Volunteer now! There are many projects around the world that need your life skills! Many people are using their retirement to volunteer and give back. Here are some of their stories.


Retired doctor Maggi Gallaher said retirement has liberated her to indulge her appetite for volunteering. Maggi served at Sagrada Familia, a community in Peru. It serves 1,400 at-risk children, from one month of age to 17 years of age. The community shelters about 600 homeless and abandoned children and provides nutrition, healthcare and education. Another 800 day-students attend public school at Sagrada Familia from the surrounding shanty towns outside Ancon. Maggi said her service program in Peru was a true inspiration.

So why did Maggi choose the community of Sagrada Familia? She says she was impressed by the story and commitment of the founder Miguel. “He created this facility after he lost his young son, helpless to save him despite having lots of resources. As he looked at the other children in the hospital, he felt the spirit of his son in their faces. For 30 years now, he has worked tirelessly to care for street children that are brought to the facility. I was reminded why I chose to do Paediatrics after med school. I love children, especially the little ones!”

Dr Maggi loved helping out at-risk kids

Maggi was assigned to conduct paediatric examinations at the clinic. “The children enjoyed having me listening to their hearts and then listening themselves with the stethoscope. Each had an issue that was addressed. The second day, I was instructed to look for nutritional deficiencies in the kids. We spent the morning checking 23 beautiful 3-year-olds. The teacher chose to bring the class to the clinic. What fun!”

Maggi also did exams on the other kids, mostly finding needs for dental care and screening for anaemia. “My translator Diego was a delight to work with. We would go to the daycare after a morning in the clinic to help feed the 35 youngsters there. Feeding all those little ones was quite an adventure on my volunteer service program in Peru.”

There was some downtime too!

During pauses in clinic visits, Maggi helped serve the first shift of lunches in the dining room. “It was an organised chaos as the 600 children came in for lunch. Very impressive to see it all unfold into no spilled food. It was quite an operation feeding that many children. I don’t know how the regular staff does it without extra help, but they seem to have everything under control, always calm. I could learn a lot from them.

“When we first entered Sagrada Familia, students ran to greet us. I haven’t been hugged and kissed so much in a single day. The children are sweet, happy, and full of love. They really know how to make you feel welcome.”

Happy faces in Peru

Sagrada Familia is a remarkable charity. “They feed lunch to all 1,400 students every day, mostly consisting of rice and either lentils or vegetable stew with a tiny bit of meat. Sagrada Familia depends on donations of food, often receiving the things that grocery stores were going to throw out. We ate lunch with the children – it was delicious. On my last day with the team, they had a special celebration preparing Pachamanca (food from the earth). When we arrived in the morning, the students were busy digging a hole about 10 feet long and 4 feet deep. This is where they lit a fire to heat rocks to cook lamb (donated by a friend of Miguel), chicken, potatoes, and lima beans. What a treat!”

The children’s smiles and hugs were the rewards for Maggi’s volunteer service program in Peru. “I felt that I received so much more than I gave during this week of volunteering.”


Retired couple Tom and Rondi chose to do volunteering work in Crete, Greece. The island’s craggy beauty and friendly culture drew them to this volunteer adventure. Here is their story.

We awoke to the sound of the rooster crowing and the church bells chiming – a pleasant alarm clock. We had an early morning visit to the local Greek Church, and a fabulous cup of Greek coffee with a Greek pastry at the local coffee shop. Then, we met Sam, our team leader and teammates for our orientation meeting. The weather was perfect, so we sat outside by the pool, in the shade of the trees in what can only be described as paradise. It was important to clear our minds and be ready, willing and open to learning. We reviewed the program expectations; we are not here to take over, take charge or impose our ideas, but to provide assistance where it’s needed.

Tom and Rhondi clocking up some good karma points

Volunteers stay together in the comfortable and accommodating Hotel Handakas. We were assigned to Tenia’s Language School, which is within perfect distance from our hotel – about a 10-minute cab ride. The work project begins with lesson preparations in the afternoon.

Classes begin at 5pm and end at 9pm. The ultimate goal is for the students to pass an English proficiency test. While universities are free in Greece, admission is not assured, and it is extremely competitive. An English certificate (that is awarded through the proficiency test) is a plus! We feel integrated into their success.

There are a lot worse places in the world to volunteer than Greece!

As volunteer teachers, we provide the students an opportunity to speak with native English speakers. The lessons also provide the perfect opportunity to get to know the students personally. When the principal, Tenia, told the kids the class was over, they’d ask if they could just discuss one more topic. It was really flattering, and they were so cute!

As Tenia grew more confident in our skills as volunteers in her classroom, we were given more responsibility. We practiced the lessons with them one-on-one and in small groups. She usually ended each class with an oral / written exam. When the students successfully complete the test, they go home. The last student may leave 30 minutes after the first student, but they all pass before leaving. She has a 100% pass rate at her school.

