Essentials & Advantages of Volunteerism

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Volunteer tourism, or volunteerism, is a growing trend, especially among college students and retirees. It combines the pleasures of traveling abroad with the satisfaction of volunteering. It is a unique way to see foreign lands and immerses you in a different culture, all the while lending your time and expertise to others.

There are many volunteerism programs out there, most with short and long term projects. Teaching English for three months is a great way to spend a summer vacation while adding skills and experience to your resume. For retirees, electing long term volunteer projects may prove to be both rewarding and beneficial, as it´s a great way to meet new friends and discover new hobbies. Be sure to choose a program that is right for you. If you are used to being in an office or classroom all day, committing to a nine month project may prove overwhelming. Talk to your volunteer agency to find the right fit for you.

Many ask why they have to pay to volunteer. As a volunteer, you will need a place to stay, food, transportation, insurance, and orientation. All this adds up to a program fee. There are also salaries to cover as well as contributions to projects. When you pay an organization, you are usually guaranteed a ¨cushier¨ experience than, say, if you volunteered with the Peace Corps. While the Peace Corps is free, the commitment is a long one, the rules are strict, the application process extensive, and the living conditions are less than ideal. Volunteerism provides individuals with an opportunity to give back without committing two years to the project or having to give up certain comforts.

Remember you will not be volunteering every second of every day. You will have free time and the opportunity to explore, so pick a country that really interests you. You can spend your weekends exploring the capital of Peru or the rural countryside of Costa Rica. Some volunteer programs offer weekend tours or at least have a local coordinator who can point you in the right direction and give you tips on where to go. Choosing a country that interests you personally is important; it will make your time volunteering all the more enjoyable.

I encourage anyone considering volunteerism to choose a project with sustainability. While volunteer- ing for any length of time is time well spent, spending one week on a complex project may result in the

project´s failure or discontinuation. Look at all aspects of the project. Are there local leaders involved? Have they been included and active in the project´s design? Take the time to teach the locals the techniques and skills needed to keep the project functioning after you leave. Resist the urge to take the lead, but rather
partner with community leaders and encourage their involvement. If you are teaching English, have a class with the teachers one day, to help with proper pronunciation, grammar, and curriculum design. If you are doing a water project, arrange a group from the community who will be the ¨water board¨ in charge of continuing the project after you leave. In this way you will empower the people of the community and make them feel that the project is theirs. This sense of ownership makes it more likely for them to want to fix things, should anything break or fail after your departure.

Volunteerism is a wonderful way to explore a country and culture while helping others. There are many programs available that offer both short term and long term projects. Whether you are newly retired or want to take your family on a summer trip, there is a project out there for you. Be selective; your satisfaction and accomplishment of your goals relies heavily on how comfortable in your surroundings. Most importantly, choose projects that are sustainable and can be easily managed by the local community. You want your project to have longevity as well as an impact on the community.

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