The worst thing that a volunteer can ever do is choose a project without due care and consideration and then abandon that project before the end of the program because they then realised that the project wasn’t “for him.”
It’s incredibly important to remember that when you sign up to any project as a volunteer, you are agreeing to give up your time and to invest that time in the needs of others — whatever they may be and however the project organisers choose to manage the help they provide. Even if you do manage to “get something out of the experience” — such as experience which proves to be valuable for your CV, or a sense of achievement, or a developed love / interest to continue working on projects in the same field, — it’s vital to remember that these projects are not designed for you.
When you choose to be a volunteer, you’re choosing to help someone else, or to help animals, or to save the planet in some way. Your needs and worries might be of interest to you, but the project you sign up to and the people / things it cares for will always come first in the eyes of the organisers. If you think you might give up halfway through, it really is best to not even begin in the first place. It’s disruptive for everyone involved and it can create lots of additional work for people on projects which are already understaffed.
So… how do you choose a volunteer project which you won’t leave halfway through? How do you know when you sign up that you’ll see everything through to the end?
1. Be sure you don’t just want to travel
The largest mistake most people make is to sign up to a project as a volunteer when actually what they really want to do is travel and see the world. It’s easy to get confused. It’s easy to think that looking after sick animals on a farm will be a fascinating experience and a rewarding one, but the reality doesn’t always live up to the dream. The animals leave their faeces all over the place and you will be expected to help clean it up, you’ll definitely have to witness lots of animals in pain and in dire conditions and you might also have to watch an animal die.
If what you really want to do is connect with another culture and experience how they live, you can do so as a tourist. You can try being a long-term traveler and spend a few months in just one place. Avoid signing up to a project as a volunteer unless you have a very specific reason for wanting to help out on the particular project in question.
2. Know what kind of trauma you are capable of handling
Working with orphans or abused children, children who are slowly dying from untreatable illnesses, or children who come from poor families and who suffer from poor alimentation, is not the same as working on a natural reserve to help reduce pollution, replant trees and generate conditions to help encourage the ongoing development of plant and animal species.
That’s obviously not to say that people shouldn’t get upset about the planet’s environmental situation. The point is to encourage would-be volunteers to seriously consider what it is they could handle, face-to-face, before signing up to something and leaving ahead of schedule.
3. Study the living conditions and help available
Even in the grimmest of situations, if you have a strong support network around you it’s possible to keep chugging along with a smile on your face and a positive attitude in your stride. It’s important to do your research on the volunteer organisation you wish to join and the exchange company who will act as the intermediary — setting up your place on the project and organising all communication between you and the placement of your choice.
What will your living conditions be like? What will your food conditions be like? What will you be able to do and what we you not be able to do? What are the rules? What is the town like you will be living in? How easy is it to get around on public transport? What support will the exchange company offer you? What will you do in the event of an emergency? What will the company do for you if you get sick? These are just a few questions to get you started. It’s important to consider these kinds of factors before you sign up to any project. You need to know what you’ll be letting yourself in for.
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