May Vane and James Brok
Volunteering is a great way to share your skills around the world. Some choose this option in the best sense of wanting to pass their skills on to others and then leave them to it. Whilst others use it more as Voluntourism, where they choose a project for so many weeks or months where they can do some work but can also see the country.
There is nothing wrong with either of these when you approach it with a positive mindset. However, it can fall apart when volunteers behave as thought they are better than the people they are teaching and sharing skills with. This is a huge pity especially when it’s actually volunteers who leave with more than they will ever be able to give the locals.
There are many amongst us who have volunteered around the world and although we regularly discuss the positives of this and will also promote those to others. We have all got negative experiences to share from what we have witnessed from the behaviour of other so-called volunteers.
In this post we want to show both sides and hopefully encourage prospective volunteers to go with the right attitude and to share the best of themselves rather than simply taking from the country they are in.
There are many reputable organisations who you can volunteer with for any time scale from 2 weeks to 2 years. Our advice would be to:
Do your research: Don’t just pay an organisation for a short term voluntary placement without seeing where that money goes. If you will be living with a family then find out when they will receive the money allocated for food and accommodation. There have been experiences where although the family were due to receive all money ahead of time, they actually didn’t. This meant that the family were struggling to feed the volunteers and were going without food themselves so that they could still be hospitable towards the volunteers. This is of course unacceptable.
Think about what you actually want: This might seem obvious but it is worth thinking it through properly. How long do you actually want to be abroad for? What project are you best working on in relation to the skills you can offer? Do you want to get to know a place properly and work with local people or do you really just want to see the country?
If you want to travel, then travel: Don’t volunteer if really all you want to do is see the country. Through volunteering and working alongside the locals, you will learn so much more than simply travelling. However, if you go to volunteer but make no attempt to spend weekends with your family or work colleagues/ friends then you’ll give a really negative impression.
Do you want short term or long term volunteering?: Long term volunteering can be for a year and more. You can apply to an organisation which will send you to a project matched to your skills and they often pay for your accommodation and provide a stipend so you are also able to live just above the local level.
Volunteering is a great experience and one which will add to your CV but do it for the right reasons. If you don’t wish to work abroad then don’t forget there will be lots of projects in your own country which you can help with at the weekends or during a break from work.