World Unite! Volunteering, Internships, Cultural Travel

Volunteering, Internships and Intercultural Learning in Tanzania, Zanzibar, India, Morocco, Israel, Nicaragua, Bolivia, China, Japan, Ghana, Galapagos, Ecuador

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My volunteer placement in an after-school child care in the heart of Tokyo

We have received a report from Lea (17), a participant of our programs in sunny Tokyo. For almost 2 months, Lea has now been volunteering at an after-school childcare facility (“Gakudo“) in Japan.

My working day starts at 10 am in the morning with folding the laundry that we’ve washed the previous day. The children arrive at the Gakudo between 1 and 4 pm, after their classes at school have finished. Once all of them have arrived (between 60 and 100 elementary school kids attend the after school club), we pray together and have a snack. As this is a Catholic Gakudo, we usually pray before eating. Me and my colleagues are responsible for preparing and handing out the snacks, which mostly consist of cookies, ice cream or chips. I am also responsible for washing the dishes. Since there is no dishwasher, everything needs to be washed by hand.

Another important task is to assist the children with their homework. We mostly help those children who have not been able to finish their homework at school. Since many of them learn “Kanji“ (originally Chinese characters, that the Japanese have adapted centuries ago), I take the opportunity and try to learn some Kanji together with them. It’s like a language exchange: I help them with their English and they help me with my Japanese. I speak and understand just a little Japanese, but fortunately the children try to talk slowly and always repeat what they are saying in case I don’t understand.

We try to arrange as many activities as possible for the kids at the Gakudo. After they have finished their homework and have eaten their snacks, we usually do games or organize special events. We often play card and board games, or arrange sports activities outside such as hockey, kickball and football tournaments in the park. The winners‘ team is always awarded with a small prize.

Often, we choose a certain topic that we discuss together with the children. The aim is to impart knowledge in a fun way. The topics always vary. Recent topics were ancient Egypt or how to avoid getting injured.

At times when there is no special activity scheduled, the kids usually spend their time reading, painting or playing. At around 7 pm, when all children have been picked up by their parents, I go home too.

All in all I can say that volunteering here is a lot of fun. My colleagues, seven Japanese between 25 and 30, made me feel part of the team right from the very first day. As my Japanese isn’t very advanced yet, I’m happy that they always try to give me explanations in English and keep me busy with tasks during the whole work day. The children also were very curious and approached me with questions right from the beginning, which made me feel very welcome.

Although I’m not planning to study education in the future, I enjoy working with children a lot. Furthermore, I have always wanted to live in Japan for a while, so a volunteer placement at a Gakudo was the perfect opportunity to combine both! Since I am still too young for a Working Holiday, this 6-months volunteer placement was simply a great opportunity for me.

Working at the Gakudo allows me to gain a very deep insight into the Japanese culture and a Japanese work environment. I feel that for foreigners, it is quite difficult to understand how the Japanese think and feel in certain situations; and to guess whether they are angry or happy. They simply don’t show their emotions in the same way that I am used to it from Germany. Therefore, intercultural learning plays an important role during my stay in Japan.

After completion of my volunteer placement, I will start an apprenticeship as a dubbing actor in Germany in October this year. After having finished the apprenticeship, my dream is to come back to Japan and to work as a dubbing actor here. That’s why I’m currently trying to learn as much as Japanese as possible.

Please find further information about this program on our website:

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Martine, Psychology Intern in Tanzania

World Unite! participant Martine from Switzerland recently did a psychology internship at the Lutindi Mental Hospital, located in Tanzania’s Usambara Mountains, a mountain range that belongs to the most biodiverse regions on earth. The hospital has been under German direction since 1896 and particularly focuses on Occupational Therapy. Martine’s report gives an insight into her internship and her exciting stay in Tanzania. 

I started my pleasant stay in Tanzania on December 27th, 2016, where I did an a psychology internship at the Lutindi Mental Hospital. The hospital is located in a very remote area of the Usambara mountains, in the middle of a rainforest and is surrounded by small villages. I lived in a room on the hospital premises and was catered for by two lovely Tanzanian chefs.

Through the internship I got an impressive insight into the everyday life in a psychiatric hospital in Tanzania. I attended the daily morning reports, the admission of patients (twice a week) as well as the regular individual and group counseling.

Since the meetings and conversations were held in Kiswahili, the hospital staff assisted me with translations, which I was very grateful for. Despite the staff helped me out a great deal with the translations, communication was a major challenge.

