Volunteering is a selfless way to give your time to work with people who are less fortunate than you are. It is an opportunity to utilize your skills as well as experiencing a country first hand. In many cases, you stay with local families or in rural towns, which in turn, helps you to immerse yourself in the country’s culture and way of life.
In reality, being a volunteer isn’t about you-it is about the community or people you are giving your time to, but there is no escaping the fact that volunteering enriches you as a person and holds a lasting impression on you for the rest of your life. Giving your time and skills, shifts your thoughts and values and it changes the way you perceive the world.
Do Your Research
The first step in the volunteering process is to do your research. Spending time sourcing various companies and gaining a real understanding of their mission statement is very important. You want to share the same beliefs and values with the NGO and be passionate about how you are going to be working for them
Getting in contact with the director of the company via email, phone or even in person will really help you concrete your understanding of the NGO and what their goals of the organisation are.
It is a sad fact that there are many people in this world who are profiting from NGO’s, with money and resources not reaching the people who need it most. On one occasion we have been caught out, even though we had researched the company and met with the director. Soon into our time volunteering we realised that that none of the money was reaching the smaller groups within the company. We are currently still investigating this matter further and we will continue until the matter is resolved.
Getting testimonials from real travellers and people who have just volunteered is a great way to ensure that the company who you decide to go with is worthwhile. Past volunteers are more likely to be honest about their experiences and can give you a glimpse into what it is like being a volunteer with your chosen NGO.
Spending Your Money
Another main reason why you want to do your research is because more often than not you will be handing over your own money. I used to struggle with this concept-often taken the standpoint of- ‘I am giving my time, so why should I be paying to do this as well?’ However, after being part of some fantastic grass roots organisations, I have really understood that my money ensures the continued achievements of these NGO’s. It helps to further fuel the initiatives put in place, working towards the ultimate goal of communities being educated and self-sufficient.
When speaking to different NGO’s don’t be afraid to ask where your money will be going. These companies should be transparent in where their funds are being allocated. Ask for break downs of prices and what percentage of your money will go to what parts of the program. You have the right to know exactly how your money will be spent.
Keeping Your Energy Up
When volunteering you are always giving 110%. That was the whole point you probably wanted to volunteer-to help and assist as much as you could, within your time frame. Whatever you are doing, whether it is teaching English, working on crops with locals or even educating communities about various health practices you will have an overwhelming sense of energy and passion for what you are doing.
It is important however, not to burn out while you are there. In many cases even though you might not necessarily be working long days, more often than not it is 6 days a week. It is important you do take time out for yourself once in a while and not be constantly planning your next task. Not only will this benefit you but it will also ensure when you are giving your time you are focussed and doing the best possible job you can.
If at times you have a lack of motivation, thrive off the locals’ attitude and willingness to learn from you. Give yourself back to them as much as they are giving to you. If you can see how positively you are affecting them, it won’t be hard to get your motivation back.
Even though you have applied for a specific job or task when you volunteer, you must also be flexible. You may think you are there to teach English every day, but there may be times when you are asked to do other tasks. Go with it and remember that you are there to help make a difference-and this change can come in many forms.
Also, your living conditions might be a lot different to what you are used to back at home. You might only have cold water, a bucket shower and a simple bedding. Adapting to local life can take some adjustment, but in the end, it all adds to your time volunteering. And besides, in all honestly, you will probably be so tired by the end of the day, you will just be glad you have somewhere to rest you head!
During your volunteer program be ready to laugh, cry and be shocked. When you are abroad you will be on a rollercoaster of emotions and the local people who you are helping will open your eyes to how simple life really is. It is amazing to see how people with so little can still be so happy with what they have. It makes you realise how superficial people can be in the modern world.
The people and communities you are with will also steal a part of your heart. The true thanks that they have towards you helping them in even the smallest way, is an extremely humbling experience. While we were teaching English in Cambodia, the smile on the children’s face when they learnt a new word or said a sentence correctly was a moment you can’t re-create. Their willingness to learn and share their own stories with you is infectious.
Many times, the communities are thanking you for your efforts and what you have taught or helped them with, when really it can often feel like we should be the ones thanking them. I believe it is these moments that make you truly appreciate life and the world around you
Life After Volunteering
When it does come to the day you leave your organisation, it is sad but happy occasion. You will feel like you have accomplished so much in so little time, yet can be hard to pull yourself away from the many human connections you have made. The memories you created will last you a lifetime.
Hopefully, you may be inspired to continue working with the NGO even from you own home. Ask them how you can help back in your own country and work towards achieving goals with them. We knew a girl while we were in Cambodia, who was helping build up a women’s centre for women who had fled from abusive relationships. She was educating them on how to set up their own businesses through handicrafts and tailoring. When it came for her to leave she ended up organising market stalls back in Belgium to sell the women’s handicrafts and tailoring work.
Maybe you might be driven to help within your own local community. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the same form of volunteering you did whilst away. Remember, every little bit helps.
Guest Poster Bio:
Co-founder of Positive World Travel, Anthony is on an indefinite journey taking photographs and videos to share with the world; showing others long-term travel is the ultimate lifestyle to live. Join him on Facebook and Twitter.