SECMOL welcomes volunteers, their work, and the inter-cultural exchange and understanding they bring.
For 2017 we already have enough volunteers and can not accept any more volunteers at all (except skating volunteers for December, January or early February). Due to unexpected media coverage we have received more volunteering emails than ever before. For new applicants, we now require a minimum age of 23 for volunteering.
For volunteers starting in December or January, please apply by 1 October, and we will inform you by 7 October.
Volunteers with real ice skating expertise are welcome to apply any time for Dec-Jan-Feb.
For volunteers starting in February or March, please apply by 1 December.
For volunteers starting in April, May or June, apply by 1 February.
For starting in July, August or September, apply by 1 May,
For starting in October or November, apply by 1 July.
Please apply early so both you and we can clarify all questions before the deadline.
For most of the year, no special skills are needed from volunteers, but from May through August, we prefer volunteers who can stay for more than 2 months or who have special skills. In January we hope to get ice-skating volunteers who can teach ice-skating, figure skating, or hockey.
The minimum time for volunteering at SECMOL is 4 weeks. If it is for your college or an internship, or if you want a ‘certificate,’ the minimum is 6 weeks.
Volunteers stay at SECMOL Campus, and pay Rs 550 per day for room and board (vegetarian food and shared rooms) in 2018.
If you are interested in volunteering at SECMOL, fill out the volunteer form, and we will reply to you by email. The internet is unreliable in Ladakh so it can take 1 to 2 weeks to get a reply from us. Phones are even less reliable. If you email us, please be patient.
Volunteer numbers have been increasing in the past few years, which is wonderful, but sometimes cancellations and no-shows have caused problems. For this reason, we have to ask domestic (Indian) volunteers to send their room and board to our bank account before we consider them confirmed. (It is not easy to send money internationally so we can not ask foreign volunteers to do this). So please email us, discuss all your questions, and then when both you and we agree that you should come, confirm by transferring the 4 weeks’ room and board.Volunteering calendar for 2017
October 2017 to April 2018: General volunteers are welcome, for a minimum of 4 weeks.
13 – 23 December 2017: Losar break. Most of our students will go home for Ladakhi Buddhist New Year, so this should not be counted in your minimum of 4 weeks.
January 2018: If you can teach basic or advanced ice skating, figure skating or hockey, please come for January! The ice lasts about 25 Dec. to 10 Feb. (but is a bit mushy for that last week). If you don’t skate, you probably won’t want to come only for January, because it’s the coldest month, all other activities get disrupted during skating season, and you won’t have much to do except feel cold.
February 2018: Volunteers are welcome. In February we’ll run a youth camp where we’ll use all volunteers for several conversation classes daily, and then we’ll say goodbye to the old Foundation Year students and select a new batch.
Last week of February and First week of March: There will be a gap between the old Foundation students and the new batch starting, so volunteers should not count this time as part of the minimum 4 weeks for volunteering.
March-April: The new Foundation Year will begin, and again volunteers are wanted for conversation class and activities. The students who come here after failing their class 10 exam will retake it in May, so volunteers who can coach a subject for the Indian exam system are especially useful in April.
May – September: Many volunteering teachers and visiting student groups come every year in these summer months. We will prefer volunteers who can stay at least two months, or who have special skills.
For conversation classes with Ladakhi students, you don’t need perfect English or teaching experience. The students are eager to learn about the world and share about Ladakh, and we appreciate the variety of experiences and viewpoints that volunteers bring. We have even had Japanese and French volunteers who came to improve their own English.
You can join our students for one or both of the daily work hours (our students are in two groups). This could include anything: gardening, cleaning rooms, washing carpets, cutting trees, helping the cook cut vegetables, digging, building with mud, straightening the library, etc.
Over the years, some volunteers have also taught photography, helped students with independent study projects, helped them put on plays or make videos (in English, Hindi or Ladakhi), taught us new games or exercises, done an art, music or dance workshop, helped the students in charge of the weekly Campus Times newsletter, coached individual students with the subjects they are preparing for state exams, etc.
Can you skate or play hockey? Come and experience the “off season” in Ladakh, and participate in Ladakh’s annual ice frenzy. Skating is a relatively new phenomenon in Ladakh and has caught on like wildfire. Ladakh warmer than much of Canada and northern USA: dependable skating weather here is only late December, January, and early February.
