOs and communities with strict guidelines and processes for selecting volunteers, other villages yet that may not have even experienced the joy of selfless giving that is volunteering and may welcome visitors with open arms.


1. Volunteering for Women and Community Empowerment

Women’s education, development, and empowerment are lacking in Indian society and most communities. In order for the country to grow, prosper, and respect each citizen, this is an undertaking needed to bring about equality between the sexes and ensure independence within women. Many organizations and independent villages/towns have specific volunteering programs focused on the development of communities, in particular the empowerment of women and girls. In these programs, volunteers usually focus on developing basic skills amongst the women of the community so that they may earn and support their families. Sometimes specific skills such as coding and writing are taught; other times general education and betterment of the societies are focused on. Either way, the goal of the volunteer is to help out communities where female education is severely lacking and there is a need for the development and empowerment of girls and women. These programs may also focus on pre-teen and teen girls who are educated and empowered so that they are more educated, independent, skilled, and therefore successful.


If volunteers are interested in this specific area of volunteering, there are many small villages and communities in Uttarakhand such as Chopta, Kalsi, Mana, etc. where women and schools can be approached for volunteering opportunities with girls and women. Although this is not a full-proof approach, it can be tried out.


An easier way would be to find NGOs and organizations that have running programs on community and women development such as Ankuri, an organization focused on this.



2. Volunteering in Rural Areas

Rural villages and areas in India are often plagued with problems concerning even the most basic necessities. Uttarakhand is no different – the state is filled with independently running, mostly self-sufficient communities, often isolated from one another amongst the mountains. The same set of problems are present in all – lack of electricity, education, hygiene, ease of living, etc. There are many small projects volunteers can take up to improve the way of living in these places – for example, better-invented toilet systems, solving basic problems, teaching, helping with construction and odd jobs, etc. There is an immense opportunity for development in these places – and in the end, volunteers can feel satisfied they helped better a community.


There is always scope to approach villages and areas where such tasks are always appreciated and there is no lack of hospitality. If you prefer organizations, there are many that allow for homestay and local food during the time you work as well as ample time to explore places nearby.


There is a popular project in Kanda, Uttarakhand, the Rural Organisation for Social Elevation (ROSE) that interested volunteers can research on and consider.



3. Volunteering in Ashrams

Ashrams are institutions made for the specific purpose of studying and practicing certain ancient arts and lifestyles (sometimes centered on a specific religion) in a meditative way, done through living in peaceful, less-crowded, sometimes isolated, self-sufficient campuses and areas. Uttarakhand is rich with many ashrams, temples, and institutions operating with and for communities with many different volunteering programs for visitors. In these ashrams, volunteers can opt for teaching yoga, teaching children in the ashram, doing jobs of specific skills such as carpentry, or even teaching children and adults swimming. There is no lack of opportunities in these institutes and every skill has a place and can be used. In these ashrams, there are often many Indians and foreign nationals who stay for weeks for yoga programs and other ayurvedic related courses. Learning from them, volunteers can apply this knowledge to teach groups and individuals who often don’t have the resources to opt for such programs.

However, you must take care when finding NGOs and other organizations offering programs for volunteering in ashrams – their legitimacy can be lacking and they could be scrupulous. Do your research or go by recommendations so that your options are safe and verified. Many ashrams are often isolated, away from cities and areas to be explored. If you intend to volunteer through the week and explore the area and surrounding villages on the weekend, it is better to find ashrams near main cities such as Rishikesh and Dehradun or opt for a different volunteering experience.


You can check out the Swami Amlanand Ashram for volunteering experiences and what any such experience under this category entails.



4. Volunteering Through Teaching

Uttarakhand has a literacy rate of around 80%, which, while relatively good for an Indian state, is lacking in many districts and often unfocused in terms of differences in female and male literacy rates. Arguably, growth in a community and society is best done through the schools – by changing one generation’s skills, mindset, and education, generations to come are benefited and a chain reaction of positive change can often be observed within these groups. Volunteers can teach a number of skills and basic subjects such as maths and English to bring lifelong change to these children’s lives. If smaller schools are what you would prefer, reach out to community-based organizations and villages themselves to teach at their schools. There are also many NGOs that can place you in schools, centers, and universities specially focused or generally specializing in education and development. Most of the time these programs do not provide for in house stay but people will guide you to find hotels or hostels for staying nearby to the schools.


Reach out to Pyunli, an organization that focuses on child-centered development of communities for a start.



