A few words about volunteering

Volunteering – why bother?

According to the online Cambridge dictionary, “a volunteer is a person who does something, especially helping other people, willingly and without being forced or paid to do it”.  Yes, that’s right, “without being paid”. I know that many people would be disgusted by the very idea. “How come? Why would I work for free? I already have my (paid) job or studies/ other activities and afterwards I’m tired  and the only thing I want to do is to watch Netflix, while sipping some beer.”

Don’t get me wrong. I also like Netflix and beer. However, when I started my university studies (which was actually over a decade ago), I also began my adventure with volunteering and have volunteered with a few different organisations so far. Now, having a full-time job, I also get involved in various volunteering activities in my free time. So, as you can see I have many years of experience in this field. Therefore, let me tell you: volunteering is a great thing! What’s more, when you get involved in this kind of activity, you don’t do it exclusively for other people. At the same time, you do quite a lot (or even more) for yourself.

Why is it good for you?

What exactly can you win by involving in volunteering? Apart from the most obvious thing which is the satisfaction from bringing help to those in need (whether people or animals), there are many other factors that are worth considering. Depending on the type of activity you will get involved in, there are benefits such as:

Warning! Greedy companies…

Of course, before you get involved in any type of volunteering, you should ask yourself a few questions: why exactly is my help needed there? Why is the organization looking for volunteers? It happens that a big multinational or another for-profit company is looking for volunteers. In exchange for your unpaid work, they offer you some “professional experience”. Do not fall for that. Professional experience should be gained through internships – with strictly defined and limited timeframes. If the only beneficiary of your work will be the company itself, and not the local community (or another common good), then it is not worth taking part in.

…and suspicious intermediaries

Also, be careful with various volunteer abroad companies or agencies. They often offer to organize your stay in a poor country, for example in Asia or Latin America. During such stay, you will do some volunteer work (for example, repair houses destroyed by a hurricane) and after work, enjoy some luxurious activities, such as watching dolphins or kitesurfing. For services of such an agency you have to pay sometimes a few thousands of US dollars. This is completely wrong. First of all, very often the works done by the volunteers bring more harm than good to the local communities. It would be much better to commission some local experts with an in-depth knowledge to do these works, rather than people from outside, with no experience at all, no matter how good their intentions are.

Besides, the very idea of paying someone for a possibility to work for free is completely absurd, so when you see such an offer, you should automatically be alarmed that something is wrong about it. In my opinion, when you offer to work for free for an organization, the only costs that you should accept are transport and maybe some pocket money that you should bring with you. When it comes to volunteering abroad, I believe the best option is to avoid intermediaries. I recommend you do your own research and look for interesting local organisations that accept volunteers. Of course, you should only pick verified organisations. I suggest you do a profound background check. Perhaps look for opinion of  some people who have already volunteered with them. The problem of agencies taking advantage of naïve volunteers has been also described by Elizabeth Becker in her book, the review of which you can find here.

My experience with volunteering

Today’s post will be the first of a series of articles which I plan to publish from time to time. I would like to describe my experience with specific organisations, tell you about their pros and cons and try to determine the amount of time that you have to dedicate if you get involved. I also plan to interview people who volunteer in organisations that I am not familiar with.

So far I have volunteered with the following organisations:

Some time ago I wrote a post about my adventure with WWOOF. If you would like to read it, below you can find the link. Very soon I will publish a new post, this time about Szlachetna Paczka. Stay tuned if you would like to find out how it works!

Interesting links:

 

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