Make A Difference.

Ready to take the plunge?

There are ample opportunities available if you wish to help while abroad. Many organizations offer tailored schedules based on your available time. If you have several weeks, you many want to look at teaching a language at a school. A few days? Bringing much-needed supplies could be a great way to go. I have taken different routes throughout the years, from well-organized and orchestrated mission trips, to setting out solo and personally reaching out to those I think could use some help. I’ve visited orphanages, schools and non-profits and all have appreciated the assistance. Ready to get started? Here are a few pointers to get you started:

1). Research and reach out. An excellent book from Lonely Planet titled ‘Volunteer: A Traveller’s Guide to Making a Difference Around the World’ is a great place to get ideas. It lists organizations, types of work, costs, training and preparation. I picked up a copy online for just a few dollars. Once you narrow down your choice of work, get in touch with the organization. Certain programs offer limited space and book full months in advance, especially during the summer.

2). You can never bring enough donations… When I visit areas of extreme poverty or stop at an orphanage, I’ve always left feeling I could have brought just a little more. I’m sure I would feel that way even if I brought a semi-truck filled with supplies, but I know that every bit helps, and nothing is turned away. The key is to zero in on what is really needed. Sometimes this can be hard to do, as some organizations are actually reluctant to tell you. They are so grateful that they simply say ‘yes, yes, that sounds great’. Try to pinpoint the greatest needs.

3)….but! Shop locally when you can! This is key. Goods like school supplies, medicine, clothing and toys are almost always cheaper abroad. Ironically, it may be made there also. This alleviates the need to pack any large bags (and save the bag fee with the airline). However, not all goods are created equal. Some items, like certain medicines, can be cheaper and better quality (i.e. not expired) when brought from home. This is where getting in touch with the organization and getting specifics is important. Medicine is easy to pack, light and requires little space. This is also sometimes true of computers and computer equipment. While I have found plenty of computer accessories abroad, the quality is usually questionable.

3). Mix in some fun! I find my trips the most rewarding when I balance the work with the fun. A day of volunteering followed by a day of sightseeing is always rewarding. I enjoy shopping at local markets and am glad to put money into the local economy. I prefer eating at local restaurants over international chains. You meet the locals, feel better connected to the community and put the money directly in the hands of the locals.

Have suggestions? A great experience? I’d love to hear from you. Please share any thoughts you may have in the comments below. Help others to help out!

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2 thoughts on “Make A Difference.

  1. Hello… my name is Erin, and I’m currently in Ecuador. I think the idea behind your project is incredible; I’m currently doing research on children in disadvantaged situations, and I would just love to get in touch with the Congregación Misioneras de la Niñez… (I’m in Quito). I would love to help them as I can as I am in the city for some weeks yet. It would be great to hear from you – I am struggling to find their information on my own!

    • First of all, Kudos to you for making a difference! There are so many ways to help, you will be sure to find something that will both benefit the children and help you to put your best foot forward. Don’t be surprised by how much you take away from event the shortest experiences. Have you visited the Congregacion’s bakery on Calle Juan de Dios Morales (aka, La Ronda street) in the Old Town? It’s a small shop located on the south side of the street. I cannot remember the exact location, but once you get down there, ask for the bakery, and they will point you in the right direction. That same location once (and again may still) house some children, but since the construction of a parking deck directly behind the store, destabilized the foundation and caused many cracks in the old structure. The nuns periodically visit the store, but today, most children live off site. Let me know if you have any more questions and best of luck to you!

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