Luckily, my internship supervisor and his family were from Germany which always allowed me to share my experiences with them and to seek advice in my own language.

During the rest of my working hours, I did one-on-one interviews with the English-speaking patients or gave them company during their occupational therapy sessions (such as industry, garden, stable).

In my spare time I often went for a walk and explored the breathtaking scenery and  the surrounding villages. On these walks I became familiar with the great hospitality of the Tanzanians. In Lutindi, there are several choirs and I highly recommend a visit at church on Sundays.

I would like to thank everyone who made it possible for me to do this internship in Lutindi and would like to recommend it to anyone who wants to get an insight into the everyday life of a psychiatric hospital in Tanzania and who is curious to get to know a new culture and lifestyle. If you plan to stay for a longer time, I would recommend to learn some basic Kiswahili before starting the internship, in order to be able to communicate with the staff and the patients. I will always remember my exciting and wonderful time in Tanzania with joy, pride and a bit of wanderlust.

Best regards,

Martine, (Switzerland)

Please find further information about the internship at Lutindi Hospital on our website:

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Jonathan, volunteer in Zanzibar

Our participant Jonathan is currently volunteering with our partner organization, the Zanzibar Learning for Life Foundation. Jonathan teaches English and German to the students at the ZL4LF and supports them with developing and implementing their own creative Business ideas. In his Blog, Jonathan describes his everyday life in Zanzibar and his work at the ZL4LF. We are allowed to share one of his entries with you here!


January, 20th 2017:

Today we don’t have classes. However, we are meeting some students to talk about their business ideas and help them structure their thoughts.

At the Zanzibar Learning for Life Foundation there is not only one program. Apart from classes in English, German, Sciences and Computer, students can also apply for a sponsorship towards their education and financial support for their work or any internships.

The first girl we talk to is very active in the Girls 4 Life Club, that has the aim to help women in Tanzania to become more independent and support them on their way out of oppression. Together with this club she is additionally applying for a loan that would allow her to buy materials for sewing for the club members. They would then sell their handmade products in a shop and eventually earn enough money with that, to enable the members of the club to start their own businesses. At least that’s the idea. I help her put these thoughts into words and ask her for example, if the girls will be paid in any way, how they want to advertise the shop, how much profit they will make and if there are any taxes that need to be considered. We will meet again in one week and then work on a final text that we can then send to the foundation in England.

We have many more appointments after her. Some of the students have very promising ideas. Others are a little unrealistic…But we are not here to judge. We will help everyone and give them the opportunity to apply. Even if it doesn’t work out in the end, they will still learn something by doing it.


We are done by 3:30pm. At 4pm English classes begin. The student teaching the class asks us to practice with his students. We have individual conversations with them in front of the class. It has been a long time since someone asked me for my favorite color. I do not have a favorite color.

We come home at around 6pm. Quickly get a volleyball and my speaker and rush to the beach to enjoy the last minutes of sunshine there. The beach is crowded. People are playing football or doing various kinds of flips backflips and other acrobatics, while sun sets in the background. We play some volleyball with some random people we meet, listen to some music and work out a little bit. When we come home, I am covered in sand and sweat. I take a short shower and we go to Lukmaan’s.

Afterwards we go on a 30 minute walk to a bar where a live band is playing. They play Tanzanian songs, as well as well-known ones like “Give me hope Joanna”. We drink a beer and enjoy the cloudless night, while listening to the band in the background. On our way back Khalfan and I compose a rap song that he wants to record in the next few days.

Tomorrow we have to get up early because our first appointment is already at 9:30am, therefore, I go to bed soon after we get home.

Best wishes,



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10 years of environmental conservation with World Unite! in Zanzibar – time for something new!


Zanzibar is a precious paradise with amazing natural wonders such as coral reefs, white sandy beaches, blue ocean, coral rag and mangrove forests, and an abundance of wildlife including marine turtles, dolphins, whale sharks, tropical fish, coconut crabs, the indigenous red colobus monkeys and others.

However, Zanzibar’s increasing population size puts the islands‘ pristine nature under pressure. Problems include pollution with solid and liquid waste, unsustainable fishing methods such as dynamite fishing and overfishing due to an increasing demand for food (also caused by the increasing amount of seafood and high quality fish by hotels and tourist restaurants), and a lack of awareness about the importance of conservation of protected species such as Hawksbill and other marine turtles.

