Searching for the best volunteer gig in the world? Well, look no further! Make a lasting impact while discovering one of the most beautiful places on Earth – the Cook Islands. Four-time Global Volunteer Mary reflects on why she continues returning to this idyllic South Pacific island.
“Where are the Cook Islands?” asks anyone with whom I share my plans for volunteering in Rarotonga each year. I always answer that they are in the South Pacific between Fiji and Tahiti. Everyone shakes their head and says, “ahhhh.” A South Pacific island at least gives them the gist of the location. I never give them the chance to ask more, as I immediately share that I have been going there every fall for the past four years and I plan to continue indefinitely, babbling on about the reasons why.
A Beautiful South Pacific Island
It is hard to give a succinct answer to the question of why I think this is the best volunteer gig in the world, so I won’t even try to be succinct. To begin, it’s an island in the South Pacific with sunny weather, amazing sunrises and gorgeous sunsets. The people are always friendly, smiling, welcoming and helpful. There is one road around the island and taking a bus is easy, just choose clockwise or anticlockwise. There is always a large quantity of food, including many tropical fruits and local vegetables. The lodging is a comfortable, modest housekeeping suite in a motel on the waterfront. There is also a pool, so after work is finished for the day, I can relax in the sun or water. On the weekends, I can choose the pool or any number of lovely beaches within easy reach for swimming or snorkeling.
We are given work to meet the hours required for everything about this trip to be tax deductible in the US (donation/participation fee and transportation to the island), yet we have ample free time to explore the culture and build relationships with Rarotongans. Need I say more?
The real reason for returning…
But, in reality, those are all merely added bonuses that come with volunteering for Global Volunteers in the Cook Islands. The basic reason I return to do this work every year is because I can make a difference in a place that needs me.
I was a high school Spanish teacher for 35 years before retiring 5 years ago. I have always traveled with or for educational, human rights or volunteer purposes. I have painted walls in an orphanage in Siem Reap, Cambodia, helped to construct kitchen stoves in Cuzco, Perú, and assisted in human/wildlife conflict mitigation in India and Africa. I value all of those experiences, but I have not repeated any of them. In the Cook Islands, I employ the very skills and expertise that I acquired throughout my teaching career. I build relationships with students while working with them one-on-one with literacy and math skills. I am able to step in and assist with such things as standardized tests, because I know how they work. I am contributing something necessary to the school, students and staff. I am useful. I make a difference. I can see the good I am doing and can feel good about doing what I really know how to do.
Furthermore, Global Volunteers has a philosophy of service and method of delivery that is a combination of the best I have witnessed in the various programs I have joined. They only go where they are asked to go by a sponsor in the country and do what they are asked to do. Volunteers are encouraged to refrain from trying to change things or introduce new theories or methods; we do the work of the people who have requested it in the way they would like it done. A volunteer session begins with team exercises and goal setting. We meet every morning with the Team Managers to share a message of the day and journal from the previous day followed by a check-in of how things are going. The team shares dinner together in the evening, as well. Many of us have built lasting friendships that extend well beyond three weeks in Rarotonga.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” I believe that, at this moment, I can do more using what I have in Rarotonga than anywhere else on earth.
Just go! It’s the best volunteer gig in the world!
Ready to pack your bags and begin this life-changing volunteer vacation? First, visit our Volunteer in the Cook Islands page to learn more about the service opportunities in Rarotonga. Then, chat online with a Volunteer Coordinator. We’re ready to assist you with travel questions, project descriptions, and other program details.