"Volunteers should either have a really open worldview or have a willingness to have their worldview opened. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your prejudices. If you think that you do not have any, then you are pretty naïve."(3)-- Mary Helen Richter, Volunteer, Mennonite Central Committee, Vietnam.
4. Dependability: The privilege of volunteering abroad comes with great responsibility. It is your job to follow through on your commitment to your hosts and target community.
“We interviewed hosts who felt they had wasted time orienting, supervising, and befriending international volunteers who ended up abandoning posts, taking holidays whenever they wanted, or just hanging around doing no work at all. Volunteers should not abuse the hospitality and warmth of their hosts. Follow through with your commitments and respect the time and energy of your host organization and host community.”(4)
5. Humility: Traveling to a place with an unfamiliar language, new rules, and a foreign culture will give you the unique opportunity to discover just how little you know. You may often find yourself asking for assistance to complete basic tasks, such as navigating a city or purchasing food. Regardless of your accomplishments or status in your home country, you will be a novice overseas; this is a realization that can be difficult for some volunteers. Collins and Wendt suggest answering the following Life Experience Assessment questions to “temper some of the arrogance and frustration that so easily impair the effectiveness and sense of accomplishment of many volunteers.”(5)
- What knowledge and skills do the people from this community possess that I do not?
- What life experiences do they have which are different from mine?
- What are some of the obstacles they have had to overcome in their lives?
- What challenges do they face daily that I do not?
- What are some of their personal and professional strengths?
- What can I learn from them?
6. Enthusiasm: How will you be remembered when you leave? Your presence, attitude, and actions will leave a lasting impression on the communities you work with. Although it may be impossible to save the world through a short-term volunteer program, your presence itself is highly impactful. For those living in poverty around the world, the simple fact that you care about their struggles is more meaningful and encouraging than you may think, and the optimism you inspire will be contagious.
“It’s important not to underestimate what can be achieved with the right motives, energy, enthusiasm, open-mindedness, and willingness to learn from others.”(6) – Andrew, international volunteer in India with Comhlámh, the Irish Association of Development Workers
(1) Collins, Joseph and Wendt, Luke. Volunteering Overseas: What It Takes To Be A Highly Effective Volunteer.” Transitions Abroad Magazine. 27.2 (2003). Accessed on 1 December 2008.
(3) As cited in Collins and Wendt, 2003.
(4) Collins and Wendt, 2003
(6) As quoted in “Volunteer Charter.” Comhlámh. www.comhlamh.org. Accessed on 1 December 2008.