World Unite! has been arranging volunteer and internship placements related to environmental conservation in Zanzibar for 10 years now, since April 2006, cooperating successfully with the islands‘ leading environmental NGOs and institutions including the Institute of Marine Sciences of the University Daressalam, the Nungwi Natural Aquarium, MOTO/DADA, Misali Island Conservation, ZALA Park, Sustainable East Africa and others.

For the 10th anniversary of our environmental efforts in Zanzibar, we think that we should come up with something new and even better now, to make our programs even more effective for the benefit of Zanzibar’s nature, and more enticing, exciting and satisfying for our participants!

Everyone who is already booked into our existing environmental projects in Zanzibar from middle of June can now join all of the following activities. Those who have not yet booked will surely like what we will present in continuation and will decide to join us in Zanzibar!!

* From middle of June 2016 we will have our own environmental program manager in Zanzibar, Celeste from South Africa. Celeste has been working as a marine conservation project manager with international volunteers in South Africa and Zanzibar since 2013, ensuring the daily running of conservation projects, and keeping volunteers, project partners and local communities engaged and enthusiastic. She is a very lively and captivating character whose motto is to „Be the change you want to see in the world“ (Mahatma Ghandi). Celeste will direct our own environmental volunteering/internship programs and will cooperate with other NGOs whose activities can be joined by our volunteers/interns to make best use of the combined manpower, to better link the various activities going on in Zanzibar, and to offer thrilling and all-encompassing volunteer/internship experiences related to many aspects of environmental conservation in Zanzibar. For instance you as an environmental volunteer/intern in Zanzibar can spend a few hours per day doing marine turtle conservation, some hours doing permaculture building and gardening, and some hours providing environmental education – all in small groups, because it’s more fun to share the experience with other like-minded people, and under the knowledgeable direction of Celeste.

* Another new World Unite! team member from June will be biologist Monique from Germany. Monique has developed „Rucksack School Tours“ for environmental education in the middle of nature that she has already carried out for local school classes in Bagamoyo/Tanzania. In Zanzibar, the „Rucksack School Tours“ will not only be provided to local school children, but also offered to tourists as a sustainable income-generating eco-tourism activity for coastal populations.

* So from middle/end of June, you as a volunteer/intern in Nungwi/Zanzibar can join and combine:

-> The Nungwi Natural Aquarium Marine Turtle conservation project
-> Recycling of plastic waste such as bottles and plastic bags (collected from beaches), turning them into something new and useful, following the techniques of First, we will build the machines that are needed, making use of local materials
-> Building our own „Environmental Education Centre“ in Nungwi, making use of Permaculture techniques for construction and for the gardening of the land, and developing the exhibition.
-> Training local guides and implementing „Rucksack School Tours“ in Zanzibar
-> Eco-tourism programs in cooperation with various partners
-> Environmental education programs in cooperation with various partners

* As our environmental base in Zanzibar where all of our environmental efforts come together, we will have our own „Environmental Education Centre“ in Nungwi, just 2 minutes to walk from the beach. We will also start to build this centre in June 2016, making use of Permaculture building techniques, and you can join! The centre will include an exhibition about environmental topics relevant to Zanzibar, open to any local and tourist visiting Zanzibar.

Are you excited about these new programs in Zanzibar? For more information please contact us at

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10 Recommendations for Cosplay Fans

If you are not yet familiar with the term or concept the Japanese subculture of “Cosplay”, to put it into simple terms, it it just an abbreviation for „Costume Play“. It is a chance for Anime, Manga, Video Game and Comic Book fans, to get the opportunity to dress as their favorite characters. Some even say it is a type of performance art. People cosplay because it’s a fun way to show their appreciation toward their favorite characters, they get a chance to be someone else for a change, and to meet other cosplayers who share the same interests. Even celebrities enjoy taking part in Cosplay events.

In Japan Cosplay or known as コスプレ(kosupure) can almost be seen as a way of life for some individuals. You can see Japanese Anime and Manga lovers incorporate their favorite characters into the everyday things that they wear such as bags, wallets, and keychains. If you are a cosplayer or character fan yourself, Tokyo is a city you definitely want to experience.

Please see our list of 10 recommendations for Cosplay and character fans in Tokyo:

1) Akihabara:

As an Anime and Manga fan, Akihabara is the place that would most likely capture your utmost attention. Akihabara is the center for Anime and Manga enthusiasts. Here you can experience manga and maid cafes, cosplay shops, specialty character shops, and much more. At cosplay shops you can find many characters such as Sailor Moon, Naruto, or those from Final Fantasy.

