All there is to learn from volunteering abroad

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All there is to learn from volunteering abroad

You might be sitting at home right now, watching the news and thinking that there’s more you could be doing for this world. Everyone has a set of skills that could be useful to a non-profit organisation (NPO) and help them make a difference.

And all it would take is for you to volunteer your time and skills to one of them. You might even be offered the chance to go abroad to volunteer in suffering countries’ communities like Masisi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), for example. And there are hundreds of communities that could use your helping hands and willing heart.  

If you’re looking for a life changing experience (in your own life and the lives of others), then volunteering abroad is something you should consider. There are so many lessons to be learnt from volunteering. Lessons that will humble you, enrich your life and change your perspective, all for the better.


You can either do it or you can’t

Self-discovery is unavoidable on a volunteering expedition. The first thing you’ll learn about yourself is whether you are, in fact, able to be a volunteer in the field or not. If you consider a welfare organisation like Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), for example, MSF treats Ebola in the DRC as one of their outreach locations. And if you’ve read any news articles lately, you’ll know that they’re experiencing another Ebola outbreak there at the moment.  

As a volunteer for MSF Congo, you’ll be witness to incredibly sick adults and children, living in unsanitary and unfavourable conditions. There is little access to clean water, limited resources to work with and all the elements of true poverty like you’ve never seen it before.

Not many people have the stomach or willpower to voluntarily live and work in those conditions with the people they are trying to treat. And that’s okay. For those who can’t handle being in the field, there are other methods of volunteering that can still make a difference. The truth, however, is that there’s more to learn from volunteering abroad and in the field.   


Respect for different cultures

Volunteering in a different country will expose you to different cultures. Each culture has their rituals, traditions, signs of respect and ways of doing things that will be entirely foreign to you. What you need to remember is that you’re there to help them and, in order to do that, you need them to trust you. And trust is earned through respect.

Before you leave for your volunteering expedition, do as much research as you can on the cultures that are native to that country. It will save you from unintended disrespect, make a difference in their first impression of you and help you to deal with the culture shock. For example, not all countries see the shaking of hands as a polite greeting and consider the exposure of the underside of your foot or shoe as rude.

Through volunteering abroad, you will learn to respect different cultures and even come to appreciate their ways of life. There is always something to be learned from different people and it will add to your appreciation of the diversity of life.   


Smiles are always understood

Something that makes international volunteering challenging (other than the living conditions) is the language barrier. It’s not always possible to learn a new language before you start your volunteership. Over time, you might pick up pieces of the local lingo but one “language” that is truly universal is a smile.

Smiles are always understood and in a community where smiling isn’t expected, you’ll be surprised at often this method of communication is used amongst the people and volunteers. You’ll learn about the power of a smile and how that alone has the ability to change the world and help people cope with their circumstances.  


Every little bit helps

Being a volunteer can sometimes feel like it’s not enough. When you’re in a situation where there is little that can be done, you might feel useless or inadequate. What you’ll come to realise though, is that every little bit of effort helps and makes a difference in that community’s life.

A smile might not feel like much to you, but it’s filled with hope to those you’re smiling at. Your job of providing comfort to the elderly and sick might not be fulfilling enough for you, but it’s everything those souls need in that moment. It all comes together with the efforts of other volunteers to make a huge difference in those people’s lives.


And the greatest lesson you’ll learn is gratitude. Working in a poor or suffering community makes you grateful for the luxuries you have back home. Clean running water, snacks whenever you feel hungry, a bed, electricity and hot water are all luxuries in the eyes of these communities. They don’t have the same experience of “home” as you do, yet many of them are content with life and choose to be joyful instead of simply complaining.

These life lessons are invaluable and you won’t find them in many other careers or work experience as you will in volunteering. Find an organisation that’s doing work you’re interested in and where you know you will be able to make a difference in the world.

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