Consider coming in early December to get to know the students and start training them for skating and hockey. Our girls form a hockey team for local tournaments, and volunteer coaches have been great. We would also love to have someone teach figure skating.
SECMOL has an English teacher, and we do not ask inexperienced untrained volunteers to teach classes. Thirty students who are dropouts or have failed the Class 10 exam in their villages stay at SECMOL Campus for “Foundation Year” from March to February. One of their main goals is to improve their English, because higher education in India is in English, and most jobs require some English. We also teach basic and practical maths, science and social studies. SECMOL staff teach the regular classes, but volunteers who are skilled teachers sometimes introduce exciting new ways of teaching and learning. An experienced or trained teacher could either teach directly or help our staff with teaching materials and methods.
Sometimes when we get an extra volunteer with teaching skills, we send them out to teach in other schools. Some volunteers have walked daily to the Phey Monastery School 3 km away to teach there. Others have gone to stay in remote villages and help with teaching in schools there.
A domestic (Indian) volunteer who can coach small groups for 10th class exams in April-May or October-November can be an asset. The subjects are maths, Urdu, Hindi, social studies, and science. At the beginning of Foundation Year the student’s English level will be too low for such classes, so you would have to know Hindi or Urdu to do this in April-May. Generally, Indian volunteers understand the exam system, whereas foreign volunteers get frustrated and outraged when they learn about the Indian exam system.
SECMOL Youth Camps, every year after the 10th class exams finish, are a fun and useful way for general volunteers to get involved. No special skills or experience are needed. These will probably be in late November and early December 2017, and February and April 2018. The exact dates are decided much closer to the time, so please check on the upcoming events of our website, and we also pin the dates on our FaceBook page.
Ladakhis who have just finished 10th class (age 16-18) attend the camps. The purpose is to expose them to social and environmental ideas at this critical juncture of their lives, to boost their confidence, and to try to fill in some education that their schools miss, especially environmental and Ladakh-specific knowledge. Since SECMOL’s first camps in 1992, the chance to learn English through conversation with volunteers has been a major draw for Ladakhi youth.
In order to satisfy so many youth, it is great to have enough volunteers for English “conversation class”, joining daily work with the campers, and teaching us new games, exercise, yoga, activities, etc. Our teachers teach the academic classes and organise the conversation topics or games. You don’t need perfect English for conversation, just a friendly interest in Ladakh and in sharing your time and views with these young Ladakhis.
Volunteers stay at our campus 16 km from Leh town. The meals are vegetarian, and we have clean drinking water for you. Our buildings are all solar powered and solar heated, so you are welcome at any time of year.
Volunteers share rooms, up to four per room. The bathing block is not attached to the bedrooms, and the toilets are traditional Ladakhi dry composting toilets. We provide bedding and blankets, but if you come in winter you might like to have your own sleeping bag, if you happen to own one.
Volunteers pay for room and board (vegetarian food and shared rooms).
The facilities at SECMOL (electricity, water, class timing, purchasing food and supplies, etc) are run and maintained by the students, with some advice from teacher/managers. Things may not be as perfectly organised as in your home place, but we ask you to try to take an attitude of helping out rather than complaining.
Article 2017, about an American volunteer who came for three winters to both SECMOL and the related Ice Stupa project.
5 min video by a visitor in 2013: good overview of SECMOL life
3 min slideshow video of their experience by a domestic (Indian) volunteer couple, 2015
Blog by Indian-American student on gap-year, 2012
Blog by Maori volunteer from New Zealand, 2012
Blog by a volunteering English couple, 2011
Blog by domestic (Indian) volunteer, 2011 (scroll down to 2012 post)
FAQsMinimum time for volunteering
Please plan your trip so that you have at least four weeks volunteering at SECMOL in addition to any other travel you want to do in Ladakh. It takes some time to get to know the people here and learn how to be useful, especially for general volunteers. We have a weekly day off, usually Saturday or Sunday, that you can use for day trips. There are often special activities and disruptions to the regular schedule, so 4 weeks of volunteering doesn’t always mean 4 full weeks of campus classes and activities, and a shorter total time might turn out frustrating.
