“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, the other for helping others,” wrote American author Sam Levenson in his 1973 book, In One Era & Out the Other.
I was shocked to recently discover that over one billion people volunteer worldwide. That number absolutely baffled me, but the more I thought about it, the more I came to understand why. There are many benefits affiliated with volunteering. Volunteering has the ability to provide people with a sense of purpose, as well as a sense of real community. There are new friends to be made, your self-esteem and social skills will improve, and volunteering can be fun. It can be a lot of fun.
Volunteering abroad can help small communities to thrive, it has the ability to boost the local economy, and many organizations depend on the kindness of volunteers. Volunteers are one of the most valuable resources a non-profit can gain access to. It’s clear to see that volunteers really do make a difference. Charitable work has always been seen as quite a benevolent thing to do, and people really applaud you when you set out to volunteer.
Think of it:
• High schools often require volunteer credentials for one to be eligible for graduation.
• Colleges and universities look favourably upon applicants with extensive volunteer involvement.
• Resumes stating volunteer experience often move to the top of the pile.
• Companies often provide staff members to help volunteer in the community.
• Professionals frequently take their knowledge and education on the road to support the less fortunate.
•The elderly, with spare time on their hands, volunteer.
• The wealthy donate their money as a way to help out.
• Travellers devote their time while exploring the world and learning about new cultures.
• You’re helping and supporting.
• You’re getting a sense of another culture
• You’re being selfless.
• You’re discovering, first-hand, how others live.
• You’re making friends for life.
So many people volunteer all over the world and all of them have one paramount thing in common. Regardless of their age, profession, financial situation or motivation, they all have a drive to do good for others. Doing good for others provides a natural sense of accomplishment. The benefits of volunteering are boundless.
It seems like a win-win.
No. Not always.
Volunteering is still a part of life, and with life comes the occasional ups and downs and bumps in the road. You have to be prepared for both the highs and the lows if you are intending on leaving the comfort of your own home and venturing abroad to volunteer.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity—and great fortune—of volunteering in a few places around the world. It’s been fabulous but not always fun and games. There are tough days.
Many volunteers suffer homesickness. Communication can be challenging and it’s difficult being suddenly removed from your comfort zone. It’s easy to burn out when there is a lack of balance, long hours and exceedingly hot days. Basic living conditions tend to be significantly below usual North American living standards and it can be difficult to adjust to only cold water, frequent power outages and dirt floors. Communal quarters can also lead to personality conflicts with fellow volunteers.
Volunteering isn’t always cheap either. Some organizations charge a lot of money for you to come and work for free. Voluntourism is real. There are businesses all over the world that have made a lot of money by taking full advantage of the charitable and compassionate. While volunteer businesses can be quite beneficial in regards to alleviating the burdens of transportation, visas, housing and nourishment, it is highly recommended that you find out exactly what your program fees are going towards. It’s always important to be very cognizant of volunteer business scams before you venture off. Many organizations claim to have a charitable status, yet are only appealing to the financial pockets of potential applications. Be careful of special deals and cheaper fees meant to lure you in.
Read reviews. Always read reviews. Seek out advice from previous volunteers before committing financially to anything.
Here are some useful questions to ask, just so that you’re slightly more prepared upon arrival:
• What will a typical day be like for me as a volunteer?
• What have been the biggest frustrations for volunteers on your project?
• What will I need to organize myself in order to be a great volunteer?
• What should I wear during my volunteer work?
• What are the safety concerns of living and working in the area?
• What do you expect from a great volunteer?
Once you're satisfied with the answers you receive and find an organization worthy of your time, then go! Volunteer!
Meet new people, experience a new culture, live in a new country, support a community and always remember this quote (which is often attributed to Oscar Wilde): “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”