Why Volunteer Abroad?
Volunteers Receive as Much as They Give
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War led to talk of a "new world order" in which nations would work toward mutual prosperity, yet never has the chasm separating the First World from the Third appeared so great. Never has the environment been so imperiled.
Because of this, volunteers continue to travel the world, working with government or nongovernment agencies to fill gaps and build bridges for the betterment of humankind. Each year they apply in the thousands to hundreds of agencies which organize volunteer placements.
Volunteering is often expensive and should never be undertaken lightly. These are some of the questions that must be answered: Am I comfortable with the mission of the agency organizing my position? Will I tolerate the living conditions? Can I cope with the poverty and culture shock? Will I find satisfaction in my work? What will be the financial impact of my decision? Will I miss my lifestyle too much?
Why Do It?
The motivating factors that lead people to become volunteers vary from person to person and may alter dramatically as volunteers move from perception to reality. An individual's reasons for volunteering--whether selfish, altruistic, or a combination of both--aren't necessarily right or wrong, provided that they are well considered.
Some volunteer to escape what they perceive to be the rat race that defines their lives: the endless cycle of bills, the constant drone of city traffic, and the pressure to fit accepted social molds can leave us feeling numb. The perception of a simpler, more earthy lifestyle, possibly in a rural location abroad, is attractive. Indeed, liberated from the watchful eyes of their home community, many volunteers feel wonderfully alive.
Others are attracted by the challenges of a volunteer position. Leaving home for up to two years to live in a foreign culture in what may be difficult conditions is a huge and frightening step for most. The potential for personal development can be seen as reason enough to pursue a position. Indeed, most volunteers return home more confident people, having achieved things they'd never previously imagined possible.
Today's typical volunteer is not filled with the same missionary zeal as volunteers of old. We're no longer braving obstacles to "save" the natives. Nowadays, it's more often the positive impact a volunteer has on the daily lives of the local people that counts.
Many volunteers have a travel bug. By merely passing through a culture, travelers realize that their experiences lack something that actually living in the culture could remedy. The structured nature of a volunteer position can offer security, the promise of company, and the satisfaction of a desire to explore an interest or profession. Opportunities to roam come to most volunteers, allowing them to fulfill their desire both to travel and to stay in one place.
Volunteers may have other interests which they hope to pursue and develop in the course of their stint. Musicians, singers, dancers, writers, and photographers, for example, may all expect to find opportunities to express and improve on their talents.
At least as important as the labor and professional expertise which volunteers donate to the host nation are the cultural exchanges that take place between volunteers and locals. The heightened level of understanding impacts both cultures. Volunteers receive as much as they give.
Search for an organization that suits your needs, then go for it!
Volunteering Short- or Long-Term?
With some overlap, volunteer placement organizations can be separated into those that facilitate long-term positions and those that facilitate short-term positions.
Short-term positions last from several weeks to several months. Organizations that sponsor such placements are many in number and usually small in size. Often independent of government funding, they rely on the fees paid by volunteers to facilitate an amazing diversity of activities, filling niches beyond the scope of larger agencies. Many such organizations welcome volunteers with a broad range of experiences and place few bars in the way of age or qualifications. Earthwatch, Habitat for Humanity, and Global Volunteers are just some of the organizations that arrange short-term positions.
Long-term positions require volunteers to commit for at least a full year. They tend to be sponsored by larger agencies that often receive some form of government funding. Volunteers usually receive a stipend and in many cases are not required to pay their own airfare. However, greater demands are usually made on volunteers in terms of their qualifications and accomplishments than those made on short-term volunteers.