Reg Charity 1143560
Thought Piece

7 Misconceptions About Volunteering Abroad

By Mikey
Successfully sending volunteers abroad for 10 years

Being a volunteer in Africa is a truly unbelievable experience that can shape your life. You may have overheard some common misconceptions that are often associated with volunteering abroad, but while these myths can make you think twice about committing to signing up, we’re here to bust these pesky misunderstandings and help you find out the reality of overseas charity work. 

Here are some misconceptions you might hear along the way that we can set straight for you:  

You can only go if you want to volunteer in an orphanage

There are wonderful opportunities to come and work with children in local areas but this option is by no means the end of the road. Overseas adventures through volunteering incorporate a vast selection of choices, from sports coaching to environmental projects, animal conservation, medical volunteering and more.  

So, if you wanted to do something that isn’t specifically working with children, then there’s no need to worry, there are alternatives for you. 

Volunteers take jobs away from local people

This misconception has been around for a while, and we’re not quite sure why, because it’s a definite myth. In fact, volunteers who sign up to programmes are actually helping to support further jobs for locals, in many cases.  

Think about the assistance that charities need to look after volunteers while they’re staying in a foreign country; there are so many roles that need to be filled! In some instances, if it weren’t for the charities and their projects, the community wouldn’t be able to survive, and the same goes for the charities; if the locals didn’t help, then there would be no programmes to run.  

Rest assured that if this is a concern for you, you’re not taking a role from a local, you’re aiding in creating one. 

Volunteering is all hard, manual labour

While some volunteering roles include manual labour, no volunteers are going to sign up for a programme and end up being ‘tricked’ into digging and grafting instead of doing what they volunteered for in the first place. 

It’s true that planting, building, digging, and other similar manual skills are required, but unless you sign up to volunteer for this type of project, then you aren’t going to be doing it.  

As an extra point, we often find that lots of volunteers come from an experienced background and join programmes that will help them, and the locals, to get the best from their expertise. Essentially, there are jobs for everyone, and what’s more, you can also head out to do something you don’t have a background in, after all, your assistance is invaluable.  

There’s an age limit on being a volunteer

You might think that volunteering is only for ‘youngsters’ who are looking to do something rewarding while in their gap year, or as part of their uni course, but this is a certain myth. Volunteers really do come from all age groups and this is what makes it such a great experience.   

Whether you’re a fresh 18-year-old or you have more experience in life, volunteering organisations are much more concerned with the application and attitude of volunteers than the year they were born! Age is just a number… 

Volunteering is all about self-sacrifice

The whole ethos surrounding volunteer work is about helping others. Of course, there is some level of self-sacrifice, but when you are doing something for such an important cause, you’re giving back and you’re helping others, the rewards outweigh anything else. 

If you look at it in another way, volunteering is a fantastic means of sharing valuable skills with people, that they can, in turn, build on and share again. You might be embarking on a volunteer programme that allows you to develop an untapped skill in the people you are helping that even they did not know existed until you come and help it to bloom.   

It all about perspective. Some may consider it to be self-sacrifice, but if viewed with a positive attitude, your actions are helping to change the world for the better, and what’s more, these experiences will help to make you a better person too! 

You won’t be able to talk to locals because of the language barrier

When you go to a foreign country, English is obviously not going to be the mother tongue, but that’s not to say that communication will be an issue. Lots of locals can speak broken English, hold a conversation, and handle a second language with relative ease. 

The fact is, that if speaking to someone is proving a little tricky, a smile and a handshake along with displays of emotion and compassion are a universal language, so you don’t always need to be able to chat.  

You might find that the people you are in contact with are a little shy and when they become more comfortable, they open up and speak more. Local coordinators will be on hand to help out in most instances too, so communication won’t be an issue. 

You CAN do it

Some people find the idea frightening or a bit too daunting, but after a day or two, you'll wonder why you didn't sign up sooner! 

Have you got a hunger to volunteer abroad?  Hopefully, this has helped to clear up some things you may have wrongly heard or been told and we’ll be seeing you on one of our amazing programmes in the future!

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