From May to August we get so many volunteers and visiting groups that we would prefer to have a minimum of two months during that time, except for volunteers with an exceptional teaching skill or workshop to offer.
If you are already in touch with us about a specific short training or service, this minimum might not apply.
Visiting student groups usually don’t have 4 weeks, so we can host them for a shorter time, but they pay more for their room and board.
Sure! Please visit on Monday, Wednesday or Friday at 9:30 am, staying until lunchtime. In 2017 these are our visiting hours, when we set aside time to give visitors a tour of the solar campus and have students talk with them. You can get a taxi from Leh, or come with your own bike or car.
The meals at SECMOL Campus are vegetarian. Breakfast is usually homemade wheat bread or barley meal, and the other two meals are either rice, dal and a vegetable, or traditional Ladakhi dishes like skyu or thukpa, forms of wheat pasta.
Our water is from our deep borewell, which has been tested and declared clean by the army research laboratory.
If you don’t eat eggs, tell the cook and ask before meals, and you will find them easy to avoid because we rarely have them hidden in other food. Avoiding eggs is common among Indian and Ladakhi vegetarians, so when we serve them, there is always another eggless option.
If you can’t take dairy products or milk, you’ll find it more difficult than avoiding eggs. Our normal tea is sweet milk tea. When SECMOL’s cows are producing plenty of milk, we serve yoghurt (curd) with breakfast, occasionally a yoghurt-dip with other meals, or for feasts a paneer dish, but there should usually be other options. However prepare yourself to have difficulty being understood about this in India.
Gluten is difficult to avoid in North India and Ladakh. We normally have rice as the base for one meal a day, and wheat or barley for the other two. These are the staple foods of Ladakh. Other grains such as millet, maize and oats are not generally known. Prepare yourself to have difficulty being understood about this in India.
Nuts are not normally used in Ladakhi cooking, so if you have a severe nut allergy, do tell our cook, but nuts are unlikely to be hidden in our food anyway. If cooking oil could be a problem, check the container of oil currently being used in the kitchen, and we can get a different kind of oil if necessary.
Jain food is a bit difficult for us to arrange, as we use onions and garlic in almost every meal, as well as potatoes and other non-Jain vegetables. We have done it once or twice, but the Jain guests were not as well fed as we would have wished.
Volunteers at SECMOL share rooms, usually up to four people per room. The men’s and women’s hostel buildings are normally separate.
The bathing block is separate from the houses. There is cold running water at any time, or you can get a bucket of warm water from the solar water heater in the midday for a bucket shower in a private cubicle. The tap water is clean for drinking because it is from a deep well in the desert.
We use Ladakhi dry composting toilets, an ecological and simple choice in this cold desert. You “flush” it by throwing a shovelful of dry soil or sawdust down the hole.
SECMOL does not receive funding for hosting volunteers. Everyone living at the campus, including staff and students, pays for room and board. We get a lot of requests from people about volunteering, but can only handle about 3 to 8 volunteers at any one time. Many have no particular skills that will be very useful, but we are glad to have the cultural exchange. On the other hand, we would not want to spend our time watching over volunteers to make sure they are earning their keep.
2013 saw a huge increase in domestic volunteer emails: 40 domestic volunteers came, 12 cancelled, and 21 said they were coming but then simply didn’t show up. In 2014, after many domestic volunteers saying they would come in May, we told a lot of new enquiries not to come — but then several of them cancelled or failed to show up.
For these reasons we now ask domestic volunteers to send their 4 weeks of room and board before we consider them confirmed. This is non-refundable. When we have enough volunteers confirmed for a given time, we will say no to any further ones. It is not because we want your money sooner, but to stop people from saying “I am definitely coming” when in fact they are still not sure.
Transferring money internationally often carries unreasonable fees, so we can only ask foreign volunteers to please tell us if you have to cancel.
We will give a certificate or letter, or communicate with your college about you, only if you volunteer for 6 weeks or more. It usually takes a few weeks to get to know our students and their needs, and to understand how to actually be helpful.
