Volunteer for free. We get this request a lot. It is possible, depending on your definition. The most extreme requests are for "volunteer" positions that pay you! That isn't volunteering, that's employment. For that, you will generally need to approach organizations based in your own country that do work in other countries, but remember, you are doing it as a job applicant. It is highly unlikely that you will be considered without a long term commitment.
A more reasonable request is for food and accommodation. This straddles the line between employment and volunteering. After all, you are receiving compensation, even if it isn't monetary. Some schools, children's homes, and orphanages will do this. Of course you will need to have very limited expectations of the food quality, and the accommodations will be bare boned. Once again, a time commitment would be expected. Hanging out with kids for a few weeks will generally not be seen as worth any subsidy by the receiving organization.
When I speak of defining "free", I'm not trying to be coy. If you pay a modest fee for accommodation and meals, but nothing else, is this free? I would say it is. If you are met at an airport and driven to the place where you are working, this is a service that requires someone's time, the use of a vehicle, and the price of gasoline. If you took a taxi, it would cost. If the volunteer program provides the service instead, and charges you, are you still volunteering for free? The same goes for a tour of the town and 24/7 emergency support. In other words, on a volunteer program, you might receive many services. Where do you draw the line between volunteering for free and paying to volunteer?
At ELI, our programs are among the least expensive in the field, but we have two programs that I consider free: our Youth Initiative programs in Nepal and Uganda. In fact, most of our volunteer projects in Uganda are "free". "But there's a fee!" you say. True, but only enough to cover the most basic expenses. ELI offers these at a loss (albeit very small). These are programs that we have chosen to subsidize. The few little extras that you are paying for compensate our coordinators in the country for their time and expenses. There is value to be welcomed by a local when arriving in a strange and exotic place.
If you are looking for "free" volunteering, you might want to consider these. And I hope that after this short explanation, you will agree with the label.
By Kevin O'Neill