Thinking Of Volunteering Aboard? Read These Tried And True Tips

Photo by  me  in Uganda

Photo by me in Uganda

When my wife and I left Toronto to travel the world for a year, we didn’t want to just see sights and selfishly “take from the world”, we also wanted to give back, and we thought volunteering aboard was a good way to do it.

We ended up volunteering in Bangalore, Siem Reap and Busan during that trip, and in Uganda during a different trip.

Having done it only 4 times, I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on the subject, but I’ve been asked the same questions multiple times and I think it’s worth sharing to help anyone wishing to volunteer aboard.

The following questions come from Maeghan Smulders:

1) how did you pick what organizations to volunteer with / how did you find them?

You can find travel expos in most major cities in the world. The general purpose ones usually have a few booths for volunteering organizations. But there are also volunteering-specific expos, like the Go Global Expo in Canada.

That’s where we found a good match for us. We had two potential opportunities: one in Ghana and one in Bangalore.

As for choosing the organization, we looked into projects we could do together, the reputation and seriousness of the business, the reviews and the location. Prices were pretty much all the same.

We picked a location that was on our way and where we really wanted to go. In fact, we planned the first half of our travels based on the project we chose in Bangalore.

We were serious people looking for serious work. It wasn’t a checkbox for us. It wasn’t to put in our resume. Some organizations were more catered to less serious people. And I’m not judging here, but it’s just not what we were looking for.

For the projects in Siem Reap and Busan, we found them through It’s a great website for finding projects where you exchange your time for lodging and sometimes food. It’s a great way to help local business owners or families while you’re abroad.

I also want to point out that we’ve met travelers and know people who do volunteer work through their religious institution, so it’s worth checking out for some people. We haven’t done it ourselves though.

2) did you apply or pay fees to do so? Did you notice a difference in opportunities where you have to pay vs free?

For the Bangalore project mentioned above, we paid an organization a fee.

They took care of our lodging, airport pickup, security, etc. The owner also took us on weekend cultural trips quite frequently. Here’s one I took part of: Ancient Jain Temples. We had a terrific experience with them.

The Siem Reap, Busan and Uganda projects were free. In fact, we got free lodging and food in exchange for our work.

In Siem Reap, we helped the AngkorHUB co-working/co-living space. A place I went back to for 2 months 7 months ago.

In Busan, we helped at the LZone Cafe for conversation exchanges.

In Uganda, it was an organization my wife started volunteering for remotely when we came back to Canada: Sundara. It’s a USA-based company.

The difference between paid and non-paid seemed to be on support mainly. For people who are concerned about security and support, paid volunteer experiences are the way to go. For more adventurous and potentially more authentic volunteer experience, free is sometimes better.

We had incredible experiences both when we paid and when we didn’t pay.

3) the software projects you did — did you identify the problem and solution yourself? Or was it a request from one of the NGOs that needed help?

When volunteering abroad, it’s hard to find projects that require hard professional skills.

One, it’s hard to find people willing to do it for free, and two, it’s rarely something that can sustain itself when you’re gone.

I was never meant to do software-related tasks in the projects I volunteered for, yet I did do it at AngkorHUB and LZone Cafe. I went there doing what I was meant to do, saw they had needs and proposed solutions.

4) do you continue to maintain the projects you created?

Sustainability is a key concept of any good volunteer project. We always aim to do things that are sustainable.

My work in Bangalore was to support teachers of a skill development centre. I did give a class or two, but it was always meant to teach the teacher. That way, the teachers keep the knowledge and can teach it to all their future students.

My wife put up a hygiene education workshop with the help of a local Indian employee. She presents the workshop all around India now.

In Siem Reap, the owner is a software developer himself, so he maintained the project after.

In Busan, I think they ended up not using the software after I was gone. I had proposed to maintain it, but since I was coming back to North America right after, I couldn’t afford not to do it for money.

In Uganda, we helped raise funds to build a borehole well for a village that had no access to clean water. The fund also covers maintenance for 10 years. The village leaders were taught on how to do the maintenance of the well.

5) did you organize the volunteer opportunities before traveling? Or coordinate while on the road?

We organized the Bangalore project before leaving, same with the Uganda project after.

The Siem Reap project, we found it on the go, 2–3 weeks before going. We did a Skype interview with the owner while we were in Vietnam. That same week, we did a Skype interview for the project in Busan, which was a few months after.

Organizing it on the road is definitely feasible. It’s just that it might be harder to get access to travel expos.

LZone Cafe is always looking for volunteers.

Reaching Hand, the local organization we volunteered for in Bangalore, is also always looking for volunteers. They are an excellent organization and we are very happy to see them again while we’re there next month.


Travel expos are a great place to find volunteer experiences that provide better support and security, but for a fee. is a great place to find authentic experiences to help locals in exchange for food and lodging.

Sustainability for volunteer projects is an important concept you should always consider. Projects that are not sustainable may hurt more than they help in the long run.

Organizing volunteer work while already abroad is definitely feasible, especially if you’re flexible in your travel plans. It’s also a great way to have an impact on locals while reducing your costs dramatically.

