Volunteering: Setting Realistic Expectations
Volunteering seems simple enough. You go online, research something you are interested in, sign up and you are off to the races. While we wish that was the case, sometimes it's not always as simple as it seems.
Let's start at the beginning.
V O L U N T E E R. What exactly is volunteering? Who does one volunteer for? How do you volunteer? When do you volunteer? Where do you volunteer? SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.
There are many ways to get involved and I encourage you all to explore and test out different ways to do so on your own. Volunteering is such a broad term. Many people are often hesitant or skeptical when it comes to volunteering, especially when it comes to volunteering abroad. Well, I’m about to get really real with you guys for a minute.
Can volunteering do more damage than good? Yes. Can volunteering be for solely selfish and monetary reasons? Yes. Can people use volunteering as blanket image to make themselves look better? Yes. These should not be the reasons that stop you from volunteering, but to inform you on how to get involved in ways that truly matter.
The bad is out there, it is inevitable. However, there is more good in this world than not. Short-term volunteering, aka Volunterism, gets a bad rep these days. Volunterism is when the main purpose of the trip is to travel, with volunteering added briefly. (FYI: these are the standard we adhere to in our own code of conduct.) There are ways to ensure you are actually benefiting the community/organization rather than hurting them.
Make sure you are qualified to do the job required. If you would not be allowed to do this at home, you probably should not be doing it in another country either.
Do not take away jobs from locals. Find organizations that are credible NGO's. Ensure they still support economic values in the local communities
Look for Cultural Exchange Opportunities: while it's our first instinct to want to get our hands dirty, we believe the biggest impact comes from connecting with someone on a personal level, and really learning from them.
Do your research. Ask questions. Be reliable. Hold organizations accountable.
WHERE? HERE IS WHERE TO START.
SERVE, not save. First things first. I think this is the biggest conception with volunteering. When people volunteer people have an expectation that they are going to 'save the world'. This sets a high expectation which leads to disappointment. You are here to serve the world (in the best capacity you are able to), not save the world. Again, set your intention to learn from someone is a situation different from your own, and learn how you and your unique skills can make an honest impact.
Be respectful. Remember, you are entering an environment in which you are the visitor. Take the opportunity to learn, develop empathy and understand the the issue.
Follow your heart. List out your passions. Your interests. Your likes and dislikes. Do you enjoy playing with puppies or do you enjoy something a bit more challenging, like building a home? Whatever your interest may be, I guarantee there is a mission you can back. Authenticity is key to long-term change. Do it for the right reasons. "Let yourself be drawn by the strange pull of what you love. It will not lead you astray." - Rumi
Be realistic. Do not over commit yourself. Do not choose an organization you genuinely have no interest in. It’s okay to try a couple of organizations, activities and groups before knowing who or what you want to advocate for. Volunteering is a bit like dating, you have to date a few before finding the one. Not all volunteering is for everyone.
I N C O N C L U S I O N : The space is dynamic, there are a lot of opinions, and this is OURS, and we are constantly learning, being challenged and tying to operate in the most ethically way possible. We encourage you to do some research, and make your own choices that feel right to you.