Despite rapid economic growth, a large portion of India's population remains impoverished and in need of basic human necessities. 70% of the population still has limited access to housing and clean water. With an estimated 6 doctors for every 10,000 people, the people of India also continue to face severe public health challenges on a daily basis -- not to mention issues with women's rights, education, and small business development.

Right now, you could volunteer in India to help underprivileged populations gain access to better education, healthcare, human rights, and infrastructure. Volunteer programs are located in metropolitan areas such as Mumbai and Bangalore, as well as rural villages in states including Tamil Nadu, and Rajasthan. These volunteer projects, when done responsibly and with the engagement of local communities, are important aspects of India's overall development.

Whatever area of volunteering you’d like to be a part of, chances are that India will offer it. Depending on which sectors can make use of your specific skill sets, you could be working in urbanized areas such as Mumbai or Bangalore, or the rural peace of somewhere like Tamil Nadu or Rajasthan. Here’s a snapshot of the types of volunteer projects in India:

Health

Few countries have such a polarized healthcare system as India. The rich enjoy world-class treatment while poorer inhabitants often have no access to health basics. India is home to the highest amount of AIDS and HIV cases in the world too. As a volunteer you can work in an HIV clinic and help spread awareness. Medical and dental students can also gain first-hand experience in clinics and hospitals.

Gender Equality

Many women in India fall victim to emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Fortunately, there are a number of NGOs that have now been established to counteract such atrocities, and they’re always on the lookout for volunteers.

Youth Development and Education

There are about 100 million street children in India and to counteract this, a large number of orphanages and shelter homes have been set up across the country. You could also help promote education by working in a primary or secondary school, teaching basic English.

Community Development

Only 75.3% of men and 53.7% of women in India are literate. Working as part of a community development program, you can help people discover their potential and make a better go of their lives.

Environmental Conservation

India’s rapidly-increasing population means there has been much damage to natural surroundings by way of plastics, chemical pesticides and general high productivity. There are a number of projects in India where you can help promote sustainable farming and environmental conservation.

What kind of Volunteer support exists in India?

Any good organization will look after its volunteers, and always be on hand to answer questions and provide help whenever required. Your embassies will be based in New Delhi, while dozens of consulates are located in towns and cities across India. About.com: India Travel also has tons of relevant resources for anyone traveling to India.

What NGOs and non profits work in India?

Unsurprisingly, India is a popular destination for NGOs and charities of all missions and sizes. NGOs India has a full list of NGOs in India.

Will I need to learn the language to volunteer in India?

The only country in the world with more English-speaking inhabitants that India is the U.S. Around 11% of all Indians speak English and you will find that especially amongst young people in urbanized areas, English is widely used.

As with every new culture, you should still make a point of learning the basics of the native language, which in India could be Hindi, Tamil, Gujarati, Kannada, Punjabi, Tulu, Urdu, or any one of India's many official languages.

Where are the best places to volunteer in India?

Mumbai, Jaipur (Rajasthan), Delhi, and Bangalore are good starting points but India has no end of great volunteering locations. What’s most important is that the program is right for you.

Often, the type of project you want to work on will dictate where you go.

What kind of visa will I need?

Visitors from the U.S., UK, Canada and Australia require an Indian visa. A tourist visa lasts up to 6 months. Allow yourself plenty of time to apply for your visa and ensure that your passport has remaining validity on it (6 months is usually needed). Visit your own government’s official travel site for more details on obtaining a visa or visit VISA HQ.

You’ll need to be up to date with a number of vaccines for India. These include typhoid, hepatitis A and diphtheria. Depending on the areas you plan to visit, you may also require jabs for tuberculosis, hepatitis B, rabies, cholera, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis. These latter vaccinations often apply to more rural areas.

Tap water is generally unsafe for drinking, so stick to the bottled stuff. Also check to make sure that water bottles are properly sealed, as some scammers will refill water bottles with unclean water and resell them.

As for safety, India is not without its problems and wherever you are in the country, you should keep your wits about you and be aware of dangers such as theft and reckless driving.

There are certain areas of India which you are advised against traveling to altogether. These include the rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir (other than Ladakh) the immediate vicinity of the border with Pakistan (other than at Wagah) and all travel in Manipur.

More in-depth advice can be found on the U.S. Department of State and Foreign and Commonwealth Office websites.

Most visitors to India experience little or no trouble (other than a bit of traveler's tummy...), and your volunteer agency will also be looking out for you.

Contributed by Will Noble

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