My passion for traveling budded when I volunteered in Juarez, Mexico, when I was 15. Devastated by the poverty I saw there, I knew that I wanted to be a part of making a positive change in the world. During the summer of 2009, I volunteered with International Student Volunteers, and this past summer, I interned at PEACE Mexico, a nonprofit in Punta de Mita, Mexico. It’s amazing how one last-minute trip to Juarez changed the path of my life forever.
Now, my newest project is working with a startup nonprofit organization called The School Fund, managing their Twitter, Facebook, and other online presences, as well planning different campaigns and fundraising ideas. It’s an amazing organization that allows people to fund students from Tanzania, Panama, India, China, Cambodia, and Vietnam. These children usually make it through primary school, but tend to not have the money to pay for secondary education. It’s a very exciting time for us at TSF because we are growing at such a rapid pace! We would love to have you join us at our Facebook and Twitter pages!
Volunteering abroad has the ability to change lives – both those of the volunteers and the people being helped. Being able to not only see a new part of the world and also being a part of making the world a better place is unexplainable – you jut need to be a part of it. There are a handful of volunteer abroad organizations to choose from – and there are many factors that you need to take into consideration before you sign up for any of them – especially because most will need your money, even though you are volunteering for them.
Is it a legitimate organization?
If I need to, can I research this organization and find out information about who they are, what they do, where they work, and find this information relatively easy? While you’re filling out the search box with the organization and Google finishes it with “scam?”, stay far, far away. There are plenty of legitimate organizations that need and want your help – don’t fall for a trap. If the organization looks too good to be true, it probably is. When searching, it’s a good idea to use this website – they have a bunch of organizations to choose from and most have reviews you can read over as well.
What are my interests?
There are thousands of international nonprofits that cater to all different types of interests. You can take care of orphans in Africa, care for turtles in Mexico, brown bears in Eastern Europe, do ecological related volunteerism in Asia, or work at an animal spay/neuter clinic like I did in Mexico! Where will your talents most be at use? Do you need to know a foreign language, or can you get away with just knowing English? Are you willing to learn something new, or are you more comfortable teaching about a specific hobby or subject you’ve mastered?
How long do I want to volunteer for?
Placements can be anywhere from one week to 6 months – it’s all about what you can afford and how comfortable you are wherever you might be volunteering. Take time to list the pros and cons of being away for an extended period of time – Do you have bills to pay or stop? Can you afford to take that much time away from your job? How will this volunteer trip positively affect not only me, but the organization I’m working for? What do I hope to learn about myself during the process? For me, the ideal time would be at least a month, because you have time to develop relationships and actually see your ideas executed, as well as push yourself outside of your comfort zone and learn things about yourself you never would if you never had left…
Where do I want to volunteer?
There are thousands of organizations to choose from, and narrowing them down is easier if you know what part of the world you would like to go. Organizations like International Volunteer HQ and ISV provide a handful of different countries worldwide to chose from, and both are good places to start your research. It’s important to understand the political atmosphere in the country you want to go as well as how the weather will be when you go. You have to ask yourself these questions: Am I comfortable being in a recently post-war area? Am I comfortable seeing poverty and rough living situations? What kind of weather is manageable for me? Answering these questions before applying for volunteer positions in certain countries will help you set reasonable expectations as well as be prepared for whatever may come your way.
How much money do I want to spend?
It’s a myth that you can volunteer abroad without spending any money, but there are ways to minimize the hole in your wallet. Depending on the organization, the price for volunteering can be anywhere from $250 a week to $4,000 for four weeks. When I volunteered through International Student Volunteers, I paid $3,195 for 4 weeks, which included most meals, plus a 2-week adventure tour where we sailed the Adriatic, stayed in hostels, went caving, rappelling, hydrospeeding, and drove from Split, Croatia, to Ljubljana, Slovenia. It all depends on your budget, but you can also fundraise – I ended up raising about $2,500 of my fees by having a mini campaign – “100 for $20″. That being said, if you have the money to volunteer anywhere, go for it! But if you don’t, it’s beneficial to choose the most responsible organization where you’ll get the most for your money.
While searching for an organization to volunteer with, what will you be looking for? Which of these pieces of advice are most important to you?