Once you get to know the kids, teaching is so much more fun! Many of the students at the school are immigrants/refugees from Albania, Morocco, and Syria.

Crete is the largest of over 3,000 Greek Islands. Most of our travels were along the Northwest coast, experiencing its jaw-dropping beauty. The history of Crete dates back over 8000 years – one of the earliest civilisations ever recorded. Archaeologists have done an amazing job in restoring fragments of artifacts like pottery, frescoes, and crafts.

Volunteers stay in the beach town of Amoudara, a convenient 20-minute bus ride just outside the capital, Heraklion. Here you can find a number of spectacular museums, upscale restaurants, and cafes all offering that special Cretan hospitality. Our experience is the Cretan people are universally friendly, helpful, and extremely generous. Stop for a cup of coffee, (be it in a mountain village or a coastal town) and you’ll be greeted with a smile and friendly hello. You’ll get biscuits, peanuts, water and raki with your coffee all for €1.50. Enjoy a meal, dessert arrives compliments of the house. The same applies to the winery – buy a couple of bottles, and they throw one in free. They are very warm and generous people. ■  


I was assigned to Sister Louisa’s large 32-student first grade class. I mostly helped a few young boys, individually and in groups, who had learning or behavioural difficulties, so that the sister could teach the rest of the class. To keep them occupied during the class, I tried to help them improve their reading and literacy skills.

I redesigned the school’s stationary and reformatted some newsletters for the school. The teachers and administrators need as much help as we can give to keep them operating. They do amazing work themselves, but they need this extra support that volunteers like us can provide. They all are very appreciative of the support the volunteers are giving to the school.

Cook Islands: A volunteer paradise

It was lovely to feel part of a team and just go along and do whatever was required. I spent most mornings keeping a small boy from disrupting the rest of the class. I was really happy to see how individual attention helped the kids develop in such a short period.

One of my favourite moments was when this small boy that I worked with took my hand and walked me to the auditorium while we were going to singing practice. It seemed like I found a friend, and I realised how important my time and attention was for this little first-grade student. I felt sorry to be leaving him behind. For me, volunteering is all about connecting with people. I wanted to connect in a deeper level with the people in the Cook Islands and I certainly did.

After the days’ classes, I got to bike around the island or go snorkelling. It was great to have the other volunteers who were all very nice and interesting, to do things with. Rarotonga offers a variety of activities to do and is a lovely island to explore. ■

Juliet helping out in paradise


Volunteering gives you the chance to be a part of something bigger than yourself, find purpose, and use your civic responsibility for the greater good. Take the leap to get your hands dirty, make a difference, and help a community in need. Here are the top 5 ways you can provide hands on help:


If you can wield a paintbrush or pound a hammer, your skills are needed. Help preserve and maintain community facilities by renovating, repairing, and painting classrooms, community centres, health clinics, and childcare facilities. Brighten the lives of children by providing nicer facilities with a fresh coat of paint. Help with plumbing, electrical, and carpentry assistance. Teach young people to develop their trade skills. If you have experience in any of these areas, you can be of tremendous assistance in many communities.

Volunteer in foreign countries that need your help


Are math, chemistry, physics, geography, or biology among your passions? Tutor children at the primary or secondary school level. Work one-on-one and in small groups with students of all ages. In some communities, you will assist teachers and in others, you will plan your own lessons and activities.

Volunteer in foreign countries that need your help


Do you have a green thumb? Help establish, plant, weed, and harvest household, school, and community gardens. Help community leaders, students, and parents raise bountiful crops of fruits and vegetables.


If you have a background in healthcare, food, nutrition, education, or business, your skills are needed in Tanzania where volunteer professionals conduct interactive workshops with pregnant women and parents. You can present on a variety of topics, such as staying healthy during pregnancy; caring for newborns; healthy diets; child brain development; growing fruits and vegetables; raising poultry; preparing nutritious meals; positive discipline; and more.


Offer the “extra” attention at-risk kids crave and deserve, while also mentoring them in social skills and hygiene. Stimulate their young minds and bodies. Work with children 1 to 5 years of age through co-creating arts and crafts, playing with toys, reading storybooks, teaching hand washing with soap and water, and more. ■

All of these amazing volunteers participated in programs run by Global Volunteers. Their fabulous website has a lot of different ideas about ways you can volunteer. Their packages include accommodation in tourist-class hotels and all food. Get inspired and log onto www.globalvolunteers.org or email info@globalvolunteers.org

And you are never too old. Global Volunteer’s oldest participant was 95 years old. So what are you waiting for?

Need to read more about volunteering? Just click here to read about more boomers volunteering abroad!

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