What an international volunteer needs besides their suitcase.
Good will abounds. We believe in giving back. Each year over 1,000,000 of us pack up and leave the U.S. to volunteer in another country. Most of us plan to do service work for a week or two. So, what will we need for a couple of weeks that won’t fit in a suitcase?
1) we need to check our assumptions,
2) have realistic expectations, and
3) be selective in choosing the nonprofit organization that will pick us up at the airport and put us to work in their programs and projects.
Here are some assumptions to check. Why am I going? What do I believe about the people on the receiving end of my efforts? How will they benefit? What do I believe about poverty, people living in poverty, and how to change it?
Evaluating expectations means asking other questions: Am I prepared to be unplugged from phone and internet? Follow the dress code and guidelines recommended by the nonprofit I’ll work with? Be patient? Insist on “fixing things” my way? Give money to the “poor” people I meet? Listen? Learn? Really get to know the people? Be able to understand their language and customs?
In selecting which nonprofit to volunteer with, there are even more questions to ask. Does the nonprofit have programs and projects that do “for” or do “with” the people. Who decides what the programs and projects will be, e.g. the board? the executive director? the staff? the clients/customers? the donors? Who benefits from the decisions? What is the mission of the organization? Are outcomes measured?
These questions won’t fit into a suitcase, but engaging them will add clarity and quality to the experience of volunteering abroad.