Undoubtedly one of the best things about travelling is the people you meet along the way. Much can be learned from those of a different culture, language and way of life, and doing so can challenge the way you think and leave you with a more open mind.
Volunteering abroad offers you the chance to live alongside locals, work on projects derived from their needs, and to get to the heart of communities; an experience many may never have.
Living with a homestay family, eating local food and spending time in the company of close-knit communities allows you to see how people interact, use their resources and function in society, in a way you would not experience as a tourist.
Through volunteering, not only do you develop personally, you can develop within your own field. Choose a project based on your skills and interests, such as a healthcare placement or marine conservation, and see it turn from a passion into a career. Or if you are already trained, working in new environments can teach you unique things about your profession, such as how small clinics manage with limited resources or how recycled materials can be used to encourage the growth of coral reefs.
If you’ve always wanted to turn your hobby into a career, take the first steps by trying your hand at a volunteer project. Join a photography trek and build an international portfolio; gain your PADI diving certificate; take a Game Ranger course – the possibilities are endless! More importantly, you are building a skill set and becoming more culturally knowledgeable.
Not only is the work you do helping others, but it is creating a lasting impact by building capacity. If you get involved in creative ways, you can develop materials or systems that local staff can use after you leave, such as nutritional requirement documents and recipe ideas; creating a patient filing system for a busy clinic; or delivering hygiene workshops.
Many volunteers feel so passionately about their projects that they continue to fundraise after they return, and send donations to further the cause. The friends you make there will always appreciate letters and small gifts and you get to keep track of their progress. Nothing is more rewarding than hearing that someone you helped has been able to achieve their dreams. For example: a child you taught is now going on to university, or a family has finished building their home. By leaving your impression in this way, you are creating a continuing partnership.
By travelling as a volunteer, not only are you forming relationships with your project, but meeting other like-minded volunteers from diverse backgrounds. Many volunteers say that meeting others and making friends from around the world enriches their experience and enhances their learning. Share ideas and stories and find yourself developing a much better appreciation of the world we live in and the differences in people, giving you a much more objective view.
You may even come away with invites to friend’s countries, continuing your adventure and maintaining those important links that make you a global citizen.
Sarah Brown, Marketing Co-ordinator
Kaya Responsible Travel
Kaya Responsible Travel offer a range of projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America, working with local initiatives to develop communities, wildlife and the environment. www.kayavolunteer.com