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8 questions to ask yourself before deciding to volunteer

Regardless of your interests or educational background, there are volunteering opportunities out there for everyone. You can incorporate volunteering with travel, or studying abroad, allowing flexibility and customisation to make the most of every second. If you are planning to volunteer, make you sure read our handy hints to gain as much as you can from your time abroad (you are working for free after all)!

Image courtesy of Greta HM, Fiji Marine Conservation & Diving

1. Am I organised? Planning a realistic schedule is probably the best way to ensure you get what you want out of the project. If you know exactly who you are volunteering with, for how long, and what you will be doing, this generally means you’ll have a better outcome than those who are not prepared at all. Organisation and flexibility are the two key aspects of a volunteering role.

2. How long do I want to volunteer for? Remember that longer term placements aren’t always better option. A variety of smaller projects could be more useful to you so bare this in mind. Six months is usually the average recommended length of time for volunteering projects, as this adds positive value to an NGO. The organisation should make you aware of your objectives whilst on the project, in order for you to know what you should have achieved by the end of it, and this is an easy way to keep track of achieving your own personal goals too.

3. Am I interested in this project? Match your project to something you are genuinely interested in, or some issues that you find really important and would like to change. This is important for future employers to see past experience in the sector you wish to work within, and you may learn some useful skills in the mean time. Don’t just do something because it appears easy or convenient, push your boundaries and make it an experience of a lifetime. But, maybe you want to learn something completely new? If that’s the case, you’ve got nothing to lose.

4. How can I make the most of my time there? Consider travelling around the area, either before or after your project. This will reduce the chances of you sitting at home a week after returning and wishing you’d made more of your time out there. Research the country and any potential sites you want to visit – think of this as a great reward for completing all of your volunteering work! Never be afraid to embrace the brand new opportunities that you are given, and learn new things. 

Image courtesy of Jack Parish, Kenya Baby and Infanct Care in Nairobi

5. What skills can I bring to the project? Think about your skills and how they may benefit some projects in particular. NGOs would love to have a volunteer with experience as it means the project can be more efficient, and they can give you work dependant on your skills.

6. What organisations are the best to work for?  NGOs often provide food and accommodation in exchange for you working for them for free. This is definitely worth further research because it’s the perfect encouragement to stay on the project for longer – quite hard to resist a good deal like this! By working with local NGOs, you are supporting communities in need, and supporting development through a grassroots level. Larger, better known NGOs can provide assistance throughout your travels and are easier to book a direct placement with because they can be easily contacted.

7. Should I consider ecotourism? Ecotourism involves exploring pristine, undisturbed fragile areas with its purpose being to educate travellers and to directly benefit ecological development and the empowerment of local communities. This is advised to everyone going travelling, because it has small scale impacts on the environment and allows the exploration of relatively new places.

8. Have I thought outside the box? Try not to follow the crowd and visit a place that every goes to. With extra research, you can find areas that are in greater need of help, and may be more suited to your interests.

By Laura Robinson

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