Partner Profile: Oyster Worldwide | Volunteer Experiences That Don’t Break The Bank

Vancouver, BC | Posted: February 27th, 2018

Career Breaks and Gap Years are an increasingly popular trend in travel. Whether you’re leaving high school and looking for an important life experience before you enter into university life; or, you’re taking a sabbatical to gain a new perspective, the experience of giving back is life-changing. These important programs shape who you are as a person, and organizations like Oyster Worldwide are there to guide you. Since 1999, and as one of the original providers of tourism based wildlife conservation, Oyster Worldwide continues to be a major support network for travelers with a drive to lend a hand abroad.

We thought of a few questions you might have for Oyster Worldwide and then reached out to Georgie Collcutt, Marketing and Overseas Project Manager.  Her feedback is important, and rightfully so, because as part of a team of experienced travelers, she can relate to the experience you’re aiming to gain and to the investment you are making in both time and money. Cliché as it may sound, when it comes to volunteer travel, the world truly is your Oyster.

Tell us about the history of Oyster Worldwide.

Oyster Worldwide works with people of all ages looking for a life-changing adventure, with many of our projects running since 1999. What started out as a gap year organization has become a leading animal welfare volunteering organization, working with gap year travelers, career breakers, retirees, families and those looking for a holiday with a difference. We are one of the original providers of animal welfare volunteering projects overseas, with lots of experience between us. All of our staff have traveled extensively, whether that be on a gap year or on their holidays.

volunteer with elephants

Photo Credit: Oyster Worldwide

What excites you about hosting travelers on an Oyster Worldwide tour or voluntour trip?

The special part of what we do is that we are enabling people to have life-changing experiences. Volunteering at a bear sanctuary in Romania, caring for elephants in Thailand, protecting turtles in Costa Rica – these are not easy things to do without a helping hand. The wonderful thing is to work with individuals who are really passionate about learning and making a genuine contribution, and we can help them to do just that. Hearing from our volunteers on their return home makes it all worthwhile. Volunteers come back bursting with enthusiasm for the country that they have just visited, the animals that they have been protecting and the experience that they have just immersed themselves in.

What makes for a great group travel experience?

One of the most important things for volunteer travel is that everyone needs to be motivated by their project. Volunteer travel is unique, in that it can be tiring, it can be filthy and it can be rustic – but the rewards are huge. People who do this are really passionate about the animals, the country and the work that they will be doing. The lovely thing about volunteer travel is that everyone is in it for the same reasons, so you click really quickly. There is nothing quite like sitting down after a long and satisfying day and talking about your shared experience together.

What makes for a great tour operator?

We believe that it is really important to know your projects inside out so that we can help our volunteers as much as possible, and tell them as much as possible about their chosen destination. We are all incredibly passionate about what we do, and we want to share that enthusiasm. It is also important that we get to know the people that go away with us. We often go on quite a journey with our volunteers: getting excited with them at booking, helping to deal with nerves just before departure and celebrating success at the end. The personal connection is key.

Volunteer with Monkeys

Photo Credit: Oyster Worldwide

What qualities do you look for in potential volunteers?

A positive attitude goes a really long way. Happiness to get mucky and stuck in is also a must, as well as flexibility. Volunteer projects happen mainly in countries that have a much more laid back attitude to life than we do in the western world, so participants need to be happy to go with the flow.

What unique experiences can travelers look forward to on an Oyster Worldwide trip?

Our animal welfare volunteer projects are all hand-picked for the amazing work that they are doing. Highlights include getting unrivaled access to some of the world’s most incredible animals and helping to preserve them and their ecosystems. All projects are located in stunning parts of the world, slightly off the beaten track, allowing for ultimate cultural immersion. You will meet some of the most passionate conservationists that we know, and help them to complete their vision of protecting animals and the environment.

What cultural or social changes have you seen in the local communities since operating Oyster Worldwide?

We are so excited by the changes that we have seen in our locations over the years. Conservation can be viewed by locals as a threat to their livelihood, as it is often done in opposition to local ways of life. We need to work with the local communities so that they understand that conservation can be incredibly beneficial to their ways of life.

A great example of this would be in Sri Lanka, where we work with a local charity that is helping people to live alongside wild elephants. The wild elephants will often come into the villagers’ fields and eat the crops, destroying many months of hard work in just one night. The project has helped farmers to protect their crops whilst also promoting elephant conservation and has helped to bring more prosperity to the area through eco-tourism and increased agricultural output. Villagers are actually now very protective of their giant neighbors!

Volunteer with Monkeys

What are your greatest challenges as a tour operator?

Over the past decade, we have been working hard to hand-pick animal welfare and conservation projects which need the help of volunteers. Not only this, but a strict selection criterion is that our project partners place animal welfare at the top of their agenda. Setting up a project can take several years of careful work between Oyster and our new project partners, making sure that the project can work well for all involved.

Our greatest challenge as a tour operator is to be able to source the best projects out there. Over the past few years, volunteering with animals has become more and more popular, and so more projects are cropping up to “cater” to this need. This is a real concern for us, as some of them are simply not beneficial to animals. Our challenge is to find the best projects, but also to compete against other organizations that do not do due diligence when sourcing projects. Education is key. Many people want to work hands-on with lion cubs for example, but little do they realize that contact with these wild animals may well be linked to the canned hunting industry?

If you weren’t operating volunteer projects with animals what would you be doing?

Oyster Worldwide also has specialist staff dedicated to volunteer projects providing childcare, teaching English and coaching sports in deprived areas. We would love to be able to get more people involved in these inspiring projects, and so if we weren’t working in animal welfare anymore, we would certainly be focussing a lot more energy on the humanitarian side of our work.

If you could hop on a plane and go anywhere in the world for a vacation, where would you go?

Everybody in the office has a different answer to this question! Chile features quite highly for us all, for the amazing landscapes, the lovely people, and the great unknown!

Volunteers Abroad

Photo Credit: Oyster Worldwide

What’s the future for Oyster Worldwide?

Bright and exciting!

A simple answer for sure, but one that has been earned over time, hard work, and commitment. We’re proud of our partnership with the good people at Oyster Worldwide, and as a traveler when you become part of the Oyster family, you’ll be proud, too.

Want to learn more about Oyster Worldwide’s programs? Check out their page on GoVoluntouring, or their website for even more exciting options! Don’t forget to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for ongoing inspiration and tips for your Gap Year, Career Break or Volunteer Vacation.

Sarah Lafontaine

Sarah Lafontaine

Sarah is an independent contractor with specialization in content writing and social media management for the travel industry. After many years as a travel agent, she switched gears to focus on promoting responsible travel through Holidays for Humanity. Sarah currently writes content for and manages social media for all Holidays for Humanity brands including SEEtheWILD, Trek Union and GoVoluntouring. When not working, Sarah can be found searching for her next travel destination or exploring Vancouver’s dog-friendly parks and trails with her dog, Otto.

You can read more of Sarah's personal travels on her blog www.sarahseizetheworld.com