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!