Hope this helps!

Thanks for reading and sharing ! :)

First published here:

Tried and True: 5 tips on building a game prototype

Try our official prototype here:

Back in October 2016, we received a grant to build a prototype of our future game: Soul Reaper. The idea was that we would do rapid prototyping to see what features work and which ones don’t. Building a prototype really is about validating that the concept you have in mind is fun. It’s hard for us to define what went right and what went wrong in the process, but we figured we could share some tips based on our experience.

Building a prototype really is about validating that the concept you have in mind is fun.

Tip #1: More is less and less is more

We have tons of features planned for Soul Reaper. Drawing inspirations from some of the best features from Zelda 1, Final Fantasy VI and X, Castlevania Aria/Dawn of Sorrow, Diablo and Pokemon, it was hard for us to choose which features should and should not make it in the prototype.

Whatever the case, I’d say always aim for a full-game loop. In Soul Reaper’s case: Prepare Outside Vault -> Go into vault -> Go down floors -> Enter combat -> Die/Leave Vault -> Repeat.

I’d say always aim for a full-game loop.

Chances are you can create a full-game loop with only 3–5 core features. For Soul Reaper, we opted for Soul Collection, Turn-based combat, Diablo-style loot system and Zelda-style exploration. Everything else is just candy. Of course, the game won’t be as fun without the candy, but it should at least be “fun enough”. If it doesn’t pass the “fun enough” test, change to the core features in imperative.

Tip #2: Show a glimpse of the future

Soul Reaper will have about 100 monsters with 100 unique abilities. That’s not even counting the different “Soul Combos”. There’s no way we could build all that content in the prototype. How do we show players the scope of the game without having built that much content? Simple! In the game, when you go to the Souls menu, you can see a numbered index of all the monsters in the game. “Locked” souls are indicated with a “???”. Players can scroll and see that there will be 100 monsters. We only made 6 for the prototype.

For the exploration, it was always our goal to create “exploration tools”. Things like bombs or a grappling hook, like in Zelda: A Link to the Past. It will be an integral part of the final game, but we decided it wouldn’t make it in the prototype, due to lack of time, and for simplicity. To show that such a feature will be in the game, we displayed the controls on how to use the tools on the GUI, but greyed it out to show that it’s not available yet.

To show that [exploration tools]will be in the game, we displayed the controls on how to use the tools on the GUI, but greyed it out to show that it’s not available yet.


This is important because it lets players use their imagination to visualize what the final game may be like, without playing it. The idea is to get them excited for when the game will be closer to release.

Tip #3: Rapid Prototyping

We built the current version of Soul Reaper’s prototype in about 6 months. That’s a long time! We were lucky enough to have received funds to create it. Most will have to do that faster, and that’s okay. In fact, we probably had our first full-game loop in about 1 week!

For 6 months, we implemented different versions of our core features. Each feature took about 1 day to build. But we re-did many versions of that feature and gathered feedback on how fun it was.

Example feature: Combat. We experimented with different implementations:

Turn-based, MP based (FF IV, FF V)Turn-based, Cooldown based (Wartunes)Turn-based, MP and Cooldown basedActive Turn-based (Chrono Trigger, FF VI)Quick-time turn-based (FF X)On-map turn-based combat (Dragon Fin Soup)Active (Zelda)etc.

There’s no way we could have accomplished all that without fast prototyping, and truthfully, the game wouldn’t be as fun if we tried only one and said: “That’s it!”.

It’s not that we’re incredible programmers, it’s just that we made the decision to not care about code quality for the prototype (though it’s not half-bad either), knowing full well that it’s likely that we’re going to scrap everything anyway. And if not, at least we will have a better understanding on how to properly build the feature for production.


Each feature took about 1 day to build. But we re-did many versions of that feature and gathered feedback on how fun it was.

Tip #4: Use the tools you know

Maybe you want to release your game on consoles and maybe Unity3D is the engine of choice for the game you’re building. But you don’t know C# or Unity. I’d say don’t use Unity3D for the prototype then! It’s much easier and faster to do rapid prototyping using tools you know. If people like your prototype, then it’s worth it to start to learn the best possible tools to build the game.

Tools are rarely what kills a prototype, execution is. We could have built Soul Reaper’s prototype on RPG Maker, Game Maker, Unreal, Cocos2D, Construct 2, etc. We chose Unity3D because it’s the one we had the most recent development experience with.

If people like your prototype, then it’s worth it to start to learn the best possible tools to build the game.

Tip #5: Don’t be afraid to show it off

Now, for me personally, this is the hardest one. It’s hard to show an uncompleted product for the world to see. People may not see your vision and the prototype will certainly not show the full vision of the project, so they’ll judge on what they see. And brutally sometimes. Embrace it no matter how hard it is. Any feedback is valuable to get to the end product, especially the “bad” one. You can’t make a great product if people don’t honestly say your game is shit. You need to know your game is shit so you can fix it in the final product. Better get that feedback while the game is not released!

You can’t make a great product if people don’t honestly say your game is shit.

What do you think?

Have you built a prototype and shared it with the world before? What are some of your top tips?

First published here: