Choosing An International Volunteering Program

There are a lot of moments in life when people find their calling for volunteering, even if it is a short term one. Students volunteer for experience, college kid’s volunteer during a gap year, professionals volunteer to take a break from work, adventure travelers volunteer to explore the world and many people volunteer just because they want to help. It was back in 2009 when I first felt the urge to volunteer. And having fulfilled it, I have kept volunteering abroad again and again. In my conversations with people since then, I have found that many ask for help with deciding on a volunteer program. It’s no wonder really because there are so many out there. So here’s my own process in choosing the right program:

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Where do I want to volunteer?

Having a location in mind really helps narrow down the number of programs that are on the table. My heart always said I should opt for volunteer Africa. This is because I found their culture, language and history most interesting. I always followed developments in the area on the news and I felt a connection with the issues and solutions needed. Sometimes such a natural connection is not there, it may be other aspects which sway your decision, such as things to do outside of the volunteering project, areas to explore and entertainment for example. For these reasons countries such as Brazil and India prove popular. Whichever criteria are most important for you, it is vital to research and make a list of places that could be suitable.

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What type of volunteer work can I do?

This is easy if you are a teacher, doctor, carpenter or other skilled professional. For someone like me that doesn’t have direct donate-able skills, it was a matter of deciding what is the best way in which I can add value to people’s lives. I am a good cook and I enjoy sharing meals with a table full of people. Therefore I decided to work in a shelter for the elderly in Africa where part of my job was to work in the kitchen. Cooking and serving brought me a lot of pleasure, so choose something for your international volunteer experience that does the same for you. Any skills or hobbies you may have could prove extremely helpful, even those that initially may not seem so, for example if you enjoy football a sports program helping under privileged children could be ideal.

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What did I want to get out of the experience?

I wanted to learn as much as I could about Africa, and therefore interacting with a lot of people was ideal. But you could choose working in home-building, environmental conservation or animal care – depending on what your aim is! Volunteering is extremely rewarding; it develops understanding of other cultures and the problems the world faces, it is emotionally rewarding and can give invaluable experience in so many ways.