How to Decide If a Volunteer Trip Is Right for You
It’s hard to imagine a better way of learning about another culture while making an altruistic impact than by taking a volunteering trip abroad.
What once was the territory of adolescent gap years has, in today’s world of hyper-connectedness and heightened humanitarian sentiment, become a way for women and men of all ages to develop themselves personally and professionally while working to improve the lives of others.
But that doesn’t mean every volunteer experience is perfect for every person. You’ve got to know yourself, your limits, and what you’re looking for before you start searching.
Some people struggle to adapt to unfamiliar faces speaking unfamiliar languages in an unfamiliar place. Others don’t have the heart to watch their fellow man, woman and child live in unsafe or undignified situations. And others can’t stop daydreaming about their own beds and friends and families at home.
However, for most people who do volunteer in a foreign place and integrate into a foreign culture, volunteering is also one of the most personally and professionally enriching experiences of their lives.
But volunteer programmes come in all shapes and sizes.
As you read this, people of all ages and nationalities are volunteering across all seven continents. At Inspire, we help you use skills to help others become self-sufficient, to help with health and well-being, and to help nurture independence in those that, as it stands, cannot help themselves.
Our programmes include projects in seven countries in the areas of education, health, women’s empowerment, and several specialist areas. Our goal is to help you make a real difference by first accounting for your skills and personality.
Finding the Right Volunteer Programme for You
Choosing the right volunteer programme is all about knowing thyself and knowing thy programme.
Any volunteer-to-be needs to ask the right questions about their skills and motivations, as well as what they’re looking for in their volunteer experience. Let your answers to these questions guide you to the project that will not only work best for you as an individual, but will also have the maximum impact on the community you will call home.
Start by looking inward and ask yourself these questions:
What are my strengths and skills? Inspire strives to place you in the role where you can do the most good and get the most out of your experience, and that means playing to your strengths. Remember to think about your ‘soft skills’ as well: on many projects, strong management or organisational skills are just as valuable as your certifications and qualifications.
How much time do I have? Are you just taking the summer off, or looking for a longer break between jobs or careers? This will influence your choice of programme, as certain projects are better suited to long-term commitments, while others get a boost from enthusiastic volunteers who give any amount of time.
Will I be taking a solo trip, or going with my family or a group of friends? Are you looking to volunteer by yourself, or maybe thinking of going with your partner or the whole family? Inspire offers volunteer experiences for individuals as well as couples and families.
What am I passionate about? Maybe the most important question you can ask yourself is this: what do I want to do? If you have a passion, now is the time to follow it. The impact you make is directly proportionate to your enthusiasm and emotional investment in the project, so search for the project that speaks to your heart and soul as well as your desire to do good.
Once you’ve done your soul searching, the second step is matching your skills, needs, and motivations to a volunteer programme that fits you as an individual. It’s where your skills meet a community’s needs that the best of volunteering happens, and that’s what we strive for in placing you in your programme.
All of our programmes work with different arrangements of skills and personalities to make sure each individual volunteer finds themselves doing gratifying work that gives both them and their communities the best experience possible.
Our women’s empowerment programmes in Cambodia and Tanzania aim to empower the women in the communities we work in by training them in new skills. This enables them to provide for themselves and their families whilst also attaining personal fulfilment and confidence.
You don’t necessarily need a professional background in working with women’s empowerment to participate in these programmes, as Inspire ensures that you’re able to make the most of your individual skills.
One former volunteer took a break from his career in the oil industry to volunteer in Tanzania.
We offered him an opportunity to help with providing micro-finance grants to help widowed women start small businesses. His role was help identify the most suitable and deserving candidates for a round of funding, work with them to set up their business plans, run training workshops and get their business started, helping these women become financially independent to support themselves and their families.
Our education programmes, active in all seven countries in which we operate, are working to improve education.
We do this by assisting with improving access and availability of quality education and investing in local infrastructure and resources at the schools in the communities we work with.
Katherine was a Music graduate when she started looking for opportunities to help disadvantaged communities.
Inspire used Katherine’s skills and passion for music to set up a new music programme at a school in the Himalayan town of Palampur in India. She spent four months there as a music teacher, helped set up a music room with music instruments with funding from The Futuresense Foundation, our associated charity. She then worked on developing a music curriculum for the children, leaving a lasting legacy at the school where the children now learn music.
