Volunteering abroad is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in fascinating cultures and absorb some of the most incredible scenery the world has to offer, whilst making a real difference to the local community. Volunteering projects address local poverty, healthcare, education, welfare, conservation or environmental awareness issues meaning there are lots of programmes to choose from in countries all over the world. Volunteering is also an excellent way to improve your CV along side some incredible life experiences.
There are many paths to consider while you plan your volunteering voyage. A fantastic way to contribute directly to genuine development projects is to apply for a programme through a government funded organisation. ‘Volunteer Service Overseas – International Citizen Service’ (VSO ICS) for example is a UK government funded programme offering 18-25 year olds the opportunity to spend three months volunteering across Asia or Africa. These programmes are ideal for people who are passionate and committed to really impacting the lives of others. VSO ICS’s programmes have a simple application process; once you have assessed your eligibility and chosen a project that suits you, you simply apply online. Successful applicants are invited to a selection day to ensure volunteers are committed, sensitive and work well as part of a team (reasonable travel expenses to selection days are covered by VSO). Finally, all excepted participants have a fund raising target of £800 to reach, however, fund raising officers support volunteers to help them achieve this target. As a VSO volunteer you only work with organisations and projects that have specifically requested their help so you know you are making a real contribution to fighting poverty.
A more common volunteering pathway is through non-governmental organisations such as ‘Frontier’ or ‘Camps International’. These organisations are more flexible when it comes to duration, allowing you to travel from one week to several months. Organisations like ‘Frontier’ offer projects from wildlife and environmental conservation to teaching and medical aid. Whilst these projects can be expensive they include the vast majority of costs you are going to incur on your trip including in country transport and accommodation, occasionally flights may be included but more often than not they wont be. Volunteering organisations often support volunteers in their fundraising efforts towards their projects and raising funds for your trip is a great way to raise awareness about the cause that you will be helping. These projects are a fantastic way to impact the local community in which you are staying, whilst getting to know other people that share your passion for helping others. The good thing about these programmes is that they often give you time to explore the region in more depth and plan excursions such as jungle treks or mountain climbing.
Alternatively you can organize your trip without the help of any organisations, increasing your flexibility to do other things and really control how and where you help. If this is how you prefer to do things websites like ‘Go Overseas’ can be incredibly helpful, ‘Go Overseas’ offers reviews on volunteering projects all over the world. There are also some great accounts of people who have volunteered without prior preparation to learn from.
Once you have decided where your adventure is going to take you it is time to start raising funds and spreading awareness about your cause. Make the most of helpful services offered by the university, SUSU RAG have a ‘How to run your own fundraiser’ page online with some ideas for fundraisers and a list of venues available to hire.
I found that bag packing at local supermarkets worked well when I was trying to raise money. There are several supermarkets that are easily accessible from the Portswood area and by writing or speaking to the manager I am sure it can be easily arranged.
Finally being sponsored to take part in events such as a local half marathon is an excellent way to build funds and show your commitment and enthusiasm for the cause you are supporting. As well as this it will increase your fitness, which will be exceedingly beneficial if your project involves any physical work such as reforestation or construction projects.
These are just a few general ideas of where to start but the more entertaining your idea is the easier it is to promote and the more attention it will get.
Most volunteering projects are in remote countries therefore it is essential to head to a local travel clinic to find out whether you require any vaccinations or medications. If you book through an organisation they will often inform you which vaccinations you need to get, but it doesn’t hurt to have a consultation at a travel clinic. If you are travelling between countries you must check their visa policies, local government websites will have all the visa information you need for your destination. Finally it is necessary to check you have all the equipment you need, some projects may require specialist equipment. My main suggestion would be to ensure you have a sturdy pair of walking boots as most volunteering projects involve a lot of time on your feet trekking through forests, traipsing around construction sites or hiking across the country.
When I was in sixth form I spent a month in Borneo as a volunteer on construction projects to install a water tank to supply 200 people in a remote village with clean water and provide a community centre for the children. I planned my trip with ‘Camps International’ and it was an amazing opportunity that allowed me to learn so much about the local culture and allowed me to see that the work they are doing out there is making a real difference. Working with ‘Camps International’ was an amazing way to get involved in developing projects and continue the work started by previous groups, in the heart of a deprived community. It was obvious that the community we were working in welcomed ‘Camps international’s’ presence and the difference they are making is extraordinary.