Cosplayers in Japan take their cosplays seriously. Some spend months creating the perfect cosplay outfit of their favorite character. Fans take pride and joy into creating their outfits because it lets them appreciate that character even more. It is a whole transformation from having the perfect wig, makeup and one can’t forget about the costume itself. It is remarkable to see how much detail is put into the costumes. Some look like the Manga or Anime character have actually come to life.

If you’re wondering where to buy Cosplay outfits, these are some of the popular shops in Akihabara:


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Working Holiday – as a Photo Model in Japan

Read about our colleague Katharina’s experience as a photo model in Japan

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I’m Katharina and I’m working in communications with participants and administration for World Unite!. From April to July 2015, I was involved in the development of our Working Holiday Program in Tokyo and tried to find out, which jobs foreigners in Japan can easily gain a foothold in.

What is Working Holiday? A Working Holiday Visa allows nationals of Germany, Denmark, Norway, Great Britain, France, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Korea, Taiwan or Hong Kong between the ages of 18-30 years old, to stay in Japan for up to one year, as well as allowing them to finance their stay abroad through obtaining a job with a regular salary. Typically, holders of a Working Holiday Visa work as waiters in restaurants or cafes, as service staff in hotels, as nannies, language teachers, sports instructors, and as salespersons in shops etc.

In Tokyo, I searched various job boards for job offers that are primarily addressed to foreigners – this means, jobs that are relatively flexibly and only require little to even no knowledge of the Japanese language. While searching one day through the job boards I came across a modeling agency that was looking for participants for a photo shoot. The photo shoot was about advertising photos, which will appear on the website of a famous Japanese golf coach and golf professional. The location for the shoot was a high-class golf club outside of Tokyo.

I decided to do a self-test: Foreigners are part of many Japanese TV productions and advertising campaigns. I wanted to know, if I even without any experience as a model – as a „western“ face – would I have the chance to participate in a paid photo shooting in Japan.

Through the job board I applied for the photo shoot. Only a few days later I received a message from the scout of the agency. She thought my picture looked „kawaii“ – Japanese for „sweet“ or „cute“ – and wanted to shoot sample photos of me for the customer. We met up in a cafe, and while we talked, she casually shot photos of me.

The very next day I got an email confirming the shoot. I was slightly surprised, but also happy that my adventure was quickly taking shape!

Just two weeks later, I was on the train traveling to the shooting. On my arrival at the station the photographer and his assistant were already waiting for me. The golf coach, on whose website the photos where going to appear, was there too. Shortly after I arrived, my male counterpart for the photo shoot also arrived. He is from Australia and also applied for the shooting through the job board.

I was excited and a little bit worried at the same time; many thoughts were going through my mind: What will all these people think about me? Will I be able to meet their expectations? And did I, as a complete beginner, probably feel far too confident about the whole idea? Besides, I’ve never played golf in my life.

By car, we drove to the golf course, where the shooting would take place. Along the way we got a quick briefing: about how the golf coach, my shooting partner, and I will act out various scenes from a golf lesson. Those scenes that we acted out were then eventually photographed. They also had us keep in mind that we should enjoy ourselves, be relaxed and have fun!

On arrival at the golf club, we put on our golf clothes and drove to the green in a golf cart. Besides us, there were hardly any other golfers there; surrounded by lush green of the golf course, we practiced the correct postures, swings and different types of shots. With the instructions of the coach, it was suddenly very easy to be relaxed. Sometimes I almost forgot about the photographer and his camera around us.

During the breaks, an assistant would fix my hair and freshened up my makeup. To be honest, I felt a little bit like being on a movie set.


In the evening, back on the train to Tokyo, the events that took part that day were lingering in my mind. At that time I was already looking forward to seeing the – hopefully – good results of the shoot. My side trip as a photo model will certainly always be a lasting memory of my stay in Japan!

Whoever has the courage to try this, not only has a good story to tell in the end, but can also get beautiful pictures which not only make a memorable souvenir but also help contribute to financing your stay in Japan!

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Volunteering – An Act of Localising Aid, not Globalised Aid

Going on a volunteering assignment can be filled with mixed emotions – apprehension about the new place, enthusiasm about “making a difference” and excitement about new experiences. It can also be a challenging experience because of these very factors. What really is the best way to prepare oneself for this intense experience?

