How to Volunteer in Tibet

Tibet is not the easiest country to volunteer abroad. China only issues limited visas per year and sometimes stops internationals entering the country without reason. Some people take the risk of either catching the train from Beijing, or crossing the border illegally without a visa - we do not recommend this as if you get caught the consequences can be bad. You will need to check to see if you are eligible for a visa.

When searching for terms like "Volunteering in Tibet" into search engines it can bring you lots of results but many of these are misleading and you will need to check authenticity, most opportunities are located with exiles in neighboring countries rather than offering placements directly in Tibet. In Tibet most local organisations lack infrastructure, funding and staff numbers and so if you turn up and offer to work for free not many places will reject your offer. You might need to do this discreetly though and don't expect a long term fixed placement.


Location of Projects


There are programs usually outside the capital Lhasa and more rural parts of the country. Due to the Chinese presence in Lhasa, finding volunteer work here can be really difficult because no organisations wants to risk attraction attention by the Chinese authorities so you might need to go off the beaten track.

If you are looking for a more structured experience you might want to search programs in Ladakh, Dharamsala, Sikkim - located in the Himalayas close to the border with Tibet. The key to volunteering in Tibet is to be independent, you might even need to take the risk and go to Tibet and search out opportunities by yourself. This will involve you visiting places like Lhasa and asking around / visiting institutions to see if they need help.

You could also choose to volunteer in India working with Tibetan refugees.


Volunteer in Lhasa

Lhasa is according to legend, the Land of the Gods and the City of Sunshine. The capital city of Tibet sits high at an altitude of 3,700 meters above sea level and is Tibet's political, economic, cultural and religious center. Tibetan Buddhism is the major religious influence in the city. It is rich in ancient Tibetan culture and tradition. The Potala Palace, referred to as the Roof of the World dominates the city's architecture and is the most famous landmark.

Tibet was once ruled by the Dalai Lama and as a volunteer here you will find lots of ancient monasteries, temples, hermitages and nunneries around the city. Pilgrims come from all over Tibet like to congregate in the Barkhor street area before attending services in the Tibetan temples. The whole place could be a movie set with the colorful costumes of the monks and locals, it certainly is a destination worth visiting. No volunteering experience in Tibet would be complete without experiencing Lhasa.


How You Can Help


Community Volunteer Programs in Tibet

Tibet has a population of around 6 million people and because of turbulence / no real industry is located here, many people live in poverty and poor conditions. You will be overwhelmed by the kindness of the Tibetan people you encounter - if there was ever a country, or people which need assistance it is Tibet. There are various schools, orphanages and community development programs which offer projects to internationals, one of these is the Lhasa Jatson Chumig Welfare Special School which is an NGO caring for disadvantaged children located on the outskirts of Lhasa.


Volunteer at an Orphanage in Tibet

Some community organisations and orphanages in the country are specifically set up with the aim of helping local children, most are funded by donations and run of shoe string budgets but are able to directly help sick, abandoned and poor members of society.


Educational & Teaching Volunteer Programs in Tibet

Tibet is country steeped in history, religion and also political issues - you will learn a great deal about the country and people when teaching here. Tibetan students will be very open and interested in you, they might ask your opinions on the Dalai Lama and the state of Tibet or just ask questions about your country and past. Sometimes you might get to lead or assist classes, help students with their English, practice speaking fluency or lead creative arts, crafts, music or sports projects.


Volunteer with Animals & Conservation in Tibet

An idea you might not have thought about but is very creative is to just head to the tourist areas specially where treks and tours start and just clean litter. Many people just dump rubbish along the route which blights the environment but you can play a little role in helping by just picking rubbish up.


What to Consider Before Applying

You should always ask yourself questions before choosing Tibet, sometimes the restrictions and problems can prevent you from helping. It is a very safe destination but you also need to obey local rules and laws - getting on the wrong side of local Chinese authorities can be terryfing.

No material stating 'Free Tibet' is allowed and even talking about this can cause problems. You might also want to think about the isolated nature of this destination makes normal every day things like browsing the internet difficult. You might want to buy a local phrase book to get by especially if you are travelling solo not on an organised trip.


Health & Safety

Tibet is one of the highest countries in the world, many places are over 10,000m and altitude sickness affects many travellers. Be on the look out for symptoms which include being lethargic, headaches, not feeling hungry and difficulty sleeping. Take time, at least a few days to adapt and don't jump into an adventure mountain climb on your first day - this is a bad idea!

There are no specific vaccinations needed for entering the country but you might want to consider Polio and Typhoid. Be sure to buy travel insurance and check the policy to see if you will be covered in Tibet in case anything major goes wrong.


How to Apply

You can search our featured organisations today or contact us for advice. You might also like to view more volunteer programs in Asia.


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