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Why I’m Choosing to Volunteer

I have always been a volunteer. When I was in elementary school, I would walk to the local library after class and spend hours shelving and organizing books. I hosted bake sales and other fundraisers and all but single-handedly funded their young adult section in my early teen years. I was a member of the local Leo Club and always involved in some community activity, whether it was participating in Christmas for Kids or making blankets for the homeless.

In high school, I set my sites a little higher and organized a book event with over 20 authors to raise money for libraries, several years in a row. Then I turned my attention internationally when I made my first trip to Guatemala to help out at a school.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about volunteering – that it’s not always good (but it’s not always bad) and that there are plenty of things to consider before choosing a volunteer placement. I will be writing more about this later but, in the meantime, I suggest utilizing Grassroots Volunteering and this book.

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When I decided to travel to Central America was never a doubt that I would be volunteering. At this point, it’s in my blood – it’s what I do. That alone is reason enough for me, however, here are a few more reasons I’ll be volunteering.

Cultural Immersion – I wholeheartedly believe that volunteering is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in a culture. Work next to those you are helping and put yourself in their shoes. You will see life in ways you would not otherwise have the opportunity to.

Encourages slow travel. Volunteering encourages slow travel as most reputable organizations require a minimum commitment of 6 weeks-3 months. I try to travel slowly in general but I often get caught up in city-hopping as well (which is fun at times). When I volunteer, slow travel is the only option – it forces me to slow down and truly immerse myself in the area I am working.

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Provides opportunity to develop relationships. A popular travel tip always seems to be “make friends with locals”. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. After all, how many strangers in your town do you invite for dinner? When you volunteer and work side-by-side with the locals, you are engaging in organic relationship development. It provides a true opportunity to know others, to see others frequently, engage in their day-to-day life. The people you volunteer with are the people who become your foreign families, the friends you stay in touch with beyond your stay abroad.

Keeps costs down. One of the biggest reasons I volunteer is to keep the costs down. I purposely seek out volunteer placements with no volunteer fee and one that charges a reasonable room and board fee. For example, both my placement in Honduras and my placement in Nicaragua offer housing at less than $50 per week. Food is available at local markets and will amount to only a few dollars a day. My expenses, altogether, will average $300 or so a month. This, of course, excludes any major activities or excursions but how else can you spend $300 a month for full room and board?

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I don’t want to be a tourist. This is my main reason for volunteering, beyond the fact I just want to give back. When I travel, I want to take a look beyond the what everyone else sees. I want to experience life in other cultures and immerse myself as much as possible and I think this is one of the best ways to do so without completely moving to a foreign country. It can also help provide an idea of whether or not I would want to live in that country, as is the case with me and Guatemala.

Above all, volunteering is in my blood. Volunteering abroad was just something I always assumed I would do and I know it’s going to enrich my trip and allow me new experiences in ways that attraction-hopping never would.

17 thoughts on “Why I’m Choosing to Volunteer

  1. Dina

    What a fun way to travel. I love to travel too but had never thought about doing it like this. We went to Rome last year and it cost way more than that. Kudos to you for being an amazing volunteer with your life and your time!

    Reply
  2. Debbie Harrell

    I appreciate the full immersion aspect of volunteering abroad. Like you, I tend to avoid the touristy types of activities in other places, rather gravitating more toward the local establishments. It is fantastic that you have made volunteering such an integral part of your life.

    Reply
  3. Sara

    I love that you say volunteering is in your blood – it’s so clear what a lovely and giving person you are. Time is the most valuable resource anyone can give up and you give so much. I can’t imagine how enriched your life must be, learning lessons from people of all walks of life and seeing the change you make to their lives. I’m so deeply humbled.

    Reply
  4. Natalie

    What great arguments for volunteering! I haven’t had the opportunity to do much volunteering at home or abroad as of late, but I can imagine that it would be an incredible experience. I, too, don’t want to be a tourist (which conjures up images of socks + sandals, fanny packs, and rude people), but want to immerse myself as much as I can in a place within whatever time frame I have. I’m a little older than you are, married, and a parent, so I have several things keeping me from doing long term, slow travel/ volunteer work like this, but I’d love to do it if we could find my husband a less location-dependent job. Great post! :)

    Reply
    1. Sky Post author

      Ugh yes, that’s the exact image I get when I think about tourists! There are always local volunteer opportunities as well. And, you’d be surprised at how many families are traveling and volunteering around the world.

      Reply
  5. Jennifer

    I volunteered so much in high school and miss doing it! What an amazing experience for you to be able to travel and volunteer at the same time! My kids thankfully are loving being able to help others and finding ways to help I am hoping we can do a lot of family volunteering as they get older!

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  6. Crystal Green

    I’ve never been much into volunteering with major projects such as the ones that you embark on at all. However, I do see the value in doing it. Judging from your arguments it has been one of your riches blessings out of life so far. Many have said, “There’s no greater joy than giving to others.” It sounds like you get the greatest joys out of life if that statement is true.

    Reply
  7. Michelle Hwee

    Volunteering is one of the best feelings in the world! I used to volunteer at an elementary school over the summer a few years back, it is just so precious to help out others and to teach them what you know. I can tell that they really appreciate it and care a great deal back to you. I really love reading about volunteering stories because it makes me think of how kind some human beings really are.

    Reply
  8. Terri Ramsey Beavers

    I would love to volunteer more in my community but most especially, I’d love to volunteer abroad as you do to learn more about the people and develop new relationships and have an experience in the areas that would last a lifetime. Thanks so much for sharing. It would be amazing to spend $300 a month for this wonderful adventure.

    Reply
  9. Fi Ní Neachtáin

    Volunteering sounds like one of the best ways to travel the world. It must be amazing to get to meet wonderful people who need your help and immerse yourself completely in the culture of the country you’re visiting. It’s great that you’re able to keep costs down travelling like this too.

    Reply
  10. Pingback: 5 Things to Consider Before Volunteering Abroad - Sky vs World

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