Why do we travel? Because it’s a great way to expand our horizons and shift our perspectives, to learn more about the world and ourselves. Why do we volunteer? To make a difference and to do some good. For international volunteers in Africa, mastering the former is key to the latter.
Our country coordinator in Kenya, Izzo Mwangi, describes volunteering as a learning experience, and this is an important thing to remember. In the past we have posted some tips on how to be a valuable volunteer and now we’d like to add another – treat your volunteer placement with Agape Volunteers as a learning experience.
Learn before your volunteer placement in Africa
First, learn before you go. Don’t go in blind. International development and volunteering are complex issues and your volunteer work will benefit from a little enquiry. Do some research into the work you will be doing. Ask questions and seek answers: how has Nairobi been affected by HIV? What social factors have made children’s homes needed in Aboadze, Ghana? Are there any challenges or issues associated with your kind of placement?
Learn about your destination before you arrive – check out a Rough Guide for starters, perhaps, then read a little history. If you really want to push the boat out, find out what your hosts and neighbours' first language will be and try to learn it. English is the only language you’ll need as a volunteer with Agape but an effort to learn the language will really open you up to new insights and opportunities to help.
It's also respectful to look up any cultural etiquette in the country you're visiting, whether it be what clothing to wear or how to greet your host family.
Keep learning during your programme
Second, don’t forget you’re there to learn once you arrive. As a volunteer, you’re privileged with some fantastic opportunities to learn – whether it's a teaching experience in the classroom, a two-week training course on HIV testing, medical elective placements. Not to mention the luxury of exploring a new culture, with adventures such as going on safari or climb Kilimanjaro. Those of us who volunteer are very lucky to be able to do so.
Don’t be ashamed of this, but don’t make excuses. Just remember that you are volunteering to learn. Keep your mind open and receptive to the experience of the staff at your placement – they are carers, outreach workers, teachers, doctors and nurses, all with a lot they can teach you. Learning it will make you a better volunteer.
In the meantime, why not keep exploring everything Agape has to offer?Return to Site