Sure! From October to April you will need winter clothes, but it’s a nice quiet time since the tourists are gone. The weather in winter is cold at night, but most days are sunny and warm, and our buildings keep reasonable temperatures indoors. There isn’t much snow here in the high desert. Outdoor temperatures go down to -20C (-5F) at night in Dec-Feb. Indoor temperatures at SECMOL are usually above +15C (60F) in winter, although a cloudy spell in January may make our rooms go down to +10C (50F) at night for a week or two. Most other houses and businesses in Ladakh are often much colder.
January is the coldest month, so if you don’t skate, maybe you shouldn’t come for only January. All other activities get disrupted during skating season and you won’t have much to do except feel cold.
We provide bedding and blankets, but you might like to bring your own sleeping bag, if you happen to own one.
If you come in winter, you should bring:
– a coat and 2 sweaters for layering
– hat, gloves, and muffler/scarf
– long underwear to layer under pants
– warm socks
– sandals or slippers that you can wear with your warm socks
– If you’ve ever loved a hot water bottle, you will want it here. A steel water bottle can be a dual-purpose solution.
All of these are available in Leh market, but you will need to be wearing most of them when you land at Leh airport, so pack them in your carry-on baggage.
Roads connecting Ladakh to other parts of India are closed all winter so you will have to fly to Ladakh if you want to come in winter.
There are daily flights to Leh throughout the year. The roads connecting Ladakh to the rest of the country are open only in summer.
Air India, Jet Airways, GoAir and Vistara serve Leh (IXL). All flights are in the morning. There are several daily flights from Delhi to Leh, and a few weekly flights from Jammu, Chandigarh, Srinagar and Mumbai.
From May to October, you can come by road via Srinagar, or June through September via Manali. The pass from Srinagar is not as high and that route increases in altitude gradually, so it is the best way to arrive in Ladakh. The Manali-Leh road crosses very high passes, so it’s better to take that road out after you are already acclimatised to Ladakh’s altitude. Some years the Srinagar-Leh road opens in April or stays open until November, but it is entirely unpredictable, so if you are coming anytime from late October through early May, it is more reliable to fly. Consult one of the many travel guide books about India or Ladakh. For the latest information and advice from people who are currently travelling, search the IndiaMike forum. The official status of the two roads is on the local government’s website.
The nearest railway station is at Jammu, two days’ road travel from Leh.
The easiest way is by taxi. Leh taxis have SECMOL Campus (Phey village) on their rate list. If you come to SECMOL from Leh airport, please take a taxi from the taxi stand there.
Our bus goes from the campus to Leh most days, so that will be cheaper for you when volunteers visit Leh, but it is not useful when you first arrive from the airport in the morning.
If you have your own car or bike, check the directions page.
Public buses pass 3 km away from SECMOL campus, but it is a long walk across the desert, so do not use a public bus for your first arrival, especially if your bag is heavy.
You can get almost anything you need in Leh. Pack light!
At SECMOL you will need sandals or slippers that you can slip off easily. During cold months please bring sandals (chappals) that you can wear with socks.
Bring a torch, flashlight or headlamp. You may want to carry your own toilet paper.
We try to separate our garbage and deal with it ecologically, so please avoid disposable items such as hand-wipes.
Ladakh is high desert, so you may need stronger moisturiser and lip balm than you do at home, and sunscreen.
You can get much of what you need in Leh: shampoo, moisturiser, sunscreen, sanitary napkins, batteries, warm socks and sweaters, etc. Women, if you can, please bring cotton tampons without applicators: these are not available in Leh.
If you want to bring a gift, ice skates and hockey gear are hugely appreciated and we can’t get them locally. For our library, illustrated children’s non-fiction is usually the most popular type. Puzzles, educational games, and teaching materials are great. Don’t bring pens and notebooks all the way from your country as they are available in Leh, but if you are planning to do art with our students, you might not find good art supplies locally.
As in the rest of India, many local people disapprove of clothing that shows your body. For both men and women, long trousers such as jeans are fine. Some of our students wear (long) shorts casually around campus, but locals won’t like to see you wearing shorts at monasteries, etc.
Even in summer, a sweater might be needed in evenings, and rainy weather gets chilly fast, so bring sweaters or jackets that you can alternate or layer together just in case.
If you are coming in winter (October to April) see the note about winter, above.
