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Boomers, the New Seniors, and International Volunteer Service

These are exciting and transformational times: Idealistic Boomers are contributing time and expertise internationally and there is exponential growth in international citizen organizations.

Recent natural disasters around the world have elicited an unprecedented outpouring of heart and help in a new wave of volunteering.

Where, for example, a dozen NGOs (non-government organizations) existed in Czechoslovakia in 1990, there are now approximately 60,000 in the Czech Republic (though only about a third of them are active). The changes in the former Soviet bloc and throughout the African and South American continents have contributed to the growth of citizen groups within these nations and citizen groups connected to these new democracies.

This global rise in people-power is accentuated by the Baby Boom generation’s idealism. Many individuals in their 50s and 60s want to fulfill a lifelong dream of making a difference.

Wonder if you are suited to and can handle international service? At NGOabroad we ask: Feeling creaky but not crotchety? Feel that you have learned a lot over the years and haven’t forgotten it all yet? Can your digestive tract handle Montezuma’s revenge? Can your bum handle 10 hours of a bumpy ride on a hard seat? Can you sleep through the raucous band in the bar below? Feel that you have a lot to give despite any hardships? We need you.

But first find a setting that fits for you. Be realistic, if you will drain more energy from the host organization than you will give, then your special needs are too special. A retired nurse who knew how to manage her needs said, “I have MS. I need my meds refrigerated, level ground to walk on, and to pace myself and not exhaust myself.” People who know how to handle their special needs at home are more likely to know how to adjust abroad. We encourage people to come up with contingency plans with their doctor.

A woman who is “old enough to know better” came to me saying, “I have worked all over the world as an accountant. I still have a lot to give. I don’t need to be paid but I don’t want to drain my retirement account. I also need a bed.” Gone are the days of “crashing” on someone’s floor. We’ll do whatever it takes so that we can count you in to the next cribbage game in Botswana.

In a world where a quarter of humanity lives in slums and goes hungry, we need you still in the game.

Genuine volunteering matches your skills to needs. Take some common interests: wood working, mechanics, or sewing are all valuable skills to teach to street kids or someone looking for a job. You love reading? Teach literacy; it is a ticket out of poverty.

One woman sent me an email from Kansas, and said: “My husband and I have taken all the Red Cross classes; we’d like to help in whatever way we can.”

“It’s not just Red Cross that helps,” I explained. “We need more people from the Heartland, as you understand farming. I will most likely place you in a farming community.”

It’s not just vocational skills that determine where you might be helpful. It’s life skills, too. You’ve been a foster parent? Countries ravaged by AIDS need your experience to help orphans. You’ve been in local theater performances and directed plays? Theater is powerful medicine used to express traumas, build self-confidence for job interviews, and reclaim culture and history.

The Boomer mantra is “make a difference.” Thinking of re-tiring? Why not just get retread and get back out on the road?

Put Your Skills to Good Use

You can make a genuine difference by matching your skills to international needs. The following are some examples:

Your Skill: Accounting
Needs: Assistance with micro-loans and learning bookkeeping.

Your Skill: Marketing
Needs: Helping craftspeople find a market for their products.

Your Skill: Nursing
Needs: Primary care, health education, teaching nursing.

Your Skill: Midwifery
Needs: Teaching how to prevent deaths in childbirth and training birth attendants.

Your Skill: Parenting
Needs: Caring for orphans; many kids are abandoned because AIDS has taken their parents’ lives or their parents can’t feed them.

Your Skill: Youth Work
Needs: Mentoring street kids and teaching them vocational skills.

Your Skill: Mechanics
Needs: People who can teach motorbike mechanics are in demand.

Your Skill: Sewing and Haircutting
Needs: These vocational skills are in high demand among females.

Your Skill: Social Work
Needs: Refugees, prostitutes, and many others desire social services and assistance in transformation.

Your Skill: Psychology
Needs: Assistance for victims of trauma, sexual and physical abuse.

Your Skill: Teaching
Needs: Literacy is most essential but all subjects are needed.

Your Skill: Computer Teaching
Needs: Increasing communication and people power is critical to the growth of democracy.

Your Skill: Political Organizing
Needs: Democracy building. League of Women Voters where art thou?

Your Skill: Public Heath
Needs: Sanitation saves lives, as does teaching health prevention.

Your Skill: Nutrition
Needs: Many on the planet are hungry or malnourished.

Your Skill: Dentistry
Needs: Dentists often serve stints, but they can also volunteer longer.

Your Skill: Medicine
Needs: Lots of people think Doctors Without Borders is the main game in town, but the need is much greater. There is about 1 doctor/15,000 people in most African countries.

Your Skill: Alternative Energy (e.g. Solar Power)
Needs: Help bring power to remote villages. Forget the wires or dams, we’ll use the sun.

Your Skill: Construction
Needs: From building clinics in Nicaragua to building schools in Kenya, groups of people can organize and transform a village.

Your Skill: Drama, Writing
Needs: Reclaiming culture or expressing trauma; the connective tissue of cultures.

Your Skill: Journalism
Needs: Telling the truth in and about tyrannies.

Your Skill: Environmentalism
Needs: Cleaning house, at a planetary level.

Your Skill: Sports, Dance, Music
Needs: PR with jive. Let the drums do the talking about AIDS prevention or domestic violence.

Your Skill: Organization Structuring and Management
Needs: With such a burgeoning of NGOs, mentors are needed.

Your Skill: Business Development
Needs: Teach others how to create and run a thriving and sustainable enterprise.

Related Topics
Senior Volunteering and Volunteer Travel
More by the Author
Whirled Transformations: The History and Future of Inter-Cultural Caring

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