Volunteering in Tuvalu

Halfway between Australia and Hawaii lies the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu, one of the world’s smallest and most remote countries.

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Australian volunteer, Gabi McMahon with colleagues and counterparts from the Education department in Funafuti. Photo: Darren James
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Aerial view of Tuvalu. Photo: Darren James
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Australian volunteer, Doris Cunningham with her counterpart, Fuafuaga Tui a junior clerk at TANGO. Photo: Darren James
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Australian volunteer, Gabi McMahon (right) with her colleague Kaai Fanoiga, Acting Director of Education. Photo: Darren James
Men in traditional dress in Funafuti Tuvalu
Men in traditional dress in Funafuti, Tuvalu.

About Tuvalu

While Tuvalu is one of the world’s least-visited countries, white sandy beaches, a warm tropical climate, and a vibrant Polynesian culture come together to make Tuvalu a truly under-rated destination.

Tuvalu is home to 11,000 people, with more than half of the population living in the capital Funafuti, where most government infrastructure and services are based. These include parliament, the courts, main businesses, the main hospital, the maritime training school and the airport. 

The island nation's growth is constrained by its geographic isolation and small population, and as a result Tuvalu faces a number of challenges.

The islands are small and there are limited open spaces. When the airport runway is not in use, its converted into a playground where children play a variety of sports including basketball, rugby and volleyball.

Access to health services is limited to the main hospital as chemists, pharmacies and private doctors are not available.

Due to the islands' low elevation the devastating impact of tropical cyclones and rising sea levels are a constant threat to survival.  

Volunteering opportunities in Tuvalu support communities across a range of development priorities, including:

  • governance 
  • economic growth 
  • education  
  • health 
  • environmental resilience 

Read more about our impact in Tuvalu in our country fact sheet.

Life as a volunteer in Tuvalu

Cultural sensitivities, dress and alcohol 

Religion plays an important part in daily life. Sunday for many Tuvaluans is reserved for resting and attending church. Volunteers should ensure alternative activities on Sunday do not cause any disruption. 

Dress is usually casual but it is customary for women to keep their thighs covered and to dress modestly for religious services. 

Alcohol can be purchased in shops, including a local alcohol made from coconut tree sap called 'kao'. 

Language

Tuvaluan and English are the national languages. Volunteers will have opportunities to learn Tuvaluan. 

Climate 

Tuvalu is typically tropical with a wet season from November to March. Severe tropical storms are rare although they can cause severe flooding. If a dry season is unusually long, water can become scarce, which is problematic as rain water is the only source to fill water tanks. 

Telecommunications

Internet connectivity can be challenging and expensive in Tuvalu. However, the World Bank recently approved a grant to develop Tuvalu’s internet network which should improve services. 

Food 

Fresh vegetables and fruit may be difficult to buy as most produce is imported from overseas. Small supermarkets, shops and markets are available but special dietary requirements are not catered for. Purchasing specialty food items prior to arrival is strongly recommended. 

Accommodation and transport

Furnished apartments by the beach are available to rent and can be organised through the in-country team. 

With few roads and a small population, walking is a safe and easy way to get around. Locals tend to prefer motorbikes with many volunteers opting for push-bikes.  

Security 

Tuvalu is considered quite safe and relatively crime-free. Volunteers are welcomed with warm smiles and are well looked after by the community. Like any country, volunteers should be remain vigilant with regards to their personal safety. 

Before applying for a volunteering assignment in Tuvalu, please do some further research on living in Tuvalu and the organisation you are hoping to volunteer with. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to discuss expected living and working arrangements with their recruitment officer.