Besides undergoing cultural training about the nuances of the new culture, it is also extremely important to adopt, what ethnographers call, the “model of a child”. Just like a child learns his/her culture through observation, asking questions, interpretation and participant observation, a volunteer must (where possible), take the time to understand his/her surroundings before thinking of making any difference.

According to Ernesto Sirolli, an Italian sustainable development expert and author, there are two ways in which people approach volunteering or “aid” – by being patronising, or otherwise, paternalistic. According to him, the first principle of aid should be “respect”, by responding to the people and becoming a servant of the local passion. In his book, Ripples From the Zambezi, he talks about how every project that his NGO undertook in Africa failed, because nobody stopped to understand the local people and what they wanted. In a subsequent TedTalk, Sirolli urges people that if they really want to help, they should “shut up and listen”. This approach resonates well with the idea that for every successful volunteering stint, there is a considerable need to understand, rather than arrive with preconceived notions on “what is best”. Volunteers often arrive, armed with their degrees in Social Work, assuming an attitude of “knowing” what’s best for the situation. It is however, crucial to localise the solutions according to the needs of the people.

Volunteers should, hence, as much as possible, study existing research and literature on the local culture. The data analysed should include history of the specific geographic and cultural area, statistics (including population, gender distribution, religious orientations, socio-economic classification, education levels, etc.), political movements, cultural predispositions, as well as previous volunteer accounts and experiences, interviews with previous volunteers, a study of work done in the particular field and the success rate, and possibly, an analysis of how volunteers are perceived in the local community (through existing literature and/or organised interviews with the social workers in the community). Such secondary data analyses will ensure that volunteers are aware of the community that they are getting into, rather than arrive with preconceived ideas and impressions.

During this “preparation” phase, it is also important to learn the local language as much as is possible. Much depends on establishing a common frame of reference with the local community – while the volunteer may be overtly different, with a completely different frame of reference, if one lifts the language barrier, it can help to build trust with the local community and of course, gather a much better understanding of the situation.

Observation is the next critical aspect to a successful volunteering stint. No matter how well prepared through the secondary data analysis, one must account for errors and discrepancies in the actual experience. Any volunteering stint, therefore, must be prefaced by a minimum of a week’s observation (according to the competency of the volunteer to comprehend based on observation). Of course, this depends entirely on the criticality of the situation that one is in (one cannot expect that a volunteer reaches an area destroyed by an earthquake and spend time observing), but, when possible, it is important that the volunteer observes the working of the community or otherwise, observe the needs of the people or community. Building trust amongst the people is an important part of volunteering assignments. A volunteer must give the local community the confidence that he/she has their best interest in mind and be willing to listen to their needs and concerns before imposing his/her own ideas. The “help” then, must be localised according to their particular needs as much as possible. Once this trust is established, asking questions becomes more productive and meaningful, since the respondents are more comfortable to give honest answers.

The use of a “notebook” becomes extremely useful through this process. Recording observations, conversations and one’s personal feelings through the interactions is in fact, important, as one can “observe” one’s own emotions and reactions more “objectively”. Returning to one’s notes after a period of time helps an individual reflect more on situations, record private feelings and can serve as a “confidante” in an otherwise alien situation. Very often, volunteers talk about feelings of helplessness and distress due to the new environment that they are in and the lack of “someone to talk to, who would understand”. A notebook of this kind would help as a way of “venting” emotions, as well as to take a broader, “third party” perspective of the situation. This may help in dealing with a situation more objectively than one would otherwise. Moreover, it serves as secondary data (if made available) to future volunteers.

Especially in a volunteering assignment, if one gets into the mistake of performing tasks without receiving feedback, the attempts to make any difference becomes futile. A volunteer must be trained to leave his/her own cultural ideologies behind and have a local perspective of the situations that he/she encounters.

In the larger scale of volunteering and aid, there have been debates about whether aid does more harm to developing nations than good, as it brings about a complacency in the local governments in actually finding sustainable solutions. Sustainability then, can only be achieved through finding specific solutions to the local problem, never at a larger, wholistic level. There are hence, three stages for any voluntary service – Preparation, Initiation Through Immersion and finally, Service Through Understanding.

“Great minds are to make others great. Their superiority is to be used, not to break the multitude to intellectual vassalage, not to establish over them a spiritual tyranny, but to rouse them from lethargy, and to aid them to judge for themselves.” – William Ellery Channing

Written by Divya Susan Varkey, Intercultural Communications Trainer, World Unite! image