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The Complicated World of Volunteering

Making use of any resources for play time in Ecuador :)

Making use of any resources for play time in Ecuador 🙂

In one of the ongoing arguments across numerous boards of thought, volunteering is always going to produce mixed responses of opinion. Is it a good thing, or can it destroy a community?
Completing my school education at the age of 18, it wasn’t even a question on my mind…I would be taking on England’s infamous Gap Year. While these are common worldwide, it seems to be a lot more regular in England to take a year out between finishing school and starting University. (Or at least it was when I finished school!) As the years go on, gap years in England are increasingly developing bad reputations for people spending a year promoting a drunk image of British youth lazing on beaches all day and partying all night. With many more students opting to work a year to save for university, or gain experience in the field of education they are pursuing so that when they graduate 3-4 years later, they are not starting from scratch, it means the gap year is slowing diminishing as a ‘regular’ part of British youth. People no longer seem to want to indulge in a ‘year’ of travelling.
Step in volunteering.
At any age, travelling around the world alone or with friends can seem a daunting mountain. Volunteering helps to give your time abroad some sort of purpose, structure and endless amounts of satisfaction. You don’t have to commit to anything long term, you can build it into a 2 week summer holiday or dedicate your summer to it. With thousands of companies out there needing your help, you can volunteer from your home, office, the streets or abroad.
But….with all these options out there, where do you even begin to start choosing who, how and where you are going to direct your time and energy to? The focus of my upcoming posts are going to be on volunteering-how to approach it and interesting companies and people out there that constantly need more help.
Essentially, for many people, the bonus of volunteering is getting to live in and experience a totally unique and authentic lifestyle abroad. You live with the people you are helping–learning their daily chores, picking up on their cooking techniques, learning their games and

Volunteering gives you the chance to explore a country while giving back to the people.

snippets of their language among many other things. You really do gain as much as you give when volunteering. That being said, home-countries often need volunteering help as much as developing nations do, too.
Another huge factor that needs to be considered is funding. While there are many programmes that are either low cost or free, a huge proportion of volunteering agencies will require a pretty hefty administration fee, visa fee, accommodation and food allowance fee and so on. I think the main drawing factor on whether you opt for a cheaper or totally ‘funded’ placement depends on your age and travel experience. For example, on my aforementioned gap year I opted for one of the volunteer placements requiring the administration etc fees, which at the time was the security that both my parents and myself needed before I headed over to South America with a friend for 4 months. Having never travelled alone outside of Europe it was a comfort knowing that, if needed, there was 24 hour assistance available. Having had that experience, I would totally recommend it to any new traveller looking for security but it has also given me the confidence to independently volunteer elsewhere in the world.
It’s going to be a hugely inspirational month researching all those programmes out there needing us to go help, but I’m excited to help clear up the complicating world of volunteering decision making for you!

Claudia Guest
A traveler all her life, Claudia was born in Germany and raised in England. She regularly visited various countries around Europe and the Americas, but it was when she was 18 that she really discovered her own overwhelming lust for travel. As soon as she finished school, she and two girlfriends backpacked through Italy, Southern France and Spain. Five months later she was back on a plane for a two-week sailing holiday in the Caribbean and a week after returning from that she was on another plane bound for Australia, where she traveled for three months, before going to teach English in Ecuador for four months. From there, she studied at university in England, traveled to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, and then headed to Canada on a work visa, where she is today. This summer, Claudia is working on a tourist cruise boat in Ottawa…yet constantly feels Asia calling her back. Try to keep track of where she goes- or just look up in the sky, where she’s most likely bound for somewhere new!

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    2 Comments

    1. excited to read your upcoming posts, would love to read some about the tricky balance between genuine desire to experience new places/make an impact and the importance of longterm sustainbility. http://www.baibureh.org/ is the link to a good short film probing these dynamics in Sierra Leone.

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