Volunteering Abroad and at Home: A Global Movement
The burgeoning global volunteering movement is expanding our understanding of other cultures and helping create greater solidarity among the world's peoples. In fact, the contribution of volunteers has been so important that the United Nations designated the year 2001 the
. The power of traveling to make a difference can therefore never be underestimated!
With careful research and preparation, a volunteer program can be found to meet any individual's needs and interests:
Short-term volunteer vacations, generally from two to four weeks, are good for professionals or for people with limited time to travel. These usually involve specific tasks such as teaching pre-school, clearing park trails, organizing community libraries, building houses, observing elections, etc.-mainly activities that can be completed in a brief period of time. Since usually no specific skills are required, such programs depend most upon the volunteers' enthusiasm and willingness to learn.
Specific skills may be highly valued, however, in communities that lack expertise in areas like healthcare, information technology, and engineering. A broad range of international organizations, government agencies, and nonprofits help facilitate these types of assignments.
Summer volunteer options are very popular, particularly among students. Organizations such as Volunteers in Asia (VIA), Amigos de las Americas, and Operation Crossroads Africa have organized student-focused programs for about 40 years and have produced generations of internationally-minded people who've remained committed to global issues throughout their lives. Because many programs have long-standing relationships with communities overseas, volunteers may have very positive and productive experiences in the short span of a summer break.
For people who are able to invest longer periods of time, numerous programs offer 1- to 2-year commitments. In addition to the Peace Corps, there are nonprofit organizations like WorldTeach, United Nations Volunteers (UNV), and Visions in Action that provide individuals enough time to integrate into a culture, learn a new language, and truly make a difference.
So, regardless of your background or area of interest, there are volunteer options to suit your needs. Becoming part of this global movement will forever change your perspective on travel and-as this magazine has long emphasized-upon life.