Why not – volunteer overseas?

Whether you take out a week, a month, a year or a lifetime… volunteering overseas will widen your horizons and give you memories to cherish. Be Happy picks out some volunteering options

Projects Abroad Jamaica-web
PHOTO: Projects Abroad

It sounds an obvious question, but potential volunteers should think about what they hope to get out of the experience as it will have an impact of what you choose to do and what you get from the experience. International development charity VSO says: “Our volunteers work to fight poverty in the developing world and change the lives of thousands of people for the better, every day. The impact of their work is far reaching, leaving a positive legacy that remains long after they have returned home. Volunteers often tell us that their time with VSO has been one of the most powerful and rewarding experiences of their lives. It can be enormously rewarding on many different levels; from the positive feeling when you have made a difference to someone’s life, to the adding experience to your CV that helps people to stand out from the crowd.

Luxury travel company Hands Up Holidays lists a number of reasons depending on your individual circumstances. “Families, for instance, can bond together, show children how fortunate they are, enable meaningful interaction in a safe context and let children discover the joy of helping those less fortunate.Honeymooners, on the other hand, have the opportunity to start the marriage off to a strong footing by doing something amazing together for others (and there is only so much time you can spend in the bedroom…), while retirees can leave a legacy and make use of the skills and knowledge they have developed over the years to help change lives.”

Volunteering is good for your health. Studies carried out over the past twenty years have reached some remarkable conclusions, including:
· Volunteering and physical well-being are part of a positive reinforcing cycle
· Individuals who volunteer live longer
· One way to prevent poor health in the future, may be to volunteer
· Volunteering leads to greater life satisfaction and lower rates of depression
· Older volunteers tend to receive greater health benefits from volunteering

Coral Cay Conservation details the benefits both for volunteer and beneficiaries: “For the volunteer it’s a great opportunity to experience new cultures, see some truly amazing places, work alongside passionate people and make lifelong friends, whilst helping to protect some of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet. It looks good on a CV and allows volunteers to gain certifications, and that elusive ‘work experience’ that all careers now demand. For volunteers that wish to go into an environmental field it offers a chance to ‘test out’ their chosen career before investing in an academic course.

“For the beneficiary it can have a hugely beneficial impact on a local area and people. We mainly work in developing countries and are invited in by local governments who cannot afford to undertake the work themselves. Volunteers fund our projects in country and are an essential element in the work that we do. A portion of the money also goes to funding our scholarship scheme where local people join us for a free four-week expedition and learn how to dive and survey. The scientific data that our volunteers collect is used to develop management plans for the government to ensure that the area is managed in a way which will ensure sustainability and promote conservation.”

“As long as you are using the time to do something constructive then you will gain a huge amount from volunteering abroad,” says Projects Abroad. “It can make you more employable by enhancing your CV, but it also improves what employers call ‘soft skills’ such as teamwork, leadership and responsibility.  Most of our volunteers say that they feel more confident after volunteering abroad and they also develop a love of travel and learning about different cultures that stays with them long after their gap year is over.

“What’s right for one person might not be right for you.  Having said that, volunteering abroad does give you a wonderful opportunity to get away from your normal routine of education or work – an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often.  Not only that but you can also use the time to travel the world, meet new people, learn new skills and get a fresh perspective on life.”

The chance to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience is often cited as a reason to take on an overseas volunteering project. Sustainable development charity Raleigh International agrees: “Volunteering can open you up to a world of opportunities, develop your skills and inspire you to change your life’s path. Volunteering can give you once-in-a-lifetime experiences which you may not get elsewhere. For example, Raleigh International gives you the opportunity to work in remote, rural locations and a chance to work alongside communities in need, enabling you to gain a better understanding of the issues many people face. Through volunteering you can make a positive difference to the world, from tackling poverty to protecting endangered environments. You can make a genuine, practical difference if the volunteering programme you choose has the measures in place to ensure your work will make a genuine, lasting impact.”

To get the very best experience from volunteering overseas and one that is right for you, you need to do the research. We’ve identified some key questions that you should be asking yourself:
• What do you want to do?
• Where do you want to go?
• Who do you want to go with?
• How long will you go for?
• What skills do you have that can be used to help others?
• If there is the opportunity, what sightseeing or activities might you want to do at your chosen destination?

Raleigh International says: “Make sure you volunteer doing something which you are passionate about. Do what you want to do and what you care about. This will ensure that you will work on your project with maximum motivation and energy and you are more likely to continue to stay involved with the issues after your volunteering placement.”