In India, electricity is 220 V AC, 50 Hz. All electricity at SECMOL Campus is produced by our solar panels. If your equipment works in Europe, it should work here. You can use and charge your camera, laptop and phone on SECMOL’s solar power, but please don’t use any appliance that produces heat, such as a hair dryer or immersion heater, because they use hundreds of times more power.
North American electricity is 110 V AC, but equipment that is meant to be taken travelling (eg mobile phones, cameras, laptops) accepts both voltages. If in doubt, look at the fine print on the bottom or back of the equipment, usually near where the power cord enters the equipment or the adapter. If it says 110—240 V AC, it will be fine here. North American equipment that is not normally taken travelling, such as desktop computers, printers, kitchen appliances, etc., will be damaged by 220 V.
If your equipment is from Europe, or is from North America and accepts 220 V, all you need is a small physical plug adapter. The prongs of plugs in India are round, and thicker than those in Europe. In our office and computer room, we have power strips that accept American and European plugs, but to charge your phone in your room or while travelling you might need a small plug adapter that changes the shape of the prongs. These are easily found in Leh or Delhi and should cost Rs 50 ($1). There is no need to bring them from abroad, as they probably will not fit the Indian outlets well.
As this is a school environment, of course you must not drink alcohol at all or take drugs while you are at SECMOL. Also, do not come back drunk after drinking outside SECMOL.
If you smoke cigarettes, do not smoke inside buildings, not even in your room. Please keep it out of sight, and take the opportunity for a short walk behind the trees overlooking the Indus River.
Volunteers who smoke inside buildings, or who get drunk or do drugs will be asked to leave.
Many women travellers find Ladakh to have less hassles than other parts of India, but of course no place in this world is entirely harassment-free. As anywhere, carry yourself confidently and back it up by being prepared so that you know where you are going, etc. In much of India, a single woman making conversation with a man may be taken as a come-on. These unfortunate attitudes are less in Ladakh than in much of India, but not entirely absent.
In Ladakh as in much of the rest of India, clothing that shows off your body may attract negative attitudes from some local people. Long trousers such as jeans are perfect; pants that just cover the knees are common now, but women wearing shorts are still not common in Ladakh. Skirts, even long ones, can be difficult to be discreet in. In the town or villages, local women sometimes make disparaging comments in Ladakhi about tourists in scanty clothing.
SECMOL’s toilets are composters, so tampons are better than napkins, but please no plastic applicators, so o.b. or European style tampons are best, and brands like Natracare and Seventh Generation are all cotton and biodegradable.
Ask your doctor about going to 10,500 feet/ 3200 metres, especially if you have any blood, heart, or lung disorder, or diabetes. SECMOL Campus is 1000 feet/300 m lower than Leh town, so problems on arrival are slightly less common here than in Leh. A significant minority of people who come to Ladakh suffer Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), while the majority have only mild symptoms. Severe or dangerous cases are not very common but do sometimes happen. Sufferers of asthma and breathing allergies often find that they actually improve in Ladakh. Leh market is 11,500 feet / 3500 m, while SECMOL is 10,500 feet / 3200 m.
Normal reactions to the altitude, not considered AMS, can include: lightheadedness on the day of arrival, need to get up and urinate at night or otherwise disturbed sleep for a few days, and shortness of breath on the slightest exercise. It is called AMS if you get a headache, serious dizziness, or vomiting. Leh hospital treats tourists with AMS every day throughout the tourist season — please lighten their burden by avoiding it. Worse reactions than AMS are rare here, and Leh hospital can recognise and treat them.
Diamox (acetazolamide) helps you acclimatise to high altitude faster, by making you breathe a little bit faster. This gets more oxygen into your blood and prevents the common type of altitude sickness (AMS). If your doctor prescribes it, you should start it 24 to 48 hours before ascent to start the process before you arrive. Then continue for two days, by which time you are probably acclimatised anyway. Diamox does not have serious side effects in most people, though it can make the fingers and toes tingle intensely and can make bubbly drinks taste flat. However, rarely people are allergic to it, so ask your doctor about it. Acetazolamide is not a painkiller, so it does not “mask the symptoms of AMS” (a common misconception).
