Volunteering is one of the most rewarding things you can do. It takes you out of your comfort zone, it exposes you to new surroundings, and it looks great on your CV. However, the primary purpose for anyone to volunteer should simply be to help people.
But stepping into the world of volunteering is no easy task. It is unlike anything you have done before and first time volunteers will have thousands of questions: Will I be any good? What can I wear? Will I die?
Unfortunately, we can’t answer these questions for everyone—your ability to spontaneously combust makes that last question too difficult. What we can do though is give you The Ten Commandments of Volunteering to help you not only survive your volunteering, but be the best damn volunteer you can be.
The following should be used as a launching platform for those who have been thinking about volunteering for a while, but had no idea where to start. Stay tuned for a more in depth post covering effective volunteering and the efficacy of non-government organisations (NGOs).
I. Don’t Ever, Not Once, Ever, Freeload…Ever.
We cannot stress this enough: Do no put your hand up to help people if you have every intention of spending more time travelling than working. Do travel, but don’t arrive at an NGO in Nepal, work for three days and then do the base camp trek for the next three and a half weeks (true story). You’re there to help those that need it, not abuse their hospitality
II. Do Some Research.
No matter how much research you do, you’re not going to be ready for your first time (no, this isn’t a Cosmopolitan blog). You should, however, not go in completely blind. Just get a basic understanding of what it is you’re going to be doing and have some ideas ready to work with. These ideas will inevitably change and grow, but everyone starts somewhere.
III. Get Friendly.
You won’t meet anyone nicer than the people that you will be working with and helping out, so try your very best to be on their level: it’ll make the work you do much more rewarding and fun.
IV. See Your Doctor Wayyyyy Before You Leave Home.
You’re going to need like 1000 shots. Ok maybe not that many, but you should assume that you will just so you give yourself enough time to get the ones you need. This will prevent you from dying…I can’t dumb this down anymore guys, if you still don’t understand then maybe don’t volunteer.
“You’re going to need like 1000 shots”
V. Don’t Put Too Much Pressure On Yourself.
You’re not going to solve every problem in the world, so don’t make that your expectation. You are going to change some people’s worlds, and that is a much better approach to take into your volunteering experience. Expecting yourself to be Gandhi after your first time volunteering is like expecting to be Usain Bolt after you chase the ice cream truck: you’re going to need more practice.
VI. Be Patient.
Things move slower in developing countries. Internet connection isn’t always there, nor is electricity or staff, so you’re going to need to be patient at times. What takes you a week in your normal life might take two or more, so be prepared to be a little frustrated by this. But remember, the work that you do is paramount to the people you do it for, so its ok to take a bit longer.
VII. Leave Your Toys At Home.
Depending on what kind of work you do you may need a laptop and you’ll probably need some kind of mobile phone, but leave the rest of your toys at home. A family that lives on $100 a month doesn’t give two shits about your $2000 drone, unless you plan on giving it to them at the end.
VIII. Be A Local.
The countries that you will visit are most likely going to be the opposite of your home country and it’s going to be a big slap in the chops. The best way to get used to the difference is to do as the locals do, to a certain extent. Having a local show you their way of life is a great way to learn what’s what, but be sure to use your common sense. If you know that something they eat is going to end with you driving the porcelain bus for three days, kindly decline.
IX. Stay In Touch.
Having you come into the lives of the people you help will be one of their most memorable experiences, so make sure you stay in their lives. We are lucky that we live in an age where communication is so easy, and this doesn’t stop in developing countries. Add them of Facebook or grab some email addresses; it’s that easy.
X. Whatever You Do, You’re Doing Good.
With all the stress and expectations, it is often easy to forget that what you’re doing is amazing. Going out of your way to help those in need is the greatest thing you can do, whether you make a small impact or a significant one. Take a moment every now and then to be proud of yourself and the work you are doing.