As most of you know, traveling while giving back is something that both Tom and I are passionate about. We began our Wandergive Project by running a successful campaign for the slums of Smokey Mountain, Philippines. Currently, we are making plans to carry out other campaigns in other countries when we get back on the road.
So why is giving back so important to us? Why are we volunteering our time and efforts towards charity projects and NGOS? Simple. To help make a difference.
Since our last article speaking about Why not to Volunteer Abroad, we have had an influx of readers asking our opinion on how to go about volunteering and what kind of impact do we think it will have on their lives. Now, similarly to any travel plans that you want to pursue, the most important thing about volunteering abroad is finding out what you want to do. Do you want to work with children? Do you want to work with animals? Women empowerment? There is a wide variety of things to do when volunteering so narrowing your search to what you want to do is important. Some people decide on the destination first then choose what they want to do based on the availability in these destinations. I personally, would do it the other way around as I think the program you choose is vital to the success of your volunteer program.
When choosing, you need to think of what you enjoy doing or what projects you are passionate about. My passion is in teaching children. Even if I am not a practicing educator anymore, this will be something that I will always do, one way or another. However, not everyone is as passionate about children as they are with animals. Finding what you are passionate about and finding volunteer work within those lines will directly have an effect on how much the experience will change your lives. Apart from choosing your line of volunteer work wisely, choosing a program to work with is as equally important. Do your research. Seek out other people who have worked with that particular organization and get their honest opinion. Transparency is key because sadly, in the world of volunteerism, there are still people who take advantage of people who are eager to help.
One of the reasons why we like Love Volunteers is they are composed of real people who are out to do good. They are very open to questions, have testimonials from previous volunteers, and seem to provide a comprehensive list of everything you need to know about the program and destination. Although we have never specifically volunteered with them, this is definitely something we will be looking to do once in South America. So logistics aside, how can volunteering abroad change your life? Here are REAL accounts and experiences from REAL people.
Volunteering in India
By: Carlotta Panchetti
I arrived in India on a gloomy and dusty Monday morning after a 6 hours delay from Jakarta and a night at the Ganzhou’s airport.
India was the final destination of a trip started in March 2014 which took me around South East Asia and Australia. It was a life time dream, a chance to test my solo backpacking skills, my year abroad grand finale. India is not what you can expect but something more: India will overwhelm all your senses.
One of the best way to truly understand this fascinating and complex culture is volunteering and living with locals. I spent a week at the outskirt of Delhi, in Faridabad, during an orientation week in which I tried to understand the culture, customs and eating habits of the country. I then moved North, in Himachal Pradesh, specifically in a small Tibetan colony called Bir where I taught English for 6 weeks in a Buddhist monastery. The change of scenery is dramatic: from the chaotic capital to a small village at the feet of the Himalayan mountains.
As English is not my first language, the teaching experience was daunting at first but the excitement and passion of the little monks made me a bit less self-conscious of my possible mistakes and my Italian accent. Moreover teaching from Monday to Friday gave me the opportunity to explore the north region of the country during my placement, with weekend trips to Varanasi, Rajasthan, Punjab and Agra. They say volunteering is a life changing experience and as cliché as it sounds this is absolutely true in my case: after my BA in Economics and 1 year and half of backpacking around Asia with a few volunteer experiences, I decided to start a Ma course in International relations with a focus on Asian studies and I am about to pack it up again for a semester abroad in Kuala Lumpur.
Volunteering in Ecuador
By: Katie Hughes
Whilst on my year off travelling I spent two weeks in Quito volunteering for UBECI – a charity focused on helping disadvantaged children in Ecuador – recommended by friends who have volunteered there before.
They run several programs, from proper teaching roles, to those that are more basic (especially for me with little Spanish!). I ended up working with the children from Quito’s street markets. They also provide accommodation – including homestays with Ecuadorian families where you can be immersed in the culture and practise your language. The objectives of the market children program include reducing the children’s working hours, increasing their self-esteem and stimulating learning and social behaviour – even in a few weeks you see the children benefitting from their time in the program. Eventually when they are old enough, the parents commit to the children attending school and so far this has been really successful.
For this programme I was volunteering with 1-3 year olds, who were really cute, albeit grubby and typical toddlers with tantrums! We did all kinds of activities from physical to those designed to educate the children on health and hygiene. I found my two weeks flew by and I really enjoyed getting involved!
If you want to read more about Katie’s experience, she wrote about it here.
Volunteering in Ghana
By: Camille Sachs
Travel volunteering comes in many different forms, and I’ve done a variety of things from teaching kids English to working at a chimpanzee sanctuary to volunteer farming, but by far the most memorable experience I’ve had, was teaching sex education in Kpando, Ghana. I’ve found volunteering abroad to be much more a gift to myself more than anything else, as it has allowed me to get to know locals, learn the language, and interact on a much more intimate level than I would be able to if I were simply traveling. Plus you still get to have fun on your time off and explore local tourist sites. When teaching sex education, I also had the incredible luck of feeling like I was contributing information that was lacking in their regular curriculum. Some male students even asked me, “Why should I wear a condom? It’s not like I can get pregnant and only girls get STDs.”
Every day that I went into the classroom students were excited to learn about safe sex and the risks of sex, which is much more than I can say about myself in high school. Even better, I was able to work with teachers at the school I was at to create a sex-ed program for future classes. The best part of the entire trip was when a girl came up to me after class one day and told me that she had been afraid to go to the doctor to get STD-tested because she didn’t want people to think she was a ‘whore,’ but now that sex was being openly discussed in the classroom she felt safe to go. She even asked me to accompany her.
Volunteering in Sri Lanka
By: Andy Rogers
Like many people on Boxing day (Dec 26th) 2004, following an earthquake beneath the Indian Ocean near Indonesia, I watched in horror as one of the deadliest Tsunamis which struck 14 different countries claimed over 230,000 lives. Like many, I donated to various appeals but it just didn’t feel enough. A friend of mine went a step further and decided to help by rebuilding one house, for one family in an area of Sri Lanka, Galle. I helped raised some funds, but felt that it wasn’t enough which was why I decided to head out to Sri Lanka.
That 2 weeks of my life had a dramatic effect on me and the way I will always now view the world around me. Any volunteer will talk about the sense of “Giving Back” and there was definitely an element of that for me but it felt so much more meaningful in an overseas environment where you can have so much more impact on people’s lives. The pure joy on the faces of the children from receiving some pencils and simple school utensils will stay with me forever. Whenever we arrived at someone’s home, despite having next to nothing, we were always welcomed like royalty and offered a share of available food and drink. Truly remarkable!
They always say that travel broadens the mind, and of course it does, but volunteering at this level gives you a more deep and poignant sense of perspective about how the world operates and your place in it. It leaves you with a sense of responsibility to be a more giving person wherever possible. I loved every second I was in Sri Lanka, I loved the people, I loved the culture and I loved the difference that we made. If you get the opportunity to volunteer then I would say grab it with both hands. You will likely help and have an impact on someone’s life, but hopefully it will change you forever as well.
We’re not saying that all volunteering experiences will be as life changing and fulfilling as these, but if you are open to the experience and find a good program that is working towards something that you are passionate about, you will most likely have the time of your life volunteering. It is such a humble and eye opening experience which I think everyone should try at least once.