Volunteering overseas is a wonderful opportunity for skilled professionals to find both personal and professional fulfilment. Careful deliberation should be given to the emotional, physical and financial aspects involved in such a worthy endeavour. There are many different charities and development projects that focus on skills-based long term volunteering, and the organisation provides information and support that addresses these important aspects of the decision to volunteer.
There are many things to consider if you are thinking about volunteering long-term abroad. One major consideration is the emotional toll of the work, separation from loved ones, and environment can have on you. Skills-based volunteer agencies often require placements of up to 1-2 years. Although volunteers receive time off and could travel back home for holidays, this is still a long time to be away from home. People with partners and or children have additional considerations. Some volunteer sending organization’s try to place dual-volunteer couples together, but the process can be lengthy. It helps if both partners are in the same field, like healthcare or education for example. A couple of dual volunteers who have different skill sets may be more difficult to place. Couples where only one person is volunteering need to be aware that the organisation cannot provide financial support for a non-volunteer member.
Parents should consider the additional challenges of taking dependent children on these assignments. They must realize that childcare and education expenses can be high overseas and the availability of quality healthcare is not guaranteed. Taking dependent children may add increased complications, but if parents have thought through all of these aspects thoroughly, volunteer sending organizations may be prepared to consider those applications.
Certain professions will also face other emotional challenges. The countries where volunteers are most needed are often lacking in facilities and infrastructure. Volunteer teachers will not find nice, well set up classrooms. Equipment will be lacking and even the basic needs of textbooks and exercise books will be in short supply. Hospitals and clinics can often be resource-challenged and lack the technology of UK hospitals. Additionally, the range and severity of diseases combined with their human impact could be extremely difficult and stressful.
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Volunteering abroad can be physically challenging. All potential volunteers should think about the physical demands of living and working in challenging environments for a long period. However, it should be noted that people with disabilities, health conditions or HIV/AIDS may still be considered as potential volunteers by good volunteer sending organisations. Good skills-based charities will make every effort to match volunteers with disabilities to roles where they can be productive and successful. Of course, volunteers with long term health conditions should realize that regular, quality hospital care or appointment visits may not be available. The volunteering abroad charity, VSO, advises: “Any chronic medical condition should be well controlled and such that you would not require frequent, ongoing medical attention while overseas.” This applies to volunteers with HIV as well.
Potential volunteers who have HIV should be aware it is illegal for people with HIV to enter or stay in some countries. Furthermore, there may be a stigma against HIV positive individuals in some countries.
Finances can easily be an overarching concern when considering a long term overseas volunteer assignment. Will a working partner stay behind and be able to cover the bills? Is there enough in savings to cover any obligations that will go on back at home? Can the potential volunteer take a professional leave of absence or will they need to resign and look for new work upon completion of the assignment? These are questions that need to be asked, and the answers will vary widely among individuals. As with most major life decisions, it may be prudent to consult with a finance professional.
As far as expenses associated with the volunteer position, Some skill based volunteer sending organisations cover a combination (if not all) of the following: CRB clearance, medical insurance and required immunisations, training including accommodation and food, one return flight, accommodation whilst in your placement and an allowance to cover your basic living expenses whilst overseas. As previously mentioned, these benefits extend to the volunteer only, so additionally financial planning will have to be done if dependent children or non-volunteer partners will also be going abroad.
There are numerous personal and professional benefits to be gained from a long term overseas volunteer assignment, but it is important to realize that there are important emotional, physical and financial aspects that need to be taken into consideration. With a little forethought and planning, volunteers can give themselves a greater chance of success and satisfaction.
Graham is a keen volunteer marketer who often leds his skills to a variety of charitable organisations.