In the area of health and well-being, we work to help educate communities about disease prevention, nutrition, contraception, and sanitation as we work with local medical facilities and healthcare institutions in Romania and Cambodia.
Dr. Patel and his wife run a successful dental practice in the South of England, and one summer they decided to volunteer abroad together with their teenage daughters.
We arranged a community dental camp alongside an existing school we support. The Patels’ daughters ran an activity based programme at the school while their parents saw over 300 patients in the course of the week-long camp.
Individuals, couples, and families like these always enjoy personalised programmes that make a real impact in their host communities.
Not certain exactly what kind of project you’re looking for or where you want to go? Read through our blog posts, or simply chat to us to learn more about our projects. You’ll soon see what speaks to you as an individual who wants to do good.
What Is, and Isn’t, Included in Our Programmes
One thing that might seem odd to many first-time volunteers is the idea of paying to volunteer: after all, what’s that money going to?
Many volunteer sending organisations charge fees or ask their participants for donations, not only to keep their programs running, but also to ensure that everything the volunteer needs is already taken care of when they touch down.
Additionally, volunteering with an organisation like Inspire ensures that you’re dedicating your time and hard work to vetted, sustainable programmes in genuine need of support that make a real difference in underprivileged communities.
Before you get ready for your trip, it’s important to take into account what will be arranged for you and what’s left over for you to take care of.
Here’s what your volunteer fee gets you with Inspire:
- Pre-departure briefing, to ensure you are fully prepared for your trip
- Independent accommodation in a carefully chosen guest house, providing you with privacy and your own space (we can also provide home stays or other volunteer accommodation options in some destinations)
- At least 2 meals a day Monday-Friday, giving you the opportunity to explore local restaurants
- A warm welcome at the airport and transfer to your accommodation
- In-country induction and orientation
- Support and guidance while abroad and from our UK team
We organise all of this for our volunteers so that the ins and outs of day-to-day living don’t become constant distractions and you can focus on getting to know your community.
One of the most valuable services we offer our volunteers is our in-country management team, who are there and available for you on the ground 24 hours a day in case of illness, emergency, or problems like homesickness or culture shock. See the below video for an intro to our Nepal contact team.
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There are a few things that your volunteer fee doesn’t cover: your flight, visas, vaccinations, travel insurance, local transport, or personal expenses.
This means you’ll want to make yourself a checklist of things like this you need to take care of before leaving. You will also want to plan some space in your budget for the excursions and weekend trips you’ll want to take in your down time.
Sometimes volunteers hit a few bumps in the road on the path to their volunteering experience, and that’s okay.
I’ve already looked in depth at the challenges you may face, but let’s recap:
One of the most common logistical hurdles facing aspiring volunteers is getting time away from work. Requesting a sabbatical sounds intimidating for many, but in 2016 such leaves of absence for volunteer work, travel, or other purposes are becoming more and more common.
Additionally, those looking for a longer volunteer experience may ask themselves whether a sabbatical or a career break is the right choice for them.
Another issue can be time scarcity: do you have personal or family obligations that might pull you back home prematurely?
It’s crucial to be honest with yourself about how much time you really have to devote to the community you’re going to volunteer in, and plan accordingly.
We recommend volunteering for at least three months, as this gives you a chance to really learn about the community you’re working in, its needs, and how you can contribute.
It’s always best to think about issues like these beforehand—if your trip is cut short and you need to leave a programme before your scheduled time is finished, it’s ultimately a community in need that suffers.
Volunteering Is a Wonderful Thing
Wherever you go and whatever your contribution there, each volunteer project makes for a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will grow your heart and mind, while helping others become independent and self-sufficient.
You’ll make memories of different realities and learn about different lives, ride the rollercoaster of optimistic ups and desperate downs, and come back with a new understanding of your life and the world you’re living it in.
Adding to the personal growth experienced by volunteers, you’ll also come back with transferrable new skills and enhanced perspectives that’ll make you an attractive candidate for jobs at home or abroad that you might never have considered before.
Still haven’t decided if a volunteer trip is for you, or have a question we haven’t answered here? Get in touch with us any time by calling us at +44 1635 285666, go to our enquiries page, or leave a comment below.