How to blog about your volunteering experience

Elizabeth Ascroft is a Restless Development volunteer who recently returned to the UK from Zambia  after participating on the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme. In this blog about blogging, she gives some top tips to letting go and making your written memories standout.

Returned volunteers from an ICS placement… bundles of stories, anecdotes, photographs and trinkets galore. Filled with that warm fuzzy feeling of being home and being treated like royalty. You single handily saved the world and had the most ground-breaking experience, picking up worldly mind-sets and other edgy revelations…. Right?

Yet, still you can’t eclipse the other side. By this I mean remembering those painstaking days when you began to realise that you cannot change the world over night, where you questioned whether your efforts actually made any difference. Occasionally slipping back into that ongoing cycle of confronting your conscience… I mean who gives us the right to decide what is best for another culture or way of living?

As returned volunteers we toy with the emotions of our experience, digesting every part and connecting it to the greater picture. How on earth do you begin relaying this tidal wave of emotion to those who ask ‘oh hey, how was your trip?!’ International development is not a tick box, a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Thus, I understand how hard it is to write a blog on your experience, when you’re still processing the highs and lows yourself.

Let me start with this, I understand your work came with time, energy and dedication. The work you did was monumental and you most certainly are a hero, in my eyes, for sticking it out and seeing your project to the end. For continuing to plug away at the inequalities of the world by empowering young people to redefine their futures. It may not feel like it now, but you are an inspiration to others, to get up and do something with their lives. To commit, act selflessly to address the gaps in society. So, don’t let it stop there! I implore you to continue your work by writing about it, blogs… glorious blogs! You see, a blog might not change the world overnight, but it’s a scratch at that old paintwork and it’s that first foot in the door.

Still feeling dubious? Here are some handy tips to guide you along the way:

  • Write with emotion. Don’t whitewash your experience to suit an audience. Honesty is the best policy and making a post real, instantly switches that reader’s attention to ‘whoa, get a loada this.’

  • Pictures, dang, they tell a thousand words and more. Capture your stories and celebrate them through the beautiful medium of photography. Whether it’s a snapshot of the first time you managed to write welcome in the local language, or the eighth time you watched your clothes being chewed by roaming cattle… show us, we are an audience, and boy are we hungry for more.

  • Got writer’s block and general fogginess? Sleep is your answer, as is the same with assignments from school; sleep on it and read it with a fresh pair of eyes. Better yet – get someone else to read it and listen to their feedback.
  • Give yourself credit and back it up back it up – do your research. I.e. why are there inequalities in the community you were working in; is it to do with a certain Act, law or statute? Or are they due to restrictive community structures, and where did they come from? If you’re discussing something that’s out of your comfort zone, be careful never to assume, and make sure you research the topic in order to get all of the correct information first. Don’t be afraid to put your opinion in, as that’s what makes a blog post relatable. Perhaps you can get around the awkwardness by addressing your limitations as a writer, by saying something like ‘I understand that my view is framed by my upbringing…’ If you address your gaps then your article is less vulnerable to criticism.
  • Then we come to addressing that awkwardness talking about a subject that doesn’t directly affect your livelihood…. Yeah I hate that part. I hear ya, but lemme stop you there. Get rid of that fear that you will offend, patronise or do the story an injustice. Go – splash your face with cold water and give yourself a pep talk. You can’t be afraid to take the plunge because if you don’t speak up about something, then who will? The pursuit of objectivity is impossible when even the topic choice (never mind the content) is our personal choice and undoubtedly coerced by our values, interests and beliefs – which are (sub)consciously shaped by our culture/upbringing. This is not a limitation however, it is most certainly a strength that will only stand to colour your blog post and put it far above the rest. Sometimes it takes an outsider to discuss something in order for the world to start listening.
  • Lastly, spellchecker is your best friend, don’t let your blog post lose momentum over a grammar hiccup.

If you’re looking for case studies, I blogged about my personal ICS experience on WordPress – it’s a long piece, but it’s made up of all sorts of journal entries and photographs.

And I’ve written a piece on Voluntary Male Medical Circumcision as an HIV preventative method in Zambia here.

Continue your good work and keep sharing your stories!


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How to blog about your volunteering experience

by wearerestless Reading time: 4 min