The realities of volunteering
Volunteering is many things to many people but it is definitely not a holiday – it can be satisfying and frustrating, rewarding and challenging, life affirming and exhausting in equal quantities, so your decision to participate requires careful consideration and commitment. Teamwork is essential and the ability to share your skills while also learning from others requires mutual respect.
We will provide plenty of information about the projects and put you in touch with previous volunteers and those who will be travelling with you, but you might want to talk to family, friends and colleagues too, as their opinions and support will be invaluable.
Be certain to ask lots of questions: you need to be honest with yourself, not just about why you want to volunteer but also what you hope to give and gain. For example, how will you cope with the different culture, being in an economically poor environment where people have very different priorities, skills, experiences, motivations and needs?
The most effective volunteers work with and learn from the community they are in, showing respect, offering advice and encouragement, and increasing their capacity to develop their own futures.
Achievements and rewards
Volunteers have achieved many positive results, both for the projects and for themselves. Specific skills have been shared between volunteers and local people in education, health, social care, practical skills and more.
The feedback received from the projects and from volunteers frequently acknowledges how the local people have felt supported, recognised and motivated by the volunteers’ input and attention.
Of course volunteers are also given the opportunity to learn about the people and their way of life in country much different from their own. They give a lot, but often comment that they gained far more from the experience.
…and challenges too
Although volunteers and projects are prepared for each placement as thoroughly as possible, the projects and priorities are constantly changing. This means that no matter how much information is provided, the reality of the first few days will surprise you as the magnitude of local need is immense.
Even with detailed planning and preparation there will be surprises, which is why an attitude of compromise is crucial. Cultural differences may appear as barriers to begin with, but proactive and sensitive volunteers can overcome these. Occasionally problems or challenges may seem insurmountable rather than simply frustrating – that’s why we work with local teams who will be on hand when they’re needed. Each local team meets regularly with volunteers and provides a local mobile phone or SIM card to ensure contact.
If an issue cannot be resolved directly with the project (there may be times when it seems inappropriate to discuss things with local people) volunteers must inform the project management team immediately. They expect to be told of real problems otherwise the issues can't be addressed. With their experience they will be able to deal with things appropriately in the local context and in a timely fashion.
Remember that each and every volunteer is part of a team. We have a long-term commitment to our projects and will do all we can to ensure that each volunteer becomes a valued part of the bigger picture. No one can make huge changes in isolation but, as a team, can play an important role in an ongoing programme of change.
When you return...
After returning from their placements, we ask for feedback from every volunteer. This information is highly valued – with it, we can better serve the projects and future volunteers. We also rely on volunteers to advise and help brief future volunteers who will be going on to work in the same project – your experiences will be invaluable to them.
Other than this, we have no expectations of you when you return. We’ve therefore been surprised and humbled by volunteers’ commitment to ‘their’ projects. Many people want to raise further funds and we’re able to offer a structure for additional contributions through the Saga Charitable Trust, which ensures that these generous donations are well managed and fully accountable. For further details, email firstname.lastname@example.org