Meg Kneafsey is a returned International Citizen Service (ICS) volunteer with Raleigh International and is an ICS Selector for Restless Development and Balloon Ventures. She has volunteered on projects abroad in Nicaragua, Tanzania and India.
Volunteering Abroad is a popular choice for young people. You get to see the world and do something worthwhile. It can seem quite daunting before signing up, but it is a fantastic experience and I would recommend taking the most of the opportunities available. To find the best organisations, projects and make the most of your experience, here are my six top tips:
Volunteer in the UK
Show your commitment to volunteering by doing it in the UK before jetting off abroad. It’s great to get experience, particularly in the same areas you’ll be working in abroad. You also start to understand the expectations and responsibilities of volunteering, all part of your preparation for departure. Finally, if your volunteer placement abroad is competitive, you can talk about your volunteering as part of your application.
Work to your Strengths
If you’ve had experience teaching languages, why not teach English? If you’re sporty, why not work with after-school sport clubs? If you’re an aspiring medic, why not work with HIV/AIDS groups? You’re not always going to have the experience, but having an interesting and passion for the project you could be working on is essential. Look for something that will truly interest you and you can realistically learn about.
Find out about different charities available; where they go, how projects differ, and price breakdowns. Importantly, educate yourself on sustainability and ethics. For example, it can be considered unethical to work for two weeks in an orphanage due to detachment issues children may experiencesuch and orphanages becoming a business. You don’t want to be making a negative impact. Consider the length of your volunteering; how much can you realistically achieve in a few weeks? Is this sustainable? Only apply for projects and charities that you know enough about.
Knowing as much as possible about the charity you will be working with and the project will help you with your fundraising. You can inform people exactly what you’re doing and garner more support. This is particularly important when you’re applying for grants. Grants are everywhere but sometimes difficult to find. Ask for support from the charity you’re working with; often they will know of available grants. Be prepared to supplement your fundraising efforts with a part-time job!
Now you know where you’re going and what you’re doing, it’s time to make sure you’re as prepared as you can be. Learn as much as you can of the country and the language before you arrive, to ensure you don’t make any social faux-pas and improve your communication! If you’re going to be doing something you have no experience of, then prepare like you would for any job. For example, if you are teaching then learn different methods and teaching practices available.
The only way you can get the most of your experience and give to the community you’re working in, is to throw yourself in fully and push yourself. You have a limited amount of time and, before you know it, you’ll be home. Enjoy every moment and make some fantastic memories!