Volunteering is confusing. There is no doubt about that! As mentioned in my previous article, I hope to detangle the web of a million questions you ask yourself when tackling the idea of volunteering. There are so many factors you need to consider when thinking about it: your lifestyle, culture, age, marital status, any skills you have and language abilities, your level of comfort, your limitations and so on.
The most important factor you need to establish when you are volunteering is why you have chosen to do it. I know the “why” may sound obvious, but volunteering is not always only about helping others. Many people turn to volunteering at times in their lives when they are escaping from something: problems in relationships, the office or just in one’s general ‘self’ can leave a vulnerable person wanting to escape and volunteering is often the most unselfish route people will take.
As an individual abroad, often essentially alone, a period of volunteering can be hugely insightful and beneficial, but it is important to establish who you are as a person and where you stand in your own life before rushing in to help others. If you are heading to a developing nation to work with orphaned children, abused women or general poverty you should be able to go without concern for yourself. If you were already struggling mentally, it would be far better to take on a placement in a rural area helping with conservation and building, etc. Once you have established where you stand with yourself and what you are hoping to gain from your volunteering experience, you should be able to focus and deduce who it is that you want to work with, and where. Deciding who it is exactly you want to help will at least narrow the decision as to where you will be headed!
Once where has been decided, remember that cultural awareness is key when being immersed in another culture for a period of time. Living in with local families and working alongside them, you need to be aware of all cultural sensitivities. For instance, particularly strong religious opinions or traveling solo as a woman can shock some cultures.
Money is another issue which, unfortunately, plays a role in your volunteering experience too, as is time. You also need to consider your age and travel experience.You need to decide how it is you are going to be approaching the volunteering: is it part of a two week summer holiday or a longer term commitment? For the longer periods of time, do you want the security of a 24 hour assistance and organised volunteering? There are so many companies out there who offer a range of prices reflecting how long a stint you want to offer.
The topic is way too huge for me to tackle in a single post, but in a series of future articles I am going to be breaking down the different sectors of volunteering and finding the best examples of sites and companies depending on the ‘style’ of volunteering they feature . Also included will be interviews with volunteer companies, explaining the difference you can make to a community, as well as an extensive look into the specific experiences of female volunteering specifically around the globe. With so many inspirational stories of empowerment and strength out there, volunteering an unavoidable topic for any Go Girl!