5. Volunteering through Yoga and Wellness Activities

As many may know, Uttarakhand is known as the center of yoga and yogic activities in India, owing to the many centers, ashrams, and organizations focusing on yoga and wellness in the state. Yoga is taught, practiced, and studied in many kinds of institutions in Uttarakhand – not just ashrams, but also independent mountain villages, small centers, even hotels and spas that offer short yoga programs. The art of practicing yoga has gained a strong following due to the inexpensive, meditative, and calming effects on the body, often helping cure serious diseases in people. Volunteers can find numerous programs and places practicing yoga and approach them if suitable organizations cannot be found. Ayurveda is a form of ancient medicine, an Indian art often associated with the similarly ancient practices of yoga – this is a practice volunteers can learn in ashrams by volunteering in any way and in exchange learning and practicing Ayurveda.


There are many ways to volunteer in the areas of yoga and Ayurveda. One can pay for yoga programs in Uttarakhand that often run for weeks and then teach what they learn in schools and communities, or teach different skills during the day and either during the night/early mornings learn and practice yoga from experts for their volunteering. There are also ways to teach yoga if volunteers have past experience and knowledge in it; these kinds of programs often offer stay and meals along with teaching. Some programs can have strict selection processes, so be clear with your intent and passion.


Check out Parmath Niketan to get an idea of volunteering in yoga.



6. Volunteering as a Health Worker

There are various hospitals and clinics in Uttarakhand that allow for volunteering. Tasks range from treating serious patients and performing surgeries to doing basic nursing duties. Often small communities have fewer medical resources in terms of both workforce and equipment, so even the simplest of volunteering tasks help out these villages tremendously. It isn’t just small communities but also larger hospitals in big cities such as Rishikesh that offer and need medical assistance by way of doctors and nurses. Many hospitals specialize in low-cost treatments for poorer families, and these will always welcome volunteers. Hospitals, clinics, and doctors can easily be approached independently (not through an organization) for volunteering, providing, of course, volunteer’s legitimacy as doctors or nurses. Many hospitals even provide stay within their premises with meals and often tours to explore nearby places of interest. Especially in times when certain infections and ailments are more likely to spread (such as during the monsoon seasons), volunteers are needed in medical institutions.


You can check with organizations such as FIMRC that specialize in providing medical assistance, especially to financially disadvantaged families, for places to volunteer as health workers.



7. Volunteering for Environmental and Sustainable Development purposes

In a state full of beautiful natural resources, sustainable development is important to preserve and maintain those resources as well as shape a growing population in the state to be environmentally aware and their surroundings protected. Volunteering related to environmental issues has many possibilities – some programs are centered on the cleaning and preservation of lakes and small rivers (even the Ganga itself), others yet on sustainable development in towns.


These programs are rarely found in Uttarakhand but are still present. There are various environmentally conscious NGOs and smaller organizations that focus on developing awareness about certain problems and driving for positive change and making a difference in the state. For example, one prominent NGO campaigned against the presence of hotels and camps near the banks of the Ganga, which was leading to the fast pollution of the clear Himalayan water. There are many small farms and villages where some organizations focus their efforts on, promoting a sustainable method of living and sustainable solutions to problems that don’t harm the environment. Programs under this category do not usually have stay and meals provided to volunteers, but this is easily found and many times program leaders guide volunteers to the best and budgeted places to stay as well as sights to see in their free time. This is no doubt an enormous and very generous cause to volunteer for and should be considered.


There are many NGOs and smaller causes run by fewer people related to the environment listed on Workaway, a tool that can be used to find other kinds of volunteering programs and options available as well.



Aside from all the causes outlined above, there are many other kinds of volunteering that can be done throughout India, not just Uttarakhand, by considering different options and doing your research on each before making a decision. There are ways to volunteer in farms, monasteries, mountain villages/tribes, art institutions/workshops, etc. Whatever the form of volunteering you chose is, we at The Tarzan Way advice you to proceed with caution – search for legitimate places, always do your homework on opportunities, and if you are independently approaching a school, community, hospital, etc. for volunteering, make sure you are careful, respectful and very clear with your intentions. Uttarakhand is a beautiful and large state, with many opportunities to volunteer. The best part about these many programs is that it allows volunteers to devote their time and effort (sometimes money) to something of consequence and cause, and at the same time explore the beautiful sites, cities, and towns in the Land of Gods. Whether you chose to volunteer in a mountain village and learn how to live as a nomad, or volunteer in a crowded school to teach kids how to code, the experience will definitely pay off when you know you’ve done some good and affected many lives, whether in a short or long period.


For more information and a day-to-day look at what volunteering in Uttarakhand is like, check out Global Galivanting's blog on the topic. For an insight into volunteering and the need for ethical volunteering in terms of asking the right questions and fixing priorities, take a look at Nomadic Matt's blog and also The Poor Nomad's piece on unique volunteering experiences in India.


The Tarzan Way has many culturally immersive programs with a range focusing on volunteering in specific cities and in isolated communities. You can check out our diverse volunteering experiences and our curated Rishikesh volunteering immersion here.


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