When you’re on holiday or travelling, it can be difficult to make a meaningful contribution to the places that you pass through. A classic, long-term volunteering commitment means having weeks, if not months, to spare. And on short trips it can be difficult to make contact with local people, without the help of an organisation. That’s where the platform TeachSurfing comes in.
“There are many educational institutions and communities that are looking for experts: native speakers, artists, engineers or sportspeople. And at the same time, there are many people who would be happy to share those skills. But there aren’t any free, flexible opportunities to bring both those groups together,” says programmer Miganoush Magarian, who founded TeachSurfing with her colleague Gretta Hohl.
The online platform works just like a social network. Participants sign up and supply information about their travel destinations, interests and skills. It’s not just about offering “professional” knowledge; the platform lets you offer your native language, your culture, even your hobbies – anything from IT skills and singing lessons, to playing football.
“We believe that everyone has knowledge that is of value to other people” says Magarian.
And it works the same the other way around too: organisations can also register and search for people with particular skills, or specify a particular area in which they need educational support. In that way, a match can be made before a holiday has even begun.
TeachSurfing was launched in mid-2015 and since then 1500 potential TeachSurfers and 163 organisations around the world have registered.
The next step will be making the platform usable on a local level. The founders have come to the realisation that there are a huge number of schools and communities in the local area that have a demand for informal education, and many experts nearby who are prepared to share their skills.
While the ethics of super short-term volunteering opportunities have been the subject of criticism in recent years, TeachSurfing seems to offer a somewhat different experience: they don’t charge any fees to participate, the organisations they match with are genuinely seeking outside help, and they make it quite clear that the knowledge that TeachSurfers offer is informal in nature. And if the platform can get up and running on a local level too, that would be a huge step too: a genuine opportunity to think global, act local.