November 20, 2017
Traveling to a foreign country and volunteering there sounds exciting, and it is. However, it can also be challenging, so you need to plan your voluntourism trip very carefully.
Ideally, your trip will be a blend of volunteering and sightseeing so you’ll have a chance to experience the culture of the country you’re in while giving back. This type of travel allows you to enjoy the country without exploiting its people and makes the trip far more satisfying. Consider these things as you plan your trip.
Leave Time for Fundraising
It can take time for people to get the money together for the trip, so be sure to schedule travel fairly far out. Leave a minimum of six months to allow for fundraising and physical preparation for the trip.
Choose a Volunteer Opportunity Based on Skills
Every group will have different skills that can be used on the volunteer trip. If you have several people who are experts in construction, look into opportunities to build schools, homes, and so on. For those who have medical training, a medical mission trip could be a great choice.
General skills can be used in any situation, so don’t worry if you have people who aren’t experienced in construction, medicine or other areas. They can help with organization, manual labor and act as runners between stations.
Prep for Basic Medical Needs
It’s not uncommon to suffer from minor medical issues while traveling abroad. Sometimes, the food doesn’t sit right, or you may get a scrape while installing a stove or building a latrine. Bring along a basic first aid kit so you can treat minor injuries and stomach upsets on-site. Of course, if need be, you should see a doctor in the area, but for minor issues, it’s best to treat on your own.
For larger problems, make sure everyone on your team has medical insurance that will pay for hospital stays or, worst-case scenario, a medical flight home. This is non-negotiable when traveling abroad.
Volunteering is hard work, and it can be emotionally draining to work in the conditions you’ll find in the developing world. Make sure you plan to have some downtime to process emotions and feelings. It’s a good idea to have regular meetings where people can bring up their concerns.
While helping others is a rewarding experience, it can also be difficult. Coming to terms with the fact that you have so much more than those you help can be challenging, and most people need some time to think about things before they are ready to go again.
Experience the Culture
While you’re in a country to help out, you should also experience the culture as much as possible. Part of this can be accomplished by spending time on the project site, but arranging for a cultural show, such as a local dance or meal, can also help your volunteers. Don’t just focus on work; kick back, play soccer with some of the local kids, help the women cook a meal and generally get involved in the community. This makes a bigger impact on everyone than simply working on-site and heading home every evening to the hotel.
Prepare for Reverse Culture Shock
Even a week in a developing country can drastically affect the way you perceive your own culture. Returning home can be a shock and may be difficult, so plan to have a debriefing before you take everyone back. Discuss what you can do to help out going forward in your own communities. Having a plan of action will help with the reverse culture shock many people experience.
Your voluntourism trip can be the journey of a lifetime, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally as well. You’ll have an impact on people across the ocean, and it’s a win-win situation.