Funny the Way it Is by Dave Matthews Band (One of the most inspiring songs I know!)
…10 weeks on since returning to the Western world and I’m still thinking about Africa. So much has happened this summer, including other volunteering trips to Nicaragua and family time spent in Portugal, but Tanzania is constantly in my thoughts. Every time I look down at my wrists I see numerous bracelets, made or given to me by students or bought from women on the side of the street on my journeys to work. They’re some of the most beautiful reminders of the culture I love. They’re also great conversation starters: today ask I got my daily caffeine fix at Starbucks, a very handsome barista said to me, “I guess those bracelets must mean a lot to you since they’re all up your arm?!”
I proceeded to summarize my passion for social advocacy, my volunteerism in Tanzania, involvement with Invisible Children, and dedication to Amnesty International. Rather overwhelmed, I imagine, he simply replied, “That’s inspirational. How can I get involved?”.
And so, from there the topic of this article came about. After sharing my stories with the world for the past two months, for those of you who are interested or wondered about international volunteerism, here are a few options and tips for you.
a) United Nations Online Volunteering (my number 1 choice): www.onlinevolunteering.org. United Nations Volunteering came up with this genius database that allows volunteers and organizations seeking volunteers to seek opportunities without even leaving their house. It gives anyone the opportunity to search for a small, medium or large-scale commitment to worldwide development and sustainability volunteering via the web: be it writing a fundraising proposal for an NGO, or proofreading a Spanish curriculum for a school in Chile, or translating important documents into/from English, UNVOnline has something for you. It’s incredibly well organized, allowing you to filter the millions of options by topic (e.g human rights) and/or languages, and provides you, without any subscription, a detailed “job description”. As a busy college student on a tight budget, this is how I get my monthly/bi-monthly fix of volunteerism. Bear in mind that some are longer commitments, and do require more skills but nonetheless there are contacts that are indispensable! If you’re really inspired…register as a UN Volunteer and receive personalized opportunities via email.
b) UN Volunteers: www.unvolunteers.org. Similar to the Online edition, UN Volunteers is a database filled with hands-on experience opportunities, however one must have completed a Bachelor’s university degree or a recognized equivalent and be at least 25 years old. It is a much larger commitment than simply volunteering online, or traveling abroad for a few weeks with other organizations I list below. Still, it’s worth looking at if you’re interested (or obsessed with the UN like me!)
2) International Service: www.internationalservice.org.uk is a great resource for someone, between the ages of 18-22, looking to volunteer in (extremely) remote areas like Brazil, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, “the occupied Palestinian territory” and Mali. Their work is primarily to do with human rights and interpersonal charity: “our goal is to support people in practical ways to understand their rights – and put them into action – so they can change their lives for the better”. They have programs in January and April 2012 in the different countries listed, and with different projects in each. No initial cost is required, but contributions are advised. Personally I have yet to travel or volunteer with them, but I’ve been advised to do so before I’m 22.
3) Projects Abroad: www.projects-abroad.net is the organization I just traveled to Tanzania with. A great travel/volunteering organization dedicated to promoting care, education and medicine in third world countries all over the world. There are a plethora of countries, and programs throughout the year that attract all different age groups. It’s a very self-sufficient, self-planning organization meaning that as the volunteer you can choose the time period (minimum three weeks), the time of the year and project you want. Unlike International Service there is an initial cost that covers your accomodation and food for your stay. Prices are on the website and are dependent on the type of project, and time of year, you would like. Definitely advised for a first-time volunteer since you’re housed and assisted throughout your stay.
4) Skillshare International: www.skillshare.org is a branch of the International Citizen Service organization, offering opportunities for young people in the areas of poverty and community building. They offer a three month long programs: International Volunteer and Leadership Development Program are both offered in Asia and Africa, specifically South Africa and Nepal. They also have a specific program in HIV/AIDS prevention. It is a new initiative, launched in March this year, so programs are still being added and changed to suit the needs of the volunteers. I believe it’s a UK based organization, so involvement may be limited but it’s worth checking out!
5) Tanzania Children’s Fund: www.tanzanianchildrensfund.org is a specifically Tanzanian run organization, with offices in the Boston MA as well, and works in partnership with the Rift Valley Children’s Fund to better the lives of children in the Rift Valley Children’s Village. The beauty of this organization is how they work with small scale efforts to enact larger change…and they’re constantly looking for volunteers too. They basically work on creating grants to fund the school, house the children and induce small scale development projects in the nearby region. This is an organization I’d love to go through in the future since volunteers must be 21 years old or more! Nonetheless there are both long-term and short term opportunities, and there is no initial cost (yet donations are advised)