“We have sites based in the Philippines, Cambodia, and Montserrat in the Caribbean,” says Coral Cay. “Individuals join our research teams on site collecting baseline information on the current health of the reef and forest. They gain certifications in diving, surveying methods and first aid. We also work with the local communities to help them develop their own protected areas, thereby ensuring their own survival and of course ensuring that the work continues when we eventually move on. We offer specific internships for people who wish to go into a career in expedition leadership, professional diving, and expedition medicine. We accept terrestrial volunteers from one week and marine volunteers from two weeks. There is no maximum time that people can stay with us, the only limitations are how much time they have available and of course what they can afford.”

VSO works in more than 30 of the world’s least developed countries in Africa, and Asia and the Pacific, such as Malawi, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Nepal and most VSO volunteers are overseas for 1-2 years. “This is the ideal time for a volunteer to be able to achieve their objectives,” says VSO. “It can take up to six months for someone to settle into a new country and role; and it takes time to build relationships with local colleagues. VSO wants to create positive change that will last long after a volunteer has finished their placement, and that takes time.

VSO has a wide range of positions available that will help to tackle poverty in some of the world’s poorest countries. It also runs a government funded youth volunteering programme called ICS (International Citizen Service) with placements lasting between 10 and 12 weeks. Everyone aged 18-25 is welcomed to apply for ICS. People at the upper end of this age bracket with previous experience of leading youth teams and work may apply to be team leaders.”

This is a crucial decision and, if you’ve done the research suggested above, you should be able to narrow your choice of volunteering organisation to only a few options. Think about what your plan is – is it volunteering holiday you’re after or a longterm project?. Have you a specific type of project in mind and is it in a specific place? The organisations quoted in this article offer very different trips, some have charitable status and others holiday providers, so pick the one that is right for you.

Raleigh International suggests that you ask yourself whether you share values with the organisation. “How do they operate, will you be safe? Does the organisation work with local project partners and work with local communities to ensure that the projects are actually needed and wanted? These are all important questions to consider to ensure the organisation makes a genuine, positive difference in the country it is in,” says Raleigh International. “Choosing an organisation which is responsible and ethical is essential to making sure your volunteer experience will contribute towards long term impact.”

“Do your research,” says Coral Cay. “Check to make sure that the work that they are doing is not volunteering for volunteering’s sake. Ask to see their reports and evidence of the impact that they have had on the areas in which they work. Check that the company you are travelling with is safe. Are they fully compliant with BS8848 (ie. inspected by an external company). Do they have safety protocols in place? A good indicator of this is whether they are part of a trading body such as Year Out Group or the Expedition Provider’s Association. Do they have financial bonding procedures in place, such as ABTOT or ATOL?”

The package for VSO volunteers includes return flights, accommodation, medical cover, visas, work permits, three weeks holiday per year and an allowance. Volunteers are paid a living wage which is designed so that people can meet reasonable living expenses in their host country without being out of pocket. As part of the experience, VSO volunteers are asked to do some fundraising. With support from VSO advisers, volunteers undertake a range of fundraising efforts, from hosting quiz nights to trekking to the North Pole. For ICS projects, volunteers do not have to pay, but are asked to do some fundraising before departure. This is a key part of the programme as it helps young people to develop skills as well as raising awareness of international development.

Projects Abroad says that many volunteers use fundraising activities and/or sponsorship to help raise the money to go away with them. The organisation has lots ideas and information in a fundraising guide it can provide and via its website. All volunteers who travel with Projects Abroad get a personal webpage, where there is a function to set up their own online fundraising page, similar to a justgiving page.

Raleigh International says that a good organisation will support you with fundraising, whether that’s sharing ideas for activities, giving advice on bursary opportunities or support in approaching trusts and corporate sponsors. There are many rotary clubs and organisations which support people of all backgrounds to volunteer overseas.

Fundraising can be daunting, however it can also be an opportunity to do something challenging, fun and creative whilst getting your personal networks of friends and family involved and raising awareness on the issues you will be working to tackle.

Look around at the options available, the International Citizen Service (http://www.volunteerics.org/), for example, is funded by the government’s Department for International Development and can offer you a life changing opportunity to help tackle poverty in some of the world’s poorest countries.

Do it! Change your life and the lives of many others for the better.

Thanks to…
• VSO www.vso.org.uk/
An international development charity that works through volunteers living and working as equals alongside local partners.
• Raleigh International www.raleighinternational.org
A sustainable development charity whose vision is to create a global community who work together to build a sustainable future for the planet.
• Hands Up Holidays www.handsupholidays.com
A luxury travel company that combines sightseeing with community development through volunteering or philanthropy.
• Coral Cay Conservation www.coralcay.org
An internationally renowned conservation specialist dedicated to providing the resources to help protect coral reefs and tropical rainforests throughout the developing world.
• Projects Abroad www.projects-abroad.co.uk
One of the world’s leading overseas volunteering and gap-year organisation.

Other useful websites:
• www.do-it.org.uk
• www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
• www.volunteerics.org/

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