A gap year, 15 months of unadulterated freedom. There are so many possibilities when it comes to what to do in your gap year so if you’re a little unsure, we are here to help.
Have you thought about doing something cultural and volunteering with a tribe? … no not that kind, I mean indigenous communities. It’s a chance to well and truly get off the beaten track to live and work with different cultures and indigenous communities all around the world. You can be a part of helping conserve their culture, traditions and way of life for future generations.
If that sounds a bit daunting to organise by yourself then our volunteer programs are just what you need…
Before I launch in it’s important to say that tribes aren’t quite what they use to be. These days the indigenous communities have become a blur of traditional cultures and western influence. So whilst conditions might be basic and welcome ceremonies eccentric expect to see TVs in the living rooms and plenty of mobile phones about!
Starting in Tanzania with the Maasai. They originate from north-west Kenya but have since spread across all of Kenya and Tanzania. Maasai are traditional semi-nomadic farmers, moving with their animals seasonally. They are well known for their tribal dress, distinct traditions and customs.
One of the best known Maasai traditions is the coming of age ceremony for boys when they reach 16. After circumcision they will leave home and roam free for months, wearing only black with distinct white face paint and black headdresses. They are quite the site to behold along the side of the road as you are driving through the bush.
Our volunteer program in Tanzania will take you into the heart to the Maasai lands. You’ll learn how they trade, cook, dress and even dance! As soon as you leave the bustling town of Arusha you will see Maasai villages all around, from herdsmen in traditional robes with cattle to bomas of perfectly built mud huts. It’s a fascinating culture and definitely worth adding to your gap year bucket list.
Lake Titicaca in Peru is home to some of the Aymara community. Although conquered by the Inca’s the Aymara retained many of their traditional cultures and customs making them a tribe that dates far back in Peruvian history. Aymara ladies have a very elegant traditional dress that identifies them, they wear bowler hats, aguayo (colourful knitted shawls tied over the shoulders), heavy pollera, skirts, boots and lots of jewellery.
Coca is at the heart of Amyara communities, they have grown and chewed the plant for centuries despite difficulties with authorities who have tried to ban the plant due to it being used to make the drug cocaine.
The Aymara community that you will work with on our Peru gap year volunteer program are mainly subsistence farmers, struggling to maintain their traditional way of life with the heavy influence of western cultures. You will live and work with them, helping on the farms as well as improving infrastructure and teaching English. They aim to develop community tourism as an extra form of income to supplement and maintain their traditional cultural ways.
The Tsáchila are an indigenous tribe from the base of the Andes mountains in Ecuador. They are well known for their red hair which is shaved at the temples and styled to look like a helmet on top. The red colour comes from the juices of the achiote seed-pod. This tradition is said to hail from the time when smallpox was common among the communities and the achiote juices were thought to be a palliative prevention. Members of the indigenous tribe are easily identified by their striped skirts, men wear black and white whilst women traditionally wear more colourful garments.
As with many indigenous cultures in South America, the Tsáchila way of life is at threat from western influence. Youth in the community are drawn to the possibilities and wealth that cities offer and communities are slowly dying out. By joining our volunteer program in Ecuador you will live and work with the Tsáchila for two weeks. By improving infrastructure, schooling and bringing money in through tourism, volunteers help the community to realise that there is a bright future in the traditional ways and that conservation of their culture is important.
A rural community in Mentu is your first stop on our adventure through Borneo. Here you will live and work with members of the Iban tribe. Back in the day the Ibans were known for their headhunting ways, they had a fearful reputation as a strong and successful waring tribe. The Iban people have long since given up this habit and can now be found relaxing in front of a widescreen TV but some of the other cultural traditions still exist.
Many members of the community in Mentu still practice traditional beliefs and drink Tuak, Iban rice wine. When living in Mentu you will learn all about their culture whilst getting your hands dirty and helping with development within the community, everything from road to house building is vitally needed.
Whatever you do, embrace the local culture
So there’s some ways to have a cultural gap year. Don’t just hostel hop and see the main tourist sites. Stop and enjoy the culture everywhere you go.
When it comes to what to do in your gap year, a cultural gap year has to be a winner but if you want any more ideas you can find them here.
on 14 / 06 / 2018