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Guest Blog: Overseas Volunteering Info Evening, Written by Adam Pettit, Community Volunteering Officer at City

 

If you have ever volunteered overseas it is bound to come up in any job interview you ever attend. It’s an experience you’ll never forget and is guaranteed to pack your story repository full of tales that demonstrates a variety of skills. It shows planning, teamwork, commitment to a cause. It testifies that you are willing to push yourself outside your comfort zone and give your time willingly to help others. The fact you’ve taken up this opportunity tells employers a lot about your personality, not least that you’re a motivated person with a global outlook.

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However, you might find if you search online for volunteer placements abroad that you are hit with a huge mass of information. Hundreds of organisations offering thousands of different projects in a massive variety of countries in every corner of the world.

It is hard to tell which organisations are reputable and it can be difficult to identify a project that is going to offer the best developmental opportunities for you and is ensured to be of benefit to the host community.

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Last month, we invited representatives from 6 carefully selected organisations onto campus to discuss their international opportunities with City students.

The evening began with each representative speaking for 10 minutes about the projects they run overseas. One speaker even joined us via Google Hangouts live from on-site at one of their projects in Peru.

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After the talks we had a reception where students were able to chat with the representatives and ask any questions they had about getting involved.

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The evening highlighted benefits of volunteering overseas as well as some of the potential risks and issues associated with it.

In this post I have summarised the advice from the event for anyone looking into this sort of opportunity.

The Organisations who attended

Potential Benefits

  •  It is transformative for the volunteer. You’ll develop incredible skills, make friends for life and experience things that will stay with you forever
  •  It is hopefully of benefit to the host communities – you’ll be helping them achieve something they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do
  •  It facilitates cross-cultural understanding and relationships
  •  It is a two-way exchange of skills and knowledge which contributes to sustainable development

Potential Risks and Issues

  •  Voluntourism – this is an increasingly commercialised sector. While there are many organisations with the best intentions some are trying to make money by getting people through the door and charging a lot for the experience – A lot of this money will not reach the beneficiaries in country
  •  This throws up a few ethical dilemmas with some companies sending over volunteers who become a burden on the host community
  •  Communities can become dependant on foreign volunteers if the projects aren’t locally sustainable
  •  If local people have the skills to complete the jobs volunteers are doing we may be taking employment away from these people
  •  UNICEF found that children in orphanages in Cambodia increased by 65% in three years – “as a result of tourists’ good intentions Cambodia’s orphans have become a money-making tourist attraction”.

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Top Tips when Choosing a Placement

  •  Find projects with local community ownership to ensure sustainability
  •  Be aware of the risk of displacement of local jobs and the cost to the host community
  •  Ensure the project you plan to undertake is making an actual impact. It should feel like work, not just a holiday
  •  Avoid projects which appear to be short term solutions to long term problems
  •  Undertake a placement abroad with a mindset of sustainability, accountability and cross-cultural exchange
  •  Choose an organisation that offers support, training and prepares it’s volunteers for the experience

Adopt a Learning Attitude

  • “Many of us assume, because we come from wealthier places with better education systems, that we can come into any new place without knowing much about the culture or the people, and we can fix things… Development work is complex and takes time, and the people we are visiting have just as much, if not more to teach us than we have to teach them.” – Daniela Pepy, PEPY Tours.

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Antonia Clark

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