Halfway between Australia and Hawaii lies the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu, one of the world’s smallest and most remote countries. Despite being one of the world’s least-visited countries, Tuvalu is home to beautiful beaches, a warm tropical climate, and a vibrant Polynesian culture.
The creation story of Tuvalu is that of te Pusi mo te Ali (the Eel and the Flounder), who are said to have created the islands. Te Ali (the flounder) is believed to be the origin of the island’s flat atolls and te Pusi (the eel) is the coconut palms. This story can vary from island to island.
During the 16th to 19th centuries, several European countries made contact with Tuvalu through trade, whaling, scientific expeditions, and missionary work. The island was declared a British protectorate in 1892, as part of the Ellice Islands. Tuvalu was a key staging ground during WWII for the Allied Forces. Tuvalu officially became an independent country in 1978.
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 challenges including the threat of rising sea levels. Due to the climate emergency, Tuvalu announced plans in 2022 to build a self-digital replica in the metaverse to preserve its heritage.
Key things to consider about volunteering in Tuvalu
- Access to health services is limited to the main hospital. Chemists, pharmacies and private doctors are not available.
- The islands are small and there are limited open spaces. For example. 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.
- Cyclones and rising sea levels are a threat to Tuvalu. This is due to the islands’ low elevation.
- Having vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free dietary needs will be difficult. Food is imported, so specialty food can be difficult to come upon.
Culture and religion
Religion plays an important part in daily life. Christianity is the predominant religion in Tuvalu. Approximately 86% of the population belong to the Church of Tuvalu Sunday for many Tuvaluans is reserved for resting and attending church.
Dress is usually casual but it is customary for women to keep their thighs covered and to dress modestly for religious services.
Tuvaluan and English are the national languages. Volunteers will have opportunities to learn Tuvaluan.
The program provides funding to support language lessons. More information on this process will be available during the onboarding process.
Explore our Pride Guides
LGBTIQA+ program participants must be aware of the country's context before undertaking an assignment. Pride Guides are designed to introduce key issues related to people with diverse SOGISEC & their participation in the program.Learn more
Day to day life
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 rainwater is the only source to fill water tanks.
It is important to note the effects of climate change on day-to-day life and weather patterns in Tuvalu, this will look different based on location. According to the World Bank Tuvalu is particularly vulnerable to cyclone-generated winds, storm surges and swells, as well as spring tides. Since 1993, Tuvalu’s sea level has been rising by approximately 5 mm per year.
Telecommunications access can be challenging due to the country’s isolated geography. Mobile and other telecommunication plans can be costly and may sometimes be limited in connectivity. Domestically, communication is manageable while international communication may pose more of a challenge. Average mode of communication is through social media platforms and applications.
Food and dining
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.
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.
When it comes to your safety and security you must be willing to adapt your behaviour and lifestyle to minimise the potential for being a target of crime. Like anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Tuvalu.
Tuvalu is considered to be safe. Volunteers are welcomed and are well looked after by the community. Like any country, volunteers should always remain vigilant with regards to their personal safety.
Personal safety issues constantly evolve, we recommend you keep an eye on Smartraveller for current information.
Mobility and accessibility
We’re committed to ensuring that international volunteering is inclusive and accessible to Australians from a range of backgrounds, with diverse perspectives, identities and abilities.
To support this, Access and Inclusion Plans are available for volunteers with disabilities to assess their needs and ensure their living and working requirements are fully considered. Indigenous Pathways is an Indigenous-led program that focuses on providing culturally safe, flexible and tailored support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers.
Before applying for a volunteering assignment in Tuvalu, please do some further research on living in Tuvaluand 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.