If you’re thinking of volunteering abroad there are certain preparations that can be made to ensure that you and the people or organisation that you’re working with have a healthily balanced and respectful relationship. Learning a few basic phrases of the native language, finding out about the customs and the cultural traditions and taboos, wearing clothing appropriate to the culture and task… all such considerations make travelling abroad an easier and often more enriching experience. But what about the volunteering part?
Simple as it sounds, volunteering in itself can pose several challenges. As it is an umbrella term for such a wide spectrum of activities you may find yourself expected to carry out tasks or use equipment that you have no experience of and feel anxious and/or inadequate. Additionally, you may find that working as a volunteer results in you only being responsible for menial tasks, leading you to regret that your specific skills aren’t being utilized. Moreover, though you may not like to hear it, volunteer work can be really hard-work, both physically and emotionally draining, and no matter how long or how tough the day you will not be getting paid for you efforts; most often you will receive gratitude, but even this is not always forthcoming.
Therefore it can be great practice for you, and also highly beneficial to your local community, to start volunteering at home in the long-term before choosing a short-term volunteering placement abroad. It also looks great on a CV and can really boost your application if the overseas voluntary scheme you choose is a competitive one, because it proves that you are not a voluntourist but an international volunteer. International volunteers aren’t those who play with children in an orphanage in Cambodia for a week and have their pictures taken lying with some sedated tigers or riding elephants, but rather individuals who are devoted to benefitting others by offering to serve without any personal economic gain in both foreign countries and their own. If you are such a person, please check out the below list of websites* on account of your location and particular field of interest to see how you can become a part of international volunteering efforts.
In the UK
> The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) connects various voluntary organisations with the people, partners and resources needed to carry out their work most effectively. They have a search engine that allows you to find the nearest voluntary centre near you in order to see available placements.
> The Royal Voluntary Service is aimed at securing volunteers to benefit the elderly, whether that be walking with someone to their local shop, bringing them a meal or even walking their dog. They too have a search engine that makes it very easy for you to find the nearest centre and get involved.
> Volunteer Ireland, a company whom support over twenty volunteer centres in Ireland.
> Volunteer Scotland, the only national centre for volunteering in Scotland.
> Volunteer Wales, who currently have just under 6000 volunteer opportunities available through their search engine.
In the USA
> Do Something, America’s largest organization for youth volunteering opportunities (over 3 million members) that allows you to specify your time commitment, the cause you want to help and the sort of work you’re keen to do.
> Volunteers of America was founded in 1896 and each year affects over 400 communities in 46 different states.
> Feeding America is a hunger relief charity that runs a network of food banks designed to help alleviate hunger, which affects 1 in 6 people in the US.
> Volunteer Match aim to bring good people and good causes and like many other sites, allow you to search for relevant placements using your postcode.
> Oxfam International is a renowned charity that runs stores, events and campaigns all over the world to improve the lives of those in need.
> The International Committee of the Red Cross have so far carried out 150 years worth of humanitarian action, mainly aiding victims of war and situations of violence.
> UNICEF works to feed, vaccinate, educate and protect children in over 190 countries worldwide. They are an extremely influential charity in terms of their pressuring on government and government legislation. You can fill out a volunteer form on their website and look for further information about how to help.
* This article serves only as a reference for people who are interested in volunteering in particular locations, but we cannot guarantee that the organisations mentioned above or represented by them meet VOFAIR fair volunteering criteria. See our PROJECTS page for certified fair volunteering projects.