Many volunteer abroad programs and opportunities have very few requirements for you to volunteer for them. The volunteer service organizations could ask things like: “the applicants should be 18 years and older; or “the applicants should speak English fluently.”
Many of the requirements they ask for are to make you fit well in the in the community. There are other requirements they need from the volunteers in order for them to do their work more easily. The requirements are the qualities and the character of the prospective volunteer. The qualities or character of the volunteers are important in that there are things they should have. These qualities help will help you whether you are working in your volunteer program and your stay. They help you adapt to the new culture. These qualities depend on the volunteer’s personality and expectations.
To make sure you enjoy most of your volunteer abroad experience these are qualities that you need to have, or to cultivate:
This is mainly for teen volunteers who are constantly surrounded by their friends. Many of the teen volunteers are not fully aware of independence, and they assume they will be comfortable out there by themselves. When they leave home and go to the host country for their volunteer abroad program they find themselves to be extremely lonely. The first few days or week are hard for them, since they are not in constant contact with their friends who are miles and time zones away. Even though they travel as a group or as family, there may be times where they will have to be separated due to their volunteer work schedule or the living arrangements. Before you leave home the volunteers should be aware that they won’t be seeing their friends for a while. Also even though they could always communicate with their friends, they should consider the time zones. It could be day time in the place you are volunteering but it might be at night where your friends and family are. Being independent is key to enjoy your experience. But after some days you would have made friends in the host country and you won’t be lonely any more.
When you are at home there are things that you are used and accustomed to. When you leave home you will be giving up modern conveniences like a comfortable bed, high speed internet and plumbing. But when you are arrive at you volunteer abroad program location the things change. The facilities and the conditions that are there are very basic, for example in rural areas, there is no running water, no toilets and sometimes no electricity. Volunteers need to be flexible and cope with the changing environment. They should be willing to do what is needed and live in basic conditions. Also the customs and the culture in the host country could be very different to what the volunteers are used to, as such the volunteers must be willing to conform to their standards. They should be open to the different cultures. A successful volunteer should not judge but should be willing to adapt to new ways and to learn.
In many developing countries things don’t move as fast as you expect. There are a lot of loop holes and beaureacracy. Projects and tasks take time to be accomplished. Most people in developed countries are not punctual and they don’t meet deadlines. Having high expectations of when things should be done will lead to frustration and disappointed. In some developing countries they have a different work ethic and social customs. For example in Muslim nations during the month of Ramadan work is normally dragged and done slowly. Being patient and open minded will help you during your volunteer abroad program. To work and live in such places is by being innovative and finding ways to work around the system.
Many volunteer programs work with vulnerable groups of the society. They work with kids, women, poor, the sick and the disabled. Many of these groups live and work in desperate conditions, they are the less fortunate. Some of them could be afflicted by some incurable disease like Cancer, AIDS etc. others could be orphans, unemployed. They may also not have adequate education and formal skills to improve their well being. As a volunteer in such project, you should be sensitive to their plight and their suffering. The volunteers should be understanding and open minded to their situation. Telling them how good your life is at home doesn’t help them but makes them feel less of themselves. The volunteers should try not to offend the people they work with.
This is very important especially if you are going to volunteer for a long period for example for 6 to 12 months. You will need a lot of commitment to work in the program. Being committed helps the program as well as you making it easier for you to work. The volunteers can have fun but they should know why they are there in the host country.
Written and contributed by Zablon Mukuba