If you only get a headache and/or dizziness in the first day or two on arrival, just rest. If you like, take an ibuprofen (Brofen) for the headache, or if your doctor prescribed diamox and you haven’t taken it yet, then do, although it is much more effective if started a day or two ahead. If you vomit, get a splitting headache, or experience any strange symptoms in your lungs or heart, Leh hospital is ready to treat visitors with oxygen and medicine.
Read more about visiting high altitude from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Best travel options to avoid AMS (Only a few people will get AMS)
1) Come by road from Srinagar to Leh, stopping overnight in Sonamarg or Kargil.
2) Fly to Leh, while starting acetazolamide (Diamox) 24 – 48 hours before arrival and continuing for two days after arrival.
3) Come by road from Manali to Leh, stopping for two nights in Keylong.
Medium travel options (Some people will get AMS)
1) Fly to Leh without taking acetazolamide, and then rest for one or two days.
2) Come by road from Srinagar without stopping overnight on the way.
3) Come from Manali, stopping only one night in Keylong.
Worst travel options (Most people will get AMS, and some will get more serious problems)
1) Come by road from Manali, stopping overnight at Pang or Sarchu.
2) Fly into Leh, and then the same or next day, either exercise or proceed to a higher altitude such as Khardong-La or Pangong Lake.
Inform yourself about the effects of high altitude.
High desert increases risk of sunburn and dehydration. Consider bringing sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses and a shade hat.
There is no malaria because Ladakh is too high for the particular species of mosquito. Other insect-borne diseases such as encephalitis and dengue have not been reported in Ladakh.
Take precautions for all the water-borne diseases that are prevalent in India (i.e. travel vaccines and hygiene measures). We have clean drinking water at SECMOL, but you will also visit other places. Make sure that your common vaccinations are up to date. Rabies shots are available at Leh hospital in case of a dog bite.
Ladakh is not in Kashmir, although it is in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. Ladakh has not suffered any of the terrorist attacks or militancy of Kashmir Valley. The last time there was any disruption to tourists was in 1999 in Kargil, the western half of Ladakh.
The US State Department advice on India travel says that the eastern region of J&K, i.e. Ladakh, and its capital Leh are safe, but recommends against travel in the rest of the state of J&K (as of 1st Sept 2017).
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice on India travel says that the region of Ladakh and the city of Jammu are safe, but advises against all but essential travel to Srinagar and the rest of the Kashmir Valley (as of 1st Sept 2017).
Minor events along the Chinese border happen almost every year but have not affected civilians or tourists, regardless of intense coverage in the national media. SECMOL and Leh town are a long distance from both borders.
State Bank of India, J&K Bank, Axis, ICICI, Punjab National, and HDFC have ATMs in Leh town. Volunteers usually go to Leh town on SECMOL’s weekly day off, Saturday or Sunday. Thomas Cook and some banks have money exchange counters.
Internet, email and phone are unreliable in Leh — so tell your friends and family not to expect daily replies as it can take you several days to get a connection.There is only one broadband provider in Ladakh, and they do not provide service at SECMOL Campus, so we do not have internet for volunteers to use. If you have a SIM card that works in J&K, you should get minimal internet service at SECMOL, and some service in Leh town.
Volunteers can receive emergency email messages at SECMOL’s email address, which you will have when you contact us about volunteering.
Indian post-paid mobile phones under BSNL, Airtel, and Aircel should work in Leh and at SECMOL Campus, better at some spots than others. Pre-paid SIM cards from other states of India do not work in J&K.
You can get a local SIM card in Leh (or Jammu or Srinagar). You’ll need several passport photos, photocopies of your ID-card or passport and visa, and a form filled by a local person referring you, with his or her ID-card photocopy. Any SECMOL staff can give you the referral.
Even if you have a SIM card that works locally, the network is often “busy”, and callers may be told wrongly, that your phone is switched off or out of range. Tell them to try a few times. Currently as of September 2017, SMS messages work in J&K, so you may find those the best way to keep in touch. However, the government sometimes restricts SMS messaging in J&K.
From the Campus land-line (currently out of order in September 2017) you can make local and in-state calls, but we do not have long-distance service. You can receive telephone calls on the Campus landline at the numbers on the contact page. Your friends or family are welcome to call you to check that you arrived safely or give special news, but we are forty or more people sharing two phone lines, so please ask them to keep the calls brief.