A brief guide to volunteering in ecovillages

Many hands make light work in Small Footprint community, Estonia

Latest news: ESC positions at the GEN Europe office are now open! The deadline November 25th – find out all the details on our info sheet.

How can I volunteer in an ecovillage?” is easily the most common question we receive at GEN Europe. Whether you’re simply looking for a holiday with purpose, want to meet like-minded people and learn new skills, or are seeking to dip your toe in community living for the first time, volunteering in community can be a life-changing experience. So if you’re thinking of changing your life this year, here we give you the rundown of the most common ways of volunteering – including one way to volunteer with all your costs covered!

Volunteering in an ecovillage: the basics

People choose to volunteer in ecovillages for all sorts of reasons. A meaningful holiday or career-break, an exploration of new ways of being, a way to learn new skills, a search for home. For the best experience possible and to avoid disappointment, it’s important to do plenty of research before you choose a place to volunteer. Some useful questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do I want a holiday or am I looking for my future community?
  • Am I prepared to be remote and off-grid, or do I need some creature comforts?
  • Do I want to be in a group or independent? With people my own age, or a mix?
  • Do I need a vehicle? Can I leave my pets at home if the community can’t accept them?
  • Am I willing to take instructions? Are there any tasks I don’t want to or can’t do?
  • Is my approach to substance use such as alcohol and caffeine, and diet (omnivore, vegetarian, vegan), aligned with the community?

These questions can help you get a better idea of the kind of community you’re looking for, and questions to ask a potential host community to understand if you’ll be a good fit.

But before you pack your bags – how does it work? There are several different ways you can do it, but another common question question we receive about this is…

Why do some ecovillages charge to volunteer?

It may seem counter-intuitive, but there can also be very valid reasons for this. Many people choose to volunteer in ecovillage as a first contact with the experience of community living. They may not have specific skills to offer (though willingness to muck in is always valuable!), or may wish to only work a few hours a day and use the rest of the time for exploring and holidaying, or part-time working.

For communities, receiving volunteers can be a wonderful gift – but of course, volunteers also require orientation, supervision, food, water, and other resources that (depending on the ecovillage’s location and situation) may have costs or be in short supply. Most communities only ask that volunteers cover basic costs. Some communities may charge more, but in this case it’s usually offering for a more structured programme with educational components, excursions, mentoring and so on.

Not all ecovillages charge, and for those that do, it may be that if you have very specific, in-demand skills (think plumbing, carpentry…) hosts may be willing to waive fees or come to an alternative arrangement.

Volunteer in an ecovillage: Classic work exchange

Many ecovillages offer volunteer opportunities in a work-exchange format, like WWOOFing: free room and board for a certain contribution of labour. It’s common that communities ask for a specific minimum time commitment (for example, two weeks or more) in order for both the community and the volunteer to get the best out of the experience. In this format you can usually organise your own dates with the community based on your availability. Be prepared to muck in to whatever work is available in each season – you might be weeding the gardens, harvesting potatoes (a strong back is required!), chopping wood, helping cooking for a course or event…but there’s usually chances to dive into community culture, traditions and celebrations too, and whatever you do, you’ll be sure to have a more authentic and enriching experience that makes you feel much more than just a spectator.

To find volunteering opportunities in ecovillages in Europe, follow us on social media or join the Permaculture/Ecovillage Volunteering telegram group here.

Volunteer in an ecovillage: experience weeks

Sometimes, communities find it easier to open to volunteers for particular periods of time when need is greatest (often in spring, or in harvest time). The benefit of this can be that you can be quite sure that there’ll be a group of other volunteers to enjoy your time with, that there’ll be plenty of work to do, and the community will be fully ready to receive you. In order to hear about such opportunities, it’s best to sign up to community mailing lists, as they’re not always announced with a lot of time in advance. So find the communities you’re interested in our map to hear from them!

Volunteer with all costs covered – European Solidarity Corps

If you’re aged 18-30, and resident in the EU (or selected other countries such as Turkey), good news! The European Solidarity Corps, funded by the European Union, offers fully funded volunteering and traineeship opportunities, usually for 6 months to one year. Ever more ecovillages are able to offer these experiences – including many of our members, like Arterra Bizimodu, Valdepielagos, Sieben Linden, Torri Superiore, and more. Many ESC volunteers have gone on to live and work in the communities they volunteered in!

Your travel, accommodation and even pocket money is funded, so you don’t need to be out of pocket to travel abroad and discover community living. You’ll be assigned a mentor to help you get the best out of your experience, and there’s even free language training! We regularly advertise opportunities on our social media and newsletter or you can search for activities on the European Youth Portal.

Update November 2023: ESC positions at the GEN Europe office are now open – deadline November 25th! Find out all the details on our info sheet.

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  1. Hi, hello. I’m Isabella from Brazil.
    I was very interested in the volunteer program. Don’t you accept residents from other countries outside the UE?

  2. Hi, my name is Kyle. I am 30years old and from the u.k . my back ground is in construction, mainly plumbing and heating. I am really interested in volunteering for a eco project and would like to know if this is possible for me to do? I am currently in Spain and would like to get involved asap if possible!? Thanks.

    1. Hi Kyle! If you’re in Spain, we can recommend checking out the villages of the Iberian Ecovillage Network (https://ecoaldeas.org/). You could also join the telegram group mentioned in this article and offer your skills there. Finally, you could also join Facebook groups such as Living Off-Grid in Spain where many people with eco-projects seek help, or join WWOOF or Workaway and find some ecoprojects there. I’m sure with your skills there will be people happy to host you!

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