In 2016, the New York Times posted a story about the amount of time an average Facebook user spends on the social platform. While the answer – 50 minutes per day – didn’t sound like much, if you take into consideration the average 8.8 hours of sleep, Facebooking actually accounts for more than 1/6 of our waking time. If you’re asking yourselves “what does this have to do with Impact Experiences or volunteering abroad”, the answer is that 50 minutes in volunteering time can count for far more, and far longer, than can be imagined
When traveling, we’re introduced with an incredible opportunity. Unlike our daily routines where we are overflooded with obligations, schedules, and more, venturing out to new destinations allows us to experience more unexpected opportunities. Wanting to experience the “unexperienced” and to dive deep into the heart of a new local community is one of the leading reasons for the rise in travelers looking to include volunteering activities in their adventures abroad. Volunteering with a local organization, in a local community, directly connects travelers to the heart of a culture and enables a platform for genuine communication.
As we travel to new destinations, we usually try to see and experience as much as possible, which oftentimes results in a very packed schedule. This can mean that we’ll have less time than desired to volunteer locally, but it doesn’t mean that we have to let go of the idea entirely. Keeping in mind responsible and sustainable volunteering practices, short-term volunteering can be just as meaningful and helpful as long as the activities volunteers engage in are structured to put their efforts and time to good use. This is what Impact Experience means: making sure our choices and experiences as travelers are sustainable and responsible, and that the impact they have is positive.
So if you’re interested in exchanging even half of your daily Facebook time on your next trip, here’s a few tips on how to find the activity right for you – and how to make sure it is a sustainable choice that will have a positive (and lasting) impact.
Know Your Skills and Strengths
No matter who you are and what you do, there’s something you can do to help others. When looking for a short term volunteering opportunity, find a group or program that can put your skillset to use. For example, if you make a living as a teacher, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to teach children in a variety of subjects.
Start by listing out the various skills and resources you can offer, and keep in mind that by choosing a project that can make use of these skills, you’ll be sure to make your time there meaningful (even if for a shorter time).
Communicate Directly with the Organization
If you want to make a big impact in a short period of time, you’ll want to find out what the organization’s goals are and how you can help to meet those goals. The best way to do your research is to get in touch directly with those in charge. Direct communications will save time (especially if you are already traveling and are on the go). With a phone call or email, you can determine how you can best use your time and resources to make an impact. Before reaching out, think of a list of questions that will help you get an idea of what the organization is about and what specific needs they have.
Set Expectations and Limits
When you get in touch with the organization you’re thinking about volunteering with, it’s also important to let them know what you have to offer. Be clear about how long you’ll be in the area and how much time you’ll have to devote to volunteering. While short term volunteering can be very effective in many cases, there are some volunteer positions that can only be filled by long term volunteers. Setting limits before your trip will ensure that both you and those you’re working with will be prepared to jump into a project with realistic expectations. For example, volunteering with children may sometimes not be the best choice for a short period of time. Since children very quickly attach with others, having of volunteers come in and out of their lives can unfortunately do more harm than good. If you do have your heart set on working in projects that will benefit children, consider instead to work directly with their teachers, families, or caregivers – as the children will also ultimately benefit from such work.
Do Your Research and Be Prepared
Each location you visit will have its own culture, unique needs, and various resources to complete projects. As with any aspect of traveling, research can help you understand each of these factors before you arrive. By properly preparing for the location you’ll be traveling to, you’ll be sure to arrive with less issues and problems, and be able to start volunteering right away. For example, you may be traveling to a location with weather exactly opposite to your home-town. By properly preparing with the right clothes, gear, money, and more – you won’t have to waste time purchasing missing items when you arrive.
Reputable volunteer organizations will be able to provide information to help you get to know what they’re about before your trip. Checking out the organization’s website is a good place to start, and will help you understand the mission and vision of the group. Getting in touch with those in charge directly will answer any specific questions you might have. Be sure to ask about what you’ll be doing specifically when you arrive. That will help you pack and prepare, so when you arrive you can hit the ground running.
Bypass Misunderstandings with Open Communication
When traveling to a location that’s outside of your comfort zone, there’s bound to be a mishap or two along the way. When preparing for your trip, there are some steps you can take to prevent miscommunications when you arrive. Start by learning some key words and phrases of the local language. This will help you communicate with those in charge of your short term volunteering project, as well as the locals that you’ll meet through the program. Setting your clear limits early on will prevent awkward conversations on site. Finally, starting communication early on and keeping it going as you prepare for your trip can keep things running smoothly. Get in touch with questions and concerns as they come up so you’ll have plenty of time to work out any potential problems.
Know What You Need and Where to Get It
After figuring out exactly what you’ll be doing when you arrive, you’ll want to ask about what tools and resources you’ll need to complete your project. Whether it’s tools, art supplies, or classroom curriculum, find out what items you’ll need to bring with you and what you’ll be provided with on site. You’ll also want to ask about who is in charge of providing those supplies and where you’ll find them when you arrive. Try to be sure that everything will be in order when you arrive, to avoid wasting time that could be better spent working on your short term volunteering project.
For example, there may be volunteer booklets for you to read even before you head off on your travels, or the organization may be in need of few supplies possible for you to bring with you from overseas. Knowing these things ahead of time can ensure a more successful project.
Make Your Time Count
When preparing for your trip, be realistic about how much time you’ll be able to spend on your volunteer project. Find out how much time the organization recommends spending on site and be sure that you have the ability to dedicate that time to the project. Don’t forget to take travel time and any other travel plans into account when setting your schedule. You make a difference in the community, as long as you maximize your time and use it fully while volunteering.
Impact experiences are offering anyone traveling abroad the opportunity to make a real impact on the areas they’re visiting. You can experience a country, city, and neighborhood through the language, food, markets, and events, but volunteering will give you a completely different view of the area. It’s an opportunity to meet locals, learn more about the community, and take a part in improving the area.
While long term volunteer experiences will help you become fully immersed in the culture and the organization you’re working with, short term volunteering can also make a huge impact on both you and the community. Dedicating a portion of your travel time to a good cause is a great way to put your skills and talents to use and give back to a community in a way that will stay with you long after your adventure is over.
About the Author: Aviv Hochbaum is the Head of Community and Business Development at GivingWay.com. Her Major in Education, Sociology and Anthropology, and her previous work at Tel-Aviv based startups have made her current role with GivingWay the perfect match for what she loves to do – combining the high-tech world in order to make a profound social change.
GivingWay (www.givingway.com) is a FREE online social platform that connects between worldwide travelers and nonprofits seeking volunteers in a simple and direct manner. In an industry heavily dominated by expensive middlemen, GivingWay believes volunteering should be accessible to all and is leveling the playing field by cutting out all agents and agent fees. With over 600 active organizations from over 80 countries worldwide, GivingWay makes it possible for even the remotest of organizations to find and to be found by international volunteers. As a social impact company GivingWay believes that by enabling direct dialog between volunteers and organizations, the matching of skills and needs is enhanced and impact to all involved is maximized.