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Should I volunteer abroad?

Volunteering abroad can be a challenging but worthwhile experience once done right

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in life

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Many people choose to volunteer abroad as a way to visit a new country and meet new people while also being able to help others and create positive change. Before volunteering abroad, it’s important to be certain about the choice you are making and to be confident with the charity you will be working with.

Questions you should ask yourself before volunteering abroad

If you are considering volunteering abroad, it can be difficult to decide how you would like to use your time and which organisation to choose to volunteer with.

It is important when deciding to take into consideration if the work you will be doing will be of value to both yourself and the local community, and if the organisation you will be volunteering with is legitimate and puts the wellbeing of the local people and environment first.

To make sure you make the right choice when volunteering, you should ask yourself and the organisation questions before committing to the role.

Why do I want to volunteer?

Ask yourself what your motivations are behind volunteering, and question if you will get more out of it than those who you will be helping.

What skills do I have to offer?

If you are not qualified to do a job in Ireland, you should avoid doing it in another country. Think about what skills you have to offer and then search to find the organisation you think you can contribute the most to.

How long would I like to volunteer for?

When volunteering abroad, it is best to be able to give an extended period of time. If you can only volunteer for a short period of time, think about what will be achieved in that timeframe, and if you could achieve more by volunteering at home. If you would like to read more about the benefits of volunteering at home click here.

Is there anywhere I would not feeling comfortable volunteering?

Volunteering abroad can be quite a culture shock. Before you commit to anything, consider whether or not you could become homesick or unable to adjust to your surroundings. Some other things to think about include if you get travel sick easily, if there are  certain foods you dislike or can’t eat, and if you would be okay with only having basic facilities such as restricted water or electricity.

Am I ready for the challenges that will come with volunteering abroad?

Volunteering abroad can be a challenging experience, and it’s important to understand the realities of day to day life while living abroad before leaving home. To ensure that you can make the most of your time abroad, be realistic with yourself about the sort of experience you will enjoy and aim to find the opportunity right for you.

Would I be better donating my money to the charity than travelling to volunteer with them?

Sometimes the benefits of what you will be able to contribute to a community when working with them will not outweigh the expense of travelling. Think about whether your travel money could be better spent as a donation to be able to employ a local person in the organisation, instead of taking that job for yourself by volunteering.

Do I trust the organisation I am volunteering with?

Do your research so that you can feel confident with your choice of organisations before leaving. Look online at their website, social media and what previous volunteers say about them. Check to see how transparent they are about how they spend their money and research what good has been achieved by the organisation in the time that they have been working in a community.

Questions you should ask of the organisation before you choose to volunteer with them?

  • Is the organisation a registered charity?
  • Is there any volunteer preparation or training before I leave?
  • What are the objectives of the organisation?
  • Can they show me a breakdown of where the money I pay goes?
  • How have previous volunteers made a difference?

What is Voluntourism?

Voluntourism is a word used to describe when a tourist volunteers in a country which they are visiting. It is used to highlight the negative impact which tourists who volunteer can have on a local community. An example of this is how volunteering with orphanages can have a negative impact on the children in them, as they can become attached to the volunteers and suffer abandonment issues after they leave. A demand to volunteer in orphanages in Cambodia led to them being set up purely for the sake of tourism, with an increase of 75% in five years from 2006-2011. This is why it’s really important to think about both the positive and negative impacts of your volunteering abroad so that you can be sure you’re making a real difference.

Credited volunteer organisations to work with

VSO Ireland

VSO Ireland is an international development organisation that works through volunteers to fight poverty in some of the world’s poorest countries. VSO volunteers must be from professional backgrounds and their placements are not generally short term. VSO volunteers provide training to local people in areas such as medicine, education and business. For more information on VSO Ireland click here.

Voluntary Service International (VSI)

The Voluntary Service International is the Irish branch of Service Civil International, carrying out voluntary and community work across Ireland and internationally. Their mission is to promote peace, social justice, sustainable development and intercultural understanding through volunteering. They offer a wide variety of volunteering opportunities around the world through both short and long term projects, as well as non formal education opportunities (international seminars and trainings) and the opportunity to become a local activist. For further information on volunteering with VSI click here.

European Voluntary Service

European Voluntary Service (EVS) gives young people (18-30 years) the opportunity to volunteer in another country, either within or outside the EU.  The EVS programme is funded by the European Union as part of their official Youth Programme, it aims to develop solidarity, mutual understanding and tolerance among young people and to promote active citizenship. As a EVS volunteer you will receive free accommodation, food, insurance and a small personal allowance. The only thing you might have to pay is a very small part of your travel costs. Support for language learning is also available. Projects last from 2 weeks up to 12 months, they can be individual or group projects. As a volunteer you can work in a wide range of fields, such as youth, children, disability, environment, arts and culture, animal welfare, and development cooperation. For further information on volunteering with the EVS click here.

European Solidarity Corp

The European Solidarity Corps is a European Union initiative which creates opportunities for young people to volunteer or work in projects in their own country or abroad that benefit communities and people around Europe. You can register for the European Solidarity Corps when you are 17 years old, but you cannot start a project until you are over 18. European Solidarity Corps projects will be available to people up to the age of 30 years old. The ESC offer a wide range of projects, such as helping to prevent natural disasters or rebuild afterwards, assisting in centres for asylum seekers, or addressing different social issues in communities.

For further information on volunteering with the European Solidarity Corps click here.

Click here to read some of's contributors experiences while volunteering abroad.

Need more information?

We are here to answer your questions and talk through your options. Our online chat service is for 16 to 25 year olds and is available Monday to Friday, 4pm to 8pm. Chat to us now about your situation.

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Published Novem­ber 13th2018
Last updated Novem­ber 16th2018
Tags APcontent volunteer abroad travel
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