Saturday, February 02, 2013

Advice on Volunteering Abroad

Check out the latest blog post on the Website of for some good advice on volunteering abroad. It is a guest post written by Shannon O'Donnell, who hosts the site as well as one specifically dedciated to volunteering, She has even written a book on the subject.
O'Donnell is a youn g American who has been travelling and volunteering abroad since 2008 and has learned a lot through that process. Her suggestions include choosing a good fit in volunteer jobs--in other words, don't volunteer to clear trails or do a lot of outdoor work unless you really enjoy that sort of thing; research organizations in your area of interest; and if you pay to volunteer, find out where the money is going, how the organization works with the community, and what exactly is expected of volunteers. Unfortunately, if you have only a week or two to volunteer at a specific time, you will probably end up having to pay a fee.
The whole area of volunteering and wanting to help people in less developed countries is a difficult one. You have probably read about Russia recently banning the adoption of orphans from that country by Americans. Russia is a developed country in most ways, and a very proud one, but because of its culture and history does have many children who grow up in difficult conditions in orphanages.
O'Donnell does not mention this in her blog post, but I think a good way to find volunteer opportunities abroad is through faith-based organizations. I have seen some amazing work being done by Christian charities abroad, such as the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf in Salt, Jordan, run under the auspices of the Anglican Church. Christian churches are also active in social work in Russia, something that is not always appreciated by local religious and political authorities. For an insight into this world, check the blog of, a young American missionary now married to a Russian.
As a regular community volunteer, I am fascinated by the prospect of volunteering abroad but have yet to do so. The great thing about volunteering is that it is so diverse--you can volunteer for a few hours, a day or much longer. You can try out different types of work--I've done everything from cleaning cages at a bird sanctuary in Florida (the vulture cage was a little scary,) delivering meals on wheels in Montreal, teaching English, walking dogs, driving seniors to medical appointments, being a receptionist at a free medical clinic, leading discussions for an educational institution.
It has almost always been a good experience, and sometimes even the events that I wondered about have, in retrospect, been very valuable. For a short time I was driving for a gentleman in his 90s who lived near the top of the mountain in Montreal, the most expensive place to live. He and his wife were clearly better-off financially than I was, and I wondered about volunteering for them. However, they were very well-travelled people who had known the Juan Domingo and Eva Peron in Argentina (yes, that Evita) and had many interesting stories to tell, so I felt well rewarded for my minimal effort.
Of course, not all recipients of volunteer work can offer much in return, and sometimes you may feel pretty incompetent to help them. But at least you will have the satisfaction of having tried.


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